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By Hannah Mosser, MA, LPC

In grad school, a friend and I coined the phrase “stop should-ing yourself.” Sounds ridiculous, I know. But, at some point we realized that we had a tendency to tell ourselves that we should be… exercising six times a week (despite working and being full time students), maintaining a certain level of connectivity with friendships and relationships, committed to an assortment of extra-curricular commitments, etc.

Essentially, we recognized a tendency in ourselves to maintain expectations that required a high-level of functioning within every area of our lives, both in small and large ways, despite these expectations exceeding our capacity in that already-crazy-season of life.

Perhaps this language doesn’t resonate with you but maybe the concept does? Do you ever say a “yes” out of a sense of obligation rather than say the “no’ you’d prefer? Do you ever deny yourself rest in the name of what you believe you “ought to be doing” to help someone else? Do you notice a lack of time for your own well-being or self-care, even though you are feeling depleted by all of your commitments? I could go on, but hopefully this is making sense.

Setting boundaries: good or bad?

I’m sure that we could identify multiple reasons why you might be struggling to say “yes” to yourself and to say “no” to others, but my educated guess would be that this is connected to a lack of boundaries. I think many of us hold (or have been taught) negative connotations associated with setting boundaries. We think of boundaries as being harsh or limiting, rather than considering their potential benefit or positive functioning in our lives. So, let’s take a moment to re-evaluate.

What is a boundary?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a boundary is “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.” Okay. According to Nedra Glover Tawwab, author of “Set Boundaries, Find Peace,” boundaries are “expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships… [they] help you stay mentally and emotionally well.” One way I like to conceptualize boundaries is knowing where I end and someone else begins.

Boundaries serve a purpose. They allow us to identify and establish our limits in advance, so that we can lead lives that are more fulfilling and aligned with our personal desires, values, and comfort or safety, rather than following suit with what we imagine or believe others desire or expect from us, even at the expense of ourselves.

Here are 4 areas where many individuals tend to struggle with setting boundaries:

1. Work 

A variety of reasons can contribute to lacking boundaries within the work-place. One that I often see is when an individual (who has always given more time or effort than is required) worries about what will happen if they pull back to what is expected with fear. They worry this will reflect negatively on them and their work ethic. Another reason people tend to struggle with holding boundaries in this area is because much of their identity is found within their occupation and it becomes difficult to separate oneself from their productivity at work.

2. Family 

Family family family. This is a big one, in large part because we either learn (or don’t learn) boundaries from our family of origin. If our parents or siblings lack boundaries or have poor boundaries themselves, we fear that family members won’t respect boundaries we attempt to establish. We fear being perceived as mean or uncaring.

3. Friendships & Acquaintances 

This is another big one that I hear many people struggle with on a variety of levels. I think there’s a lot of fear that if an individual says “no” to a friend  (whether for grabbing a cup of coffee or denying help with moving) the friend will experience that as rejection. This often results in individuals saying “yes” to helping or spending time with others when they would benefit from time alone or spent caring for  their own needs.

4. Intimate Relationships

Boundaries can be blurred within dating relationships and marriages. This can show up in a number of ways, to include boundaries pertaining to the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual parts of oneself. Boundaries within relationships can be difficult to establish when there are misguided beliefs about how one is “supposed to” or should behave within the context of that relationship.

Get support with boundaries

So, there you have it…boundaries. If some or most of these words describe your own experiences of obligation in various areas of life, you might be struggling with establishing and/or upholding boundaries. If this is you, there is good news! Lime Tree Counseling is starting a group for women who are struggling to find balance and maintain boundaries. This group will help identify where boundaries are lacking and the negative impact this is having on oneself, how to form and implement realistic boundaries, how to maintain these boundaries, and more. If groups are not your thing, contact us and we can get you scheduled for individual therapy.

Reach out today to gather additional information and join us!