As an outgoing introvert, I’ve always struggled with setting boundaries around my time and energy. Knowing my physical and mental limits hasn’t come naturally, and the costs of not knowing my limits have been extreme exhaustion, stress, burnout, resentment and anxiety.
But nothing has tested my lack of boundaries more than motherhood.
In a lot of ways my first year of motherhood was an epic disaster. And in a lot of other ways it was a time that taught me more valuable lessons than I’ll ever know what to do with.
I had way more demands on my time and energy than ever before (hello, tiny human who relies on me for everything). I was recovering from a long induction, long labour, emergency c-section and uterine artery tear. My husband had left to ski on the world cup circuit the day after my daughter was born. And my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer and moved to hospice when my daughter was 7 days old which meant my Mom headed home to be with him in his final days.
I was overwhelmed to the max. Overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Overwhelmed by the offers of assistance. Overwhelmed by the physical recovery. Overwhelmed by the requests from others. Overwhelmed by the random comments from everyone. Overwhelmed by it all.
And to get through, I bent my boundaries big time. I said yes to keep other people happy. I had a hard time balancing my own needs and the needs of my new little girl. The cost was immense for my physical and mental health.
The first few weeks when I was super overwhelmed but basking in love for this little one.
When I look back I often shake my head. But I know that this (extreme?!) experience taught me a lot about my own energetic, emotional and time/energy boundaries. It taught me how to finally navigate the balance of creating boundaries around my basic needs and living from my values.
Which brings me to the five words that helped me finally enforce my boundaries:
“What is best for ME”
And before we completely dive in to talking about setting and enforcing boundaries, I think it is essential to provide more context for this discussion. If you tend to be the type of person who takes on other people’s energy or emotions, (like me!) then you may be a highly sensitive person. Boundaries, especially of the energetic, emotional, and time/energy variety are key to your wellbeing.
What exactly is a boundary? A boundary is a line we draw in our life (or in our minds) about what is ok and what is not ok. It’s about what we are going to take on as our own, or not. It’s about knowing our limits so we can say yes or no from a place of love for ourselves and respect for others.
For the purpose of this post, boundaries are the mental lines in the sand we draw to determine what is ok and what is not ok in our lives.
And remember, the costs of not setting or enforcing our mental, physical and emotional boundaries are often stress, burnout, exhaustion and resentment. If you’re experiencing anything similar, it could be time to examine your boundaries and do a little enforcement of your own.
Remember, setting and enforcing boundaries is a practice and just like yoga or strength training, we need to continue showing up to the practice in order to reap the rewards over the long term. Here are three helpful steps to begin practicing healthy boundaries in your life:
Get in tune with your limits.
This is hard. This is especially hard if you operate from a place of hustling for your worthiness. Thinking we need to work harder in order to earn the right for rest and relaxation, believing we need to please others in order to earn the right to be ourselves, and generally believing that rest is earned rather than it being an essential human need are all signs that we are hustling for our worthiness.
“If we do not claim worthiness inside our story, we end up hustling for worthiness on the outside of our story – who we are and what we believe becomes secondary to who do you want me to be and what do you want me to believe.” – Brene Brown
I grew up in a household where my parents never rested. No one took naps. There were rarely days off, as there was always more work to do. They were entrepreneurs and this is normal for most entrepreneurs I know. Aside from gardening, neither of my parents had hobbies when I was growing up. I believe my parent’s work ethic came from a loving place of wanting life to be better for my brother and I than it was for them. It also came from the examples they received while growing up too.
My parents commitment to hard work allowed me to go to University, never go hungry and to pursue whatever dreams and goals I desired. I know they did not receive the same opportunities as I did during their childhoods and they hustled tirelessly for me to afford the chance to grow in ways they weren’t able. And while I was very fortunate and garnered a strong work ethic due to my parents’ example, there was a cost, too.
That cost was our family never knowing how to rest or relax. I carried that bullet proof work ethic with me into my own life, and while it ensured I would always succeed in school and business, it didn’t set me up for the type of wholehearted health I now know is so vitally important to my well-being.
I eventually got in tune with my limits because I experienced what limit-less living does to a person. Ignoring my limits was a fast route to burnout, overwhelm, feeling like I never had enough energy for my friends or family and eventually turned into crushing anxiety.
Motherhood brought me to my knees to the point where I had to recognize my limits or else. I now care for my own needs (sleep, rest, time for fun, eating 3 healthy meals per day and regular exercise) by constantly asking myself “What is BEST for me?”
Setting boundaries does not mean building walls to keep others out, healthy boundaries show people where to find the door.
A boundary teaches people how to interact with us in a way that allows us to thrive, feel safe and respected. A wall keeps people out and gives them limited access to creating a relationship with us.
And I think it is vitally important to say that sometimes we need to have walls, especially when we are feeling particularly vulnerable or haven’t yet learned how to communicate in a way that makes us feel safe. This is incredibly common when we are overwhelmed or are just starting to learn how to create boundaries. While showing up with vulnerability is important for connection, not everyone is ready to meet our vulnerability with love and tenderness. Being wisely vulnerable is important for our mental health.
In order to begin the process of creating boundaries and showing people the door to access a relationship with us, it is vital that we understand ‘you teach people how to treat you’. When someone walks all over us, judges us, is disrespectful or hurtful then it is our job to verbally let them know this isn’t ok. We can give them alternatives to treat us in a way we feel is more respectful, but if we continue to let their behaviour happen without saying anything, they will continue to think it is ok.
One of the most challenging parts of creating boundaries is the verbal communication piece. It can be incredibly uncomfortable for us to stand up to someone and say ‘I don’t like it when you talk to me like that’ or ‘your judgements are hurtful to me’. Avoiding the natural discomfort of creating boundaries is one of the main reasons we fail to make boundaries in the first place!
I have found that leaning into the discomfort of speaking up has been key for me to change the culture of my relationships moving forward. I still struggle with this at times, but have found that reminding myself about why boundaries are so important helps me to deal with the short term discomfort a bit better.
It’s about giving more space and energy to what you truly value.
Healthy boundaries are less about keeping people and unwanted energy out, and more about being discerning with where we spend our precious time and energy (especially if you are introverted, highly sensitive or a new parent). If we are clear on what we value (health, family, creativity and service are my top values) then our boundaries will serve as the method with which we live our values. Our boundaries become the guiding line for us to spend our energy where it is most valuable to us, not necessarily where it is most requested by external sources.
And what happens when we are living our life in line with our values? Less resentment, more fulfillment, more energy, less stress, increased passion and desire, and more inner peace.
What can prevent us from giving more space and energy to what we truly value is a failure to enforce our emotional and energetic boundaries. If we are constantly in a place of spending mental energy on worrying about how other’s perceive us, or worrying about what other people think, we’ve failed to enforce our personal emotional boundaries. We are then spending our precious time and energy on tasks that are out of our control.
And because I just love a good quote to hit the point home a bit better, here is one of my favourite boundary inspired quotes:
“I’m learning to love the sound of my feet walking away from things that are not meant for me.”
As always, thank you for reading.
P.S. I send regular sermons on wholehearted health, mindset, boundaries, workouts and nutrition to my mailing list. You can join in HERE.