“Setting boundaries” is one of the buzzwords in mental health land. Yeah, we have trends too. It is easy to get caught up in the next big thing with trends, but I have to say this is one we need to stay on for a while. Boundary setting is really important, yet many of us with ADHD struggle really hard with setting boundaries. Let’s talk about how we can change our boundary setting habits.
Why do we avoid setting boundaries?
There are a lot of reasons why people avoid setting boundaries, and many of them begin in childhood. People who are raised in a way that teaches them to continually ignore their boundaries only encourages them not to set them. They may experience severe consequences from setting boundaries with the people in their lives and never acquire the habit. Here are some common thoughts/feelings from people who have difficulty setting boundaries.
- I don’t want to hurt their feelings
- I don’t want to feel like a bad friend
- What if they hate me
- What if they’re mean to me?
- What if I find out they really don’t care about my boundaries
- I’m so accustomed to people violating my boundaries that I don’t know where to begin
- I want people to like me
- I don’t want to let someone down
- Saying no feels completely foreign
- I feel like I have to take care of everyone and everything
What happens if you don’t get better at setting boundaries?
Well, nothing in particular happens. No lightening comes shooting out of the sky to smite you or anything if that’s what you mean. But the reason that learning to set boundaries is important is that your personal happiness suffers. When you fail to set boundaries, before long you will discover that you are living your life serving at the pleasure of others instead of doing what you know is the best thing for you. The people who love to infringe upon your boundaries don’t care about what is best for you. They care about what makes them happiest, most comfortable, and satisfied. It is natural for a person to want those things for themselves. What is NOT natural is for them to expect you to provide those things with no consideration for what your needs may be at that time. So if you don’t get better at setting boundaries, you are going to find that you are a magnet for people who love to infringe on boundaries.
How do I know what boundaries to set?
We spend so much of our lives attempting to blend in and make people happy that it can be difficult for us to tease out what our actual needs are in the first place. The best place for you to start if you’re new to boundary setting is to ask yourself these questions:
What makes me feel safe? – if someone is routinely exposing you to behavior that triggers bad memories or makes you feel unsafe, it is perfectly normal and acceptable for you to set boundaries with them. If they push back against those boundaries, this could be confirmation that they are indeed someone who is unsafe, but that’s another post for another time.
What makes me angry? – You are in control of your own emotions and nobody else. Therefore if you are repeatedly exposing yourself to behavior that makes you angry and you find yourself acting out because of it, who do you have to blame but yourself? Be conscious of things that people do that make you angry, and be willing to discuss those things with the people around you. If you find that you don’t feel comfortable having an honest conversation with that person, that may be another indicator that this isn’t someone you want to spend time around.
What makes me sad? – Again, you have to manage your own emotions. It is ok to ask the people in your life to be considerate of your feelings, and it is ok to expect them to respect that. It is also perfectly acceptable to avoid people, places and things that feed into that sadness.
What should I expect from others when I begin setting boundaries?
Setting boundaries, in the beginning, is like any new habit you begin: extremely difficult. Especially for those of us who are neurodivergent. It takes a lot of willpower to fight a lifetime of conditioning that tells you that you need to make the people around you happy to begin setting boundaries. The people in your life are not accustomed to you setting those boundaries before them. They’re accustomed to unlimited access to your time, energy, and essence. That means in the beginning, you should expect some push back. It doesn’t mean that the people in your life are bad people, it means that they are accustomed to having their needs met by you and they want to continue things as they normally are. In time, they will get used to your boundaries and understand that this is what you need to be ok – or they won’t, and you will find that they remove themselves from your life.
What should I expect from myself when I begin setting boundaries?
Remember that this is a process, and every journey has to begin somewhere. Setting boundaries is going to feel foreign to you. Sometimes you are going to set a boundary, and you are going to go back on it because it feels like you are being mean. It isn’t uncommon to feel that way, and it is perfectly alright to need time to get used to setting boundaries. You are going to lay down rules and you eventually will learn to follow through with what you are saying that you need. This is going to feel unnatural, and that’s a normal part of the process. Do not fight that part of the process. It is ok for you to feel uncomfortable in the pursuit of something that is so important.
Some books that help with boundary setting
You all know how much I love a good book, whether it is an audiobook or some other kind of book I don’t care. I’m reading it. I have found so many helpful strategies in books that I definitely want to share with you all where I’ve found some great advice for boundary setting
Codependent No More – This is a classic book that will show you the cause of our reluctance to set boundaries and some of the odd places it can lead us if we aren’t careful.
Boundaries – This book is written by a Christian author, so if religion isn’t your thing, you can either ignore those parts or you might want to skip it completely. Regardless, this is an excellent book about how to begin setting boundaries and taking control of your life again.
Women Who Love Too Much – This book was written specifically with people who have issues with romantic boundaries in mind. Women who love too much frequently find themselves used and abused by the people who they most want to receive love from. This book was really helpful to me in breaking those negative patterns.
What will I gain from boundary setting?
I don’t know what you specifically will gain, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that you will come out on the other side of this a different person. You will be a person who is not so willing to accept what anyone throws at you. A person who is not so frequently left hurt. A person who walks away with their dignity intact. So you might lose many things as a result of boundary setting, but you will gain – or keep- your self-respect. And that is worth all of the pain.
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Until next time,