Here are your expected outcomes for this week:

  • Identify your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual limits.
  • Give your self permission for self-care to serve others better.
  • Learn how and when to say, “No.”

Tool #5: Set Boundaries

“Boundaries” is a buzzword in the field of psychology and an essential component of healthy relationships. Unfortunately, however, setting and maintaining boundaries is a life skill that you may not have learned at a young age. Instead, it was only after years of pain and some trial and error that you came to accept that something wasn’t working.

As a child, if you were raised in the role of caretaker, you may have learned to focus on others, to ignore your own needs, and to let yourself become drained emotionally or physically. You were taught that your value as a person was dependent on what you could do for others.

As an adult, you may find yourself involved in relationships that aren’t reciprocal and without a healthy give and take. Or you may work in an environment where you were hired for an eight-hour day, but your coworkers stay until later in the evening, thus implying that you are expected to go above and beyond as well. Pushing your limits and giving when it hurts has become the norm for you. This is where healthy boundaries are necessary.

You may think of boundaries in terms of restrictions you place on OTHERS and their behaviors. In truth, setting proper boundaries involves understanding your OWN limitations and behaviors.

Rather than merely building a fence to keep others out, you are assessing the perimeter, constructing a visible boundary, and installing a gate to have some control over who can enter for your safety (and theirs). It all starts with knowing where your personal property begins and ends so that you can identify what is yours to own and what is someone else’s.

Know your limits.

If you want to mark your property line, it requires a professional surveyor and a map. To build a fence without measuring properly can lead to problems with your neighbor if you misidentify where their property ends and yours starts. You could easily build on their land (stealing something that doesn’t belong to you) or build too far into you own (thus giving away something that rightly belongs to you).

Similarly, you won’t be ready to set healthy boundaries if you are unaware of your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual limits. Learning to notice your feelings and honor them is the first step and there are usually two red flags that alert you when a boundary is being violated: Discomfort and resentment.

Resentment, in particular, usually comes from being taken advantage of or unappreciated. It’s a sign that you’re pushing yourself beyond your own limits because you feel guilty or because someone else is imposing their expectations, views, or values on you.

When feelings of either discomfort or resentment arise, ask yourself:

  • “How severe is this emotion on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high)?”
  • “What I am doing or [what is] the other person doing?”
  • “What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed?”
  • “What is it about this person’s expectation that is bothering me?”

Give yourself permission.

Most women who enroll in my program have a hard time saying, “No.” They want to heal their symptoms as soon as possible so that they can get back to doing everything for everyone else. They want to stop feeling guilty. The problem is that the more you nurture the conscious thought that you are failing somehow, the more ingrained it becomes until you believe it as fact.

Some of the biggest challenges when trying to set boundaries with chronic illness and autoimmune disease are feelings of fear, guilt, and self-doubt. If you don’t take the time to question these guilty thoughts, they will eventually move into your unconscious and then into your bodies – thus aggravating your symptoms of illness. Remember, your energy is your energy to use as you need to stay alive and healthy. Use it wisely.

Do you recognize any of these thoughts:

  • Do you feel guilty about not being able to do more for others – for your boss, your husband, your children, your friends, or your higher power?
  • Do you fear the other person’s response if you set and enforce boundaries?
  • Do you feel guilty speaking up or saying, “No,” to a family member?
  • Do you feel like to be a good person you need to push through and say, “Yes,” even when you feel like someone is taking advantage of you?

Boundaries aren’t just a sign of healthy relationships, but also a sign of healthy self-respect.

Responsible self-care includes recognizing the importance of your feelings and honoring them. These feelings serve as signals about your overall well-being. Ignoring them can be disastrous for your health. Paying attention to them will allow you to increase your energy, peace of mind, and positive outlook so that you can be more present with others and a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, co-worker, and friend.

Empower yourself to say, “No!”

If you’re not used to speaking assertively, it can feel tense and uncomfortable at first, but the pay off is huge! Often, the rest your fatigued body craves isn’t the type that comes from lying down, but from standing up for yourself! Feeling of powerlessness are some of the most debilitating emotions there are, but you DO have a choice as to when you say, “Yes,” and when you say, “No.”

As others see you changing the way you behave in relationships, it may be unfamiliar to them and you may see some surprising reactions. Don’t let these throw you off course!

If people are similar in their communication styles, personalities, and values, they may recognize that you are trying to take better care of yourself and will support your efforts, either through their words or their actions. Others may feel contempt when they can no longer use you for their own advantage and begin to accuse you of not being there for them. Don’t misinterpret their negative reaction as a signal that you are doing something wrong!

Even if you don’t choose your words perfectly in the beginning, you will become more skilled over time. The worst thing you could do (for yourself and for others) would be to stop maintaining the new boundaries you are trying to set for yourself. If someone is behaving in a bothersome way, you can express that to them respectfully and share your desire to work together to address it. If they are not agreeable, it may be time to take a break from that relationship (either temporarily or permanently).

Ask yourself when a boundary is violated:

  • “What am I going to do about the situation?”
  • “What do I have control over?”
  • “What does the other person have control over?”
  • “How do they react to my respectful requests for a change?”
  • “Is this worth continuing to fight for right now?”
  • “How can I let go of this so that it doesn’t harm my health?”

Seek support from others.

If you find that your feelings of guilt or codependency are stronger than you can overcome on your own, there is also some benefit in working with a professional trained to heal these emotional challenges. Finding a mental health counselor who you can trust and who respects your values and beliefs can be a valued member of your health care team. You may try visiting the Psychology Today website and reading some of the profiles of therapists in your area to see who resonates with your personal values.

A recommendation from a trusted friend is another good place to start, along with support groups, your congregation, a coach, or close friends or family who are working on similar goals.

Start small.

Like any new skill, assertively communicating your boundaries takes practice. If you start with a small boundary that isn’t threatening to you, and then incrementally increase to more challenging boundaries, you can build momentum and motivation based on your success. The process takes courage, practice and support, so remember that you are doing the best you can with the information you have at this time. Make your goal daily progress rather than perfection!

Take the Next Step

Are you still struggling to put some of these tools into practice? Do you feel like you have enough knowledge and good intentions, but there continue to be obstacles that prevent you from creating a healthy routine?

[CLICK HERE] to schedule a FREE 30-Minute Discovery Session and together we can explore the next step to becoming your own best self-caregiver.

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