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Setting Boundaries & Self-Care

Written by: Megan Barfield, M.S.
Setting Boundaries & Self-Care

“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” – Prentis Hemphill

In a world becoming more focused on mental health, we often hear the terms “boundaries” and “self-care” without much context into what these two concepts look like in reality. They can even be confusing, with self-care being misconstrued as a “treat yourself” mentality (which sometimes it can be) and boundaries being associated with cutting people off who are “toxic” or “not good for us.”

In reality, these terms are complicated and include a large variety of ways to implement them. They are also closely related in that setting boundaries with people, our time and energy, and ourselves can be self-care. Let’s look closely at each of these and how to incorporate these into our lives.

Boundaries are the rules of relationships, knowing what is and is not okay. It is through and with boundaries that we make decisions, build relationships with others, and take care of ourselves. Boundaries allow us to allocate our time and energy in a way that benefits us and the people around us with authenticity.

Types of boundaries include physical, material, emotional, time, sexual, and behavioral. In each of these areas, we can have rigid, porous, or healthy boundaries and these usually fall on a spectrum. Rigid boundaries can include ignoring someone or something, getting angry or frustrated when asked to do something, and cutting people off entirely. Porous boundaries look like “people pleasing,” saying yes when we know we are overextending ourselves or agreeing with someone outwardly when that conflicts with how we feel. Healthy boundaries balance vulnerability and authority and foster healthy love and respect.

Self-care is an investment in ourselves. It involves taking care of our lives in each realm by doing something today that improves our quality of being short term and long term. Self-care can be more enjoyable activities of playing on our recreational softball team instead of working late, bubble baths and sleep instead of the gym, or a stop at Starbucks to get you through that mid-week hump. Confusingly enough, self-care is also working late instead of meeting your team for your softball game, putting on your running shoes and heading to the gym instead of napping when you get home, or making coffee at home to save money instead of treating yourself to coffee in the drive thru.

The deciding factor in these situations that determines if this is self-care or not is the answer to this question: How will I feel afterwards? Will I feel refreshed by napping, which will help me manage the rest of the day more effectively or will I feel behind and groggy? Have I budgeted in a way that going to Starbucks is a motivator to continue doing so or have I been to Starbucks several times this week and need to manage my money more effectively? Self-care leaves us feeling motivated, refreshed, less stressed and anxious, and accomplished.

In order to take care of ourselves, we have to have boundaries. These two concepts are connected in a multitude of ways and walking through your boundaries and self-care routine with a counselor or therapist can help you find the best balance for you and your lifestyle.