48. Boundaries vs Rules: What’s the Difference?
Let’s talk boundaries. Today, we’re diving into a topic that is crucial for professional and personal relationships and often misunderstood. I’m talking about the difference between rules and boundaries. We’re going to explore why we need to understand this difference in order to maintain healthy relationships.
So first let’s define rules and boundaries. Rules are external guidelines or regulations that are set by leaders, groups, institutions. They dictate our behavior, our actions, or expectations. The purpose of a rule is to maintain order, to ensure fairness. and to achieve the goals of the group. In schools, rules are the code of conduct. In sports, we have rules for how we play the game. Within the legal system, rules are the laws of the land that govern our safety. Because rules govern group behavior, they’re usually universal and sometimes rigid. Rules are usually monitored and enforced by someone who has authority.
Boundaries, on the other hand, are personal limits that I set for myself. Boundaries are about what is acceptable and comfortable for me individually. My boundaries clarify what I will participate in and what I will not participate in. They help me to manage my thoughts, my feelings, and my experience. My boundaries are about meeting my own needs and preserving my own well being, physically and emotionally. Boundaries vary between individuals and situations, and boundaries are flexible and adaptable because they change over time as our needs change over time. So in short, rules, are for group regulation and boundaries are for self regulation. If rules could talk, they would say something like, this is how we respect each other. If boundaries could talk, they would say, this is how I respect myself.
I’ll illustrate the difference in the story of three co workers. All three of them are hired to work 9 to 5 without any overtime. The first coworker, Jordan, shows up at 9, leaves between 5 and 5: 15 consistently every day. Jordan likes to be punctual and is not willing to work late for free. Jordan enjoys the work, likes the team and feels content with the job. The second co worker, Alex, shows up around 9: 30 most of the days. The supervisor has noticed that Alex has a pattern of tardiness and calls a meeting to address the tardiness issue. The supervisor confirms the working hours, reviews the timeliness expectation in the employee handbook, documents the conversation in Alex’s personnel file. Alex thinks, who cares what time I show up as long as I get my work done. Alex decides to seek employment with a different company that has more flexible working hours. The third coworker, Charlie, usually arrives around 8 a. m. to get a head start on the day’s work. If there are big projects or staff shortages, Charlie stays until the work is done and sometimes works 12 or more hours per day and usually ends up sick. Charlie resents the co workers that leave on time and resents the company for not paying overtime. Charlie continues working for the company even though they’re disgruntled. Can you relate to any of these co workers?
Who’s coming to mind that you know in one of these scenarios? Let’s dive into the rules and boundaries happening here. The rule is the code of conduct set by the company in the employee handbook. In this example, the specific rule is the working hours of 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. without paid overtime. This rule is set by this company and is monitored and enforced by the supervisor. The first co worker, Jordan, shows up on time and leaves on time. Is Jordan following the rules? Yes. By showing up on time and not working overtime. Does Jordan have boundaries? Yes. Jordan has a boundary to be on time and not to work overtime.
Okay, let’s look at the second coworker, Alex. Does Alex follow the rules? Nope, showing up late is not following the rules. Does Alex have boundaries? This is where it gets interesting. The answer is yes. It seems like Alex is okay with showing up late and comfortable with being tardy as long as the work gets done. The boundary for Alex is not working for a company that requires strict working hours.
Lastly, let’s look at that third coworker, Charlie. Is Charlie following the rules? Yes and no. Charlie is punctual, but is not actually following the rule of not working overtime. Does Charlie have boundaries? Nope, or at least not yet. So far, Charlie is working unpaid overtime to cover the responsibilities of the whole team, which is making him sick and tired and resentful. When I coach people like Charlie, I invite them to decide what personal limits they could put in place to increase their job satisfaction. How can they protect their health and honor their need for self care?
In summary, we need to have rules so that we have order and fairness and we achieve outcomes in groups. We also need to have boundaries so that we can honor our individual needs and our personal comfort. Both are important. Both are necessary. I hope that this helps clear up the difference between rules and boundaries. I hear these words getting mixed up all the time. So remember, we do not set boundaries for or on other people. Those are rules. My boundaries are for me and your boundaries are for you.