It’s becoming increasingly difficult to put up necessary boundaries when there are so many ways others can reach out to us. From email inboxes full of requests to friend, connect and network, to smartphones that accompany us everywhere, it’s nearly impossible to disengage.
However, with planning, resolve, good communication and lots of patience, it is possible to build boundaries and leave some space so that others can reach out when that contact is needed and wanted.
Establishing boundaries is not the same as rejecting others. Rather, it’s a way to make good, effective use of your available time and interactions. It’s a way for both sides to ask and show respect for a person’s time. Not even Super Mom or Super Dad can respond to everyone, every time without temper, energy level or health breaking down eventually.
If you live with a chronic illness, you have to establish a habit of defining and keeping boundaries. To wear yourself thin invites detriment to health and other complications.
Tools such as separate email inboxes for work and for personal contact can help you manage the inflow of information and demands. Never underestimate the power of the delete button. I promise you won’t fall off a cliff if you don’t forward or share on Facebook a particular email.
Several times in the Gospels Jesus goes off by himself to pray, despite the crowds clamoring for his attention.
Today, a sign on a door, much like those used in hotels, that says, for example, “Mom’s Taking a Timeout,” can convey presence and the need for a temporary removal from general household activity.
Establishing a place — a room, corner, piece of furniture — that signifies “my quiet place” can also be helpful in letting others know not to disturb.
Placing time boundaries on phone calls of any kind is another way to manage space, especially if you have a serious illness. I limit calls before 10 a.m. and after 7 p.m. If I’m at a particularly low ebb of energy, I limit the time I spend on particular calls.
As for driving while talking on a cellphone, I don’t do it, not even hands-free. I pay better attention to the road and, afterward, to the person. Good friends, people who care, will understand.
Conversational boundaries also help our ability to be hopeful, Easter-filled people. Telling those who dwell on the negative or who are bent on criticizing others that we don’t care to discuss such things is a good way to keep darkness from taking up too much of our precious time.
Communicating our boundaries can be tricky, especially with people who might not completely understand. But taking a position of “I care, but I need time to myself,” or “I want to be able to devote my full attention to you, but during these times or in these places, I cannot,” can get your point across without making the other person feel rejected.
At times, we won’t have control over the situation, however. The phone will ring, the robocall or the call you weren’t expecting will come forth, and your walls will come tumbling down. But the more you practice, the better you’ll become at building boundaries that allow others in but also allow you time to breathe.