Healthy work boundaries are about how we use and protect our bandwidth–time, energy, effort and emotions–to work and live so that we can have emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and even financial wellbeing. When we know and understand who we are (our needs, values and boundaries), we’re aware of and value our limits. We don’t emotionally, mentally, physically or even financially exploit ourselves due to overcommitting and overextending ourselves, being exploited, behaving unethically and irresponsibly, or playing out toxic childhood patterns.
Boundaries are about understanding responsibility. It’s not just knowing where we end and others begin, though. It’s about discerning real, actual responsibility from the bullshit that others try to peddle as our ‘obligation’. And this includes where we emotionally blackmail ourselves into the likes of people-pleasing, perfectionism and over-responsibility.
Without healthy work boundaries, we will sell our souls. And we’ll do it while telling us that it’s what makes us valuable, a high performer, a team player, in line for a promotion. We’ll claim that not having boundaries makes us ‘better’ and ‘not lazy’.
To prove all of these and more, we’ll give increasing amounts of time, energy, effort and emotions. And then wonder why we’re burnt out, have no personal life, or are resentful and frustrated. But ‘at least’ we’re not ‘lazy’.
Without healthy work boundaries, we also treat our boss, co-workers, employees or clients like stand-ins for figures from the past. We treat people at work as if they’re family, teachers, bullies, friends and foes with whom we still have axes to grind and points to prove. This inadvertent, sometimes conscious, playing out of old patterns to attempt to right the wrongs of the past leads to us compromising ourselves.
It is only by having healthy work boundaries that we break the cycle of our emotional baggage.
We get to differentiate between the past and present and make sense of our needs, values and boundaries. Because the truth is, we’ve all internalised a lot of messaging that drives our current attitude to work. We’ve absorbed the narratives, conditioning, shame, prejudice and cultures of the past. And much of it is irrelevant and obsolete to our actual values. In fact, living by these without question only benefits the people who prosper from us exploiting ourselves.
Let us also not forget that we exchange labour, intellect, creativity, energy, resources, efforts, talent and more for money and what are hopefully other benefits and support. Work and money are not ‘mom and dad’ that we have to live in constant fear of displeasing. We don’t owe our job our personal life, body, and every spare moment of ‘free time’. We are allowed to rest. And we’re also allowed to have a limit about how much we’re willing to exploit ourselves. Or whether we do in the first place.