Setting Boundaries and Building Confidence

What do you think of when you hear the word boundaries? defines personal boundaries as “guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”  To the activists who filled out the survey (where I collected my statistics for these mental health posts from), boundaries meant many different things to each of them. For some, boundaries meant “setting limits you can reach and setting timed breaks” while for others boundaries meant “understanding your capacity right now and saying no at times.” 

However, understanding what boundaries are and setting boundaries isn’t as easy as it may sound. The results of the survey revealed that 30% of the activists didn’t know how to set boundaries, 40% weren’t sure and the other 30% did know. But knowing how to set boundaries wasn’t the only obstacle. 60% of the activists thought that activists aren’t given a chance to set boundaries in their activism with 10% saying activists are given a chance and 1 person expressing that “I think you need confidence to set boundaries and that might be hard for some people,”

Confidence can be a major obstacle for many activists. The defines confidence as “a general sense of belief and trust in your own ability to control your life, or it might be more situation-specific.” Due to confidence being a skill or trait that you learn and work on rather than being something you are born with, the level of confidence one has can vary from person to person and it can take time and effort to gain confidence. Every experience you’ve had during your life has impacted on your confidence with positive experiences generally raising your confidence and negative experiences generally decreasing your confidence. For example, when fighting against systems of oppression and facing societal oppressions daily (like being told you're not good enough, old enough, deserving enough or constantly comparing oneself to others etc.) activists confidence levels can be decreased dramatically.

For the activists who filled out the survey there were many different situations that impacted on their confidence daily. They felt confident when they were “working in a team”, “taking action,” “speaking in front of people and being listened to,” “getting positive results from my work,” “speaking in detail about a topic I know very well,” and “protesting and meeting other activists.” They felt less confident when they “make a mistake that is visible to others” or “when my work is ignored by politicians or companies and has no impact.” 

However, knowing how, having the chance and having the confidence to set boundaries are not the only obstacles faced. One activist highlighted another obstacle, saying that “setting boundaries is very difficult in activism (speaking from experience) because you constantly feel like you should be doing more but very few people can dedicate their entire lives to activism” with another activist pointing out that setting boundaries “doesn’t make you any less of an activist,”

Lately the term ‘perfect activist’ has been circulating social media with many taking apart the stereotype of a ‘perfect activist’ and expressing that there is no certain or specific way to be an ‘activist’ and that activism looks different for everyone and no one should be shamed for their type of activist no matter the type or how big or small the actions taken are.

Activism may look like the following for different activists:

1. Striking,

2. Making friends,

3. Anti-colonial work,

4. Writing articles,

5. Justice for homeless,

6. Fighting for healthcare justice,

7. Writing music,

8. Anti-racism work,

9. Intersectional feminism,

10. Spending time in nature,

11. Listening to your bodies needs,

12. Going vegetarian and vegan,

13. Being conscious about ones impact on the planet,

14. Taking care of animals,

15. Abolitionism work,

16. Reading research,

17. Artwork,

18. Disability activism,

19. Unlearning and reteaching yourself about the world,

20. Boycotting companies,

21. Raising awareness,

22. Fighting inequalities,

23. Changing negative impact on the earth,

24. Making mistakes and learning from them,

25. Making speeches,

And much more. There is no specific, perfect way to be an activist and everyone is different so their activism is different. 

So why is setting boundaries so important? If boundaries aren't set activists can experience many negative results like burnout, overthinking, procrastination, being overburdened, having too little time for yourself and being stressed. One activist pointed out that “For me I only stop working when life becomes hectic or when I experience burnout but by then I just experience imposter syndrome and feel guilty when I stop working so it’s very difficult to create healthy boundaries with activism in my experience." Once clear boundaries are set one can ensure that their mental health is prioritised as well as their goals and their activism instead of their mental health being left behind.

By now you are probably wondering how to set boundaries and build up your confidence. Here are some recommendations from different activists and websites that may help. Of course, it is recommended that you do your own research and find out what works for you and get the help needed to succeed in setting boundaries and building confidence.There are some links at the bottom to help with further research.

To build up and exercise your confidence you can:

1. Imagine your confidence as a brick wall around you and use every negative comment or situation to add another brick of confidence up.

2. Practice talking in the mirror before a speech or before meeting someone knew. Practice the speech many times and prepare some introduction sentences for the new person you’re meeting.

3. Write affirmations to repeat to yourself

4. If you are in an uncomfortable situation leave, if you can. If not try to curl your toes to anchor you to the floor and straighten your spine.

5. Talk to yourself as a friend and treat yourself as a friend

6. Keep a journal to be able to recognise what is decreasing your confidence.

7. Talk to someone trusted about your confidence and get their help and advice.

8. Take risks – like starting random conversations with new people

9. Pretend you are someone watching a movie and your thoughts are the movie and observe your emotions and thoughts

10. Practice self compassion. Self compassion is is treating yourself with kindness if a mistake is made, you have a setback or you fail. Understand being imperfect is a part of living, your not facing challenges a lone and many people may share this experience. Being conscious of your emotions

11. Educate yourself about a topic if you want to speak about it

12. Become clear about what your goals are and what you want and tell yourself you deserve to reach the goals.

13. If someone is impacting negatively on your confidence tell them so, tell them to stop and if they don’t try to remove them from your life, if possible.

14. Celebrate other peoples successes and be happy for other peoples achievements.

To create and set boundaries you could:

1. Write out and think about what you priorities are and what your main goals are so you can set your boundaries around these.

2. If you have too much work delegate tasks to teammates and ask for help.

3. Research boundaries, what they are and how to set them.

4. Create the space for yourself to have boundaries and make the space for your group and teams to be able to set boundaries too.

5. Examine and understand your workload over time so that you can learn how much work you can take on and what you can do without getting burnout.

6. Take lots of breaks from your activism. These can be short ones for water, stretching, walking or longer ones of a week of rest and no social media and no work.

7. Communicate your boundaries with others so that they don’t cross them and can help you to keep them.

8. Ask trusted others for advice on how they set boundaries.

9. Set limits. Once you understand your workload, what you have to achieve, how much time you have and what are your priorities try to set limits on how much time and effort you will spend on achieving your work and goals.

10. Make a schedule to help keep you on track.

11. Be honest with yourself. Don’t lie to yourself and say you can get all of the work done and keep taking on more work. Be realistic and honest and what you really can take on and achieve without your mental health being compromised.

12. Respect others boundaries

13. Practice saying no.

Links for further research: