Blog Post #100: Setting Boundaries – Part 1
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If you’re the chronically overwhelmed caretaker, leader, parent, helper, teacher, or friend, you likely need some work on setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries is hard for most people, especially those who are empathetic and have a natural desire to help. It takes practice and staying power. Even if you’ve gotten better at setting boundaries, it’s easy to slip back into old habits and let up on them. Mostly this happens because people will inevitably test you to see how firm you are about keeping your boundaries.
If you’re a parent, you have lots of experience with this. Only instead of calling them boundaries, you call them rules. You set rules, your kids test them, wear you down, and before you know it, they’ve managed to slip through and get you to give in to something.
It’s the same with adult boundary-setting. Most people don’t realize that.
You think that once you’ve told someone where you draw the line, they’ll fall in and honor that. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t.
I’m covering this subject in two parts because it’s too large a topic to adequately address in one round. Today we’ll go over signs that you need some work on boundary-setting and then cover some myths that get in the way of changing your behavior. Next week in Part 2, I’ll go over strategies you can use to help set boundaries and maintain them so you don’t fall backward.
Signs That You Need to Set More Boundaries
Let’s do this in two separate lists. The first one relates to how you’re feeling right now. The second is a list of underlying beliefs and behaviors that create resistance to setting boundaries.
How You’re Feeling Now
If any of these resonate, you might need to consider your current boundaries or lack of (Tawwab, 2021).
- You’re overwhelmed and stressed out.
- Feel resentful when people ask you to do something or help them
- Avoid phone calls and interactions with people who might ask for something
- Ruminate about helping people and getting nothing in return
- Feel unappreciated, taken advantage of, and disrespected
- Have lost interest in things you enjoy or that provide meaning for you
- Fantasize about living alone
- Feel burned out and tired all the time
- Have no time for yourself
- Feel anxious or depressed or both
All of these may not apply, but if a good many of them do, keep going.
Underlying Beliefs and Behaviors
These are things you do and believe that keep you from setting boundaries. You won’t successfully make changes unless you identify these first and rethink them.
- You’re the caretaker and the go-to person that does everything for everyone.
- You feel responsible for other people’s feelings and need to make everyone happy and comfortable.
- You’re hypersensitive to disapproval and worry greatly about what other people think of you.
- You have a difficult time saying no and feel guilty when you do.
- You give away your time indiscriminately.
- You have difficulty making decisions.
- You feel incredibly guilty if you let someone down.
- You attract people who take advantage of you or try to dominate and control you.
- You overshare.
- You don’t speak up when someone mistreats you.
- It’s hard for you to voice what you want or need.
- You handle resentment and anger passive-aggressively.
Again, these may not all apply, but likely you’ll find a fair number of them do if you struggle with boundaries.
Now let’s go over some of the myths that hold you hostage and keep you where you are.
Myth #1: No one else can take care of things as well as I can.
This belief sits at the bottom of the myth pile and keeps you right where everyone wants you. By falling into this trap, you don’t allow others to take responsibility for themselves. You encourage them to rely on you, and they do. You send the message that you’re willing to take care of everything, and you can do it better.
The more you send out those messages, the more people take advantage of you. But the harsh reality is that you allow and encourage it.
This is the most problematic habit to overcome and likely has its roots in your history. Many people who caretake are the oldest child or held this role in their families of origin. They were primed to be caretakers and have integrated this role into their identities. That’s why it’s difficult to dislodge. Let’s go to the next one.
Myth #2: I can’t be happy until everyone else is happy.
The drive to make sure everyone else is happy and comfortable isn’t really about them – it’s about you. It’s about keeping your anxiety and guilt in check.
This is another issue that likely originates in your upbringing. If you had a parent who was depressed or anxious and looked to you for soothing, you had to take on that responsibility. Or you might have had an angry and volatile parent, and keeping them happy was a matter of survival. Either way, it was up to you to take care of your parent’s emotional needs, which no child can do.
A situation like that can lead to chronic feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, and as an adult, you end up replaying the same situations with your peers in an attempt to conquer those feelings.
This is a messy myth to straighten out because it’s true that you should be concerned, empathetic, and care about your partner, adult kids, family members, and friends, but not true that you’re responsible for their emotional well-being and growth. Each person has this responsibility themselves.
Myth #3: I can do it all.
There are two myths here.
- You can stretch time to fit what you need to do.
- You can do it all.
No, you cannot! Time is limited. That means you need to be realistic about what’s possible. We’ll talk about how you can do that next week, but for now, recognize that you have so many hours in a day and must use some for sleep and self-care. After that, you must be selective and get help to accomplish what needs doing.
Myth #4: It’s selfish to put myself first.
Most people who have difficulty setting boundaries don’t believe their needs should ever come first.
Even if you understand intellectually that this isn’t true, it chafes even to consider its validity. The very idea of it can leave you feeling anxious. If you do indulge in taking time for yourself, you worry that people will be mad at you for not being available for them.
This is a challenging obstacle to overcome and is best approached sideways. It requires practice. When you begin to make room for yourself, you may be very uncomfortable. However, the more you do it and fold it into your schedule, you accept it. By practicing, your beliefs about it change. You slip through the side door until you can make time without feeling guilty. For some, this isn’t an issue. The issue is just having the time.
During this next week, take some time to see where you fit using the lists and myths we’ve covered today. Consider your history to discover where some of these ideas and habits developed. It helps to trace them back so you can release yourself from them. That will prime you for next week’s blog when we cover practices and strategies you can use to set better boundaries.
That’s all for today.
Have a great week!
All my best,
P. S. Suggested reading: Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab.