Although it sounds pretty intense, boundary setting refers to the practice of not allowing the people around us to encroach on the mental and emotional space that we need for ourselves. Unfortunately, men in particular are raised to believe that their mental health is secondary and that they should just put up with situations that make them uncomfortable in order to maintain the image of a “strong” man. We want to and normalise the idea of men taking time out for themselves, because like in test cricket, just because you can stay batting for the whole time, sometimes it’s best for everyone if you retire.
To some people this can sound a bit wanky but in reality it just means that you don’t have to run yourself ragged for people who wouldn’t do the same for you or for people who you think may be taking advantage of you. It can definitely be overwhelming to find yourself at a point where you need to define clear boundaries but it is important to know that you are not alone and that if we all get better at recognising toxic relationships and normalising boundary setting, our mental health will be better for it.
A simple example of the type boundaries that most of us are already used to creating is work/life balance, so, if you don’t check your work emails on the weekend then you’ve already got the hang of it. However, it can understandably get difficult when you decide to define boundaries in other parts of your life or with people who may not be used to them such as close friends or family members. But, it is important to remember that you are the only person who needs to feel comfortable with the reason for setting a boundary and that it is there for other people to respect. If someone refuses to observe boundaries that you set for them, it is because they do not take your mental health seriously or they are not listening to what you want.
Nevertheless, we understand that while this is an extremely common issue, it is still incredibly daunting task to begin setting boundaries with loved ones, which is why we have outlined some useful suggestions for having these conversations with different groups of people below.
Family – A lot of people struggle with setting boundaries with family members and it can be nerve wracking for a whole bunch of reasons. Firstly, our culture conditions us to believe that “blood is thicker than water” and unfortunately this saying is often used against people who are trying to remove themselves from toxic or abusive family dynamics. Sometimes we all need reminding that a family unit is there to provide love and support and if you don’t feel this way then it is okay to have a conversation about it. Obviously, this is easier said than done because it can be extremely tricky when you feel like you are caught in the middle of a family feud or you are being pressured to do something that you don’t feel is for the best. Additionally, many people feel like they may be judged for cutting off family members due to our cultural expectations about what the ideal family looks like. But, in the end, the cost is your own mental wellbeing, you need to sit down in a calm manner and explain where you are drawing the new boundaries and what you will do if you feel they are crossed. For example, if you would prefer that they did not constantly talk to you about another family member’s personal life, you need to explicitly tell them that you will not participate in these conversations and that if they continue to try and chat to you about it you will remove yourself from the situation.
Friends – In a similar vein to family, it can be difficult to cut off friends, especially when you feel like it might create an awkward dynamic within a group. Additionally, when you have known someone for a long time it can be easy to make excuses for shitty behaviour. For example, if you feel like a friend is letting you down constantly by flaking on plans, a good way to approach the conversation is by letting them know how you feel and that if the behaviour continues you will stop wasting your time making plans with them.
In an ideal world, setting boundaries and having these conversations with people in your life should be a positive thing for both parties because everyone is able to look after themselves and the other person to the best of their abilities. More importantly, a boundary is not an ultimatum, it is a setting of healthy, achievable expectations.
To end on one last cricket metaphor, in life the pitch is constantly changing and just because you’ve always been a fast bowler doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to change your mind and start chucking spinners. In essence, you are entitled to change your mind and set boundaries based on how you are feeling because you owe it to yourself and your mental health.