Time to set boundaries

How often have you used the word ‘boundaries’ about others? Perhaps you’ve said your partner needs to get a better work-life balance with some boundaries or that your child needs boundaries at bedtime.

But most of us rarely think how setting boundaries for ourselves could not only be useful but positively healthy. Yet a strong set of personal guidelines can support our physical fitness, emotional health, stress levels and self-esteem as well as tricky inter-personal relationships.

But most of us rarely think how setting boundaries for ourselves could not only be useful but positively healthy. Yet a strong set of personal guidelines can support our physical fitness, emotional health, stress levels and self-esteem as well as tricky inter-personal relationships.

And if those basic boundaries aren’t secure, we risk upsetting colleagues and friends, let alone family or partners. Not to mention ourselves.

With that in mind, psychotherapist and couples expert Jennie Miller and I decided to write a book Boundaries – How to Draw the Line in Your Head, Heart and Home to explore how boundaries could be used to help with the challenges of modern life in the workplace, online and the home.

We based our work in Transactional analysis (TA) – the psychoanalytic theory and method of therapy in which Jennie practices as this focuses on one’s relationship with self as well as others – to build a four-step programme which anyone can follow.
Throughout the book it’s obvious that boundaries come into their own around the internet. The modern 24/7 culture of e-mails and the Internet means we can never switch off. We are no longer able to pull up the mental drawbridge with a quiet book at bedtime but are always vulnerable to what feels like outside pressures and invasions.
Some of this attention is not unwelcome, we encourage it ourselves. But that doesn’t mean our boundaries are healthy; it may mean we don’t recognise what can hurt us.

The effect of technology on our boundaries is particularly important when it comes to conversations and relationships. These used to be straightforward but now are more difficult because of the lack of face-to-face contact. Situations can easily be misread, moods can be misinterpreted, and remarks can be misconstrued when you remove the physical presence of human contact.
Moreover, our prized smart phones are literally becoming unputdownable. Researchers have already found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented in November at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

So, how do we use the Internet – this incredible resource – wisely, not just in terms of online security, but in terms of specific relationship safety? We have to learn to draw a line and keep to it regardless of circumstance.
It’s not always easy. Many people find it difficult to switch ‘off’; they complain of feeling ‘on’ all day. Often, this coincides with the computer/tablet/ phone being ‘on’ all day. As a result, they are accessible to the outside world all the time. They know the answer is to power down the computer but are full of excuses.

The truth is many of us have lost the will or just don’t think about how to use the ‘off’ switch which will help us turn ‘off’ too. The pace of change has been so fast: one day we didn’t get e-mails, then the next day we do all our work that way.
So, is it a question of will? Given that the Internet as we know it has been ubiquitous for only just over a decade, why do we expect to be able to process and control the effects of its change on our lives so quickly?

Just because we can type faster, pick up programmes, learn intricate coding and develop whole social mores based on what computers can do, why do we insist that our thousands of years of social conditioning and reason be overturned in what is a historical nanosecond? It is possible that in 500 years’ time, academics will study the Information Age with amazement at what we could make happen, and how much we potentially let it change who we really are.
Setting boundaries now could give us all a little valuable extra time to adjust to the way we will live from now on.

Boundaries – How to Draw the Line in Your Head, Heart and Home by Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert (HarperCollins, £12.99) is available from Waterstones and other bookshops and online

Victoria Lambert

Victoria Lambert

Victoria Lambert is an international award-winning journalist, and has written for most of the UK’s national newspapers, principally the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Daily Mail. She has written for numerous magazines including Woman & Home, The Spectator and Saga, and has been a columnist for Geographical and education magazine School House. Staff positions have included Health Editor of the Daily Telegraph and Health Editor of the Daily Mail, plus Foreign Editor, in Australia, of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. Victoria Lambert’s work is syndicated worldwide and she has been recognised with awards including the Best Cancer Reporter Award 2011 presented by the European School of Oncology.
Victoria Lambert

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