When we talk about boundary setting in nursing, we typically address the professional boundaries of therapeutic relationships. But there is another aspect of boundary setting that often gets overlooked in nursing — healthy workplace boundaries.
A commonly accepted definition of having healthy boundaries is “knowing where you end and another begins.” Although the concept of healthy boundaries seems obvious, many of us have no idea what it means to define our own.
According to a brochure by Penn Behavioral Health, “boundaries are the invisible lines that are drawn to help define roles and interactions in relationships. When these lines are crossed, negative consequences may result. Having weak boundaries or no boundaries at all is as debilitating as violating boundaries.”
If you’ve never given healthy boundaries any thought, spending some time assessing and defining your own can set a helpful framework from which you can feel emotionally safe.
Healthy Boundary Self-Assessment
- Do you know your limits?
- Do you allow others to do things that make you feel uncomfortable?
- Are you able to honor your limits without self-judgment or apology?
- Do you have a tendency to take on too much and then feel overwhelmed or resentful?
- Are you able to say no?
- When you do say no, do you follow it up with over-explanation?
- Do you become distressed by the disapproval of others?
- Do you worry about the needs of others more than your own?
- Do you minimize your needs?
- Do you quickly dismiss your own feelings as silly or unimportant?
- Do you tend to act like a sponge, soaking up others’ stress, worry, anger, or sadness even when you have no control or the situation has nothing to do with you?
How to Strengthen Your Boundaries
Start at Home
Practicing boundary setting in your personal life ultimately will help strengthen your workplace boundaries as well. For some, the idea of defining boundaries at work may seem like too great a task. Start small. Ask for 15 minutes of quiet at home in the morning. Or tell friends you’d rather not talk on the phone after 7 p.m. These little boundaries can help you identify some of your bigger needs.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Remember that boundaries are highly specific to the individual. Don’t compare your boundaries to someone else’s. Yours are valid because they’re yours.
Give Yourself Permission
Acknowledge your limits and own them. I’m a highly sensitive person who needs a lot of down time, especially when I’m caring for others. Things that are too much for me don’t faze others in the slightest. But ignoring my own limits doesn’t do anyone any good, most importantly me.
Give Voice to Your Boundaries
If you consider being yelled at by a co-worker an act of overstepping your boundaries, it’s vital you say so. “I cannot discuss this further until you stop yelling,” is a direct, respectful way of saying, “You’ve crossed a boundary, and I won’t tolerate it.”
Honor Your Own Needs
In other words, practice saying no. When someone asks you to do something, do you say yes, in spite of the slight twitch in your gut that’s telling you you’d rather say no? These moments, both large and small, can add up to very shaky boundaries. Did a friend ask you to a movie, but you’re completely spent? Say so. Does someone need a shift covered, but you had plans to attend your son’s soccer game? A simple, “I can’t, I have another obligation,” will do. It’s not your job to make everyone around you happy. If that seems too impossible to believe, how about this … we are responsible for our own happiness. And the more we honor our own needs, the better able we are to help those around us.
What do boundaries mean to you?
Which of these questions do you need to work on the most?