July 9, 2018

Boundaries & Feelings: what you can and can’t control

Anxiety & Depression

Boundaries are like an invisible fence between you and others. Everything on your side of the fence, such as your thoughts and feelings, are your responsibility, while everything on the other side is the other person’s responsibility. I discuss boundaries in depth in a previous post, which can be found here.  It would be helpful to read through that first, especially if you are unfamiliar with the idea of boundaries or would simply like a refresher.

Beliefs that Hurt Boundaries

Things can affect the ability to establish healthy boundaries vary a lot. One of the most common difficulties is the belief that you are responsible for another person’s feelings or thoughts. A common objection I hear when talking with people about boundaries is, “If I say no, he/she will be mad at me.” Another common objection is, “I have to do it, otherwise she’ll think I’m a bad friend/sister/coworker.” Still another common objection is, “What would they think of me?”

Do any of these questions sound familiar? When you want to say no but don’t, what is it that you tell yourself? What case do you make for saying yes when you’d rather say no?

Define the Line

Resistance and objections to setting boundaries can often reveal areas where you personally need healthier boundaries. Remember that boundaries draw the line between your thoughts, feelings, etc. and the thoughts and feelings that belong to someone else. When you make a decision based on how you think someone will think and feel, then you are taking responsibility for their feelings. You are crossing the boundary line. It is good to be thoughtful of others and sensitive to how they feel, but keep in mind that you are not responsible for how they feel. When you are making decisions out of fear of other people’s reactions, then you are crossing the boundary line.

A Healthy Middle Ground

You can empathize with and validate other’s feelings, while also exercising the freedom to make your own choices. For example, suppose your friends invite you out but you don’t want to go this weekend because you’d rather save some money and get some rest. With unhealthy boundaries, you might think about how your friends will feel disappointed or hurt if you say no, and in order to make sure they don’t feel “bad” you say yes. You end up spending money you wanted to save and miss out on the rest you’ve been needing. With healthy boundaries, you might think about their feelings and when declining the invitation validate their feelings and suggest making plans for another time.

Your Responsibility vs. Other’s

Each person is responsible for how they think and feel. Your choices certainly can impact someone else, such that they experience a particular emotion or are triggered in a certain way. However, they are responsible for how they deal with those triggers, emotions, and thoughts. There’s also the difficult reality you’ve likely experienced that even when you try hard to make someone happy or make them feel better that it doesn’t work. No matter what you do they think and feel what they want. Expecting that you can always manage other’s feelings and thoughts about you set you up for disappointment and exhaustion.

Boundaries to Promote Personal Freedom

Wouldn’t you rather spend your energy and time on things you can control? When you have healthy boundaries you free yourself up to do what matters to you and care from a place of genuineness and abundance. In contrast, when you have unhealthy boundaries you feel burdened and giving feels more like an obligation than a joy. If you’d like help thinking through what makes it hard for you to set healthy boundaries, I’d love to talk with you. Call me today!

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