Three Questions to Help You Decide Where to Set Boundaries

Do people expect a lot from you?  If you’re reading this article it is likely your answer is yes. Let me also ask you this – do others’ demands on and expectations of you take up an outsized amount of time and energy in your life? Keep in mind that what constitutes outsized differs. The amount of attention you need to devote to your child, for instance, is generally different if the child is young or an able-bodied adult. 

While it is not so easy to set and maintain boundaries, the demands on you can raise your stress level, especially if you are resenting what others expect from you. Here are a few questions to consider in deciding where to set your boundaries:

Is the Expectation a Reflection of “Your Role”? When you are capable and well-informed, others look to you for advice or assistance. It may be as simple as your “role” in your family or in the community you live in. At some point in life, however, putting others first can tip so far that it interferes with what you need to do to take care of you, honor your priorities, and reach your goals. The accumulated expectations may drain you energetically.

Consider if your participation in what others ask you to do is a conscious decision. If on reflection you determine that it is not a role you want to continue, begin to redefine your boundaries.

As you redefine boundaries, you may experience some resistance as you make changes in your relationship with others. In fact, some of that resistance may be from you. This is particularly so if you’ve been playing this role for a long time. Generally, however, people adapt.  If possible, consider phasing out. You may also want to think about how your relinquishing certain responsibilities gives others an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to assist.

Have You Fostered the Expectation of You? Some of us have consciously or unconsciously fostered the expectations of others. Quite frankly, it may be that some of what you perceive to be an expectation is of your own making. Perhaps your role in others’ lives has become a valuable part of community and connection for you. Or, becoming absorbed in others’ problems and goals could be a way of avoiding focusing on those things in your own life that need attention. It may simply be pure ego; a pride that you can make things happen or can do it quicker or more easily than someone else. If so, it is important to understand your own limits to avoid undue stress and mental fatigue as a result of wanting to serve the needs of everyone.

Creating me time for yourself, if possible, is one way to help you reset expectations and boundaries. This is time outside of listening to, assisting, and providing for others. It could be a time when you take a nature walk, take a nap, pray or meditate, read a book, go to the spa, or engage in any other activity that calms your nerves. You can even integrate a body scan meditation into your day to keep you more in tune with your body’s and your spirit’s signals.

Is the Expectation a Reflection of Your Values and Goals? In some cases, you may have taken on obligations because they reflect values that are important to you. You’ve made a conscious decision to take on the obligation because of its importance to you or your family outweighs the cost to you at the time. You may still, however, see value in exploring ways to lessen any burden and reduce the stress it may bring.

Seeking the assistance or participation of others, bringing clarity to the scope of your involvement, and lengthening the time in which a task needs to be done are examples of ways to reduce the stress that comes with the responsibility. 

Stick with the changes you’ve made and notice if there is an improvement in your stress level.  While helping others is an important part of who you are, caring for yourself is also critical to your ability to be your best you and be there for those you love.