How To Set Healthy Boundaries
Do whatever it takes. Do whatever you can for people…for the ones you love.
This statement is so broken. It seems almost admirable, even romantic of sorts. It makes a good movie or hero’s motto. However, nothing about it is possible, realistic, helpful, truthful or healthy. If this statements resonates with you, your boundaries might just be broken.
If you are drawn to this type of self-sacrifice (giving up one’s own interests to help others), you still have to acknowledge your limitations and know when to enact boundaries.
At least one of you out there will say, ‘What’s wrong with self-sacrifice to help others?’ I’m not referring to Firefighters or Emergency staff who offer specific help or emergency situations in general. The problem is when people regularly sacrifice themselves to maintain unhealthy needs, toxic relationships, patterns, and lack of boundaries. It becomes pointless self-sacrifice and can even do more harm than good.
We get involved in the cycle of ineffective or counterproductive self-sacrifice when we do not know how to help someone or we’re not equipped to help them, we don’t want to help but feel guilty otherwise, we lack boundaries, or we recognize a need as if it’s our own because it’s associated with our insecurities.
‘Do whatever it takes…no matter what.’
You may end up doing all that you can, hoping something works or repeatedly giving them all that you’ve got in order to make them feel better. Sometimes it doesn’t help or only helps short-term.
Or perhaps the other person knows exactly what they want from you and you give it to them. Although, if they are the ones in desperate need of your help, they are not the most qualified person to tell you how to help them or what exactly they need. They are probably trying to cover up the real issue and therefore, you’re not really helping, you’re prolonging their suffering.
Considering all of this, you are NOT sacrificing yourself for the greater good or in service to another if you are depleting yourself in order to continue or exacerbate unhealthy patterns in both yourself and the other person you’re attempting to help.
Unhealthy self-sacrifice is also:
- people pleasing.
- anything that sacrifices your physical, emotional or psychological health to “help” someone continue unhealthy life patterns.
- helping when you don’t have the means to.
- enabling and codependency.
- blurred boundaries when you really want to help (no matter what) because it is connected to your own unresolved patterns and past trauma.
This is why we need boundaries.
In addition, I firmly believe there are two types of people (with some exceptions) who walk this earth. Those who ask, “What can I do for others?’ and then the ones who ask, “What can I get from others?’ Many people fall into one of these categories and the sad thing is, both are wrong!
The reason they’re wrong is that they both come from a broken place and will involve broken boundaries.
On the one hand you have someone who didn’t get what they needed as a child and will take that (and more) from others and the other type of person will give what they need themselves in hopes of receiving what they didn’t in childhood. How do you avoid one of these two traps? You set boundaries.
Due to our past, we’re not always the best judge of what constitutes “help”.
Since most of us carry over baggage from the past and past trauma (narcissistic parents, emotionally needy parents, mentally ill parents, emotional/psychological/physical abuse), our brand of helping can reflect our own insecurities and negative family patterns such as enabling and codependency.
The need to”fix” or “save” someone is also not helpful. Someone who repeatedly needs the same type of help, is not being helped in the first place.
And sometimes we need to fulfill our own negative patterns such as sacrificing our needs for another because we are uncomfortable with our own needs and believe others will not love us unless we are helping them- this also is something we learned as a child (trauma).
Self-sacrifice doesn’t appear as romantic now, does it?
Boundaries keep us healthy. They make us self-aware and force us to think twice about why, what, how and when we give of ourselves, which maintains our wellbeing.
Healthy isn’t always comfortable. Neither is eating a salad instead of cheesy bread, but we are better for it. It sets a very positive message to ourselves that ‘we are healthy’ and ‘we are worthy’.
I always say the actions we take and the choices we make, are how we communicate to ourselves on a cellular and energetic level about what kind of life we want and also how we feel about ourselves.
If we let others overstep our boundaries we’re going to feel like a doormat physically and psychologically. Trust me, you have more to offer than that.
But each time we take a step in the right direction ,we are communicating to our mind, body, and spirit, that we are healthy, that we are healing, that we are worthy, that we are loved.
Helping others and helping ourselves works in a cyclical way: Giving, receiving, replenishing.
How do you know when to help people?
First, help yourself…like the oxygen-mask-on-a-plane analogy explains, you can’t help someone if you’re going down too. Become more self-aware and you’ll be able to recognize healthy relationships, healthy helping, and healthy boundaries.
One way to become more self-aware about your boundaries is to see if you identify with any of the traits below.
3 TYPES OF PEOPLE WHO NEED TO SET BOUNDARIES:
- Codependents (and Empaths): The traits of an Empath can blur between a healthy gift and unhealthy codependency. They tend to overlap. A codependent is (or has been) attached to another who is dependent on them in some way whether that’s an emotionally needy parent, controlling or manipulative parent or spouse, an additive parent or spouse, etc. Empathic traits typically result from a codependent relationship in childhood. Codependents consistently sacrifice themselves to a point where they can’t recognize their own values or they “forget” their most basic needs. Their needs become about helping another. It is difficult for them to see where they end and someone else begins- another person’s needs become their own. You’re also not good at receiving. Codependents are “givers”, but often it’s associated with a compulsion to earn love or an emotional “fix”. They often say, “I must”, “I should”. (I suggest this inexpensive course on Daily Om: From Codependent To Independent). In situations with others you are especially vulnerable to, get used to expressing your feelings and your needs even if it feels like you’re asking for too much- keep expressing them. Some people can only see their needs so it’s important we consistently voice ours.
- People lacking time, energy, or physical ability for various reasons such as acute or chronic illness, mothers (especially new), introverts, and highly sensitive people (HSP). Some people inherently have less energy for people (introverts and HSP) than others. Just being around people depletes them more. For this reason, they need boundaries like air. Sometimes, it’s a life circumstance that requires extra time and energy, therefore you need to protect your precious assets. New mothers will receive unwanted advice and requests to see the baby. They must be careful to check in with themselves and decide what is best for them. Also, people with illness have limitations that require boundaries for health and wellness. All of these people would do best by deciding on and setting boundaries ahead of time so that when they’re exhausted, they don’t make bad judgment calls on their time and energy. They need to regularly check in with themselves and how they’re feeling. If a life circumstance is temporary, they’d be best to avoid people who ignore their boundaries during this time. They also must not feel the need to over-explain why they’ve set boundaries. Over-explaining automatically wastes time and energy. Accept that by setting boundaries you will be misunderstood and that’s ok.
- Echoists: Maybe you know the ancient Greek story of Echo and Narcissus. It was doomed love- she was cursed to have no voice of her own and love someone who could only love themselves (a narcissist). Echoists assimilate and absorb the needs of those around them often at the expense of their own needs. They tend to think less of themselves and see that as an endearing quality such as humility. They are afraid to take up space. But setting boundaries is an expression of recognizing and asserting your personal emotional, psychological, and physical space as your right. Another trait is seeing themselves as helpful by not requiring much from others or being burdensome (identifying as low-need or low-maintenance). Echoists likely grew up with a narcissist so learning new ways to express themselves as an individual is helpful. The best thing for echosists is to stop people pleasing and set boundaries.
You may recognize yourself above in any of those 3 types or a combination.
Meditation is the best self-awareness tool. The reason I love meditation is that you have precious time to sit with yourself and instead of reacting to your constant barrage of thoughts, you get to know yourself through them. You witness them with an observer’s eye.
Next time you sit for meditation, see if you recognize any thought patterns or beliefs that resonate with the 3 types of people who need to set boundaries. You can become more aware of your individual needs and mindful of who and how you help during this process too.
HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES:
- Become familiar with your values: Knowing and connecting with your values helps you recognize yourself as an individual aside from others. Do not sacrifice your values for someone else! Boundaries are simply a natural separation of yourself and another human being; recognizing yourself as an individual. In those 3 types mentioned above, they could work on knowing themselves (self-awareness). They have a hard time recognizing themselves and their needs without cues from others.
I had a conversation recently with someone asking for my help, but my schedule was packed and honestly, I didn’t want to do it. But I didn’t know exactly why at the time. We deny our intuitive no’s because we can’t apply logic to our intuition or feelings so we ignore them. For this person, it would’ve been just as easy if someone else close to them would help, but when I made that suggestion, they informed me, some others don’t believe in what they need done. I realized then, that statement resonated with me. My ‘why’ was connected to a value and that’s why my intuition picked up on it, but my logic lagged. I didn’t believe in what they were doing either. I’d seen them do it before and I really thought aspects of it were wrong. I couldn’t be involved if I were to stay true to my values. I love the person, but that’s the wrong kind of help and sacrifice when you have to compromise your values. Your values typically lead you to the best way you can be of help while remaining true to yourself.
- Decide ahead of time how you can best help people: Consider all the specialists (and professionals) in the helping fields. No one can do it all! You can’t be an untrained generalist and help others with everything. Decide what you are willing to offer. The more decisions you make before you’re faced with a challenging scenario, the better. This is setting boundaries with yourelf. Yes, you need boundaries with yourself too!
Last year I was faced with my estranged dad’s cancer diagnosis. With no other friends or family to help, I had to decide how much and how best I could help. This was both the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done- it was a catalyst for major healing.
How do you like to help people? What skills and traits do you possess? How much time do you have available? How much can you help someone without feeling resentful or expecting something in return? Jot down the answers to these questions and you’ll have a good starting point. When you decide ahead of time, you are making a commitment to yourself before you get caught up in another commitment, promise or task for someone else.
- Set boundaries with yourself: As I mentioned above, you need to set boundaries with yourself. This is great practice for setting boundaries with others. Have time and space that is protected and off limits. Set a boundary of not watching political shows if you are already stressed. Set a time to meditate and don’t allow anyone to interrupt. Don’t answer your phone after 8pm. Don’t check your phone when you are already busy.
People who lack boundaries with others often lack self discipline and their own healthy limitations. Protect your time and energy against your own pitfalls. What kind of boundaries do you set for yourself?
- Consider time and space: Time and space are non-negotiable’s. When you were born you were gifted with time (how long you will live and how you choose to spend that time) and space (a physical presence and existence and who you choose to share space with). Setting boundaries has a lot to do with how we choose to spend our time and what we do with our space in the world. Your space is both your physical and energetic space. People are so busy nowadays they don’t give much thought to time, energy, and space. However, these are priceless commodities.
Time: How do you spend your time? How do you feel about who you spend your time with? Space: Do you get lost in a crowd or other people’s opinions? How do you carry yourself/posture? Value your time and own your space!
Boundaries help others see YOU and not just themselves. The truth is we all go through this world seeing ourselves in everything. Boundaries affirm that we are indeed in this world with others.
- Use assertive language: Assertiveness is a skill so it takes practice to be neither aggressive nor passive, but to communicate in a calm way: Confident, clear, controlled. However, there are many straightforward phrases that will get you out of a bind quick. When we feel emotions rise up or we’ve been asked to do something we don’t want to, we sometimes panic in the moment. Assertiveness training (available on YouTube and various other self-help sites) is practicing what to say in those situations. Short, simple, straightforward. Sometimes it’s as simple as “I feel hurt” rather than “You hurt me.” Or simple sentences like, “No, I won’t do that” or “that’s not a priority for me right now.” Avoid passive words like I think, I guess, should, not sure.
Meditate on these affirmations: “I matter”. “My time matters”. “My energy matters.” “I take time to receive, replenish and restore without anxiety or guilt.” “I am a human being, not a human doing.” “I give from my inner spirit, which is connected to my higher purpose.” “I am transitioning from fear of abandonment to abundance, fully and freely living and loving.”
Guilt and Boundaries:
Setting boundaries are likely to set off negative emotions within you and negative reactions in others. One of the most prominent emotions is guilt. Guilt is like a child without boundaries.
Give yourself a few minutes to feel those feelings, jot down something in a journal, but put a time limit on it the way you would with a child who needs limitations on TV or a device. You’re basically training your guilt (and other negative emotions) the way you would raise a child- care and compassion plus limitations.
Boundaries are love.
To be quite honest I didn’t pay attention to, or set, boundaries in my life before I had kids, especially after 2yrs old. If you don’t have boundaries with kids, you’ve got a wild and spoiled kid who will have issues throughout childhood and into adulthood. I’ve seen this when volunteering with kids. I swiftly enact boundaries with them. They push them, they whine, they pout, but then I end up being their favorite volunteer 😉 I get hugs and respect. Win-win!
Adults aren’t as easy. They’ve had longer to practice negative patterns. They manipulate to get their way. They guilt-trip and play mind-games. Ironically, they may act rather childish when you begin setting boundaries with them. We may not get hugs from them, but we do get respect.
Setting Healthy Boundaries Guided Meditation!
Peace and Be Well,