I’m a huge fan of rules…or am I?

I’ve always been an avid rule follower, especially in school. As a child, if my teacher told me to walk quietly in the hallways, I wouldn’t make a noise. If my teacher told me to tidy up, I would do so immediately. In fact, if my teacher gave any sort of instructions, I would follow them without question. As someone with OC tendencies, following rules came naturally to me. Breaking them felt wrong, and even if at times it was necessary to break the rules, I always ended up feeling like a bad person.

Two decades later, I found employment at a UK boarding school. After spending years at university, where I had the opportunity to be fully independent, I was suddenly thrown back into a world full of strict rules, high expectations, and set routines.

Rules are interesting because they have different functions. In a boarding environment, rules are meant to keep everyone safe, and allow for the smooth running of the boarding house. If nobody followed the rules, there would be chaos in the boarding house every day.

The irony is that although I’m a huge fan of rules, as a staff member, I have a lot of difficulty enforcing them. I have even more difficulty following through with consequences if a student does not respect them. Logically, it just does not make sense to me. Since I’ve always been a rule follower, I can’t process nor comprehend the reasons someone would break rules in the first place. It’s puzzling and frustrating, and since I’m not someone with a lot of patience, it’s been a tough learning curve for me.

I never minded rules growing up, but now that I work in a school, I try to put myself in the students’ shoes. Ironically, I think I would have hated boarding school as a teenager, because of the rules! For example, the kids must wear uniforms in school, whereas I spent most of high school wearing sneakers and hoodies. They must do prep at a designated time, whereas I did homework whenever it felt right. They must hand in their tech devices every evening, whereas I always had full control over my belongings.

Out of curiosity, I asked the kids how they felt about all the rules they have to follow. They said they aren’t too bothered because they’re used to it, and they’ve never known anything different. I wonder whether I would have felt the same way back then.

My current situation has led me to practice self-enquiry about rules. I’ve wondered…

“As a child, I always followed rules at school. Now that I’m a staff member, how do I feel about them?”

“How come I’m so hesitant to enforce rules if I value them so much?”

“How did the specific rules in my childhood environment affect the development of my OC tendencies?”

“I understand that rules need to be put into place when people are in a group – but what about my own rules about my own behaviours? Are they effective for me? Do they affect my self-esteem or relationships?”

Ultimately, working in a school has led me to question my views regarding the importance of following rules. I’m also learning that there is a big difference between rules in general, and the rules I make about my own behaviour, which are fuelled by my OC tendencies.

When I was in a dark place, I had many rules, like not allowing myself to eat, drink, or leave my desk until I felt my assignment was perfect (and free of grammar mistakes, of course). I had a few others, like not showing anyone how I was feeling, putting a smile on my face when I felt sad, and punishing myself if I made a mistake, even a silly one.

In RO DBT, we focus on non-judgment, and treatment often targets rigid and rule-governed behaviour. So, is there such a thing as a good or bad rule, or is it a matter of a rule being effective and helpful instead?


Daphnée is currently passionate about supporting adolescent girls in a school setting, traveling to European countries, and eating all shapes of pasta. When she is not reading the RO DBT manual (for the second time), she enjoys fiction novels, listening to Taylor Swift, and petting Golden Retrievers.