In the last few posts I shared ideas with you about the importance of and role that having community can play in your life. For my final post in this series, I wanted to address the idea of how to maintain oneself while in community. More specifically, how to maintain healthy boundaries while growing our connections within a community. I want to focus in particular on internet groups because I believe this is an area of challenge for most of us.
When we belong to physical communities, there are several things that are typically in place to create natural boundaries. The meetings are often time-limited, occur in a specific location, have a pre-set agenda, and a facilitator in place. All we often have to do is just show-up, maybe provide a verbal contribution and then leave until the next meeting. Depending on the group, we may not think about it again until we get that reminder email telling us about the next event.
When we belong to internet communities, some of these natural boundaries are not in place. You may be able to come and go several times throughout the day and night. You may have messages sent directly to your cell phone so that you have 24/7 access. If you’re like me, your cell phone may stay on 24 hours a day, because you don’t want to miss anything. When we are always on, the boundaries between our professional, personal, and social lives can become very blurred. It is the crossing of these different lines that can create a scenario in which we can lose track of ourselves. We may wake-up one day and find we have difficulty accessing our original thoughts and ideas. Instead, they have become a jumble of the information we have been fed throughout the day.
In order to guard against this, I want to provide you with some guidelines that will help you create and define boundaries for yourself.
Creating Healthy Boundaries
Create a “Job Description”
I know, I know, socializing and community building online is not a job, but you do have a role to play within that community. Your “job title” could be participant, group member, or counselor. As such, it is important to understand what your responsibilities are to the group and to yourself. The group you are a part of could have a very loose structure. For example you could belong to a group whose purpose may be to post pictures of each meal you eat throughout the day. In this case you’re going to want to define a role that is comfortable for you and that fits your needs. Ask yourself the following questions to help you define your role: How often do I want to post pictures? Which meal or meals do I want to post? Do I want to provide descriptions of each meal? What type of feedback would I like from the group? What type of feedback would I like to give? How often do I want to check-in with the group to see other people’s posts? By asking and answering the above questions or ones like that, you create a structure around your participation in the group.
Set a Time Limit
Another important guideline is to set a time limit. Because our online communities are so readily available, it is easy to lose track of time. Setting a time limit is a great way to create boundaries for ourselves that can help us remain more balanced. You may even decide to set a timer for yourself! However you choose to go about doing this, just make sure that the limits that you set are what works best for you.
Check-in With Yourself (Regularly)
And finally, but probably most important is to check-in with yourself on a regular basis. Make sure you revisit your goals and desires for your participation in your online community. Make sure that your needs are still being met. If you find yourself still continuing to participate out of habit, but no longer feel that a particular community meets your needs then a change may be in order. This could involve addressing your concerns with others in the group, or deciding that it may be time to seek out another community. Those check-ins will help you stay connected with your needs and increases your ability to recognize when they change and take the necessary steps to address this.
Being connected to others is an important part of who we are as human beings. By taking the steps to create healthy boundaries around our online group experiences, we enable these connections to remain positive and grow in a healthy way.