Burnt Out & Overextended? This Exercise Can Help You Set Stronger Boundaries
I often run into chaos when I start to think I can be everything to everyone. Anyone else? Perhaps you want to be the best parent, the most loving partner, and an amazing boss, but you fall into bouts of extreme exhaustion because you simply can't keep up with it all?
Real talk: The drive to please others without attending to your own basic needs is often a sign that you are operating from a place of low self-worth. Of course, I'm not saying we should all act selfishly and dismiss other people's needs and feelings, but I'd encourage everyone to find their own mix of give and take. Here are four steps that I've found helpful in setting healthy boundaries:
1. Begin to recognize where your boundaries may be weak.
In order to get out of the frenzy of trying to do it all, you will need to begin to recognize where you're taking on more than should. A helpful exercise is to write down where you feel you expend most of your energy.
Begin by splitting up your page into five quadrants: mental, emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual. Once you've done that, go through each quadrant and think about what you're "spending" in each. (I made an audio training to help out with this step if you want to check it out.)
2. Read over your quadrant list and then add your core relationships.
Then, break your list down further by seeing which people and relationships you're interacting with in each quadrant. For example: Under the emotional quadrant, you could write about your children, partner, friends, co-workers, and strangers you interact with such as hairdressers, baristas, etc. The idea is to really gain awareness around your relationships and the underlying boundary that's being activated with each one.
There are three core types of boundaries: rigid, porous, and healthy. Recognize which category you usually fall within, and you can make appropriate and positive changes from there.
If you identify with any of the following, your boundaries may be rigid:
- You keep others at a distance because you fear rejection.
- You feel very protective of your personal information.
- Intimacy feels overwhelming to you.
- You keep others at a distance because it's easier than telling them how you really feel.
Here are some indicators of porous boundaries:
- You overshare personal information with others (including people that you've just met).
- You find it really difficult to say no to other people.
- You feel overly dependent on how other people feel or their opinions of you.
And here are some signs you have healthier boundaries:
- You value your own opinion and the opinion of others.
- You don't compromise your personal beliefs or values for other people.
- You know your personal needs and wants and can communicate them to the people you are involved with.
- You can say no without justifying yourself. And you can accept it when other people say no to you.
3. Begin to become aware of how you feel during interactions with other people.
Working through the previous step should give you some more awareness around the type of boundaries that you typically are operating within. It should also help you recognize which relationships may make you feel overextended.
From there, it's helpful to spend a couple of weeks practicing really recognizing how you feel within these relationships. Once you can recognize how you feel in the moment, you can begin to see what you need. This then paves the way for you to be able to communicate your needs and wants in a loving, healthy way in the moment.
4. Set the intention that you will take care of yourself by honoring healthy boundaries.
During the weeks you're practicing this hyper-mindful way of relating to others, ask yourself the following questions when you wake up: How do I want to feel today? What are my needs, and how can I meet them? What do I need to say no to? Where do I need to express myself better?
Once you've answered these questions, place your hand on your heart, close your eyes, and set the intention that you will respect yourself and others as you pursue these needs. As the old saying goes, "You can't pour from an empty cup"—so fill up!
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Athena Laz is a leading voice on modern spirituality, specializing in the intersection of psychology and mysticism. She is the author of The Alchemy of Your Dreams: A Modern Guide to the Ancient Art of Lucid Dreaming and The Deliberate Dreamer’s Journal.
Originally hailing from South Africa, Laz has degrees through the University of Witwatersrand and is a licensed psychologist through HPCSA. Her work has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine and the South African Journal of Psychology.