Setting Limits

Welcome to our blog on Setting Limits! **insert jazz hands here**

For all of you people pleasers out there who instantly moved your mouse to “close tab” upon seeing today’s topic…. Hold up! Setting Limits, also known as Setting Boundaries, doesn’t mean ultimatums, it doesn’t have to negatively impact relationships, and it doesn’t instantly mean everyone will be upset with you.

Setting Limits means honoring your own capacities and needs; it means showing up as your own ally. AND Setting Limits is healthy, compassionate, and important for your relationships to thrive! It can also be empowering AF!

I’ll be offering a rough outline of how to consider which limits you want or need to establish, and also some self-affirmations to remind yourself of throughout this process. Keep on reading!

What are limits and boundaries?

In short, limits and boundaries are the edge of what you are able to offer, willing to tolerate, or open to accepting in your life. We all have a point that something is “too much,” and we can protect our own wellness by establishing limits and boundaries that reduce the number of times we are stretched (or pushed!) into our “too much” zone.

Limits and boundaries can exist externally, such as in relationships; they can also exist internally, like in the way we talk to ourselves.

How do I know what limits I want to set?

At times, it can be glaringly obvious when we need to set a limit. We may sense an internal sign indicating “Don’t go this way!” or “Stop doing this!” We may feel it in our gut. We may encounter repeated exhaustion, frustration, or sadness. These experiences can tell us something, if we slow down to listen to them. I also encourage clients to reflect on their values, needs, and capacity when we are considering which limits they want to set. And I also want to acknowledge — limits can change over time! Just because you decide to establish a limit, doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible if your values, needs, or capacity shift at some future date. This doesn’t mean you were wrong in setting the limit when you did; it means that something changed. And you, being a flexible, holistic person, can change with it.

How do I stay curious and compassionate while setting limits? 

This question highlights a fear I often hear in conversations about setting limits: “What if I set this limit and I lose this person/this thing I love/everybody and everything?” Thank you for bringing that honest fear to this space. It is scary to try something new. It is scary to practice establishing limits when we have existed for so long in relationships with people who benefit from us not having them. 

Creating time for self-reflection can cultivate curiosity and compassion, while also helping to build confidence in the need to establish a limit. Ask yourself things like:

  • What value or need is this limit connected to?
  • What happens if I don’t set this limit? 
  • How can I expect this person to honor and respect me fully, if I don’t tell them how?

Okay… but how do I actually tell someone my limit?

Well, a standard format for expressing ourselves is the use of an “I Statement.” These typically go something like “I feel (an emotion) when (describe what is happening). In the future, I need (set your limit here).” Here’s an example: “I feel disregarded when I’m expected to do most of the housework. In the future, I need us to balance these responsibilities better. I’m able to do the vacuuming and laundry. Which chores are you able to take?” 

Alternatively, you may find it easier to set limits in very brief responses, such as “No. I’m not able to do that.” or “Juanita is a better person to help with that challenge; it’s outside my realm.” Find an approach that’s genuine to you, rooted in self-compassion, offers clarity, leaves no room for misinterpretation, and is still kind. 

A few reminders and affirmations

It feels imperative to emphasize: You are only responsible for knowing your limits, honoring them, and expressing them clearly, honestly, and compassionately. You are NOT responsible for how other people respond to your limits. Are there sometimes undesirable outcomes when we set a limit? Yes. People can become frustrated, annoyed, dismissive, or belligerent (not always, but sometimes). Is it still important to honor your own capacities, needs, and values? Heck to the yes! You matter. Your worth is not dependent on your ability to overextend yourself to the benefit of others. 

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