Setting boundaries is one of the most important things we can do to better our mental health, but it always seems so hard! Although this does not come naturally to most, it is a skill that you can learn and build upon. Your time is valuable, which means you should be spending some of it on yourself. Self-care is something that therapists always push for, but it can seem impossible when every minute of your spare time is given to someone else. There are simple steps that will help you get started with boundary setting.
Identify your personal limits
Be sure of where you stand and what is acceptable to you. Some people recharge when they have alone time, while others need more time with friends. When prioritizing your needs and mental health, do you need one night a week to do things for yourself or a chunk out of each day? Find what works for you.
Acknowledge your feelings
Think about why setting boundaries is hard for you on an emotional level. Do you feel guilty? Are you being taken advantage of? It is hard for others to understand your feelings and needs if you are ignoring them as well. Next time you want to say no, but don’t - think about what went on in your mind and what stopped you from declining.
There will be people in your life who understand why you are setting boundaries and encourage you. On the other hand, there will always be people who push you and try to take your time anyway. Sometimes having a direct conversation with someone about why you are setting boundaries will help them to understand that you are coming from a good place. If they really want to spend time with you, try scheduling something for a few weeks out, so you can still ensure your time is valuable.
Give yourself permission
It is hard to set boundaries when you have reoccurring feelings of fear, guilt, or self-doubt. Fear of the other person’s response when you set your limits is what usually stops you from setting boundaries. Remember - if you attend something that you are really not in the right emotional mindset to go to, you are not going to be fully be present anyway. Give yourself permission to take some time for yourself so that when you do give someone your time, you can be fully there.
Self-awareness is consciously knowing your own character, feelings, motives, and desires. If you find yourself not sustaining your boundaries, check in with yourself. Ask yourself what is going on that you have changed your mind. Are you feeding off of someone else’s response? Is this particular situation creating stress or resentment? Once you acknowledge these feelings, you can figure out what you do and do not have control over.
Think about your past
The roles that we played when we were younger can sometimes create even more obstacles for us. For example, if you were always the caretaker, are you used to having to focus on others, while draining yourself emotionally? If ignoring your own needs has been the norm for you, then it is going to take more work to change the way you value your time and needs. Realizing what is adding to your boundary setting problems will help you fix it.
Self-care means just that - taking care of yourself. When you take care of your basic needs, you are able to function better in other areas of your life. This could mean a spa day or even simpler, like taking the night to yourself and reading your favorite book. When you begin to set boundaries, you will naturally have more time to care for yourself.
Setting boundaries is just like learning any other new skill - it takes practice. Don’t expect that it is going to happen all at once. Think about these steps and try to implement them as the situations arise. The first few times you set boundaries is not going to be easy, but it will eventually become more natural. Try not to overwhelm yourself all at once!
Working with a talk therapist or life coach will help you figure out what is holding you back from prioritizing yourself. There may be a lot of underlying things going on that you can work on together. Click here to work with a licensed clinician who is ready to help!