Set Your Boundaries

So many of us are givers… As science taught us long ago, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The same is true of human nature: for all the givers in the world, there are also takers. In a perfect world, each of us would do and be a little of both – doing for others, and receiving in return. So we would achieve balance. Right?

Well, balance can be hard to come by, and many of us find ourselves stuck on one side of the “give and take” equation – and, takers, you know who you are! For those of you who feel like you are being run ragged, late summer – harvest season – is the perfect time to make a change in your behavior. In this case, it starts with learning how to set boundaries.

People who have problems setting boundaries include those who don’t know how to say no, those who think they’re superhuman (and should be able to take on anything), and those who want to please others at all costs – including sacrificing themselves and their happiness. What these individuals don’t realize is that they’re almost always choosing this behavior.

That’s right! No one else is making you miserable, overworked or overwrought – they don’t have that power over you. While the more demanding may continue to pile those requests on until you feel like you’re going to explode, the key to achieving balance in love, work or any other area of life is learning when to say “when!” None of us are singularly responsible for anyone else’s happiness.

A closer look
When you’re feeling overwhelmed (as those of us who give too much have a tendency to do), it’s easy to hold the world at large responsible for your stress. The thoughts going through your head might include these: “I can’t make time for everything!” or “I can’t please everyone all of the time!” – as you’re attempting to make enough time and please everyone, of course. If you want to get out of this vicious circle, you’ve got to have a clear look at your actual responsibilities, versus what you elect to take on against your better judgment. We all have the power to say no. The problem is that very often we don’t elect to do so.

Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone has a breaking point. If it’s a work situation that’s pushing your limits, you might consider the fact that you could impress your boss more by knowing when to ask for help. If you’re taking on more than you can actually handle – and you’re still finding it difficult to state the facts and propose a realistic solution – take the time to recognize that you’re actually doing your employer a disservice as things are. Speak up!

If it’s a romantic situation – where you’re putting in more than your partner and feel, perhaps, like you’re being taken advantage of – take a moment and step back. Try to get to the root of your behavior. Are you overcompensating for what you fear are your shortcomings? Are you worried that if you don’t do these things, that person won’t love you? Whatever it is that’s prompting your actions (it may even be patterns set in place by watching your parents as a kid), you’ll want to realize that if the only way to make someone stay is to be at their beck and call, you don’t really want them to stay in the first place! You deserve better. And anyone who truly loves you will hear you when you say you’re overwhelmed – and they will do their best to help.

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider why you choose to overaccomplish, it’s time to figure out what you actually can take on, realistically – without forgetting your own needs. If you’re used to going overboard all the time, this may be a difficult task. You may have even forgotten what it is like to take care of yourself. On that note, make yourself your first priority. What do you need to feel at ease, in touch – and in control of your own destiny? What things do you know you can do for others without robbing yourself?

Tick tock
Make an honest assessment of your time constraints, and then set your limits. For instance, if you’ve been stuck at the office until 8:00 every night and it’s hurting your relationship, you may state that you’re happy to work until 7:00 – but you need to be home by 7:30 for dinner with your loved one. In that same situation (but on the other end), you can tell your partner that you’ll do your best to be home by 7:30 each night, but you can’t be also be responsible for planning and cooking dinner – at least, not all of the time.

Speak up
Whatever you decide, remember that if no one knows about your changes, you can’t expect them to help you adhere to them. Let those in your life to whom you feel responsible know about the new ground rules. Explain that you’re simply trying to do right by everyone in your life, including yourself, and that you’d like to try something new in order to facilitate a more workable situation.

Most importantly, with your new boundaries in place and your happiness as your number-one priority, you have to stand your ground. No one can read your mind, but if you’re clear about your capabilities, they will be able to start respecting your limits. Good luck!

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