I felt guilty if I wasn’t putting them first and doing my utmost to make them smile. I thought I was being unselfish. That’s a good thing, right? Self-sacrifice is noble. Caring for those less strong than me or more upset than me or less able than me is a good thing. Martyrs become saints for, goodness sake. I was strong. I could do it. I was fine. Until I wasn't anymore.
Then I realised that setting personal boundaries is about self-respect and valuing myself. They’re part of a process of acknowledging what I need to do to support myself and keep myself healthy. And by looking after me, I get even stronger, more focused, more motivated, which ironically means I have even more to offer others.
Why do carers need respite? Why do mums need someone to look after the kids every so often? Because if all you do is give, give, give, give, give, eventually you empty the tank. You have nothing left.
That’s when setting some boundaries can make all the difference…
How to set your personal boundaries
1. Ask yourself what really matters to you
What do you need in your everyday life to function happily and in a way that makes you feel complete, intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually?
For example, what do you need to feel secure, comfortable, successful, sexy, loved, healthy, relaxed, peaceful, clear-headed connected, inspired or creative?
While feeling inspired may not be at the top of your priority list, perhaps getting outside for some head space and exercise is more than a nice to have – it makes you feel human.
Or perhaps you love reading, having sex, time on your own, the companionship of friends, a night dancing, walking the dog…
Make a list of what lights you up. And if you’re not sure what those things might be, it often helps to think about what you loved doing when you were younger. Start with the little things and work up...
2. Make the space for what really matters
How can you make room for the things that make the biggest difference?
- Do you need to put then in your diary?
- Can you set a time limit on how long you spend doing other things?
- Do you need to ask other people to support you, perhaps by not disturbing you at a certain time or giving you a helping hand?
- Do you need to be more efficient at other times during the day?
- Do you need to become more aware of your energy levels?
It often helps to tell those you love or perhaps close colleagues at work what you’re doing and explain why it’s important to you.
It also helps to remain focused on why you’re setting those boundaries – you’re not just acting on a whim. This is about your quality of life. Your health. Your happiness. Even your sanity.
3. Notice when you ignore your own boundaries
Sometimes, the impact of riding over our own boundaries creeps up on us slowly. Body, mind and spirit get depleted over the course of days, weeks or even months.
So start taking the time on a regular basis to check in with yourself.
- Are you thinking clearly or does your brain feel muddled and cloudy?
- Are you feeling comfortable in your skin or is your body playing you up with tension, a bad stomach, headaches, tiredness or low energy levels?
- Are you feeling calm or stressed? Excited about life or anxious? Peaceful or angry?
- Are you in flow or constricted and stuck?
And if you’re feeling less than good, come back to your boundaries and why you set them and just notice if you’re sticking to them and what you could do to reinforce or strengthen them to get you back on track.
4. Love yourself enough to respect your own boundaries
You are worth this. You are important. In fact, I believe you are the most important person in your own life. Without you, there’d be… well, nobody.
I’ve talked about this to people in the past and they’ve been adamant that being there for someone else, putting themselves second for someone they love, particularly in the cases of ill health or after a bereavement, is the best thing they could ever do. And of course caring for those we love is a fundamental part of loving them.
But if you run yourself into the ground, what do you have left to give? Replenish yourself and you can bounce back with more energy, vitality and promise. You can be more useful, loving, present and supportive. Because you’ve nurtured yourself and filled up the tank.
Try using the phrase: “I value myself enough to…” Over and over again. It’s not selfish. It’s self-respect and part of honouring the fact that you are worthy of self love, self care and support – from yourself and others.
5. Stand up for your boundaries!
If you worry what others will think, you hate saying No or you prefer to follow the crowd and not stick your head above the parapet, committing to your boundaries can be a challenge.
- You’ve decided to drink less, but the expectation is that you all go down the pub on a Friday night and get smashed…
- You need some quiet ‘me time’ but your partner wants to have a post-work rant...
- You like your personal space, but someone is being too touchy feely…
- You’d love to go to the gym, but the kids are tetchy and clingy…
- You’ve resolved to leave work on time, but that means something doesn’t get finished or someone else has to make up the difference…
Of course, boundaries are not necessarily set in stone and every so often, we have to go out on a limb to make a situation work… But just ask yourself what will the consequences be for you if you don’t stand up for your boundaries? And if, in this situation, you do need to override them, how can you make up for it later, or tomorrow?
Sometimes, if we’re introducing a new way of behaving, those around us may not like it or may take a while to adjust. And if you don’t stick to your boundaries, the message is that they’re not important – you’re not important.
Focus on why you set them and then say: “I value myself enough to…” And repeat as required.
How do you set yours? What kind of difference have they made in your life? Post your comments below.
And my next blog will be about setting boundaries in your sex life… So watch this space!