Part 2: The Good the Bad and the Ugly Boundaries

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by Cynthiahowardrnphd Cynthiahowardrnphd

Specializes in Leadership Development. Has 36 years experience.

In part one I talked about the need for boundaries in order to steer clear of other people's negativity. In this article I want to lay out what boundaries look like when they are rigid (bad), absent (ugly) and healthy (good). Boundaries are absolutely essential for everyone to have healthy relationships but especially for nurses in order to prevent overload both emotionally and physically.

Part 2: The Good the Bad and the Ugly Boundaries

The Ugly (Absent) Boundaries

Let's first look at what happens without any boundaries. Not being able to set any boundaries or limits can result when someone does not like being alone or when they are not aware of their own needs. Physically this can show up with people not respecting the personal space of others and emotionally by feeling everything very intensely. This person may over react to what is going on and be overly dependent on others for their emotional wellbeing. Have you had any coworkers or friends who always needed reassurance from you? On the other hand, a person without any boundaries may also hold onto resentments for a long time and feel like a perpetual victim. This would be a negative Nancy always complaining about how they were wronged somehow.

You can see how not having any boundaries can make relationships and communication difficult. To make things worse, a person who cannot set boundaries can be very critical of others when they attempt to set limits. This can create a backlash of guilt and or frustration as the healthy person seeks to move away from individual who has not yet recognized they are their own person. Regardless of how hard it is - continue to set limits and speak up for yourself lest you end up in the codependency trap.

If you are this person who has not set boundaries and recognize that you are just too dependent on others for their approval, congratulations! Awareness is the first step to making changes. Begin with small changes that have low risk. For example, if friends want to go to a certain restaurant and you really want to go to another one, make the suggestion for your choice. Then as you build a comfort level expressing your preferences you can take bigger risks with boundaries at work.

The Bad (Rigid) Boundaries

Getting along with someone who cannot set boundaries can be initially easier than some who has rigid boundaries. Eventually, they both will chip away at successful and healthy relationships. Someone with rigid boundaries may appear still, stoic, standoffish having difficulty with physical and emotional closeness. This makes it tough to build trust in a relationship as this person is hard to read and can come off as disinterested or indifferent. They may end up feeling misunderstood because their lack of emotional expression is misread by others. Other people may be resentful because this person does not participate in the relationship. At work, this person may be consistent yet not able to give back to others and read the cues that someone needs help. They may wait to be asked for help rather than initiate an offer. Again this causes problems with those people who are more emotionally available.

If you are this person who watches everyone else engage but holds back out of fear of exposing too much or feeling awkward, start by observing someone you admire. What are the gestures they use to engage that you could model? Start small as it really is the small shifts in behavior that make the biggest impact. Try smiling more. Smiles are so universal and a smile will break the ice and encourage a connection. With patients put a hand on their hand or a light touch on the shoulder to let them know you care and are there for them. As you allow your own feelings to come forward and gently guide you, you will be able to relax your boundaries and join in.

The Good (Healthy ) Boundaries

What do healthy boundaries look like? Unfortunately, there is not always an effective role model in the workplace. Setting boundaries is NOT a place you arrive at and then never again experience an awkward moment. It is dynamic and you will continue to grow in this skill. Keep that in mind so you have realistic expectations for yourself.

A person with healthy boundaries is very clear about what they like and don't like. If you struggle with boundaries this may come off as irritating, selfish and elite. "Who does she think she is, asking to go to the first lunch..." This may be a reaction to someone making a request for lunch because they know their blood sugar drops and if they did not eat early, their energy levels wane. Why wouldn't you want to ensure you have the option in order to do your job well?

You can tell this person is not elite and or entitled because setting healthy boundaries means you also respect those of others and you are able to compromise and negotiate when needed. This person shares their viewpoint and is open to hearing a different view from others. Respecting other people's physical and emotional space, this person asks permission before touching someone or asking personal questions.

As you go about developing this critical skill of setting boundaries, spend a little time checking in with yourself and finding out what is important, what you need from others, what is negotiable and what isn't. Initially, you may err on being too rigid if you have never set limits before - that is ok. Keep working at it. You may be too loose and will quickly learn as you get overwhelmed with other people's demands. Tune into your emotions, learn from them and then take action. Your life will only be as good as your ability to take care of yourself. You are worth it.

For Part 1 of this series, please go to Let Negativity Roll off Your Back: Learn to Set Boundaries

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Mentor to Healthcare Leaders; from US Specialty: 36 year(s) of experience in Leadership Development

12 Articles   73 Posts

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19 Comment(s)

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 16 years experience. 226 Articles; 27,608 Posts

The paragraph describing the bad (rigid) boundaries describes me fairly well. In essence, I have an invisible wall and I let very few people in.

I also have the restricted affect, emotional detachment, and an overall reluctance to connect with new people. I am introverted and socializing drains the life out of me. Connecting with people on a socioemotional level is something I cannot do. I also struggle with empathy. I have the lack of emotional expressiveness and have been described as standoffish.

I am a self-described fake-and-shake social imitator, so I interact with patients, families and coworkers by smiling, drumming up engaging conversation, being a good listener, and telling people exactly what they want to hear. As horrible as these techniques may sound, they have led to a promotion and loyalty from some colleagues.

Anyhow, thank you for the enlightening article.

Emergent, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 29 years experience. 2 Articles; 4,016 Posts

I've been guilty of rigid boundaries at times, but I've been working on being more open to people. I used to hate being touched and would be closed off, emotionally, to most people. I never felt part of the group, and often felt like a bit of an outcast, eternally marching to my own drummer.

The past year I've worked on that quite a bit. I've also gotten better at standing up for myself. I find that, when I'm more emotionally connected to people, it's safer to speak up for myself too.

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Specializes in Leadership Development. Has 36 years experience. 12 Articles; 73 Posts

Thank you for your forthrightness... being introverted I am sure plays a role here and it is good you know it. It is not a weakness - it actually means you are energized more by thoughts and ideas than people. Developing a greater comfort level with one's own internal process and emotions can help build confidence and a more natural feeling interaction.

Edited by traumaRUs

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Specializes in Leadership Development. Has 36 years experience. 12 Articles; 73 Posts

Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you have found the answer to a healthy give and take with people. The more you know what you feel and then express, the greater connection one has.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 16 years experience. 226 Articles; 27,608 Posts

Thank you for your forthrightness... being introverted I am sure plays a role here and it is good you know it. It is not a weakness - it actually means you are energized more by thoughts and ideas than people.
I also suspect that attachment theory plays a role.

Some people are securely attached, whereas others are anxiously attached (a.k.a. needy, clingy and desperate for attention) or avoidantly attached (a.k.a. aloof and emotionally unavailable). I squarely fall into the third category of avoidant attachment. In early childhood I withdrew from an emotionally cold, verbally abusive parent and have had the invisible wall around me ever since.

It feels good to not experience negative emotions as intensely as others. However, I also cannot feel positive emotions intensely anymore. This is an aspect of my psyche on which I plan to work.

cd365c

cd365c

Specializes in none. 1 Article; 109 Posts

I like the ideas that this author placed, but I feel that there is a lack of practicality. One aspect I believe that would really improve this article is to deviate examples of "healthy" vs "unhealthy" boundaries. While there may not be an agreement upon everyone about which falls where, I would benefit from the experience of others.

Here are a few of my own:

Healthy: setting an expectation with a patient about how you will assist them; small-talk about non conflicting topics when there is free time with coworkers and patients; not allowing bodily injury on yourself (i.e. lifting too much weight, putting yourself in risk of harm without a coworker); knowing when you can and cannot help another coworker

unhealthy: saying too much emotionally about your personal life; reassuring false hope; not ever asking for help when you need it; asking coworkers too many questions that you can easily surface an answer yourself; trying to do it all and not knowing when to refuse a situation; not being able to take something up the chain of command; not knowing how to address coworker conflicts

there is much more I could go on to say...

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Specializes in Leadership Development. Has 36 years experience. 12 Articles; 73 Posts

The Commuter, there are different theories indeed about how our personality is developed etc. I like to use a simple measure - we treat ourselves the way we were treated - so with a cold parent we then fall into this behavior toward ourselves. It sounds as though you are indeed moving beyond it! I do help people with boundaries and transformation if you wanted more specific support.

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Specializes in Leadership Development. Has 36 years experience. 12 Articles; 73 Posts

Thanks for your suggestion... learning to set boundaries takes practice. Every interaction with another is unique and different yet there are some standard approaches that work - you identified several. Let me know if you have additional questions.

CountryMomma, ASN, RN

1 Article; 589 Posts

I'm a blend of both. I'm always smiling at work, always a good word for people, perpetually cheery and friendly. Lots of people have said I'm happy go lucky, friendly, blah blah blah...but then they realize, they have no idea how many kids I have, where I live, or even that I work strictly weekends. I build up a huge wall, and share only surface things about myself, but because I am so smiley and cheerful they feel they know me.

I don't want my coworkers to know me very well. I don't want to be friends on facebook or get the families together for supper, or anything like that. Work is work, and I am not comfortable at all with my coworkers being that close to me.

So, I have some rigid boundaries, but I dress them up real nice. I'd rather undershare than overshare.

bluegeegoo2

bluegeegoo2, LPN

Specializes in LTC. Has 11 years experience. 1 Article; 753 Posts

The paragraph describing the bad (rigid) boundaries describes me fairly well. In essence, I have an invisible wall and I let very few people in.

I also have the restricted affect, emotional detachment, and an overall reluctance to connect with new people. I am introverted and socializing drains the life out of me. Connecting with people on a socioemotional level is something I cannot do. I also struggle with empathy. I have the lack of emotional expressiveness and have been described as standoffish.

I am a self-described fake-and-shake social imitator, so I interact with patients, families and coworkers by smiling, drumming up engaging conversation, being a good listener, and telling people exactly what they want to hear. As horrible as these techniques may sound, they have led to a promotion and loyalty from some colleagues.

Anyhow, thank you for the enlightening article.

Geez, I could have written this. :) I come home from work mentally/emotionally exhausted every day because of the charade I have to put up being all smiley and engaging with people. I see family/staff coming and groan internally, all the while putting on my happy face and taking care of what they need. Ugh. If they only knew what I was thinking...

Edited by bluegeegoo2

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Cynthiahowardrnphd

Specializes in Leadership Development. Has 36 years experience. 12 Articles; 73 Posts

Countrymomma thanks for sharing your experience. I understand that and there is probably a good reason for it. You actually are very much in charge of what you share and what you hold close indicating you are healthy in regard to your boundaries. You may also be introverted. Boundaries are designed to keep us in charge of the emotional connection we want and to avoid overload and or negative relationships.