Your schedule is jam-packed with work, errands, and family commitments. But there aren’t any activities on your calendar solely for you, activities that you find satisfying, meaningful, or soothing.
Instead of focusing on personal projects on the weekends, you find yourself pressing send on emails to colleagues and clients.
You wake up already annoyed at your to-do list, because you know you’ll just be running from one thing to the next (and likely running late).
You scroll through photos on Instagram, and wonder, Hmm, must be nice to have all that free time. Hmm, she’s so lucky.
You feel like you’re walking on eggshells every time you’re with a close friend.
You keep biting your tongue and swallowing your opinions about something you deeply care about.
You can’t stop being nice to someone who can’t stop being rude to you.
These are just some of the signs that your boundaries might be too loose, too fluid. Maybe they’re non-existent.
Sometimes, it’s hard to realize when we need to make a change. After all, it’s hard to self-reflect and see what’s happening in our own lives. It’s hard to be a sharp observer when the situation is so close.
That’s why it’s important to check in with ourselves on a regular basis about the boundaries we’re setting—or, more accurately, not setting.
Clinical psychologist Therese Mascardo, PsyD, defines boundaries as: “a property line that determines where your physical, emotional, and mental space ends and another’s begins.” Mascardo offers therapy and leads courses and groups to help individuals thrive in the life of their dreams.
Sometimes, this property line shrinks, and sometimes it expands, depending on what we do. Maybe the line shrinks when we say yes to something (and we really want to say no). Maybe it expands when we are clear about our needs (e.g., I love talking to you about your day. I can absolutely give you my full attention after I’m done with this project. If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, I’ll be happy to wash them for you. But after that I’m going to my workout.)
I think each of us has our own specific signs that signal our boundaries need adjusting. These might be various mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual signs. Maybe you get stomach pain and headaches. Maybe you feel butterflies in your stomach. Maybe you have a hard time focusing, and feel incredibly distracted. Maybe you realize you don’t pray as much (or maybe you pray more). Maybe you realize you start becoming very pessimistic and negative. Maybe you don’t feel very grateful. Maybe you don’t sleep as much as you typically do. Maybe you feel disconnected from yourself, from your partner, from God, from someone or something else.
Try to keep track of these personal signs by reflecting on what you think, what you do, and how you feel. Then consider the boundaries you really need to set.
Mascardo shared a list of other specific, spot-on signs that suggest it’s time to work on our boundaries.
- Feeling resentful when someone doesn’t know our needs without us asking
- Struggling with knowing what you want
- Identifying as a “people pleaser”
- Taking responsibility for things that aren’t ours, like other people’s feelings
- Doing things out of obligation instead of genuine desire
- Not feeling like we are allowed to say “No”
- Feeling uncomfortable with asking for what we want
- Feeling jealous of people who seem to have an easier time saying no
- Resenting others when they are able to ask for what they want
- Keeping things inside until they explode out of us
- Oversharing with people to the extent that it feels out of control and not helpful
- Complaining about our relationships more than trying to improve our relationships
- Feeling exhausted most of the time
- Feeling like things are unfair, or that we get the short end of the stick more often than not
- Regularly sacrificing our own wellbeing for the sake of everyone else
- Constantly feeling worried that we’re upsetting others or letting them down
If you see yourself in any of these signs, reflect on what’s going on. Why aren’t you setting boundaries in this situation? What’s stopping you? What’s specifically tripping you up? What’s complicating things? What do you really want? What advice would you give to a friend if they were in the same situation?
Remember that setting boundaries is a skill. And for many of us it’s a skill we didn’t learn as kids (or teens or young adults). And that’s OK. Because we’re never too old to learn something new. This piece provides some insight into setting boundaries as a form of self-care, and this one gets more into the nitty-gritty of how to set boundaries.
Take the time on a regular basis to check in with yourself, and observe your thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions. And remember that boundaries require practice—and with practice, they’ll feel a whole lot more natural (or at least less awkward).
And remember that everyone deserves to honor their needs, and maintain their boundaries. Remember that everyone includes you, too.