Why Boundaries are Key for Mental Health

This week I want to talk about something that I see a lot of creative entrepreneurs (and pretty much every other human being) struggling with...Boundaries!

Creative people in general tend to struggle with boundaries. Why? If you are creative, you likely are more right (or creative) brained. You are wired for flexibility, lack of rules and rigidity, and freedom. And boundaries sound a lot like the opposite of those things and can be particularly difficult for people who identify themselves as people pleasers.

One of the reasons that I think this is so hard for creative business owners is because you live, eat, and likely breathe your business. That means working weekends, nights, and blowing off your friends and family members in the process. It means letting clients contact you at all hours of the day...but it doesn't have to! In order to maintain good mental health, it is imperative to learn to set and enforce boundaries. I am not telling you to build walls, but I am telling you to begin to think about developing boundaries for yourself.

We need to find healthy boundaries. What do I mean by that? Healthy boundaries provide us with two key things: safety and flexibility. We all crave some kind of boundary, but we may not even know what our boundaries are until they've been crossed.  Have you ever gotten incredibly upset by something someone did and then realize it was because you didn't set a boundary?

There is a saying that "Good fences make good neighbors" and this is the epitome of why boundaries matter. When we clearly can define a boundary, we are able to live within the freedom it creates. Have you ever thought about fences? Picture a yard with no fences. Without a fence, there isn't a line of where your yard begins and where someone else's ends.  When there are no physical boundaries in a yard, people are less likely to explore, even when they have the freedom to do so. But, add a fence, and they will go to the limit of the fence. If you are ever around kids, watch how they respond when there is a fence and without one. Within the safety of a fence, they are likely to go further and explore more.

Contrary to what you may initially think, we crave boundaries. We want both flexibility and security. There are four main types of boundaries as defined by Nina Brown in her book Children of the Self-Absorbed.

  • Soft – A person with soft boundaries merges with other people's boundaries. Someone with soft boundaries is easily manipulated or swayed. 
  • Spongy – A person with spongy boundaries is like a combination of having soft and rigid boundaries. People with spongy boundaries are unsure of what to let in and what to keep out.
  • Rigid – A person with rigid boundaries is closed or walled off so nobody can get close either physically or emotionally. This is often the case if someone has been the victim of abuse. Rigid boundaries can be selective which depend on time, place or circumstances and are usually based on a bad previous experience in a similar situation.
  • Flexible – Similar to selective rigid boundaries but the person exercises more control. The person decides what to let in and what to keep out, is resistant to emotional contagion and psychological manipulation, and is difficult to exploit.

Which of those types of boundaries do you find yourself identifying with? Different situations can bring up different responses, but the goal is to work toward maintaining flexible boundaries.

Here's an example from my own business experience...

When I first started offering watercolor portraits and paintings, I didn't have any boundaries about revisions. What that meant is that most people were happy with what I created for them, but one day someone wasn't. And, since I didn't have a boundary set, I had to work with them on extra revisions without any extra compensation for my time. I was frustrated, but really had nobody to be frustrated with but myself. Everyone will inevitably get a client or friend or family member who mows down your boundaries, if you let them. If this hasn't happened to you yet it inevitably will, if you don't change something now. 

Something I realized when looking back on this is that my boundaries in business were soft at first. I was afraid of making someone mad or looking like I was rigid, so I compromised and then regretted it. I wanted everyone to like me...but guess what? People can and will still like you when you have boundaries...and they will likely respect you even more when you let them know what your boundaries are. Setting boundaries not only helps people know where you stand with them, but it gives them a better idea of what to expect from you.

Another real life example: More recently I changed the way in which I responded to emails. I check my emails 2-3 times per day during the weekdays, and usually don't check it at all over the weekend. But if I have to, that's okay, too. There is a firm enough boundary to maintain my personal life and flexibility for when I am working on something that requires some weekend work. It is something that I do so that I can be both invested in my business and my life.

This simple change has brought with it a lot of benefits, including less screen time and more face-to-face time. When you have healthy boundaries, you are able to give more fully to others in a compassionate way without feeling burnt out. As Brené Brown says, " The most compassionate people are the most boundaried."

In order to start developing healthy boundaries or realizing the ones you have, ask yourself a few questions. Feel free to take notes or write your response to these questions in your journal.

1) What offends and/or upsets you?

2) Who does this behavior?

3) Why does it bother you so much?

If you are looking for further information on boundaries or want to dive into your own more deeply, I highly recommend the book Boundary Power. There is a workbook version too, that can also help you begin to understand yourself a bit more! 

Be sure to sign up for announcements for Mental Health for Creatives and join the FREE Facebook group! What other struggles are you currently battling with as you navigate your small business journey? I would love to help! Feel free to email me (rachel@racheltenny.com) with any questions you may have or topics you would like to see covered in future posts.