Boundaries: a foreign topic to me until the last couple of years. I received a lot of “me, too!” comments and messages from my recent Instagram post about setting boundaries … So, along with the important role boundaries play during the busy holiday season, I’ve decided to expand on the topic here.
Pretty sure I was born a people-pleaser. I am the QUEEN of over-promising and over-committing myself to plans and activities – and most of the time, it’s to make others happy, not myself.
Too many commitments squeezed into my already busy schedule always amounts to added stress. The built-up stress leads to anxiety. The anxiety leads to panic attacks. Oh, and if I cancel or just don’t show up to plans I’ve committed to? The guilt I feel is paralyzing. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that takes its toll on me both physically and mentally.
I stumbled upon a quote that sums up boundaries (or the lack thereof) in my life:
“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.” – Cheryl Richardson
The war I create inside myself when I don’t set boundaries not only causes me anxiety, but it also keeps me from developing real, meaningful relationships with myself and with others.
So, what exactly are boundaries?
To me, setting boundaries simply means knowing my limits a.k.a. learning to say “no” to others, to plans, to activities, to anything, in order to benefit myself and my ability to develop meaningful relationships with others.
Now, boundaries can be physical, emotional, spiritual, etc., but I’m specifically talking about setting boundaries with others when it comes to commitment.
While I’m still a newbie to this, here’s how I set boundaries:
- Assess the situation – Instead of automatically agreeing, asking … Does this fit in my schedule? Is this something I want to do/attend?
- Ask myself what is best for me – Will this stress me out? I need to be aware of and respect my personal limits.
- Make a decision.
- Communicate my decision with emphasis on WHY I made it to the other person/group – honesty is key here!
- Move forward guilt-free.
I just made it sound easy, but this process takes time and effort. For me, the most important step I need to practice and put effort into is No. 4: communication.
Before learning about the importance of boundaries, I used to come up with not-exactly-true reasons why I couldn’t be somewhere for someone. For example, I’d say, “I don’t feel well. I’m out for tonight.” While that was kind of true (considering the guilt from bailing usually made me sick to my stomach), it often wasn’t the real reason.
With the help of therapy, I’ve learned that openness and honesty are key. Instead of making something up, I now do my best to speak the truth and communicate that to my family and friends. So, instead of “feeling sick” I’ll say, “I’m committed to another event tonight, so I’m unable to make this one,” OR “I’m worn out from the work week and am going to take some time to relax. Let’s reschedule for another time!”
I communicate this in a calm and respectful manner, of course. And more often than not, my family and friends understand (if they don’t, then that’s a reason to assess that specific relationship in my life).
The hardest part in all of this for me? Learning that taking care of myself is NOT selfish.
Taking care of myself first allows me to be more present in life, and that alone benefits my relationships. It opens the line of communication, allows me to be 100 percent honest and 100 percent myself … Not only have I learned more about myself in this process, others have, too.
I truly believe that boundaries are essential to real, meaningful relationships.
You must set boundaries in your closest relationships so that you can feel accepted, heard and loved … Part of feeling connected to someone is allowing him or her to truly see youand what you’re all about.
Boundaries have helped me to understand what true self-care is, how to love myself, and how to respect the boundaries that others need, too.
Now, I am still a serious work in progress over here – setting boundaries takes effort and does not happen overnight! I’m making it a priority to practice boundaries daily and it has benefitted me SO much so far. It’s helped me to stay true to myself and to the people in my life.
Do you struggle with setting boundaries? How do you plan to implement boundaries into your life, especially during the busy holiday season?
Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.