Having healthy boundaries means that there is clear, honest, direct, and respectful dialogue about what is Ok and what’s not Ok within a relationship. When we have good boundaries and know our value, we aren’t shy about being clear on those boundaries because we know that clarity supports the relationship to be stronger. When we have poor boundaries, it’s a recipe for conflict, resentment, and relationship breakdown.
Resentment from Lack of Boundaries
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” ~Brené Brown
It’s likely that most of us can relate to feeling the kind of resentment Brené Brown is speaking of in the above quote.
For example: Consider that you need to be asleep by 11:00pm. If you don’t get to bed at that time, you feel groggy in the mornings and it’s hard to get through the day. You find that staying up late affects your grades. What if your housemate, who works evening shifts, frequently enters your living space at 10:30pm to vent about their day? You understand that they need to talk, so you feel uncomfortable telling them that you need to sleep. If you continually avoid expressing your boundaries, over time resentment towards them will build. Not to mention the lack of sleep will affect your well-being.
The resentment can start to build slowly, until something small can trigger anger or frustration. If we aren’t clear about our boundaries, people are left guessing, and it ultimately affects our communication and connection. In this way, not having clearly defined boundaries affects connection.
You can’t control how the people in your life will treat you (including those you will be working with in your peer support role), but you can control your own boundaries.
When boundaries are crossed, talking about it in an honest, direct, and respectful way is important. Most of us have been in relationships where we haven’t been clear on our personal boundaries, and the relationship has derailed and fallen apart. Lack of boundaries can show up in things like conflict that can’t be managed, disrespectful and rude language, yelling, or even resentment that comes from doing what we perceive as “too much.”
Having said that, it’s important to note that all relationships can be messy since we human beings are imperfect. If, however, a relationship is not working for both people involved, then it’s just not working. Boundary clarification is essential to relationships. Talking about boundaries, even if it is awkward, keeps the relationship healthy and on track.
When we are clear on our boundaries and they still get crossed, it’s important to talk about it. Depending on how the boundary was crossed and how many times it has happened, sometimes we can learn from it and get past it, and sometimes we can’t.
If in your peer support role, you find yourself working with people who consistently disregard your boundaries, it is important to talk to a supervisor and plan to step away from the relationship for a time, or perhaps permanently.
Conflict, Boundaries, Worldview, and Communication
We can’t ever know someone’s whole story. However, since we have a need to make sense of what we don’t know, our brains often mindlessly fill in the blanks. We make assumptions. Our brains naturally create stories about people & situations, even when we don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle.
Generosity of assumption, especially in conflict, is about giving people the benefit of the doubt, and believing that they were doing the best they could at the time.
As you consider communication and conflict within peer support work, it can be tricky to balance all the principles we’ve outlined. It is important that we keep the following in mind:
- Believe that people are doing the best they can.
- Know that you may have misunderstood something.
- Offer compassion for the other person.
- Offer self-compassion for yourself. At the same time,
- Have good boundaries.
- Know that the relationship might not work out.
- Some things can’t be repaired.
- Sometimes you might have to walk away.
A certain level of messiness in any relationship is totally normal, and even expected. Having good boundaries helps us handle the storms that can come in our relationships. If you feel the messiness has moved beyond what you’re comfortable with, remember to seek support from your supervisor.