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Three signs you need better boundaries and what to do about it

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Boundaries is a buzzword for 2022, and it’s not surprising given the uncertainty of the last two years. Boundaries help us establish a sense of normalcy and peace within our locus of control. Yet, as much as we try to firmly establish them, many of our boundaries could use some work. Here are three indicators you need better boundaries:

#1: You spend large amounts of time replaying conversations that didn’t sit well with you.

Have you ever had a conversation where a family member or co-worker offered their unsolicited opinion? Has this ever happened to you publicly? As if uninvited commentary isn’t intrusive enough, the audacity people have to offer it publicly is a clear sign they are used to taking up lots of space. In return, the space you have to advocate for yourself or have your own desires and needs, gets minimized. If these situations have left you pondering for hours or sitting in frustration over the exchange, a boundary has been crossed.

For many families this is a norm (it has been in mine). However, as I grow, mature, and gain clarity on my own beliefs, I’ve realized that groupthink (the phenomenon where we all share the same opinion which is perceived to be the “right” one) and public shaming no longer serve me. As a result, many uncomfortable conversations and reflective family exercises have been necessary to shift the norm. It’s a work in progress, but we have options when these exchanges take place.

My suggestion: I’ve had the most success speaking with the emphatic opinion-givers one on one after running my thoughts by a wise, objective, level-headed third party. Write out what you want to say and run it by someone who has more insight and experience in tough conversations. This will take vulnerability and humility on your part to share how the experience impacted you in a way the other person will be able to receive. For me, that usually requires taking out unintended “spice.” There's always a chance the person won't be receptive, but they will be aware of (and thereby held accountable for) what you will not tolerate.

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#2: You are attached to texts and emails.

Some jobs and friends are more demanding than others, but even the most demanding ones need boundaries. Feeling obligated to respond or constantly check your messages and emails at all hours of the night indicates that work and friendship have bled into every area of your life (and time), and that’s more than likely a bit unhealthy. It’s our responsibility to teach people how to treat us and if we permit contact at any and all hours, people will expect it. While I find myself overly connected every now and then, I eventually remember that I can’t properly show up for anyone if I don’t take the necessary time to tend to myself and my priorities.

Unhealthy attachment to other people often breeds anxiety, and that’s not something you want to carry into your relaxation or family time. You don’t want to be unable to enjoy or focus on your favorite show, time with bae, or a good book because you’re thinking about the messages you’re missing.

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My suggestion: Set limits. I don’t trust myself to not check email after a certain time, so I have screen-time limits on my phone for all social media and email starting at 10 p.m. Before that, I reserve time to wind down whether that be dinner with family or tv-watching with bae. Since I work for myself, I learned to set limits throughout the day by setting a “no-work rule” during meals. I have to step away from the computer to eat and do something relaxing or fulfilling like listening to a podcast or watching a show. This trains me to step away from work to relax my brain and prioritize me. Lastly, let a text message sit every now and then just to detach yourself from responding immediately all the time. On iPhone you can preview it (without opening it) to make sure it’s not urgent.

#3: You are often confused about what to do or unclear of your feelings.

If we aren’t careful, people will take up more internal real estate than we realize. Our decisions and feelings will be based on what other people want so much so, we struggle to get clear on our own wants and needs. I personally have found when I’m “confused” it’s usually because what I need to do conflicts with what I or someone else wants. Being unable to identify or rest confidently in our own feelings lets us know that we aren’t spending enough time with ourselves. Be mindful of the internal boundaries, the ways in which we take on and internalize other people’s thoughts. They can be the hardest to identify, but they may be the most impactful.

My suggestion: Make a habit of journaling, especially first thing in the morning before checking your phone or talking to anyone. This is one way to capture your natural thoughts and feelings. Write about everything on your mind and get clear on how you feel. Write until you have gotten out everything you need to say. If journaling isn’t your thing, try a voice note, a weekly therapy session, or a meditation practice. Whatever you choose, make yourself a priority.

If you are determined to shed the weight of other people’s opinions, needs, and expectations this year, be intentional about tightening up your boundaries and increase the time you spend with yourself. I promise you’ll see a difference.

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