Having just returned from a trip to the UK to visit family after 3 years it was a great time to reflect. These last few years have been hugely challenging for most of us, with challenges continuing, in force. It was incredibly healing to take some time and space outside of New Zealand and see how the world is moving on in a new(er) normal. A time to reflect on, especially around #BOUNDARIES – personal and professional.
THE VALUE OF BOUNDARIES
This B word is (now) constantly being used across all sectors in the workplace. If it’s not, it should be. Personally, I have had to take a long hard look at boundaries across a broad life spectrum. Here’s how and why.
Friends – over the years I have had to take a really hard look at some friendships, considering if they are healthy or toxic. I have made a choice to distance myself from behaviors that potentially could and would prove detrimental to my health e.g. avoiding situations where I know substances will be used/abused, relationships that have repeatedly proved to be #toxic – being shamed and blamed, for others actions, whose patterns have not served my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, I have prided myself on being a loyal friend, however, I have now finally learnt (took me to get to my 40’s, yes I’m a slow learner) to set and engage firm boundaries. These may not seem fair at times to those around me – in these cases that’s largely due to a lack of their self #awareness. Self-awareness takes time, training and practice. It’s not an overnight realisation, just as wellbeing is an ongoing process that requires thought, planning and accountability. Healthy boundaries are an incremental element to wellbeing.
Covid and the recent fuel crisis have placed a large majority of us under economic pressures that we could not have foreseen. Adjusting spending habits, altering living dynamics to aid #affordability, saying no to our children when they ask for things, helping them understand the consequences of all that’s happening without transferring that financial worry onto them. WE ARE LIVING THROUGH HARD TIMES! It’s ok to say that out loud and take a moment to:
§ NOTICE the huge impacts we’re all learning to manage
Some of us, including those on a shared care plan as separated parents, may find ourselves living in places and under circumstances that we struggle with, emotionally and/or physically every day. This is hard. However, we do the best we can for our children given the circumstances. It takes time to process and accept outcomes when we’re forced to make healthy choices for ourselves and our loved ones. Outcomes often driven by complex issues like family violence i.e. abusive #relationships. Many people assume family violence presents itself as physical abuse. In fact, this also includes broader forms of #abuse e.g. psychological, sexual and #neglect.
Lock downs and economic pressures are adding pressure to relationships, especially when raising children together. Financial pressures post covid means that families cannot afford to run two households, staying together under unhappy/unhealthy conditions. This in turn can have negative consequences on our children.
Leaving a marriage/relationship under these circumstances is complex, extremely difficult.
Personally, I knew I had to leave my marriage. Extreme pressures to include family terminal illness in the UK, a fifth (and final miscarriage) after our son was born, and a husband who wanted to “leave me for 6 months until I cheered up”, using my poor mental health against me whilst at my most vulnerable, often telling me (for years) leading up to separation that I was useless. I had post-natal #depression and, unsurprisingly was highly #anxious – admittedly, I wasn’t at my best. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I struggled to sleep, find joy in life, relax. Yes, that must have been draining for him, however, there are (much) better ways to handle things. Marriage vows spoken: in sickness and in health. I was unwell. Admittedly, I could have possibly prevented some situations worsening, had I had the right support, love and care around me. I didn’t have the education or clarity of mind to make different choices at the time.
Once friends, family members, our GP and local psychologists helped me question his behaviour towards me, I started to see the light. I was advised by one psychologist: “you need to learn about boundaries Mel”. Another clearly stated in parental counselling ordered by the family court to improve communication between us “in my professional opinion you drove Mel to mental health problems”. My ex did not agree with his opinion. I asked the psychologist to repeat what he said. That was the validation I needed to move forward and know I had made the right decision in leaving him, avoiding a mere trial separation, until I “cheered up”. To be honest, the story is more complex than that. We will both have different sides to tell. Ultimately, being kind is key.
I was not taught boundaries as a child. I was raised in an often abusive environment, one of fear – my nervous system was activated more often than not when at home. Had it not been for my work experience with young people in residential care, I would have been (even more) oblivious to the reality of my marital relationship, that I was enabling…allowing. To be told “you’ll be in the system if you call them” when found phoning a mental health line, whilst dangerously close to breaking point in a marriage is not ok. Once I created time and space to heal (years), learn and grow, I turned my mind towards helping others, empowering them to lead their healthiest, happiest lives.
He is a good dad. I always maintain as long as our son gets the best from both his parents, we can’t ask for more than that. I’m grateful I met him. We had some of the best adventures life could offer, together. He taught me a lot, and without him we would not have our son. Silver linings and gratitude go a loooooong way.
All this stuff is (partly) why CONNECT AND CARE exists. Childhood experiences, relationships and other stuff for other blogs. To encourage people how to manage and seek help around poor mental health, for self and others, safely. For people to learn appropriate message and language to encourage safety, empathy, kindness and love.
If you find yourself in a position where you are blamed and shamed in a relationship, question if that is healthy. Most likely, it’s not! Some people see life as black and white (no reference to race before any PC police feathers are ruffled). It’s not, there are often shades of gray.
I was not prepared for my son to learn unhealthy behaviours within a family dynamic. Repeating history. If you or someone you know is unsafe in any way, there is help and support available. Make the call, or help someone make the call. No one should suffer in silence, feel isolated, vulnerable, unhealthy, unhappy, unsafe. Reach out:
PROFESSIONAL BOUNDARIES OF A WELLBEING ADVOCATE
“Mel can you send me your workshop content?” – repeatedly asked in 2020 and 2021.
“Sure, I’d welcome a formal meeting to discuss my experience around CONNECT AND CARE programming and impact if you’re interested in collaborating”. For you to plan and launch your own wellbeing program, with no intention to involve me? With this came feelings of guilt, for me. What’s the right thing? Help everyone, for free, my whole life, with negative self-consequence? Or protect my own family, business, intellectual property?
WELLBEING TIP: avoid taking advantage of small business owners who are trying to make an honest living. Align yourself with others who share similar core values, whether that be personal and/or professionally. Find your tribe.
“Your emails are borderline harassment” – April 2022
For 4 months someone, regarded as a senior lead in the tech wellbeing industry had kindly volunteered to extend an introduction of CONNECT AND CARE services to one of their clients. Amazing! I was so grateful. Part of running a small #business is following up on sales leads. One helpful tip when dealing with humble small business wellbeing providers: please avoid misleading people with false hope. Be straight. Lack of authenticity/intent creates unfair unnecessary #conflict. If you’re keen to learn more on preventing unwanted behaviours here is a useful link:
PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOURS
WELLBEING ADVOCATE TIPS: avoid placing yourself in #vulnerable and conflicting positions. Listen to your #gut – this generally tells you something is amiss. You can learn to read people, if you put in the self-awareness training – that takes time and commitment. Ask questions and see how people respond. Your answers lie in their responses, and tone. With so many people moving into the wellbeing space there is a lot to learn, through trial and (plenty) of error.
MESSAGE AND LANGUAGE
No matter how busy and stressed you are, be kind when responding to others, especially to those trying to make a difference. Give people the benefit of the doubt, for a period of time, whilst considering healthy boundaries around that. If they start to take the piss, it may be time to #disconnect. Yes, it takes to build professional relationships, but be realistic – seek advise from several trusted mentors where you’re unsure.
This helpful #resource link outlines the reasoning and impacts of people pleasing nicely if you’re keen to learn more:
AVOID PRETENDING TO BE SOMEONE YOU’RE NOT
There have been times over the last few years where I have been blamed and shamed for not supporting people through poor mental health and addiction. Having driven a successful preventative wellbeing program - a result of voluntary research to reduce isolation and vulnerability for others after my own lived experience of poor mental health – there is an expectation for me to help everyone, all the time. It took several private (unfunded) counselling sessions to understand how to safely manage this and maintain personal health and happiness. Declining invitations to support others feels unnatural for me, but I have to protect myself in order to be the best mum I can be, and provide my wellbeing role effectively. Family comes first.
SIGNPOSTING to appropriate resources is key. “Thank you for reaching out. I suggest getting in touch with a professional to explore what’s going on for you right now, e.g. call or text 1737, your GP or a counsellor”. Then hope they get the support they need. Check in on them after a period of time, to see how they’re getting on.
If friendships/relationships are #authentic, kind and honest, reconnection happens if/when some distance needs to be implemented. Avoiding #unhealthy #connections that may compromise personal wellbeing. This takes strength, practice, especially for empathetic people. Try seeking support and advise about how to manage personal boundaries. It’s a process.
HAIR, FACE AND BODY
Avoid letting other’s opinions of your body dictate your thoughts and actions. It’s your body, your face, your hair! You are unique. Love yourself, who you are. Never let others undermine your natural beauty:
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention”, James Thurber, author.
Gray hair, clothes, shoes, style…wear what makes YOU feel comfortable and secure. If you choose to age naturally avoiding hair dies, cosmetics, whatever…that’s your #CHOICE.
SET YOUR BOUNDARIES: “thank you for the invitation to be involved in this work project. At the moment I don’t have the space for that. I will let you know if, as and when that changes”
STICK TO BOUNDARIES: if you do not honor your boundaries, you are not taking #accountability for your health and happiness – set them, own them
ADAPT: re-assess your boundaries when you’re #confident they align with your health and happiness moving forward
BLAMING, SHAMING, GUILT TRIPPING
This promotes poor culture in the workplace and at home. Avoid tolerating this. You deserve better. Tell others that you deserve better.
Practice politely saying “NO”.
Thank you for reading!
Melisse, my authentic name (Mel for short)
CONNECT AND CARE