Setting healthy boundaries

By Débora Tejera | Personal development

A suit of armour

A few months ago, I went to have tea with a friend. I hadn’t seen her for a long time and I really wanted to share with her, to catch up on our lives.

We started talking about this and that, and after a few minutes the conversation became deeper as we entered into more personal topics. My friend told me that she felt stressed out, overburdened by the number of tasks and responsibilities that fell to her. At work, at home, and also the expectations that her family and her husband’s family were placing on her...

The straw that breaks the camel’s back

She told me, “Deb, I’m tired of having to stay on top of everything all the time, while the rest of them aren’t responsible for anything, much less for themselves. I think they’ve got used to me solving their problems. It’s easier. And they also find it easy to blame me if things go wrong or not the way they expected.

“The final straw was my sister a few days ago. It’s my parents’ golden wedding anniversary in a few months and we’re organising something special to commemorate it. We met at my sister’s house to finalise the details and also because I wanted to talk to her about it. The truth is that it’s been more complicated than it seemed at the beginning and I’ve realised that I’m carrying most of the burden alone. Do you know what she said to me, half joking, half serious? That she knew it was true, but she left so many things to me because she knew that I could cope. That I was a very good organiser, responsible, that I had the capacity for this and more. And she has never been good at these things.

“I was dumbstruck. At that moment I realised the number of things I carry on my back that don’t belong to me. My poor brain, worn out doing three or four things at the same time, without any real need – or desire – to do them. Stressed all day. I live in a rush. I run everywhere. Everyone is in a hurry, everything is needed yesterday. And I don’t know how to stop. I don’t enjoy things the way I used to. I’m always in a bad mood. And tired! So tired. And when the weekend finally comes, I can’t disconnect either. I feel like an ox tied to the yoke. I don’t know what to do...”

When we assume responsibilities that don’t belong to us

Unfortunately, my friend’s story isn’t an isolated case. More and more people identify with this kind of situation. Usually, they’re people with an excessive sense of responsibility and a clear difficulty in setting boundaries in their lives.

Sometimes it’s for love, other times because we want to please, or look good and not be excluded from the group. Whatever the motive, we try to fix the lives of those around us. Without realising it, we put a lot of energy into trying to solve what is beyond our control, often ignoring our own needs in the process.

When we feel responsible for everything and everyone around us, we begin to find ourselves frustrated, stressed and with a huge sense of guilt when things don’t go well.

Releasing our need for control

But the reality is that we can’t solve the problems of others or take responsibility for their happiness. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care what happens to them, but simply that we respect them enough not to interfere in their decision-making.

And there’s a very big difference between being there when someone really needs support and acting as a saviour. It’s important to realise this and release our control, our need to fix the lives of others. This is especially difficult when we love that person and don’t want to see them suffer. However, nobody can be responsible for absolutely everything. We must be humble enough to recognise that it isn’t up to us to decide what experiences that person needs for their growth. Often, the moment when we hit bottom is precisely the turning point where our life takes the direction we need. And we all have the capacity and internal strength to get back on that horse and find the right path.

So, it’s about learning to set healthy boundaries that help us to focus on our life and live it in a more calm and settled way. Boundaries that are firm without becoming rigid, that are clearly defined and assertively maintained. This way, we avoid harming ourselves and hurting others.

Respecting ourselves

At first it can be a bit difficult for us to learn to position ourselves assertively. It’s quite common to feel guilty, selfish, that we’re a bad person... We’ve gone so long without listening to our own needs, ignoring them, repressing our own voice, it’s normal that we don’t know very well how to do it. However, we all have the right to express who we are. What it’s about is developing a healthy relationship with ourselves. Discovering who we really are and, armed with that knowledge, learning to identify our needs and respect them. After all, if each person is responsible for their own happiness, then it’s our turn to take responsibility for ours.

So be kind to yourself during the process and respect your times. Create spaces for yourself: moments and places where you can restore balance. A walk in nature, a relaxing bath, practising Mindfulness, painting, listening to music, sharing with the people you love...

You have the right to take care of yourself and protect yourself. Love yourself enough to allow yourself to say no to what is not healthy for you. Put yourself first. When you do so, you interact with others from a place of greater honesty and respect, saying yes to what you want and assertively placing limits on what you don't.

Achieving a better balance

A few days ago I went back to meet my friend and, among other things we shared, I asked her permission to publish her story, without giving names or other details. Her answer was a resounding yes. We both feel this is a situation that many people may identify with, and what we talked about afterwards was a revelation to her. In her case, identifying her excess of responsibility and lack of healthy boundaries was a before-and-after in her personal management and quality of life.

She remains happily married, taking care of her family and carrying out her work as the excellent professional she is, but she has learned to respect herself and put herself in the right place. And from there, she is respectfully but assertively putting others in the place they should occupy.

It isn’t necessary to reach the point where she was – saturated, stressed, at the limit – to focus your energy on what is in your hands. Trust yourself and your ability to take care of yourself.

And if you feel you need help with setting boundaries in your relationships, an online consultation could be a good resource for you. Click on the following link to book your appointment.