Part of being a responsible adult is setting boundaries with ourselves. We need limits to keep ourselves safe and healthy. This post explains why it’s so hard to do–and how we can start.
We usually think of personal boundaries as a way to communicate our needs to others; a way to tell them how we want to be treated. But we also need boundaries with ourselves.
Boundaries are guidelines or limits
An integral part of being a responsible adult is establishing limits for ourselves – making choices that are in our own best interest even when they aren’t enjoyable in the moment.
Why you need boundaries for yourself
Boundaries help you monitor your own behavior and create a healthy structure for your life. They keep you from eating French fries at every meal or staying up until 2 a.m. when you have to be at work at 7 o’clock. When you set a boundary with yourself, you’re saying: “Here’s the line between what’s okay for me and what’s not. Here’s the line that I won’t cross.” And we set boundaries for ourselves because we love and respect ourselves. Boundaries keep us safe and healthy. They keep our lives running smoothly.
Examples of boundaries you may need
Everyone’s boundaries are unique. The boundaries you create for yourself will reflect your needs and priorities and won’t be exactly the same as these. But this list will give you an idea of what boundaries or limits for yourself might look like.
- Sticking to your budget
- Limiting yourself to one hour of television per day
- No screens (television, phone) in your bedroom
- Not participating in gossip or talking about someone behind their back
- Not working past 7 p.m.
- Not answering work emails on the weekends
- Only buying what’s on your shopping list (i.e. no impulse buys at Target)
- Keeping a regular bedtime and wake-up time
- Doing laundry every Friday
- Not having sex until the _____(number) date
- Not checking Instagram every time you’re bored
- Eating out no more than twice a week
- Brushing your teeth
- Avoiding people who are hurtful, stress you out, etc.
- Not drinking alcohol on weeknights
- Not keeping junk food in the house
- Limiting yourself to two cups of coffee per day
Why it’s hard to set boundaries with yourself
Maintaining boundaries are a struggle for most people. We all know that limits and structure are good for us, but they’re hard to stick to! Have you thought about what makes it hard for you to set limits for yourself? Here are a few possible reasons that it’s hard to set boundaries with yourself.
- Your parents didn’t set healthy limits or boundaries for themselves.
- Your parents didn’t set consistent, reasonable limits or boundaries for you. (There were no rules, inconsistent rules, or extremely strict rules.)
- Boundaries or limits can feel like you’re being deprived or controlled.
- Some mental health problems or addiction can impair your thinking or make it extra hard to monitor and limit yourself.
If you were fortunate, you had a parent who modeled healthy habits most of the time and made sure you did things like brush your teeth and go to bed on time. Over time, you internalized those boundaries and now set them for yourself. You learned that boundaries make life more predictable, which makes you feel safe. You learned that self-care is important and how to make healthy choices.
However, many of us had parents who lacked boundaries themselves (they chain-smoked, drank excessively, overspent, or brought a new girl/boyfriend home every week). And they didn’t set boundaries (or set them inconsistently) for us.
If no one taught you how to set boundaries or explained that they are for your health and safety, it makes sense that you might struggle to set them for yourself now. Being able to stay up as late as you want and surviving on Hot Cheetos and Dr. Pepper is fun when you’re 10 years old. But on some level, it’s also scary. You know that no one’s paying attention to you; you can’t trust your parents to look out for you.
Setting limits for yourself is one way to re-parent yourself. Boundaries give you the limits, security, and structure that you didn’t get as a child.
How to set boundaries with yourself
Now that you know why it’s important to set boundaries with yourself and are aware of some of the challenges, you can work on establishing the boundaries that you need. These tips can help you get started.
- Identify different areas of your life that need structure or limits, such as finances, relationships, electronics usage, daily routine, physical health, nutrition, emotional health, and so forth.
- Create boundaries that reflect your goals and values.
- Don’t try to set too many boundaries all at once. Setting boundaries is a process and trying to make too many changes at once can backfire.
- Use compassionate accountability. It’s counter-productive to expect perfection and blast yourself for not holding all of your boundaries all the time. When you struggle with a boundary, be gentle with yourself. Being too harsh or unrealistic with yourself leads to shame, hopelessness, and giving up. Explore the reasons for slipping up, adjust your boundaries, if needed, and make a plan to improve.
- Make incremental changes. Often it’s helpful to adjust your boundaries incrementally. For example, if you’re trying to go from snacking all night long to not eating after dinner, move your timeline back by 15 minutes at a time until you reach your goal (no eating after 9:00, then no eating after 8:45, and so forth).
I hope that you’ll put self-love and self-care into action and set boundaries with yourself – even though it doesn’t always feel great in the moment.
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©2019 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
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