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  • Writer's pictureLaura

Boundary hunting in a world of demands

Earlier this week I wrote a light-hearted reflection about being away from home and some of the things we experienced along the way. In that post, there were some points raised about boundaries and how for some of us, our own feel invisible.

A black and white photo of a woman walking down a narrow lane at night with a road sign in the distance.

As a weird introvert trying to navigate this wild world of demands, I'm sure you will agree that we are all too often expected to fit within the boundaries of others. Whether this be meeting the needs of people who feel that their way is the right way, or more systemic boundaries that often tend to exclude those of us with disabilities or long-term illnesses. We live in a world where we are expected to be switched on and ready to give our attention to whoever commands it, and we're expected to respond to simultaneous demands in good nature. This world does not stop for one moment and for those of us in less powerful positions, it is often our boundaries that become blurred leading them to eventually become invisible. The result then, is that if we are expected to have no or few boundaries, what does this do to us in the long term? Is this why so many of us are burnt out, stressed out and experiencing such high levels of anxiety?

I don't have the answer to this question, but what I do want to touch on here is the impact of our boundaries and needs being dismissed into transparency. I hope that by doing so we can begin to see the problems. By at least acknowledging this problem explicitly, maybe you and I together can find things that we share. Maybe we can begin to think through a collection of boundaries rather than just our own as I said in the earlier post, and maybe we can start to bring our own into a state of existence. Boundary setting is not easy when we don't have the power to fully assert ourselves, but I believe that there are ways that we can say 'No'. First, we need to become boundary hunters by recognising the level of demand that is placed upon us.

Whether it's personal relationships, working life or even social media, demand is everywhere. I would hazard a guess that within an average day, many of us pick up our phones more times than we would like to admit. I don't know about you, but whenever my phone is next to me I feel a sense of unease. Because I know that within it, there is always going to be something waiting for me to answer or a digital bundle of stress about to be hurled my way. Our phones are often where our boundaries become lost. If I didn't have DND I don't know how I would be able to function. Truthfully, I wouldn't be able to at all.

A screenshot of an iPhone control centre
This is my optimal phone setup for focus.

There is a book by Johann Hari (I often write about it), called Stolen Focus. This book writes widely about the impact of the digital era and what this is doing to our ability to focus. How in today's online world we are now more connected than ever before. We can speak to someone on the other side of the planet whilst simultaneously checking our emails and shirking off phone calls that slip through the protective net of DND. All of this 'multitasking' is just one surface symptom of the demand placed on us. We are expected to be a recipient in other people's conversations and for their problems, responding immediately. It's not only the expectation of immediacy. It's the sheer level of information fired our way. Over recent months, I've read pages and pages of other people's problems, at times quite disturbing and on occasion from people I've never met. This digital overload can quickly become overwhelming without boundaries. For those firing out these digital stress bundles, they may not have the same boundaries. They might have more time than us for one. They might be someone who responds to emails day and night and therefore think we should too, or they might be in a situation where they believe that their demand on us is the only demand. And that raises the next problem...

A graphic with a black background, displaying the word 'Me' in various sizes

We live in a neoliberal society, where we think of ourselves in terms of an individual frame rather than a collective. Sure, there are aspects of life where our group or social identities become more salient but when it comes to getting our needs met and establishing our boundaries, that is usually a very personal thing. It's individual and therefore it doesn't tend to be thought about through the lens of the collective. From what I have seen, it is usually only when something significant happens such as serious illness or bereavement, that demand is taken away from someone. But even then, the expectation tends to be that this is usually a temporary thing. I think for grief you are allowed around three posts on social before you begin to be unfollowed or muted depending on your circles. Crass point and perhaps a little off-topic, but the truth is that individuals have demands placed on them by other individuals with their own set of demands to address. Depending on the context, your social group and how much capital or power you have, the demand placed on you may be higher and your boundaries may be more or less visible. But when you don't have power, and you don't have a voice, this is when demand can be readily thrown at you and you are expected to just absorb it. Other people's needs and problems must come first and you must deal with whatever demand is placed on you. Except that's wrong. You don't have to reply to anything or anyone in the moment that they command it from you. One thing I have learnt, is that some of us don't like that but they can and will wait if that is what you need.

So, as shown here, it's not just about the online world, a demanding family member or an unruly boss. The problem with asserting our boundaries is a minefield of ideology, economies and systems of power. In today's world we are given the belief that we have control over our own lives and boundaries, but do you truly believe we do?

That's why I think we need to all become better boundary hunters before it's too late. Starting by thinking of boundaries not only as our own but as an entire network of boundaries. By doing so we may find more unity, become more compassionate and begin to step towards a world that can wait for a little while.


Do you feel that your own boundaries have become lost in this world?

Feel free to share your own experiences below or get in touch through our forum.

2 Kommentare

17. Nov. 2023

2 years before covid existed was when I started making my boundary known with a friend I have known a long time but I feel the dynamics of our friendship not quite the same as once were. Although may door would always be open, it got to stage where I can't go to his for reasons he gave. But I said I visit a friend, not judge your home. But still stayed the same. He is always welcome at mine. But after the 2 years where most occasions I stayed in on the day I expected this friend, who would end up cancelling on the day.

It then got where cancellations the last hour to half an hour at time…

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17. Nov. 2023
Antwort an

Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences Liz. Social and family relationships can be difficult to manage as you’ve shown here. Especially when boundaries are mismatched, and with the added pressure of it being a family member or close friend. It can be easier to assert boundaries with people we are less connected to, although at times I’ve also found it difficult with strangers online. I think with the disinhibition that happens, this perhaps leads to even greater boundary blurring.

Glad you are able to assert yourself and not succumb to things like the pressures of responding to people etc. Thanks again for sharing this, hope you are doing ok x

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