Giving to others can be a wonderfully fulfilling activity. It can also go too far, leaving us tired and overwhelmed. Boundaries by definition are “a line that marks the limits of an area or a limit of a subject or sphere of activity.” Because we are creatures with limited amounts of energy, we either listen to and honor these limits or we suffer. In setting a boundary, we are stating clearly what it is that we can offer freely, without resentment, anger, or exhaustion. In Nedra Tawwab’s book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace, she shares the following signs that we are struggling to hold healthy boundaries –
- You feel overwhelmed.
- You feel resentment from people that may be asking too much of you.
- You avoid phone calls and interactions with people that you fear may ask for something.
- You make efforts to help others yet get little in return.
- You feel burned out.
- You frequently daydream about dropping everything and disappearing.
- You have no time for yourself.”
We’ve all heard or felt at some point in our lives the importance of setting boundaries; however, much about boundaries is often misunderstood. We may recognize the need to protect our time or money, but may struggle to set limits in less obvious ways, such as:
- Space boundaries: What do you need in terms of autonomy, freedom, or individuality?
- Time boundaries: How are you managing obligations to yourself, work, family, friends? How do you deal with others that chronically make you wait?
- Energy boundaries: What are you willing to allow in terms of favors or free labor? Do you believe that you have a right to step away in an effort to recharge your own energy?
- Emotional boundaries: When and with whom is it safe to share or be vulnerable? Do you honor yourself by not allowing others to emotionally dump on you?
- Physical boundaries: Who can touch your body where, when and how? Are you able to own your desires and limits for needed personal space?.
- Intellectual boundaries: When do you discuss your thoughts and ideas and when do you not?
In which ways are you saying ‘yes,’ but your body and soul are saying ‘no’? Sometimes your body is screaming “no!”, but you respond with a polite yes to whatever demands others may have. It may be easy to place others’ needs above your own. You may find yourself engaging in numbing behaviors such as drinking or other means, just to survive the demands of others. You may simply struggle to recognize your wants, needs or even feelings. You can choose when to disengage from conversations that disrupt your peace of mind. It is critical for your mental health to learn to guard your energy and honor your time.
To live a more authentic life it is imperative that you know what you value, what you need, and what you want. Living in this way allows you to speak your truth by setting boundaries to protect these values. If you were raised not believing that your needs mattered, it may be difficult to discern what it is that you want or need. Due to an unsupportive or even abusive primary caregiver, your emotional experience may have never felt validated. Not knowing as a child that your needs matter, makes it hard to recognize your own needs today, or even how to set boundaries as an adult.
Simply wishing or hoping others can decipher what it is we need and want leads to resentment. Clear communication of what you want and need is crucial for healthy relationships. Empathetic and codependent people often struggle with setting boundaries. It feels counterintuitive for a codependent person to consider their own needs first. They may have their entire identity wrapped up in a label of being kind, generous or giving. Saying no may feel wrong or bad or selfish, especially when you believe it is your job to save or fix people. Family systems are often the most difficult place to set boundaries; however, setting healthy limits with family members and loved ones teaches them how you want and deserve to be treated. When we consistently practice setting boundaries, it gets easier with time and helps us to create a life in line with what we value most.
Holding to your boundaries can be just as challenging as setting the boundary in the first place. Managing the discomfort of not giving in, or fearing that others will be disappointed can be overwhelming. You may worry about the loss of a relationship, but in reality, healthy boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships. At times it may feel impossible or even unsafe to set a boundary. Toxic people or those who are benefiting from you not holding a boundary may try to convince you to give in to their wants and needs. Furthermore, they may call a boundary selfish, or controlling, or make your life difficult when they no longer receive the benefit of getting what they want. Hold your boundary anyway. You can tell a lot about a person by how they respect your boundaries.
It is never okay for others to ignore your boundaries. If you or a loved one are having difficulty knowing what you want or need, and how to get there, counseling can help. If you are allowing others to criticize, lecture, punish or make you feel less than, you may need help breaking free of toxic people or toxic patterns. No one is entitled to invade your space or to take advantage of your kindness. If you want support, please reach out to one of our therapists here at Desert Consulting. Give us a call. We’d love to help.