Joanne Gilhooly - Psychotherapist & Counsellor - Dublin City - B.A. (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy, Dip. Gestalt, MIACP
Dublin Counselling and Psychotherapy Blog

Keeping Sane (Part 1)....Boundaries, Needs, and Limits

Alright, I’ve been having a little think about boundaries and staying sane when there is madness going on all around (or anytime for that matter).

So, I thought it might be helpful to share a few guidelines that I try to live by. Maybe they’ll speak to you, maybe they won’t. 
It’s all good, take what feels helpful, if any.

Here goes:

1. Let other people do their own emotional work. That means, when you express your feelings and establish some limits for yourself, other people’s discomfort about that is not your work to do, it’s theirs.
By all means, empathise with their discomfort, stay connected with them if that feels right for you, but that does not need to mean changing your behaviour to soothe them.
If this feels mean, you could try reminding yourself that you are doing both yourself and them a great service. Doing other people’s work for them gets in the way of their growth and yours, so you both lose out. This way, you both gain (and your relationship might too).

2. Be aware that some people will not want to do their own emotional work!
They might push you to do their work for them by guilting or shaming, for example.
You might consider whether you want to talk with them about this (would they hear you?), or maybe establish new boundaries with them by yourself e.g. limit your contact in some way/decide that you will not engage with attempts to get you to do their work for them.
Again, you can do this while remaining genuinely empathetic, if that feels authentic for you. If not, don’t worry, this will be easier once you have made peace with your boundaries. This can take time and practice, so please be patient with yourself.

3. Which brings me to.....making peace with your limits, needs and boundaries. If you’re struggling to let other people do their own work, it might be worth exploring whether you are really at peace with your own needs or whether there might be some old guilt or hyper-vigilance hanging around. This can be really good stuff to sit with while you let other people do their own work. You might notice that it varies from one need to another, or one person to another. Try getting really curious about this.
Bear in mind though, that this can often stem from our needs being dismissed, ignored, or shamed as we grew up, or having a parent who expected us to meet their needs, rather than vice versa. So, if it’s too much to sit with, getting professional support might be a good plan (see below for more info).

4. Try this phrase on and see how it feels: “Stop going to the hardware store for milk”. 
Now, this one can be a good indicator of whether you are hoping that others will do your work for you. We all do it sometimes, so be kind to yourself please. 
Do you notice that you keep trying to change someone in your life when they’re not up for the challenge? Do you, metaphorically speaking, keep going to the hardware store looking for milk and leave disappointed and angry that they still don’t stock it?
Do you find yourself saying “But they SHOULD do [insert thing here]!”?
Maybe they should, I don’t know.
But if they don’t, and you’ve already tried talking with them (using lots of ’I’ statements and avoiding accusations), maybe you need to do your own grief work. Let yourself mourn the fact that the person or environment can’t/won’t meet your needs in this way. You could consider what they do offer you. You might find that they’re not a great fit for you anymore, or you might find that they have other good qualities that you want to continue to enjoy and you can get said need met elsewhere or get it from yourself. 
Give yourself serious praise for this. It is huge growth work. You rock.

5. If you keep getting stuck with any of these, you might consider whether there are some events from your childhood, or the more recent past, that are making it hard for you to acknowledge, and be compassionate with, your own needs and limits. If so, you might consider the professional support of a psychotherapist. 
You can find accredited psychotherapists on www.iacp.ie or on www.iahip.org 
Make sure you check that they’re qualified to travel with you on this important journey and please do not be afraid to trust your gut when it comes to finding a good fit (though if you find that this keeps happening, this might be something worth looking at too). 
If you take this step, please know that it is courageous to address our areas for growth. Your vulnerabilities can be your strength!

Go well, 

Joanne.