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How to Set Boundaries
Personal Growth

What (Really) Goes into Life Over 50 That Works: Setting Boundaries IS Self-Care

How often are you certain you know what something means and then realize you weren’t clear about it after all? I think that is what happens around the subject of self-care. In my last column, I said this next one would explore boundaries. And what I have come to see is that the ability to set clear boundaries in our lives is, in actuality, a form of self-care.

Here are some examples:

Have you ever been asked to keep a secret?

The person asking you to do that has her reasons, surely, but what kind of burden does that put on you? Are you responsible for other people’s difficulties/problems/scenarios? And, there are lots of kinds of secrets! It could be a secret surprise someone is planning for her husband and yes, you could keep that one easily. But what if it is something that involves a much deeper commitment on your part?

What if someone is considering suicide and tells you then makes you promise to keep it a secret? That puts what I consider an undue burden on you! You are being asked to put your feelings on the subject aside and honor a confidence that could damage many people’s lives. Is that fair? I say no. Are you a therapist? Coach? Mentor for this person? Or are you getting dragged into a situation that is untenable for you?

Maybe that is too dire a scenario to consider, but I’ve seen it happen! Or what if she tells you she’s having an affair and you mustn’t tell anyone. But every time you see her and her husband socially, you cringe because you know something…. and you don’t know how to act around him! Is that fair?

Mature Friends Having CoffeeAnother common problem: An out of town friend says she’s coming to visit and wants to stay with you. You feel obligated to offer accommodations, even if you aren’t really relishing the idea of her company for several days.

Do you say yes? Or do you take a deep breath and let her know that it isn’t really convenient for you, however, you’d love to spend some time with her while she’s in town. Maybe a lunch or dinner? An afternoon tea?

How honest are you? How honest are most women?

I recently wrote this statement: Women are acculturated to cooperate, step back, and let others go first.

Is that you? If you’re over 50, the likelihood of that being ingrained in you is high. Many of us are from the “children should be seen and not heard” generation! We were taught to serve. Save a few extremely independent women who somehow escaped that and expect the world to serve them, most of my friends struggle with this on a regular basis.

  • We try not to make waves, upset others, especially family members.
  • We might speak up for ourselves, but if challenged, we tend to back down quickly.
  • We let others pick the restaurant, movie, activity in order to accommodate them.
  • Even though our children are grown and on their own, we have a difficult time fighting the urge to solve their problems, give them money, keep taking care of them.
  • We stay in relationships that don’t work for us out of loyalty, fear of being alone, fear of the social stigma of admitting failure.
  • We call ourselves people pleasers without thinking through whether that is detrimental to us.
  • We don’t ask for what we want, whether it is a raise, a better position, a project, a change of some sort—because we hesitate on the grounds that we might not deserve it.
  • We may show up in the world as strong and capable, but these struggles are so internalized that we still grapple with them, many times feeling alone in the process.
  • We even pretend we don’t care what others think about us, but it is hard to live with that.
  • We hide the anger we feel about being treated like second class citizens and then go home. and self-medicate with food, alcohol, TV, or whatever other form seems to temporarily help.
  • We wait and we hope instead of being more proactive in our lives.
  • We say yes when we want to say no.

I’m not saying we ALL have every one of the above issues, but I fully admit I have had each of them at one time in my life. My great fortune is that I chose to keep challenging myself by trying to coach other people about their lives, and it has put me on a path of self-assessment that I hope continues for the rest of my life.

When someone asks me what to do about a situation, at the same time I’m working on it with her, I’m teaching myself what I need to learn; I often say my clients pay me to do my work! It’s because I have spent years studying human behavior that I know if I’m presented with a problem, it is also mine. It may not be in the same form, but it applies to me in some way.

Fortunately, my own coaches and teachers have helped me on this journey. Here are some really insightful things I have learned:

  • Don’t be a lesson vampire. We all have lessons to learn. Taking over for someone else when it is their problem to solve/experience for themselves is vampire behavior.
  • Take off the super-hero cape! When I feel like “I’m the only one who can help” then I’m moving into delusion. Yes, I may be able to assist, but people are on their own journey and it is actually up to them to move their lives forward.
  • If something feels impossible, it might be true. For me, I have had to learn when to step back and let go. There are things in life over which I have no control.

All of this is about setting boundaries. Doing what works for YOU. Think back over times when you said yes, and you could have said no. If you could have a do-over, would you make the same choice? Could you get really good about setting clear boundaries for yourself? What kind of difference would it make in your life?

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