I am a therapist who spends a lot of time talking about boundaries. I deeply believe in the importance of setting and holding firm boundaries. Still, being faced with a situation that tests my own boundaries reminds me of how hard it actually is to do!
I am worried and anxious today because I have to tell someone something that is going to make them upset. I expect the person will be hurt, angry, and possibly devastated. I anticipate that they will not like me after today, and that they may share their opinion with others. Like everyone else, I want people to like me. A purpose of my life is to help people feel better, not worse. So this is going to be a hard day.
Yet this is an important day, too. This is the day I walk the walk instead of just talking the talk about boundaries.
I tell people all the time that it will be hard to maintain boundaries, that others won’t always like us for it, that we may change relationships or make others upset. Yet it is different to really experience it myself. To remind myself of how deeply difficult it is to do.
So why do it? Why do I talk about it all the time? (By the way, I am writing this to remind myself and give myself strength today!)
Boundaries are important because firm boundaries reflect a belief that you are just as important as other people. I am just as important as other people. When we do not set and hold clear boundaries, we are letting people take advantage of us. We are putting others’ needs and wants before our own.
Additionally, without clear boundaries, we take on responsibilities that are not ours. In my case, I want so much to be helpful and appreciated, that I sometimes take on more than I am actually capable of tackling. I am not equipped to help everyone or fix everything, and I hate admitting that…to myself and (even harder!) to other people.
A lack of clear boundaries often comes from a sense of shame, believing that we are flawed and less valuable than other people. If you believe others are more worthwhile than you, than it makes sense to put their needs above yours. If you believe that you are of equal value as anyone else, then your needs matter too.
Obviously, there are times when it is completely appropriate to put another’s needs before our own. A newborn infant’s needs outweigh yours as an exhausted parent. A sick partner requires your care and concern. There are lots of crisis situations that require that we set aside our own wants and needs for another. But when this is the default setting of your life, the importance and value of your own life is minimized.
You are important. You have gifts and talents to offer to the world. The world has opportunities to offer you. Don’t sell yourself short by always putting yourself last.
Here are some tips to start setting your own boundaries:
- Figure out what you want and need.
- Be clear in expressing what you want and need.
- Ask for what you want and need.
- Say “no” more often.
- Decide what you can do and what you can not do.
- Make yourself a priority from time to time.
- When you find yourself in a situation that is uncomfortable or not working for you, find a way to get out of that situation.
- Value yourself, your time, your talents.
Easier said than done, as I am all too aware in this moment!