Decrease Stress and Depression by Setting Personal Boundaries

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The topic of personal boundaries comes up a lot on My Depression Connection. Many of you have brought up this issue  in relation to caretaking, whether you are taking care of an aging parent or children. Difficulty in setting boundaries can happen to anybody but it seems to be a particular issue for women who are expected to take care of others.   It can also be a problem for adult children of alcoholics as well as anyone who has suffered from any type of abuse.

You may not be aware of what your personal boundaries are if you grew up without them. It makes it hard as an adult to figure out how to get your needs met in an appropriate way. It may also be difficult to say no to doing things you don't really want to do. Some people describe a lack of boundaries as resulting from the disease to please.

In this post we are going to explore what it means to have personal boundaries and how to put them into action.

Do you lack personal boundaries?

1. Do you find yourself agreeing to do things that you don't really want to do or have time for just to make someone else happy?

2. Do you feel guilty if you feel you have not met another's expectations?

3. Do you live in dread of disappointing others?

4. Do you put up with rude and pushy people because you can't stand conflict?

5. Is your fondest wish to make others happy and keep the peace no matter the cost?

6. Do you feel resentful of the sacrifices you have made for others?

7. Does asking for what you want and need make you feel selfish?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions then you may be a person who does not have healthy personal boundaries.

What happens when you don't have appropriate boundaries for yourself?

When you constantly put someone else's needs before yours, you tend to forget what your needs are. You may find that you aren't sure what you want because nobody is asking you. Stress and anxiety mount as you try to do more than you are capable of doing. People tend to take you for granted and expect you to always cater to their needs. You may feel a burning resentment for doing so much and receiving little in return. You may feel that you are victim and powerless to change your situation. And once you feel trapped the depression seeps in. As your self-neglect increases you feel exhausted and you wonder how you can keep this up. How can you do your job, parent, take care of others when you can't even take care of yourself?

Sound familiar to anybody?

What are personal boundaries and why are they so important?

Personal boundaries are the skills and actions necessary to keep us sane and safe. It all starts with a belief system that many of us are lacking.

Here are some of the beliefs which lead to the creation of personal boundaries:

  • My mental and physical health is important.

  • I am allowed to want things.

  • My time is of great value.

  • I can say no to requests or demands and that is okay.

  • I am not responsible for other people's happiness.

  • I am not a bad person if I don't do everything others expect from me.

  • I am allowed to protect my time and energy.

When you create boundaries you are protecting your rights by being assertive. As difficult as it may be to do it will prevent you from being stressed, burned out, and depressed. In order to keep giving to others you need to be able to keep up your stamina, energy, and motivation. Visualize one of those video games where you have the bars, hearts, or stars to symbolize your strength, energy, and life force. If you allow yourself to become weakened too much then you are out of the game. Don't allow this to happen in your real life. Set those boundaries

How do I create these boundaries?

1. Setting boundaries is about knowing what you want. Make a list of your personal priorities of how you wish to spend your time and energy. What do you need in order to remain mentally and physically healthy? Is it sleep, exercise, having time to eat right? Do you need some relaxation time to re-group and de-stress? Do you want time to pursue your goals? Ask yourself, "What is essential in my life so that I can keep going?" Print out the list and put it where you are able to see it.

2. Learn the basics of assertiveness. Much of being assertive is in how we communicate with others. You don't need long winded explanations or to plead for forgiveness when you do not wish to comply with someone's request. As a matter of fact, the less you talk, the more straightforward and powerful your message will be. "I" messages work well in that you are taking responsibility for your words.

Here are some examples of assertiveness in communicating personal boundaries:

Setting boundaries for an adult child who constantly "borrows" money: "I won't be giving you any more money. I love you and I want you take responsibility for your own finances.

Setting boundaries for a friend who constantly complains about their life problems but never takes any of your suggestions or does anything to help their situation: "I feel powerless to help you when you never take any action to do something about your problems. I will listen to you vent only after you have told me what action you have taken to help yourself.

Setting boundaries for someone who is overly critical: "I feel hurt when you constantly talk about my weight. It is not okay with me and I want you to stop."

Setting boundaries for a parent who expects too much of your time, energy, and caretaking abilities: "I wish I could do everything you want and need but it just isn't possible. Here is what I can (am willing) to do: (List those caretaking activities you are able to do."

3. Before you make a choice to follow through or deny a request ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this mentally healthy for me?

  • Do I really want to do this or am I doing this out of guilt or out of feeling coerced?

  • Is it necessary for me to take some time before I decide?

  • Do I have the time and energy for this?

  • Am I enabling someone to become less independent or more vulnerable because I am doing too much for them?

  • Am I agreeing to things just to be liked?

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received came from my therapist. He said, "It is sometimes better to be respected than liked. Despite all your efforts to please people and make them happy, they will still be unhappy if that is their way. There is balance to all things. You don't want to say no to every opportunity or request especially if it provides a chance to grow. But if you are living your life just to please others, it is a losing game. You will lose your self esteem, your time, your energy, and your zest for life. Learn to say no when you have to. It could save your sanity and your life."

Now we want to hear from you. Do you feel you have the disease to please? How do you create personal boundaries? Is it working for you? Why or why not? Do tell all. We are listening!