It was one of my first clients who introduced me to the Consensus Circle as a way of describing healthy boundaries. Many of us battle to define our own healthy boundaries and it requires understanding oneself and one’s needs to be able to create healthy boundaries.
The Consensus Circle is the circle you create for yourself, with you being in the centre of your circle. Your circle determines how much physical and emotional space you will allow between yourself and others. Within the circle with you, are those people who you love, trust and know that they have your best interest at heart. Those in the circle with you empower you and build you up. In other words, they serve you in a positive light.
It is important to ensure you have a lot of “breathing space” in this circle and that your boundary line of the circle does not close in on you (e.g. by being too rigid) – when you find yourself lonely and isolated you know you are being too rigid with your boundaries. Allow yourself enough physical and emotional space so that you may expand rather than become constricted. To do this, you need to have a strong sense of who you are.
Just outside your circle are those that you have identified as people you will tolerate, on your terms. These are the people who you are willing to associate with and can appreciate their roles in your life without letting them invade your own personal space in a detrimental manner. Co-workers often fall in this perimeter!
Further away from your circle, are those people who do not serve you positively. These are the negative people, the naysayers, the critical and judgemental people that you have identified as harmful to your own personal development.
Creating healthy boundaries is all about self-care. It is crucial for one’s mental health and well-being. We know when we haven’t created healthy boundaries when we find ourselves questioning our own identity or become completely entangled with someone else.
Not only do we need to protect ourselves mentally and emotionally but also physically - when someone stands too close to you, uninvited, that person is showing no respect for your personal space. By stepping back, you are sending a non-verbal message to that person to respect your boundary. If that person chooses not to recognise the non-verbal message, you may be required to verbally ask them to step back. By doing this, you are being responsible for your own personal space and clearly stating your boundaries.
Resentment, anger and irritation are emotions that are often triggered when you have poor boundaries. Remember: healthy boundaries are just as important in the workspace as they are in your own personal space. Many people suffer from burnout when they have not applied healthy boundaries in their workspace (and in their personal space). The more you allow a co-worker to make too many demands on your time or emotions, the more resentful and angrier you get.
Healthy boundaries reflect what you will be responsible for and what you won't be responsible for.
Healthy boundaries allow you to decide what and who you are willing to tolerate and not tolerate.
The type of boundaries you create determines whether you have healthy or unhealthy relationships.
By clearly creating our own Consensus Circle, we are allowing ourselves to:
Establish who we are. By creating healthy boundaries, we are learning to define who we are.
Say no nicely. By being assertive, respectively, we can decide whether we want to say no or yes in situations that demand it.
Understand that our needs, thoughts and feelings are separate from others.
Have self-respect. By taking responsibility for ourselves and for the decisions we make, we are being respectful towards ourselves.
Be empowered to make the right choices for us.
Live out the dreams, goals and plans we have made for ourselves.
Setting boundaries is vital to our own mental, emotional and physical health. Strong boundaries help us to have balance in our lives, self-respect and healthy relationships. If you are battling with creating your own healthy boundaries, spend some time reflecting on all areas of your life and identify what can be changed/removed/introduced so that your Consensus Circle serves you in the best possible way.