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Week 2, Session 2: Intellectual Boundaries, Material Boundaries, Time boundaries

Hello everyone! We’re glad to have you back for Week 2 Session 2!

If this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome!  We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!

The goals for this session are:

  • To introduce another set of boundary types 
  • Start connecting different boundary types with our personal experiences
  • To provide practical examples and steps to address when our boundaries are violated

And as always, we do a grounding exercise at the start of every session! Grounding exercises are a set of strategies that help us when pain or difficult memories become overwhelming - our first “trick” to wellness! If you can, please join in. 

**Today’s first grounding exercise will be…
**Another visualisation technique! 

Start by thinking about a tree that you like. If you chose a tree as your favourite plant at the start of the course, you could use that one!
Now, imagine this tree standing tall and big on a bright summer’s day - in the middle of a garden or park. Calmly stare at its leaves, start to notice their surface going browner then orange. It is autumn now, and the branches are losing their crown. Leaf by leaf, they all fall - yet, we can see its body, the trunk holding strong in the middle - holding its shape upwards through the winds and the cold.
Into winter, focus on its naked stems. There are small green roots budding through, because Spring is near. Watch your tree blossom and bloom. When you are ready, open your eyes if they’re closed. Slowly come back to your senses.

Remember you are also strong and grounded like this tree. Connect to this image when you are feeling insecure and need a little push to trust yourself. Remember that every season has its return. It is in our nature, as much as a tree’s, to re-bud in the right weather, the right temperatures, the natural turns. 

Fun question: What is your favorite holiday destination?

As we mentioned in the last session, emotional and physical boundaries are incredibly important to our relationships with others. They’re also key to maintaining self-care. But, there are some other types of boundaries, maybe less obvious ones, that - if we learn to “master” - will improve our energy, time, and quality of being.

In addition to emotional and physical boundary types, we also have our...
Intellectual boundaries:
These boundaries are connected to our thoughts and ideas. Having healthy intellectual boundaries means respecting others - even if we don’t agree with their opinions - and also feeling safe to express our own, so long as they do not infringe on the literal safety of others. It means having an awareness of what an appropriate discussion is in the setting we are in.
Our intellectual boundaries may be violated when we feel belittled or dismissed based on our ideas - or when we do the same to somebody else.
These boundaries do not mean we cannot have constructive or challenging conversations with people about ideas or politics, as we choose. Instead, these boundaries refer to the way that we speak: they mean we do not speak of others in a demeaning way when we do not agree - and they avoid the same. 

Our intellectual boundaries are damaged when we cannot speak; when we are made to feel voiceless; when our sense of selves, our curiosities, goals, and ideas are butchered, steamrolled, and cannot be verbalised.
However, we know that, many times, our anger and frustration can get in the way of conversation. Again let me repeat, emotions get tricky!
We aren’t suggesting, either, that you do not have the right to your anger or discontent, depending on the topic or talk. Assertiveness is not the same as aggression; voicing our concerns when someone may be abusing, insulting, or demeaning us is not simply about “violating” their boundaries. And we would never want to tell someone that they have no right to speak out when something is wrong - we have voices, agency, and the right to call out harm. 

If you are in the presence of someone who is saying things that are inherently harmful, such as using racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobic or transphobic discourse - you have every right to be strict and let them know you do not tolerate that kind of talk. You do not have to engage in intellectual conversation with people you feel are violating your rights or other people’s rights and dignity.
If the person with whom you are speaking is not worthy of your respect, it just might be better to leave or drop the conversation altogether. They are proving to you that they are not respecting your intellectual boundaries or your person - or perhaps the respect owed to all. Sometimes we should instead “choose our battles”. Not because we cannot fight, but because we spare and save our energy for the fights that gain ground, not just spill our blood.
If someone is pushing our boundaries, we are allowed to remove ourselves from the event entirely.

If you think something is worth discussing, then using facts and information might be the best way to go around changing someone’s mind. However, we should not feel compelled to argue with stone.
And remember, too, it’s also okay to step back for other reasons. Any reason you feel belittled or unengaged. It does not have to be the most important topic in the world! You have the right to say: “This is a very important and sensitive subject for me, and it makes me upset when I hear you voice your opinions like that”.  

When it comes to thinking about our boundaries - again, as ways we let in the good, as well as keeping out the bad - our intellectual boundaries should not be considered in relationship with silence. Instead, we want you to think about time. What is WORTH our time?
Because boundaries protect what is precious, and there is nothing more precious than your time. Time is your energy, your potential, your contact with the world and with others.
And, with that segue, let’s look at another boundary type...

Time boundaries:
Our time is valuable! So protecting it is key.
How many times do we feel like we are expected to use our time for things we genuinely don’t want to do? Being mindful of your time boundaries at work, home, and also socially is very important, as we need to be able to use our time effectively, as well as to enjoy the things and activities we like.
With life being hectic enough as it is - as there will always be events and circumstances we cannot control (look at the pandemic, world politics, just the conditions of mortal life!) - it is all the more important that we preserve the time we do have - for ourselves and what we love.
After all, worry is a wound inflicted twice. It is not worth adding weight to the hours that are already full.
One of the things we do sometimes is overcommit. We can end having very intense days of thing-after-thing-after-thing. Reviewing our routine is crucial to be able to recognise if we are lacking in time boundaries.
Do you always feel you are rushing? Are you working late? Do you feel you are going to social activities you don’t really want to go to? Do you feel your time at home is not how you would want it to be? Occasionally, boundaries could help.
Some things that you can say to help you build these are: “I can come, but I will only stay for an hour”; “I want to spend time with my family so I am staying home;” “I am happy to work on this, and my hourly rate is..”
And we can also ask questions when we’re nervous about infringing on the time of others, and we want to show our care for their day.
We can ask: “Do you have time to chat today?”; “I know we said we would meet today, but I can see you are rushing. Do you prefer to take the time to rest and meet another time?”; “We are having a gathering and it would be great to have you for as much time as you want/can - but I will understand if it’s not possible for you”.
Sometimes we get caught trying to get people to adjust to our own schedule - and that will not always work. We all have changes of plans and changes of energy! This means we may have committed our time to do something in advance and we might not be able to do it anymore. As much as we want to be professional/polite/a good friend/relative, sometimes we will need to take a step back and decline invitations later on; or job requests or favors.
But it will not and does not make us less professional, polite, or a good friend if we speak our needs in a direct and respectful way. Going with feel capable of doing will most likely have a positive impact on ourselves and the people around us. Honesty and vulnerability is an act of care, as we expose ourselves to real connection. We are allowed to be human, and have our battery charge and fall.  

Lastly, we want to talk about:

Material boundaries:
These boundaries are connected to your things! Your money and possessions. They refer to the way you feel about having other people use and/or share what you own.

Violation of these boundaries include: people borrowing your things and never returning them or destroying them; people stealing your possessions or taking advantage of you; using money or possessions to manipulate and control you.
We need to remember that our possessions usually have, not only a material meaning, but also some emotional value - and so our “things” will have their own “boundaries” and barriers in our minds, depending on our environment, and with whom they come in touch.
We might feel okay about lending our best friend a shirt, but not that shirt that you inherited from your grandmother. That’s okay. You are the person to know if a special item has value to you. It’s fine not to share every little thing, and to change and adapt to your comfort. You can still connect with others without complete enmeshment. It is good to have things that are your own.
It’s also good to review if we have too many material boundaries. We may find we never want to share - and that can be a problem too.
Try and reflect if you feel you need to extend the boundaries a little. Are they too rigid? What could you relax?

For example, you might say you don’t let anyone else drive your car. But you might be okay sharing your car with a family member but not with someone you’ve just met.
It is healthy to know what we are prepared to share, and which things are okay to share and which things aren't.
Another question that is worth answering in the course is how we expect our possessions to be treated by the people we share them with! Communicating this is very important, so others can understand where your expectations and boundaries really are.
Some things we can try saying are: “I am happy to share my shirt with you, but I do need it by Friday”, “I can’t lend you money anymore, I care about you and I worry this is not helping”, “I do not lend this item as it has a lot of emotional value to me”..
This is hard, but remember that you have a right to your voice, your boundaries, and to practice your needs. And again, where we are unsafe or invalidated - when those boundaries are violated - we can remove ourselves from the conversation. 

It is especially difficult to keep material boundaries with family members. You may have had a sibling that wanted to use all your stuff growing up and still think they can now that you are adults. Material boundaries with parents can also be tricky as there are many layers that affect the way we interact and share with them. Our parents may have been the people that gave us everything we had when we were kids, or made sacrifices for us, and we might feel like we want to reciprocate that now that we are adults and share our things with them.
There is nothing wrong with that as long as this is what we want, not because it is what someone feels they are owed, or what we think we HAVE to do: this idea that we have to give in order to receive. Otherwise, we can fall into difficult circles of reproach and resentment. This happens a lot with family, and we asked our team therapist to give us an example to examine this fact. 

Cristina lived with her parents and 2 siblings in her home town until she turned 18, then she moved to another city to go to Uni. Her parents were happy to support her financially during her studies, but in the first few months in the new city, Cristina started feeling that this arrangement wasn’t quite working. Her parents were very demanding about her grades and would say things like: “Don´t you see we are paying for you to be there?”; “We are giving up so much for your studies”.
This made Cristina feel uncomfortable and guilty, because she was trying her best at Uni, but it was also a difficult adjustment for her.
She decided this was too much pressure for her, so she found a job at a bookshop and said to her parents that she would take things on financially, even if it meant taking longer in finishing her degree. This allowed her to take her studies at the pace she wanted and not feel like she owned her parents anything.
To this day, Cristina is very mindful of ever taking money from her parents, as she knows it might come with a reproach later. To preserve their relationship, she prefers not to.

Setting material boundaries is not just connected to giving/sharing your money or possessions but also taking/receiving it from others, like in Cristina´s case. 

**We ’re going rogue and sneaking in one more boundary type!

Another type of boundary that is becoming more and more important are our Digital boundaries. These act in a combination of time, emotional, physical, internal boundaries - and maybe some others too! It’s a new and complex area, but you might identify with the feeling of wanting to check your phone constantly, spending a lot of time on social media, staying connected with friends, family and even work 24/7.
For many of us, social media is also our work platform, and not having that separation between work life and personal life can make it really difficult to switch off and rest. Especially as more and more of us come to work at home!
Some tips:

  • Try not to have your work email account logged in on your personal phone. 
  • Consider unfollowing all related work accounts during the weekend if you feel you cannot disconnect.
  • Set up notifications on your phone to tell you how many hours you are spending online - not because you should feel guilty, but so you can become conscious of just how much “time” you are losing that you might want to save.
    You can even set up the amount of time you would like to have as a limit, and your phone will not allow you to access certain apps once you are over that hour.
  • Allocate specific time for different tasks and be realistic: if you are going down from 8 online daily hours, reducing to 1 a day will be unrealistic. Set realistic targets for yourself so you can feel empowered once you meet them, then keep increasing them as you go.
    (We love this trick in particular!)
  • If you can, spend more time outdoors and don’t take your phone. Go for a walk, observe people passing by or nature - if you have any woods, parks or beaches close to you.
  • Practice putting your phone away when you are with people, so you can concentrate on having quality time with them.
  • Turn off your phone/data at least 30 mins before going to bed. Not checking your phone before bed is key for good sleep hygiene, and it can help you reduce the amount of time you spend online.
    Blue light from technology keeps the brain awake, as though it were in sunlight.
    There are also apps you can download that turn the blue light to “yellow light” that causes less strain, and makes it easier for us to fall to sleep.
  • Be careful who you open up to online: people sometimes lose track of boundaries if they cannot see the other person, and it’s very easy to start trusting people we barely know, or to expose your opinions in a sphere where they are not respected. This can be draining in and of itself. 

The homework for this session is… 

If we’ve chosen our dance style, now it’s time to start practicing the steps… 1,2,3,4 - go!

Write down phrases that you can use to set the boundaries you’ve chosen to focus on. Try to think of situations where you may need to apply your boundary. Ready yourself to respond to those situations with your phrase.
These can include things you say to people if they ask you to do something you don’t want to do, things you say to yourself to encourage the maintenance of your boundaries (like a daily affirmation!), or the way you might introduce your new boundaries to your friends/family/partner, etc.
Write 3 or 4 responses for each boundary you have chosen to focus on.
A few tips:

-be direct

-be honest

-do not give much explanation

When communicating your boundaries, whether material or otherwise, start by using “I” statements - state where you are at - then add one “but” or “and” with simple reasons, so the other can understand your reasoning. But you do not have to give excuses. If you feel you have to compensate for your feelings or things, or else “prove” your own opinion, it is likely because too many of our boundaries have been trespassed in the past. This is not something you have to account for when you are creating your new boundaries. 
For example, if I am trying to create a time boundary with my family but I want to stay close to them, I may think about saying:
“Thanks for the invitation, but I cannot come on Sunday.”
“It would be great to see you, but it will need to be next time as I am busy this weekend.”
“I will join you for the next party, and have a great time!”

Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this. 

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