AAEP Wellness Coverage: Are We Honest About Our Communication Boundaries?

By clearly communicating boundaries with clients, equine veterinarians can achieve a better work-life balance. monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images

During the Lifestyle and Wellness Session at the 2022 AAEP Convention, Dr. Stacey Cordivano spoke about the importance of understanding your unspoken boundaries and learning to communicate them. She quoted Brené Brown, saying, “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”

What are Boundaries?

Cordivano went on to define boundaries as a way to communicate our needs to others via words or actions. She said boundaries are unhealthy when they are either porous or rigid. When people lack boundaries, she continued, they often experience burnout, resentment, frustration, anger, anxiety or depression. Sometimes, this results in negative actions of gossip, avoidance and isolation. None of these are conducive to a healthy life.

Many people have trouble setting boundaries, she said. Some are fearful of being seen as rude or uncaring, or they are afraid of being ostracized in the future. Others are people-pleasers who believe their value in the world comes only from helping others. People-pleasers might even believe that some types of relationships shouldn’t have any boundaries. Setting limits is hard because it requires self-reflection, time and energy. It’s no wonder so people struggle with boundaries.

By defining the problem or issue first and then determining the solution that best fits your values, you can determine what type of boundary makes the most sense for you, Cordivano said. To communicate your limits, keep it short and clear by directly stating your need or request. Or, simply say “no.” This requires becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sometimes, being uncomfortable prevents people from doing what they know is right for them. With practice, it becomes less uncomfortable to advocate for yourself.

Communication Boundaries for Equine Veterinarians

Cordivano gave several examples of communication boundary challenges that are common in equine veterinary medicine. With clients, she talked about the late-night text asking for a prepurchase exam the following morning, or a client asking for your cell phone number to keep you updated on her horse’s manure output overnight. For co-workers, she described the boss that asked you to unexpectedly cover emergency duty on a Sunday when you’ve already made plans, and a colleague who returned a shared ultrasound covered with gel and shavings. In more personal examples, she noted that you might have trouble stopping yourself from checking your work email on your phone during dinner with your spouse. Or, you might say you’re too busy to visit a mental health professional, even though you feel you could use the help. 

In closing, the speaker quoted Henry Cloud, co-author of the book Boundaries, saying “Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.”

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