Feeling constantly overwhelmed, being pulled in all different directions, trying to make everyone happy and putting yourself last. Does that sound familiar?

I struggled with boundaries for most of my adult life. As a teacher, I had a hard time saying no to extracurricular activities and additional committees because I wanted to ensure job security. The inability to say “no” soon transitioned into motherhood when I didn’t want to let anyone down and prioritized my children, marriage, and career over my personal well-being.

I kept hearing the term “boundaries” but didn’t really understand what it meant. I’m proud to say that through many years of therapy, several books, and podcasts I have binged since the start of the pandemic, I finally discovered the life-changing magic of boundaries.

So What Are Boundaries?

PERSONAL BOUNDARIES ARE EMOTIONAL LIMITS, PHYSICAL BARRIERS, AND MENTAL BLOCKS THAT WE PUT INTO PLACE TO PROTECT OURSELVES FROM GETTING USED, MANIPULATED, HURT OR BOTHERED BY OTHER PEOPLE.

Healthy boundaries are an essential part of self-care. The lack of boundaries can lead to burnout, anger and resentment. That is exactly what happened to me. Because I hadn’t set clear boundaries in so many areas of my life, I felt like I was constantly living in survival mode. Military life is challenging enough; I knew I needed to get a better handle on the parts of my life that I could control.

Marriage Counselor and Married to Military host Lindsay Cavanagh shares, “I could give you hundreds of reasons why boundaries are important and the research that supports them; however, what it all boils down to are boundaries keep us sane! They help you to feel good, avoid burnout and unhappiness, and ultimately allow you to do and be everything you want and need to be”.

I couldn’t agree with her more! Through therapy, reading many self-help books and listening to podcasts, I have been able to identify and use boundaries. Establishing clear personal and professional boundaries have aided me in pursuing the version of myself that I always wanted to be.

Boundaries Are Not Easy. But They Are the Key

For me, following boundaries comes down to saying “no” often, so that you can say “yes” when you want to.

As a military spouse, I am the default primary caretaker of our two children. Military life impacts kids in so many ways. As a mom, I put so much pressure on myself to provide our two children with the same opportunities and experiences as their civilian friends and cousins. I felt strained always saying “yes” while trying to keep up with multiple activities, visits to family out of state, and solo parenting part of the time.

It wasn’t until the pandemic that I really took a step back and examined the life that I had created with the best intentions and realized that it was not working for me and my family. What I needed was to slow down and figure out what would for us, and then say “no” to the rest.

Establishing and using boundaries can be really difficult. In an interview, Brené Brown explains, “. . . we are not comfortable setting boundaries because we care more about what people will think, and we don’t want to disappoint anyone, we want everyone to like us. And boundaries are not easy, but I think they are the key to self-love and the key to treating others with loving kindness”.

When I finally let go of worrying about how everyone else felt – friends, my kids, in-laws, siblings, and even my husband – I was able to care for myself by prioritizing what felt good for me and what didn’t. Brown elaborates,

“Nothing is sustainable without boundaries . . . Empathy minus boundaries is not empathy. Compassion minus boundaries is not genuine. Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability. You see there is a huge riff here, which is boundaries are frickin’ important. And they’re not fake walls. They’re not separation. Boundaries are not division, they’re respect. Here’s what’s okay for me and here’s what is not.”

By setting healthy boundaries for myself, I gave myself much needed self-care. The result is that I am less stressed and have increased my ability to be a more present and peaceful parent, partner, and friend.

feet standing at a yellow boundary lineDon’t Let Fear Keep You from Healthy Boundaries

Speaking with Marriage Coach Lindsay Cavanaugh, she shares, “One of the things I have found that keeps people from using boundaries is the fear that you will disappoint people or hurt those around you”.

The fear of disappointing or upsetting others was the reason it took me so long to set healthy personal boundaries. But, I realized that if I wasn’t happy and prioritizing myself and my needs, that I couldn’t be the type of mother, wife, friend and employee that I wanted to be.

Once I prioritized myself and let go of the burden of feeling responsible for others, I was able to figure out my boundaries and begin using them. Cavanaugh explains, “Essentially, you cannot be responsible for other people’s feelings. You cannot be responsible for fixing other people’s feelings, and you must remember that it is OK for people to have their feelings and they will love you anyway. Your only responsibility is to take care of yourself, manage your own emotions, and prioritize yourself. No one else will do it for you.” If I didn’t do this then no one else would do this for me.

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

When I didn’t have clear boundaries, I struggled with resentment. I knew that being resentful of my spouse or others in my life was not the way I wanted to live. “My advice is to try the boundary, see how it feels, and recognize that the more you use them the easier they get. Your future happiness is worth any potential short-term discomfort you feel!” says Cavanaugh.

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” —BRENÉ BROWN

If you are ready to see how setting and using boundaries can feel, I suggest reading 6 Tips for Setting Compassionate Boundaries, advice given by Dana Nelson, PH.D.

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