Last week I made a new friend at the social media conference I attended. This woman is passionate about educating parents about the dangers of posting photos of their babies and children on social media in the name of trying to get a diagnosis for an illness. She talked about how parents will often take a photo of their child, sometimes naked, and post it in hopes to get online help. Understandably, she believes that there needs to be boundaries set on what is ok and what is not ok for parents of sick kids to post.
I take it another step further and believe that parents have a responsibility to have boundaries around what photos they post of their kids when their children don’t have a say. We have a whole generation of kids now who have had no say in having their faces plastered all over the internet around the world.
I used to post photos of my children regularly. But then my youngest daughter asked me to stop. She doesn’t want to be on social media at all. So I stopped. The only photos of her that I post are ones that she has approved. And they are few and far between. She set a boundary and I honour that.
Boundaries are important not just in social media but in life. They allow us to hold either our own or someone else’s behaviour to account. Yet all too often, we don’t set boundaries for ourselves or for the interactions we have with other people. And if we do happen to set boundaries, often we forget to hold ourselves and others accountable when those boundaries are breached.
For years I was not good at setting boundaries in either my personal or professional life, but lately I’ve been working on it. I’ve always been more of a giver than a receiver and in years gone past I have given so much of myself that I have literally made myself sick. I’ve come to realise that there needs to be a balance of both giving and receiving in my life. I’ve made a concerted effort to remove myself from relationships where the balance just isn’t there. My marriage was one example, but a lot of so-called friendships have been removed along the way too.
I’m now very protective of my time and what I focus my energy on. But for the past two weeks, the Universe seems set on testing my boundaries.
This week I’ve had to not only hold myself accountable for my behaviour, but also hold others accountable for their behaviour towards me. I’ve had to explain to friends what I will accept in a friendship, explain to my children what I will accept as teenage behaviour, explain to colleagues why I can no longer work with them and even explain to strangers that they don’t get to walk all over me. This extended as far out as a divorce lawyer who spent an hour and a half judging me this week. Needless to say, I haven’t hired him.
I recently had a friend tease me about this blog, my tribe and the fact that I’d had a breakdown. Much of the teasing was around my age and life experience. All was said in jest, but in front of others who respect me and who work with me. I became upset and at the time sat silently while he poked fun.
It ate away at me that night and I realised that I needed to confront him about it and ensure he realised that he had crossed a line. My life experience is important to me, as is this blog, this tribe and my health. The next evening we ended up with five minutes with no one else around and I ensured he understood how much his comments had hurt me. I also explained to him that he had crossed one of my boundaries with his behaviour. I assured him that I still loved him, but not what he had said. And that if he crossed this boundary again, our friendship was over.
To give him credit, he got it and apologised immediately. He really is a good guy and had no idea how much his words had hurt me. He felt terrible about what he’d said, but was glad that I had explained my boundary to him. And I was glad that we were able to have the conversation privately, without me shaming and blaming him in front of people.
Too often we jump to shame and blame rather than setting boundaries and holding people accountable.
I’ve been quick to do this in the past with friends, colleagues, my kids and in my intimate relationships. Shaming and blaming is easier in the short term, for sure, but it makes me look foolish and doesn’t get me anywhere in the long term. When I’ve shamed and blamed my kids, I am just reinforcing bad parenting behaviour and end up making them feel bad about themselves. When I hold them accountable for their actions, I parent them with compassion and we end up with a more positive, loving outcome. And they know that what I say, I mean. I follow through with them.
It’s also easy to shame and blame as I traverse my divorce. But we end up nowhere except being angry about the same behaviours that we’ve been arguing about for years. At least by setting boundaries now, I feel I have some self-worth and can come to the divorce discussions looking for an outcome. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy. We both fall back on time tested methods to piss each other off. At least now, I take it less personally and call bad behaviour when I see it instead of just walking away.
As I think about any potential future relationship I may become involved in, I realise I also need to be better about setting boundaries for both myself and any potential new partner. Otherwise I will just end up repeating the mistakes of the past. And I don’t want to do that. So I have some non-negotiables written down of what I will accept and what I’ve decided I won’t.
Setting boundaries can be difficult but it can also be powerful. But setting boundaries only gets me so far. It’s the enforcement of those boundaries and holding myself and others to account that’s vital. Without enforcement and accountability, the boundary is worthless. I end up feeling worthless and the longer I feel worthless, the more resentment builds towards the other person.
Resentment is a killer of any relationship. And resentment left to grow over time, can cause all kinds of problems. I’ve seen this so many times in my life that I now make the conscious choice to not allow resentment to build. I work to address it head on. No matter how uncomfortable it may make me or the other party.
Strong boundaries help me do that. They allow me to be courageous and honest. They allow me to be compassionate without feeling worthless. In today’s world I think we could all use a bit more compassion and a lot less resentment. But maybe that’s just me?