When we think about setting boundaries, we often think about how our most strongly defined boundaries involve time and other people. For example, we set time limits like “I’m going to work on this for one more hour then I’ll take a break” or we tell a friend “I can’t hang out with you tonight but I’d love to catch up with you another day.” It’s important to know our limits and know how to communicate our limits when needed. To do this, it's helpful to ask ourselves: how much am I willing to give and where could I benefit from drawing a line? This is necessary in order to define what our boundaries look like in the many different areas of our lives.
Boundaries are important because they keep us safe and protect us from being taken advantage of, manipulated, or depleted. Setting boundaries is a good way of ensuring that our needs are being met. They also help us practice how to advocate for ourselves when we feel our limits are being tested. Honoring someone else's boundaries is a sign of a healthy relationship as it takes respect and understanding to not push another person's limits. However, it can be much easier to set boundaries with external forces than set boundaries with ourselves.
"I suck." “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t deserve their support.” “I hate the way I look.”
Did you know that our brains are hardwired toward negative thinking? Research has shown that humans are more inclined toward negative beliefs over positive beliefs. Unfortunately, this negativity bias can have heavy ramifications for our mental health. Picture this: every negative self-talk thought that we invite in acts as another brick added to an enormous wall. Walls are meant to enclose or shut off from a space so what could this wall be shutting us off from? Potentially, it could decrease our capacity to practice self-compassion, experience a higher self-worth, reduce distress, or improve our sense of self. With the existence of this wall and a new brick added with each negative thought, we keep ourselves from reaching our potential. The potential to give ourselves the same grace and compassion that we would more easily give to any other human in our same situation. The potential to find inner peace with ourselves and move closer to self-acceptance. There are ways to dismantle the wall but it’s not a quick fix especially when we may have given these negative thoughts an open invitation inside our minds for a very long time.
The first step is noticing the negative thoughts when they come up. What is the thought? How does the thought impact you? Is this thought working for you or hurting you? After we work to increase our awareness of our thinking patterns, we can make the plan to set a boundary with our thoughts. Practice saying: “this thought isn’t helpful,” “I wouldn’t tell that to a friend,” “I deserve to treat myself better,” or “I’m not going to let this thought have power over me.” Set a boundary with your thoughts in the same way you would if an actual person was saying the thought to you. Notice and address the thought instead of avoiding or distracting from it. Reframe the negative thought with a positive affirmation or neutral thought. Confront or challenge the thought’s truth. Each time we address an unhelpful or unwanted thought in a new way, we are able to slowly dismantle the wall brick by brick leaving space to form new perspectives and move closer towards self-compassion and kindness.