For a year we have been creating and maintaining physical boundaries with other people in ways we never had to before. While these boundaries protected our physical health, they have also created social and emotional boundaries that hurt our emotional well-being. As Charlie Kuhn, our co-founder at Cultures of Dignity, is often reminding us, “What a time to be alive!”
Indeed! And now things are changing again.
For many of us, the circumstances around our physical boundaries are now shifting. Young people are returning to in-person school and after school activities. Many people are beginning to see family members they haven’t seen in a year. Understandably that brings up a lot of mixed emotions. Relief, if we or our loved ones have been vaccinated. Happiness to see people we love. Apprehension, as some things return to “normal” (whatever that means). Frustration, when people make decisions that are different than our own as we transition into the next phase of the pandemic.
Not everyone feels the same way about these changes. And that means we need to hold space for the awkward and complicated ways the past year has impacted our relationships.
Maintaining boundaries is an important act of self-advocacy and self-compassion. Boundaries empower us to make brave choices that help us feel safe. They help our relationships feel supportive and steady. So let’s talk about boundaries, so we have the tools to navigate changing circumstances and relationships.
At Cultures of Dignity, we think of boundaries like windows. Imagine we are all standing in front of our own set of windows and can open and close them to different levels at different times. But so can other people. We may want a window closed while the person next to us may want the window more open. That’s where a lot of us are right now— opening our own windows based on what makes us feel safe, while we’re standing next to people who may have different feelings about how much to open or close their windows too.
The first step to communicate your boundaries is to take the time to be clear with yourself about what those boundaries are.
How to get clarity on your boundaries:
What are three boundaries you need right now? Write them down and have them handy when you feel like you need to remember.
Don’t avoid the conversation with others. It’s natural to worry about how other people will react to you if their boundaries are different from yours. But you owe it to yourself and them to communicate clearly. If you don’t, then you are way more likely to have those weird, awkward moments with people where everyone gets annoyed at each other.
Communicate directly. As in, “I get that you feel comfortable doing X, but I don’t right now.” Or “I am comfortable doing X right now, but you get to have your own boundaries that are different from mine. What can I do to respect your boundaries right now?”
You can change your boundaries. That’s not inconsistent or irresponsible. We are all continually renegotiating our boundaries right now. A boundary we set last month could change this month. That’s the same for the people around you.
We’re all in this crazy time together!