As we head into 2023, I wanted to share a personal story and offer support around ways to consider bringing limits and boundaries into this new year as a means to knowing yourself better and feeling more connected to others. This blog post has been brewing in me for me for many months, but simmered closer to the surface over the past weeks as I rested during the holidays and reflected on what has helped me be where I am in my life and what I hear that clients are yearning for. Funny enough, this exact topic came up in numerous sessions just this past week! I hope you find it useful.

As you read this, perhaps think of someone or some people in your life that you find it hard to say no to. Think about what happens inside of you when you say yes, but feel no. Then consider, what happens in the relationship when you say yes, but feel no.

Limits Mean I Love You AND Me

Earlier in my career I worked in a mental health program that provided therapy and other support services to young adults struggling with severe mental health issues, and often homelessness. It was hard work and often left the staff exhausted and sometimes burnt out. We were often discussing the balance between providing the best possible service we could to these young people for whom it often appeared, needed endless support with the needs of the staff to have enough energy to give to all the clients we serviced and still have some bandwidth left for themselves.

We discussed this routinely in our team meetings and out of the discussions arose this idea of setting limits, or boundaries as not only being healthy and helpful for the staff who were setting them, but also for the young people we were working with. This came about from staff sharing stories about taking on too much, then becoming overwhelmed, stressed, grumpy and even resentful towards the clients at time, and consequently not able to provide the best possible care to the person they were serving. The conclusion we came to was that pushing ourselves beyond what felt reasonable not only had poor results for our well being, but it also caused tension in the relationships with those we were doing our best to support and at times, reinforced for them that they were not worthy of out time or care. So we did our best to find another way. Coming to the place where we could be clear where our limits and boundaries were was not an exact science, but when we began to think about this not as a selfish act only serving our needs, but more as a service to both ourselves and the young people we worked with, finding it became a little less challenging.

Setting Limits Can Feel Hard to Set

I think for some staff, the idea that saying no could actually be good for the young people we worked with was hard to adapt to initially. They felt it was not only their job to give all they could, but they knew these kids needed the support and there was often no one else to provide it to them. So they may have been simultaneously motivated by care & compassion, a sense of duty and for some, guilt. When we looked closer at that guilt, we were able to make a connection between acting out of guilt and providing more than we had the capacity for. When we gelt full and able to give, that was usually coming from a place of care & compassion. So this became the question to help find the limit or boundary, Where is my motivation coming from right now to help? It started to become more clear to the team over time that the more they acted in line with their best selves, the better the outcome was for both themselves and the young person they were working with.


The Cycle of Resentment

What happens in the relationship when we do not set limits or boundaries that we later realize we needed to? Consider for a moment the person who came to mind when you started reading this blog. Do you feel closer or farther apart from them when you say yes, but mean no? It can be confusing sometimes, however, when we think we mean yes but once things progress we realize we mean no and often the impulse is the blame the person we said yes to. But if you really stop and think about it, did they make you do that thing you were unsure you wanted to do, or did you make a choice to do it? This cycle is quite common in relationships and only perpetuates a cycle of resentment, sometimes unspoken, that can poison relationships for months or even years. This increase our sense of disconnection, feelings of being misunderstood and ultimately loneliness. While setting limits, or saying no, can initially feel uncomfortable, over time in can build trust in relationships and reduce the feelings of resentment that, whether spoken or unspoken, infect the relationship.

Start to Know your Limits

Knowing your limits can help you go into relationships with more authenticity, integrity and honesty and can increase our sense of connection to others. But it starts with me, with you, with ourselves. One way to know your limits is to pause before making decisions. To stop and consider what feelings arise as you consider this choice. To ask yourself what would motivate you to say yes or to say no. Then proceed based on what arises.

When you take full responsibility for your choices and own them, it can be easier to say no when you mean no. If setting limits or boundaries is new for you, or feels hard, consider starting slow. Set limits in lower stake situations and see how it feels for you. Try in on, in a sense. If limit setting is more of a regular practice for you but there is one relationship that feels particularly challenging, consider what is the motivation for you saying yes when you feel no. Imagine what it might feel like to say no and how that small act could possibly shift the dynamic in the relationship to improve it overall for both you and the other person.

It may be a process to get to the point where you are comfortable saying no, but start small and most importantly, take time to notice how your choices make you feel not just in your mind, but your heart and your body as well.

Remember, you are not alone. You have you.



Want to explore limits further? Book a Free consultation with me here.