Self-Care Through Setting Boundaries: Beginners Guide to Establishing Your Safe Space
Why setting boundaries is critical for your well-being and how to get started.
June 27, 2022 | 1 comment
Why setting boundaries is critical for your well-being and how to get started.
By Saleha Saleem
We often self-reflect on special events in our lives, such as birthdays or the start of a new year. Though for the rest of the year, we are always on the go, consumed with work, weekend plans, errands and tackling a growing list of responsibilities. It may feel that we’re always “on” whether for fear of missing out or, worse, not being there for those who need us most. But as we settle into summer, we have the space to retreat inward and to clear out the highs and lows of this past year.
For many, it feels as though the loss and tragedy of the COVID-19 years have left everyone in overdrive, eager to make up for lost time. Even though the pandemic forced us to slow down and shift our way of living, we often feel the need to return to our pre-pandemic momentum—even though for most of us, we already have.
In early 2021, in response to the declining state of educator well-being, WE began Educator Self-Care virtual events. Initially, our goal was to create a sense of online community, impart practical well-being tools and knowledge, and lead guided meditations and self-care challenges. More recently, WE hosted an Educator Self-Care event for international educators teaching in the United States, and I realized just how many educators continue to fall prey to teacher burnout. While there are many rewarding aspects of teaching, the time and demands of the position can leave many drained. By overextending themselves for their students, work, and classrooms, it is evident that educators need to find balance and avoid burnout and stress by setting boundaries for themselves.
Boundaries are a powerful and liberating tool that creates a safe space for you and your well-being. Yet, many of us do not truly understand what it means to have boundaries, how to set them, why they are critical for us and others, and how they promote self-respect, self-love and self-care.
I invite you to center this summer around self-reflection on boundaries and self-care. I challenge you to mindfully choose how you’ll spend your precious time, energy and days. Most important, I encourage you to spend this time off the way you want to, doing things that give you balance, rejuvenation and contentment.
Simply said, boundaries are what you are OK with and what you are not. We are shaped by what we say “yes” or “no” to. o, it’s essential to be aware of what we allow to enter our lives and also what we forgo.
Boundaries are often set and learned by our family relationships, culture, experiences and environment. As we grow older, we need to reflect on our needs and wants, and to shift the default-set boundaries from our childhood to the adult-set boundaries that are relevant to our life and aspirations. Setting boundaries creates an environment that aligns with your sense of purpose, needs and goals. It sets the expectations for yourself and how you want to interact with the world around you. It gives you self-control in building a healthy space for your personal growth and well-being.
Boundaries can be identified as healthy or unhealthy, and there are specific signs that can help you differentiate one from the other. Read the examples below and see if you can identify which are healthy or unhealthy boundaries.
________ Boundary: Lyza is an international teacher at a new school in Nevada. She feels it’s important to be empathetic, giving, flexible, and always considerate of other’s needs. She says yes to working late, she tolerates her students making inappropriate comments about her culture, and she tries to fit in with her colleagues by going to a bar, even though drinking is against her beliefs. She wants to avoid any conflicts or situations that make her uncomfortable.
________ Boundary: Felipe is reserved and tends to be friendly with a close group of friends. Despite being a tough teacher, he is fair and well-respected. Felipe can easily say no and communicate his wants and needs. He isn’t afraid of acting according to his values or upsetting someone. Felipe has a strict rule of not talking about his personal life at work and doesn’t believe in work friendships. His colleagues think he is cold, distant and apathetic.
Can you list the signs in each example above that show healthy and unhealthy boundaries? Find the correct answers at the end of this post.
Boundaries can be thought of as levels. The higher the level, the closer someone or something is to you; while the lower the level, the further away it is from you. Each boundary type has its own levels, and each level has its own rules. Setting boundaries begins with self-reflection and it’s critical to start small, because it can often be an uncomfortable experience.
Use this boundaries worksheet to get started and reflect on your process.
Boundaries are like an armor designed to limit negative effects from your environment. In my former work as a youth mental health counselor, I often observed individuals finding it difficult to set boundaries. This is because we are biologically designed to connect, rely on and care for others. I also noticed those with low self-worth often wanted to please others, felt guilty exerting their needs, and found it comforting to fit in. I believe the subject of boundaries is a great topic to explore with young people or adults, beginning with how they define it, understand it, and how they or others exert it. If we introduce setting boundaries as an important part of forming our identity, understand it as the necessary “space” required before making any decision, and see it as a vital part of our authentic individuality, we can then easily empower individuals to explore this component of self-care.
I believe simply bringing up the topic of boundaries in your classrooms or with your colleagues is a great start. Research shows that setting boundaries can help educators avoid burnout and remain in their profession longer because it creates resiliency and balance between work and personal life. (Hong, 2012).
Remember, people who care and respect you will easily accept your boundaries. However, people who challenge or resist your boundaries often reveal more about themselves and who they are.
But here’s the most important point. It’s not your responsibility to relieve or ease someone’s lack of comfort with your boundaries. Rather, all you can do is acknowledge them and engage in deeper discussion to understand perspectives from both sides. In the end, challenging conversations are one way of learning and growing, as Brené Brown says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” (Walters, 2012).
To learn more about how to “Boost Your Well-Being In and out of the Classroom,” click here.
For additional tips and easy-to-follow resources, check out our WE Teachers: Mental Well-Being Module, which offers an entire section dedicated to the importance of teachers’ mental well-being.
Lyza has unhealthy boundaries because she is letting others direct her work life; she is not respecting her values, self, time and energy, and not speaking up on her needs and rights.
Felipe has healthy boundaries because he gradually allows people in and trusts them; he can say “no” and stay firm with his personal values despite what others want; he decides what relationships are good for him; and he is exerting self-respect by staying honest to his values, beliefs and needs.
Saleha Saleem is the program manager of WE Well-Being with WE Charity. She began her career as a youth mental health counselor and is currently completing her master's in education. She is passionate about bringing wellness tools and knowledge in supporting educators, students, classrooms and communities. Saleem designs and hosts virtual educator self-care events through WE and manages resource development in various well-being topics. For more WE Well-Being resources, visit www.we.org/wvlc for a complete library and video on-demand content.
Hong, J. Y. (2012). Why do some beginning teachers leave the school, and others stay? Understanding teacher resilience through psychological lenses. Teachers and Teaching, 4, 417–440. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2012.696044
How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets. (Jan. 5, 2018). PositivePsychology.Com; https://www.facebook.com/positivepsychologycourses. https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundari…
Walters, H. (March 2, 2012). Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change: Brené Brown at TED2012 | TED Blog. TED Blog: Further Reading on Ideas Worth Spreading. https://blog.ted.com/vulnerability-is-the-birthplace-of-innovation-crea…
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