Should Boundaries Leave You Feeling Guilty?

You notice you’re struggling to say ‘no’ when friends, family members, co-workers, your partner or even your kids need something.

Your head wants to say ‘yes’ to their request. But your heart (emotions, energy, joy) might be noticing it’s feeling more resentful than joyful.

You often say yes anyway, because that’s what people expect and if you don’t do (fill-in-the-blank), who will? (This is an inner thought you might have noticed.)

You have tried to cultivate boundaries before, but others have ignored them, or you’ve felt guilty and decided that it’s easier to do what others ask than decline. Even if it’s at the expense of your well-being, time, to do list, or self-care. You might even find some of your identity is found in being the “go to” or “yes” person. While it feels good at times, the weight of it can be exhausting.

Boundaries can feel tricky because they are there to help keep you feeling safe and to bring you peace. The confusing or tricky part is that just like anything new, they can take thought, practice, and energy. So, they can often feel like too much work – especially when others push back or share with you that they don’t like your new boundary.

Boundaries are about you! Not others.

This sounds selfish…but in reality, healthy boundaries are selfless!

How can you be at your best for yourself, your loved ones, your work, and all those others who rely on you, if you have an unending list of others’ needs? You’re human and you have a certain capacity. Honouring yourself and that capacity extends self-compassion. (And it’s hard work!)

You can think of boundaries like invisible property lines in the real world. (Think of a fence if that’s helpful.) They keep in what and who you want to keep in. And they keep out what and who you want to keep out. And you (the property owner!) are responsible for what happens on your property.

So, in essence, boundaries are not restricting. They’re freedom giving. You can do what you like and what you need to – and you need only take responsibility for what is within your property lines (or boundaries). When you relinquish that property, or the lines (boundaries) become blurred, your options might start to feel more limited, or you might notice feeling a bit controlled by others. Others might not mean to do this, but it’s almost like a natural consequence of not having those healthy boundaries.

Very simply put, boundaries help you keep the “good” in and the “bad” out. What that means is you can keep your thoughts, behaviours, attitudes, physical well-being, time, beliefs  (the list continues) all inside. Things you might want to keep out are the opinions of others, influence, expectation, imposition, hurt (this list continues, too).

You are responsible for you and those “good” things shared above. But you are not responsible for others and those “bad” (rephrased: unhelpful to you) things.

How do you feel reading that? Did you feel some relief? Or did you notice feeling a bit challenged or curious?

You are not responsible for others!

You may feel that way sometimes…but you’re not. Shifting out of that expectation or that sense of responsibility can be a tough one. I get it! Anytime you practice something new, it’s hard.

Think of how you would train if you decided you wanted to run a marathon, perhaps. You wouldn’t just lace up those old runners and hit the pavement for 42.2km. That would feel awful! Your entire being would feel exhausted, overwhelmed, defeated and you would likely want to quit. Boundaries are similar in some ways.

The way you would want to train for a marathon, is to make sure you have the appropriate footwear, then you might want to stretch a little. Then, you might start with 2 - 3km and you would build up from there. You would expect to be a bit sore but that “good” sore where you know your body has been pushed.

Boundaries are similar in that you might want to choose an area or two where you feel your boundaries are suffering. Why might you feel this way? Are you physically exhausted or feel like there are never enough hours in the day? Do you notice some resentment or anger creeping in? Maybe you’re catching yourself crying more often that you’d like. Anger or crying – possibly that’s sadness – are not at all bad, they are very healthy emotions. But when you’re experiencing them in overwhelming ways, you might want to pause and notice what they are communicating. Perhaps guilt is weighing on your shoulders. Guilt, because you aren’t the type of person to say “no”? Or guilt because others are expressing their disappointment to you? (Gentle reminder: their emotions or expectations are  not your responsibility!)

Interestingly, guilt as an emotion, is typically experienced as a result of avoiding a core emotion like anger or sadness for example. Interesting, right? So if you notice or can identify feelings of guilt, maybe you could be curious about whether there’s another emotion there too…or an emotion that feels more true to you, than the guilt. This is also something to explore in therapy.

If you’re trying to figure out where to begin creating boundaries and working through that process alone, it might be confusing, lonely or defeating. You might find it helpful to dig into Nedra Tawwab’s book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace. It’s a straight-forward, easy to read and very applicable resource. I often recommend this to clients who will often return for their next appointment feeling seen and supported.

Coupling a resource like this one with counselling – connecting with someone who is unbiased, non-judgemental and empathetic to your struggles, can be empowering! I invite you to reach. It can feel overwhelming at first, but validating, grounding and empowering as you dig in. I would be honour to connect with you about this. Because ,while some people might tell you it’s selfish, setting boundaries so that you can be at your best for YOU and for others, is the most selfless thing you can do!

Ashleigh Keizer
#106 - 9770 196a St, Langley, V2Y 2X5

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