“You can be a good person with a kind heart and still tell people to f*ck off if necessary.”
— Madeleine Darya Alizadeh.
Written By: Emily Crookston
I just read a brilliant LinkedIn post (everything I need to know, I learned on LinkedIn). It was all about the tendency to set unrealistic, arbitrary deadlines for ourselves and how learning to set boundaries is a skill. Well, this post had me nodding my head like a bobblehead doll because this scenario is exactly what led me to dig into boundary-setting myself.
I’ve been a ghostwriter for the past six years, and at this point, I have a pretty good handle on how much time I need to write a piece of content. So what in the world makes me blurt out a deadline I know I can’t possibly meet, at least not without letting someone else down – most often myself?
Boundaries are simple in theory. You define them. You set them. You stick to them. But in practice, developing healthy boundaries is one of the most complex skills we undertake, especially as professional women. Let’s look at why and a few thoughts about how to set boundaries.
Boundaries and the Patriarchy
The patriarchy is a system that imposes and enforces implicit social norms, such as those defining power dynamics, privilege, control of property, and gender roles. These implicit social norms make setting boundaries more difficult for women than for men.
When men set boundaries, it’s the most natural thing in the world. When women set boundaries, they are questioned, criticized, and challenged. And the worst part about operating under a patriarchal system is that even when individuals do accept a woman setting a boundary, she may not interpret the situation as such. Her default is to be defensive.
Boundaries and Self-Care
In response to boundary-setting being more difficult for women, many feminists and other well-meaning women talk about boundaries as being crucial for self-care. If looking at boundaries through the lens of self-care makes it easier for you to hold the line, then far be it from me to take that away.
Personally, though, I can’t see this approach as anything other than a product of the patriarchy. After all, no coach would try to train a leader who identifies as a man to set boundaries by talking about taking guilt-free time for himself. So, I find it more appealing to talk about boundary-setting outside of the context of self-care.
Defining Healthy Boundaries
Having healthy boundaries comes down to the type of relationship you want to have with yourself. It’s about finding that sweet spot where your guardrails are flexible yet firm, neither too porous nor too rigid.
Healthy boundaries look like:
Not compromising your values
Communicating your personal needs and wants
Accepting the healthy boundaries of others
How to Set Boundaries
I’d love to be able to share with you the bulletproof guide to setting boundaries, but unfortunately, I haven’t written that book (yet). Here’s a really thorough and useful guide I revisit often.
In the meantime, I’ll share a few thoughts about what would have been helpful advice for me whenever I’ve been tempted to blurt out an unrealistic deadline:
Take a pause before answering
Come up with a single client policy to reference
Examine where the temptation is coming from and whether that aligns with the relationship I want to have with myself
Boundary setting is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice. What’s your relationship with boundaries? Does that align with the relationship you want to have with yourself?
Meet the Author
Ghostwriter, Content Marketing Strategist, and Renegade PhD