Updated: Jan 15, 2019
A good portion of my private practice focuses on women’s mental health and wellness. Over the past 2 decades I have had the honor of working intimately with a diverse range of women from many different cultures, ages, sexual orientations, religions, physical abilities, levels of education and life experiences. Something that has continued to come up time and time again without fail is the subject of boundaries. Women and boundaries is far too complex a topic to delve deeply into on this platform. However, it is too important not to address at all. So, let’s look at simple ways to set boundaries in your life starting today.
1. Identify what your boundaries are. As women, many of us were not taught how to listen to ourselves which can make it difficult to express our wants and needs. It can be especially challenging if what we want does not match up with what others want us to do. Enter the subject of boundaries. A boundary is essentially the point where you end and someone else begins. Boundaries will be different for every person. Let’s say you love having friends come spend the night at your house. Your door is always open and people stay over frequently. You will likely say “yes” to someone asking to stay over. Your friend, however, really values her alone time, needs a lot of personal space and privacy and is easily disturbed by people staying the night. If she honors her boundary she will need to say “no” to most people asking to stay the night. These are two different women with two different boundaries. Neither is wrong.
2. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Learn to listen to your gut instincts. A friend of mine was once attending an evening class and a man she didn’t know (another student) needed a ride home. He lived near her and some well-meaning person suggested she give him a ride home. She didn’t know how to say “no”. Her insides were screaming that she was uncomfortable with this. She absolutely was not comfortable giving him a ride home but because she didn’t want to seem rude, she did it. It turned out fine (nothing bad happened) but it easily could have ended differently. She was SO angry at herself for putting herself in that situation. That is a classic example of denying or overriding a personal boundary in order to accommodate another.
3. Practice saying “No”. You might be asked to do something on the spot such as volunteer on the school committee, go out to lunch with a friend, work a few extra hours on your day off, pick someone up from the airport, etc. It can be hard to know what to say because you haven’t had any warning this was coming so you’re not sure how to handle it. I have found that a lot of the time, women will say “yes” only to regret it later. The suggestion I give my clients is to practice saying “no”. It can be phrased differently such as, “I’m really busy these days, so I probably can’t. Let me check my calendar and get back to you”. Or, “I’m sorry I can’t help, I’ve got a lot on my plate.” Or simply, “I can’t, I’m sorry”. It will be difficult at first because you might fear disappointing the other person, want them to like you and don’t want to come across as uncaring. What I know is this: it is absolutely essential to our mental wellbeing that we honor our feelings and maintain our boundaries. If we don’t we risk becoming angry, resentful, worn-out, depleted, and unfulfilled. We can always change our mind and say yes later but it is much more difficult to say no after we’ve committed.
It is important to remember that we will never, ever make everyone else happy. We are not responsible for other people’s happiness and no one else is responsible for making us happy. Life gets much easier to handle and less complicated once we begin to identify and maintain our boundaries.
Tana J. DeSouza, LMFT is a practicing marriage and family therapist with an office in South Pasadena, CA. To schedule a consultation or an appointment, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (626) 319-7028.
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