Success has always depended on the ability to set boundaries. Or as Steve Jobs famously put it, “focus is about saying no.” Now during the pandemic your sanity may depend on setting boundaries too.
With many of us juggling home stresses, general virus-related anxiety, and new challenges brought about by the pandemic at work, saying no to some requests and forcefully expressing your own needs is an essential survival skill.
Or as psychotherapist Annie Wright put in on her professional blog recently (hat tip to Hurry Slowly), “good boundaries can positively impact everything from our energy levels to our sense of esteem, to our bank accounts and the quality of our relationships.” Many people struggle to set them.
How do you know if your lack of boundaries is contributing to your feelings of stress and burnout? Wright offers a long list of tells in her blog, but here are a few of the most unexpected to get you started.
1. You feel resentful.
If you feel bitter when you’re doing it, that’s a good sign that you probably shouldn’t have said yes to whatever it is in the first place. “Resentment is a common clue you’ve crossed your own boundaries and that, perhaps, your ability to recognize and assert your boundaries needs work,” asserts Wright.
2. You judge other people’s choices.
What does thinking poorly of other people’s behavior have to do with your own boundaries? Wright offers an example to illustrate:
“A friend texts the morning you have plans canceling the plans because she doesn’t feel up for it. You think she’s being selfish and secretly you wish you could make the same choice yourself, but don’t allow yourself to do so because you feel it wouldn’t be the ‘right’ and ‘responsible’ thing to do. When the judgment of others’ choices paired with a secret longing of that same choice shows up, it’s a clue that you’re perhaps compromising your own boundaries.”
3. You “chameleon.”
It’s natural to adjust your presentation and persona to suit your context (i.e. you don’t talk to your employee the same way you do to your wife), but you shouldn’t have to shift your essential self to suit others. If “you become who and what the other person wants and needs you to be – in personality, preference, temperament, and even appearance,” consider working on your own boundaries Wright suggests.
4. You’re envious of other people’s directness.
If your first reaction to the straight shooters in your life is to wish you could be more upfront about your own feelings, maybe you should strongly consider learning to be more clear about your wants and needs.
5. You’re angry a lot.
We tend to think of anger as a reaction to others’ behavior, but a boatload of science shows it is actually often about our emotional struggles. Wright reminds readers that “anger is a sign that we have a need that’s not being met or that we have a boundary that’s being crossed.” The problem could be the other person’s jerk-like behavior or it could be your own inability to police your boundaries (or a bit of both). Definitely take time to consider which situation applies.
Do you have a creeping suspicion that your own boundaries could use a little strengthening? Then check out Wright’s complete post for many more signs and advice.