Foresight Mental Health
The Three Columns to Self-Esteem (Part 4)
Updated: Apr 3
You know therapists can avoid doing things too, right? We can avoid negative feelings. We can avoid doing our taxes until the last minute. We can avoid doing important things we need to do. Like writing this piece. Maybe it’s because it’s the last of the series. But more likely it’s because this is the toughest of the three columns to write about.
Of the Three Columns to building a healthy self-esteem, we previously reviewed the second (Likes) and third column (Goals). Today is the day. We have to talk about what I think is the most important of all the columns. Boundaries. This is identifying how much time you are willing to work after normal business hours. It’s about defining the relationship you want with your father after years of not being close. It’s about how many times per week you can eat out at a restaurant while trying to be more healthy.
And it’s not going to be enough to define them. We’re going to have to enforce them, too. You will have to effectuate the hours you want to work and ensure you don’t work any more. It’s about ensuring you don’t eat out of the house again this week even though your friend has a new place they want to try. It’s about keeping your estranged father at an emotional distance even though he wants to be close. I told you. This one is going to be haaaaaaaard.
We play with the concept of boundaries all the time but don’t realize it. Like the phrase, “There’s a fine line between…” and you can fill-in-the-blank with what pertains more to you.
There’s a fine line between genius and insanity.
There’s a thin line between love and hate.
There’s a fine line between being a good writer and rambling simp.
Ok, my neurosis showing up in the last one but you get the picture. This third portion of self-esteem is about defining what it is you are and are not willing to do. Defining these parameters helps self-esteem because you are clued into what you want and enforcing them makes you feel good about doing exactly what you said you would do. There’s a saying about being impeccable with your word. Why should it only be with others?
Let’s use an example. You have a major project at work and it’s going to require effort outside the normal 9-5. You decide to spend 7-9pm for a week to ensure the work is done right and prepped for presentation. Let’s say in the middle of that same week an event pops up that you really want to attend. The host says it starts at 8pm and ends at 10pm, which of course now overlaps with the boundary you identified of working outside of normal business hours in order to ensure your project is ready.
What do you do? Do you skip working for that night? That’s an easy decision to come to given you worked all day already and worked late for a couple nights prior. Do you end your work that night early? Again, pretty easy to come to this decision as you get a bit of both. However, if we are trying to build and maintain a healthy self-esteem, neither of these options are best. Enforcing your boundary would be to work from 7-9pm, your own self-identified desire, and attending the event afterwards.
Does a (BIG) part of you want you to attend the event and blow off the work for that night? Of course, and quite honestly who wouldn’t? You have already spent 8-9 hours working earlier in the day, why not take one evening off...especially if it is after work hours for something that will ab-so-lute-ly be more enticing. The problem is now you’ve gone against yourself and your word. You previously identified what would be best for you and now you, in this case working on the project to ensure it’s done well, are actively choosing to go against your desires for something that is not as important. You have now opened yourself up to second-guessing, questioning, or vacillating about something that was clear cut just days prior.
The most difficult part of this column lies within the sheer number of boundaries we may need to create. As noted in the examples above, boundaries can be created and enforced in every area of our lives. Romantic relationships, friendships, work boundaries, financial-spending parameters, eating/exercising, spending time with family...quite literally the list is endless. This is where self-monitoring and self-awareness become important. In the example above, you might wonder how the person came up with 7-9pm to work on their project after work? The person knows they finish a typical day at 5:30pm, exercise from 5:45-6:30pm, eat dinner until 7pm and can start working on the project at that point. That timeline was only able to be created by checking in with oneself, planning ahead, and accepting the extra time that’s necessary to have the project finalized in the way they wanted. That’s what this boundary was about. It is about ensuring your comfortability with the big project you have to complete. And now this boundary that was carefully crafted as being best for you is going to the wayside because of a lesser priority? Wavering from what one initially identified as best for themself does not and cannot make one feel better about themself. Hesitancy in making decisions for or about yourself comes from a lack of boundaries.
Boundaries take time, effort, and insight to define and blood, sweat, and tears to enforce, figuratively speaking about that last part of course. To help identify your boundaries and for practice on how to enforce them, talk to your therapist.