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Mental Health: Boundaries

‘You don’t lose real friends, real opportunities or real relationships when you start standing up for yourself and setting clear boundaries.

You lose abusers, manipulators, narcissist, control freaks, attention seekers and mental-health destroying leeches,’ Steven Bartlett, The Diary of a CEO.

Sheetal Mental health

We often hear the phrase, ‘always treat people the way you want to be treated,’ but there is much more to this. In our stressful working environment, it is important to show people how you will or will not be treated by knowing you have the choice and POWER to walk away the moment it violates your boundaries. No one should tolerate or accept abusive, violent, aggressive, manipulative or toxic environments. We do not always get treated the way we want to be treated but having the will to walk away is the first step to making yourself a priority.

We have boundaries which are limits that one establishes to protect themselves – where we ultimately draw the line. Boundaries help protect our wellbeing and help us feel secure in our surroundings with others. Within a professional space, boundaries dictate how one wants to be treated and what types of interactions they are willing to accept from others.

Weak boundaries
Weak boundaries can often leave us feeling emotionally drained, used or even violated. Weak boundaries may mean an individual is more susceptible to being taken advantage of by others and feeling resentful over time.

As teachers and leaders, we can often feel the need to save others from their problems. This can result in one feeling consumed by others and often leads to the saviour unable to deal with their own issues.

Boundaries in the teaching profession
We are in a profession that demands a strong culture and climate – an environment where everyone can see the vision and demonstrates the values. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. We have those that go above and beyond their duties and those that meet us half way and others that just exist. When you’re someone who drives school improvement and thrives, a lot can depend on you. But sometimes, things don’t work out the way we want. We end up in places that are negative with people violating our boundaries which results in damaging our mental health.

Whether you are a teacher or a leader, maintaining integrity, honesty and a culture of mutual respect is of the utmost importance to keep high-performing staff by your side.

Staff Boundaries
We work in a profession where staff need to collaborate and work cooperatively together to drive curriculum changes and improve pupil outcomes. Whether you are a staff member who mixes with others or not – at school, respecting each other’s boundaries and space is important. There have been many experiences over the past two years where teaching staff have described colleagues violating boundaries, being disrespectful, bullying and demonstrating racial micro-aggression. Many have now left the profession and many more are considering leaving.

When your boundaries have been violated and the environment becomes toxic, here are key messages that helped me:

  1. Always make yourself the priority – when support isn’t there, remember you have a choice. You can choose to stand and walk – no two schools are the same.
  2. Remember your self-worth and what you bring to a school
  3. ‘When respect is no longer being served, remove yourself from the table!’
  4. When you are at your lowest and your boundaries have been violated, remember who you are and why you came here. Don’t let negative people consume you.
  5. You are in control of your mindset. When you are emotionally drained, remember you need time to heal and you will bounce back.
  6. If someone is offended by your boundaries and your drive, it is their problem – not yours.
  7. You can’t make everyone happy, you can’t expect perfection all the time.
  8. Remember you always have self-control and if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything you desire.
  9. Writing is a way to express how you feel and a method which allows you to ‘let go.’
  10. Remember your priorities, revenge is not one of them.

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The author

Sheetal is an experienced education leader in the Primary education sector. She has worked in a variety of settings in London in different leadership roles and has completed programmes such as the National Qualification for Headship. She has been responsible for many curriculum areas including English, RSE and Assessment and is currently working as an Assistant Headteacher in a secondary school and is interested in becoming involved in Further Education. As well as promoting diversity, equality and mental health, she has always been invested and successful at driving school improvement, curriculum design and achieving the best pupil outcomes through Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach. She now lives and teaches in Oxfordshire.

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