The Importance of Boundaries

One thing a lot of us learn about the hard way is a sense of healthy adult boundaries and how to maintain them. While your parents probably taught you at least a few things, it’s pretty common for people to make it all the way into adulthood without the ability to maintain personal boundaries in a healthy way. Whether it’s in your interpersonal relationships, your family relationships, or even at work, it can often be very difficult to make sure that your own needs are taken care of while still being a good friend, spouse, child, or employee. The strain of unfulfilling and broken relationships can cast a pall over the rest of your life and make it miserable.

“Both Will and I have had the life experience of not having good boundaries.”

Worse still, unhealthy management of personal boundaries not only makes life tougher, but can often invite predatory people into your world. Nothing will attract predatory sociopaths into one’s life like a person who feels guilty when making sure that other people can’t reach into their life and mess it up. Further, such predators will often get very upset when you start asserting yourself. It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is something you have to do for your mental health as an adult. Your boundaries have to both be flexible enough to let you survive and rigid enough to keep you from being miserable. It’s a tall order, so let’s talk about how to do this in this episode.

While getting your personal boundaries right is a critical part of adulthood, many of us struggle to do it. If you aren’t thinking about what you really want in your life (and what you don’t), you’ll often find that your boundaries are set by the people around you, for their benefit, rather than your own. In general, this doesn’t make for a fulfilling life and will lead to you to resenting the people around you.

Episode Breakdown

13:30 Why appropriate boundaries aren’t selfish.

Healthy boundaries are the key to making sure that relationships are mutually beneficial, respectful, and pleasant. As a functioning adult, you do need healthy relationships. Very few people are loners to the degree that they can actually thrive without human contact. Healthy boundaries also protect you from being taken advantage of, as they tend to make the limits of a relationship obvious before the line is crossed.

“A lot of us like to go in the basement and write code, but eventually you have to come out.”

Healthy boundaries also establish a hierarchy of importance among the people in your life that matches their importance to you. Many people with poor boundaries not only neglect their own well-being for the sake of others, but neglect the people they care most about for the sake of others. You can’t take care of yourself very well when you are overwhelmed with other people’s problems, nor can you take care of other people well.

Healthy boundaries also make sure that people who are causing the problems in their own lives don’t ruin yours. There’s an old observation in healthcare that the person taking care of a chronically ill person often dies first. This often happens because they aren’t taking care of themselves. While this is harder to avoid in the case of a sick relative, when someone is not taking care of their own stuff and you are handling it for them, that’s called enabling. This is very common in situations with drug addicts, where the entire family suffers for one member’s addiction, because they aren’t drawing a line.

19:15 Why does it feel bad to set boundaries?

There is often an aspect of guilt to setting boundaries with other people, especially the ones you care the most about. This is often “baked into the cake”, as it were, from the way we were raised, including religious and cultural beliefs. After all, we’re encouraged to be charitable and to take care of people around us, while many of us were taught that taking care of one’s self first is selfish. A sense of guilt ends up occurring as a result of this. In some families, taking care of your own stuff first can be seen as being disconnected, disrespectful, or even unloving. In addition, a lot of us got punished as children for setting fair and reasonable boundaries.

“They tend to love bomb the relationship.”

Many times, the need to set a boundary occurs when two or more people already are unhealthily enmeshed with each other. Boundaries set in a reactive manner, especially as a result of frustration often feel bad because they feel like overkill. Many dysfunctional relationships start out feeling very good and only later become terrible as people find that they aren’t getting the space they need. Consequently, it’s very easy to feel like you are blowing up a good thing. People also tend to establish a sense of identity in a relationship. “I’m a good husband”. “I’m a loyal employee”. “I’m her best friend”. That identity feels threatened when you pull back.

“I’ve been in my fair share of bad relationships.”

It’s also easy to underestimate how bad a relationship is while you are in it, whether it is personal or business. People are very capable of adjusting to extremely messed up stuff. Sociopaths and borderlines in particular will make you feel like you are over-reacting when you aren’t.

25:20 What happens when other people are upset by your boundaries?

People get used to you behaving in a certain way. They get irate when that changes, even for the better. Sometimes this will pass after they’ve had time to reflect a bit and get used to your new behavior. People that are predatory in various ways will often express extreme anger and may even cut you out of their life. People are creatures of habit, but the “why” of the habit is important.

You generally are better off holding the line or at least negotiating into a situation that is closer to what you want. If you cave, you’ve actually shown them that they can override any boundaries you set. Next time will be harder. Some degree of negotiation is also reasonable, in that you may be able to find some arrangement that works better for both of you.

“You and I’ve had those conversations, actually while recording.”

If people really explode over you setting appropriate boundaries, that’s also a warning sign. This tends to indicate someone with whom you’ve developed an unhealthy relationship. It also means you might want to consider creating further boundaries with this person.

It also means that you may have consequences to the boundary. If you push back from a friend, they are liable to do the same to you. The relationship will change, whether for good or ill.

29:45 What are some examples of unhealthy boundaries in personal relationships?

The friend who makes his/her problems into your problems. It’s fine to help friends, but most adults have had the experience of having a friend who has nothing but problems and who puts those problems on other people. You can’t really help these people, but they can drag you down.

“A lot of times it’s not even financial.”

The friend who butts in on your problems when they aren’t wanted. Sometimes you should step in for close friends who are struggling and try to help them, but you don’t want to do it at the level where you are meddling.

The person who constantly attempts to “chip away at” your life. When someone is constantly denigrating what you are trying to do with your own life, it’s probably because of an unhealthy boundary.

“This is something that happens in families.”

The person whose mood swings are extreme and damaging. This would be the sort of person who is an angel one minute and hateful the next and who thinks that the being the first allows them to get away with the second. These mood swings result in people having to walk on eggshells when this individual is around.

35:10 What are some examples of unhealthy boundaries in work relationships?

People who pry too much into your non-work life without your permission. This can be anything from trying to egg you into political discussions in the office to trying to set you up with their friends. It may even have good intent, but part of the point of having a boundary between work and regular life is to keep the problems of one from intruding on the other.

“Nobody sets developers up with their friends unless they really don’t like them.”

People who constantly interrupt work for which you are accountable, in order to get you to help with work for which they are accountable, without management permission. This is often used by the incompetent to avoid having to learn how to do their job or do things they don’t like. This is something that happens because you have poor boundaries that allow this person to damage you for their benefit.

People who don’t work hard and put the rest of the team in a position to bail them out. This is a boundary issue with both the team member. However, it’s also your problem, as you shouldn’t stay in a situation like this for very long.

39:15 How do you figure out where the line is with someone that wants your attention, your time, your love, or your money?

Mostly you do this based on your own level of comfort. It’s subjective. This means your “line” will be different than everyone else’s. That also means you don’t necessarily have to take someone else’s advice on where your line should be, nor should you give such advice. You level of intimacy and boundaries will also vary between the different people in your life.

“You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”

Stop if it is more than you can do. When you are overloaded, “just five minutes” can be enough to make you fail at something more important. You might have to deny helping someone, even if you’d like to, because it will break other things in your life.

Also stop if it isn’t reciprocated. Whether it is the dude who always wants you to help move and isn’t around when it’s time for you to do the same, or it’s the person who dumps their emotional trash on you without listening to your problems, it’s very draining to be in a one-sided relationship. We also tend not to notice or address this until it has been going on for a while. A good cue for this is to consider whether you have begun to resent someone. That’s often a clue to this dynamic.

If you are consistently feeling drained by being around a particular person, it’s a good time to reconsider things. A lot of times, you may have a hard time figuring out exactly what it is boundary-crossing around someone, but you can tell by how you feel. Be very careful to only use this as a basis of a decision if it is over an extended period of time and you can’t figure out what exactly is wrong.

43:35 How do you effectively deal with other people’s boundaries?

First, stop pushing on them. Once the line has been drawn, respect it and move on. That doesn’t mean that it frees the other person from consequences.

“It’s kinda like a fence, it defines both sides of the yard.”

If you aren’t sure about the boundary, then either ask or keep a little distance. If you aren’t getting reasonable cues that something is ok, sometimes it isn’t bad to ask. If you can manage it without being awkward. Another option is to sit tight until you are more sure what’s appropriate.

“Sometimes you go your separate ways and then you come back together.”

If you can’t deal with the boundary, walk away. It may be that you don’t want to be around them as much with a particular boundary either.

47:50 How do you start enforcing boundaries when you haven’t been?

Start slow. It’s better not to shock people into reacting. As you enforce boundaries, take stock of how you feel and how people are reacting. You’ll probably find that the boundaries you initially thought you would enforce have shifted.

“If you are enforcing boundaries you get a feedback loop going.”

There are several potential downsides to enforcing personal boundaries. You’ll lose some people and you’ll have drama with a lot of people. You’ll be more exhausted from drama and nervous about potential downsides. You will get called selfish.

“There can be people that can be good for you at certain times in your life but not good for you later.”

All that said, there are many long term benefits of setting and enforcing boundaries in your life. You’ll have room for better people and better relationships in your life. You won’t be getting drained by other people’s problems as much. This often means you can help more people, because you are helping the right people. People that aren’t good at handling their problems tend to continually have problems, while people that are in a bad spot tend to only have problems for a little while. This also means that the people you help end up helping people. It’s a positive feedback loop instead of a negative one.

IoTease: Product

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+

Raspberry Pi has produced a new version of the Pi 3, Model A+. Like the B+ it has a 64-bit Quad processor, both 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.2/BLE. Reduced from the B+ the A+ only has 512Mb RAM and one USB port. It also has modular compliance certification that allows the board to be put into end products. It is the same size as the original Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+. At only $25 it’s just $5 more than the previous Model A board and $10 less than the B+. This new addition to the Raspberry Pi line is a great middle tier between the cheaper Pi Zeros and the higher end Model B+.

Tricks of the Trade

Good things are contagious. So are bad ones. If you are careful in the way you help people, you can find yourself being a force for good in a way beyond what you might have expected.

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