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This site is an archive of our Well Written Blog posts until 2019. For the most up-to-date content visit NWIJournal.com.

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Boundaries and Why We Need Them

Posted By Krissy Mulpeter, Friday, November 30, 2018
Updated: Monday, December 3, 2018

I’m sure you’ve heard someone utter the phrase “boundary setting” at one point or another. This self-help buzzword is all over the place and can be misunderstood as purely conversational, or, even worse, ultimatum-based. I think, though, that boundaries are the small choices, actions, and deliberations that gradually help us become a truer, deeper version of ourselves. As a mental health therapist, when I see a client experiencing symptoms like anxiety or depression, I try to always consider the client’s relationship to boundary-setting and I think it is useful for everyone to consider.

Boundaries are the small choices, actions, and deliberations that gradually help us become a truer, deeper version of ourselves.

 Is it challenging for you to you to say no to others, to dissent the majority opinion, or declare your own uniqueness? On the flip side, are you more comfortable stating where you stand, what your limits are, and what you need without creating space for hearing those of the people around you? 

If you tend toward the former, you could find yourself yielding to those around you. When it comes to things like where to eat lunch, what show to watch, or how to spend your day off, these compromises might not seem very consequential. Over time, though, these conceded decisions compromise who we are and what we desire. When we don’t have a firm grip of where our boundaries lie, we can start to lose ourselves.

If you tend toward the latter, you may have rigidity around your boundaries. You may find most comfort and safety in stating your boundaries without thoroughly considering those of others which, to you, might run the risk of renegotiating yours, or even defending them. Maybe there was a time in your life when someone else’s rigidity trampled your boundaries, which showed you the way you know how to stay strong in your sense of self. 

All relationships demand establishing similarities and differences over and over. It is the bumping into one another’s boundaries that teaches, not only, those around us who we are, but also teaches ourselves who we are. Declaring our boundaries can be challenging in a culture that prescribes for us what those boundaries should be and how we should go about setting them, depending on things like gender, race, or social class. Declaring our boundaries can also be challenging when you grew up in a family where you either learn to yield unconditionally in order to accommodate those around you, or where you were rarely shown how to consider alternate paths or to collaborate. In addition to these challenges, breaking out of our boundary habits can be scary, sending a rush of uncertainty into our body, and causing our hearts to race or faces to flush. The result though, is almost always the same: becoming more you. How can that not feel good? With balance in boundaries, we can find ourselves in relationships that are more authentic, fulfilling, and, ultimately, have a more fulfilling relationship to the world.

Communicating boundaries starts small in minute-by-minute choices and daily conversations. It is the first step on a path to re-establishing yourself in the world, to gain a clearer sense of self, more fulfilling relationships, and a life that is truly yours.

Krissy MulpeterKrissy Mulpeter is an individual, couples & family therapist, self-care enthusiast, and seeker of stories. She writes to explore topics in wellness, whole-hearted living, and healthy relationships to self and the ones we love. When she is not doing therapy or writing, Krissy enjoys caring for her plants, cooking, getting exercise in the most fun ways possible, and traveling.

Tags:  Boundaries  Self Care  self-Help 

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Welless: From Balance to Boundaries

Posted By Nicholas Alchin, Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Updated: Monday, July 23, 2018

Last week our Campus Leadership had a fascinating discussion about our assumptions around wellness, which is of concern right across the working world, but especially, of course, whenever children are involved.

Wellness is a complex construct, not least as there are ethical matters (is this an individual or group responsibility?), issues around individuality (different things support wellness for different people), and many competing ideas about how to pursue it (meditation, medication, reducing demands, mindfulness, increasing resilience…). One notion that came up a lot was the idea of balance as leading to wellness. It sounds so obvious that we need balance in our lives, but under scrutiny, things do not look so simple.

There are some obvious questions, such as over what time frame do we seek balance? As educators, I feel we do have a good balance over a year (I do not worry about balance in July), but certainly not at specific times when things are quite overwhelming (November and March in our High School are extremely intense).

But more importantly, underneath questions like these is an assumption about work-life balance that I would want to ask: Exactly what are we balancing? The work-life idea is an obvious candidate but if our work is more than just a job then it’s an important part of our lives - and it can actually be an avenue toward wellness for many people. So it's not the case that the more we have of one, the less we have of the other; that's just too simple. Of course, time is finite, but we would likely not use friend-life balance as a thinking tool, because friends are an integral part of our life. So too, for most of us lucky enough to work in professions that we believe to be important and meaningful. So if we are not balancing work and life, what are we balancing? Another possibility might be balancing the challenges we face with the resources we have, as I have written about previously. But that is not without it’s own problems (neither challenges nor resources may be in our control). So, I worry that balance is not up to the load we might put on it.

None of that it to deny that there is a problem. On the contrary, recognizing the confusion is the first step to thinking with more clarity, and to seek better conceptual tools.  So what’s a better way to think about the issue of wellness?

Ed Batista argues that the whole concept of balance is the wrong lens through which to view the wellness issue, at least for many people. He argues that we should replace the idea of balance with the idea of boundaries because “while balance requires an unsteady equilibrium among the various demands on our time and energy, boundaries offer a sustainable means of keeping things in their proper place.” He identifies three types of boundaries that are worth exploring.

Temporal boundaries are the most visible signs that we can switch off; we can create and protect certain sacred times. The obvious things here are evenings, (portions of) weekends, Saturday nights out, putting the kids to bed, time exercising, family mealtimes, reading, or whatever it is that is important. Batista argues that the “amount of undisturbed time we preserve for certain activities will vary and may be quite small, but what matters is that we create and maintain a functional boundary around that time.” This seems wise to me; it shifts focus onto the things that are important to me, and that are likely within my control.

Physical boundaries are about preserving literal, not metaphorical distance from our workplaces. Technology makes this harder than it once was, as for many of us, our workplace is where our computer is; but even there, it must be possible to box work into a particular place at home; or to say that for 3 days a week we will leave the computer at work. For some it might working later and not taking work home at all. Batista notes again that “the question is not about balancing the two worlds, but establishing boundaries to create the needed separation.” Again, solutions are local, and can be down to individuals to find what works for them.

Cognitive boundaries might be the hardest ones to create and enforce. Driven folk are by definition often thinking about issues to solve, ideas to explore and so on. In these cases, the challenge is to “resist the temptation to think about work and [instead to] focus our attention on the people or activity at hand.” Once again, this is undermined by technology which is actively designed to capture our attention (various, alerts, messages, pop-us, bleeps etc). But there are ways to minimize these and once we recognize that our attention is our most precious asset and that control of it is a foundation of mental health, we might willing to put in the “persistent, dedicated effort” that it takes to train ourselves. The ability to mange this boundary is one of the major benefit of meditation, and explains the recent boom in interest in mindfulness.

None of these are magic bullets, and none of these remove the need for us to design reasonable workplaces. But identifying and enforcing these boundaries seems like a strong and worthwhile step.

Thanks to Gemma Dawson for sharing the Ed Batista article.


Batista, E (2016) Happy Workaholics Need Boundaries, Not Balance. Harvard Business Review

Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), 222-235

Nicholas Alchin is a Sino-Celt who has been working in K-12 International Education for too long to remember. Father of three and wife of one; currently Deputy Head at UWCSEA in Singapore. Avid reader and traveller; keen and competent breadmaker; keen and incompetent uni-cycler. 

Tags:  balance  boundaries  work-life balance  workplace wellness 

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