Mark 6: 31 – 32

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”


The world we live in is governed by boundaries. Countries are separated by borders; houses are bordered by walls; and traffic lines demarcate our roads, dictating where we should drive. The concept of boundaries is not unfamiliar to us, yet we often fail to set our own personal boundaries. Not necessarily physical ones but more often the mental, spiritual and emotional limits of our capacity.


We tend to think about our boundaries only when they have been compromised and even then, we are hesitant to draw the line.  The nature of the work we do at IseeU and the context within which we work, has forced us to be proactive with boundary setting.  As part of this strategy IseeU recently hosted a Boundaries Workshop for our volunteer mentors where amongst other things, we looked at the What? Why? & How? of Healthy Boundaries. Over the next few weeks, we will share some of our learnings with you.


In this introductory blog, our guest blogger Hannah Nelson, will consider an important question:

Why do we struggle to set boundaries?

It cannot be that we do not recognise the value there is in knowing and communicating our boundaries. Rather, I would suggest, it is because we view personal boundaries as a selfish and self-serving protection mechanism: Who am I to refuse a request from a friend; a plea from a colleague; or deny a relative a favour? We are taught that in order to be good, or to be liked, we must perpetually be available, but this cannot be further from the truth. Research shows that when we learn to set healthy boundaries for ourselves, we are actually allowing much more of ourselves to be available for giving (Brene Brown on “Boundaries”).


Without emotional, spiritual and mental boundaries we run the real risk of becoming burnt out and drained. The truth simply is that we are not bottomless wells of energy, effort and time. Each and every one of us has our limits and there should be no guilt whatsoever in acknowledging them. When we understand what our limits are and where our legitimate responsibilities lie, we can more effectively give generously of our time, energy and compassion.


A striking example of this is the demonstration of safety precautions on a flight. Some of us may be familiar with the routine: the flight attendants line the aisles as the video demonstrates how to tighten the seatbelts, retrieve one’s life jacket and what to do in the unlikely circumstance that the cabin should run out of air. Are we told to make sure our neighbor has their oxygen mask on first? No, we are instructed to ensure that our mask is first fitted over our mouths before helping the person sitting next to us. The lesson therefor is: in order to help others we must help ourselves first.


This is certainly not to say that we should selfishly pursue our own agenda and have no regard for others, far from it. But it should illustrate that helping yourself need not be seen as a selfish act. In allowing yourself the time, space and coping mechanisms that you need, you will be more aware of how much you have in your reserves for other people. That your reserves are limited is completely normal, it is in fact human, and no one should feel ashamed to acknowledge that.


Perhaps the most reassuring example of this is Jesus himself. The Son of God valued solitude and would retreat from the crowds who followed him to be alone. He spent time with God, his Father, knowing that it would encourage and strengthen him.  Even though he was under pressure from his friends and disciples, Jesus adhered to nobody’s agenda but God’s.


So you see boundaries are not inherently bad, for just like walls around houses they keep us safe and like lines on the road they show us where we should be headed.


Boundaries should be embraced because within them we allow ourselves to flourish. And if you are flourishing imagine how much more you can offer those who need help to grow.


A special thanks to our guest blogger Hannah Nelson, writing all the way from Yangon, Myanmar.