How to Care Within Your Limits

Do you frequently feel compelled to help others? Or find yourself always saying “yes” even at the expense of your own wellbeing and happiness?

If yes, you are not alone

Many of us have developed a belief that the more we give, the more we will receive in return. It’s like a “pay it forward” mentality, or a belief that the more you put in the more you’ll get out—maybe in affection, praise, or even increased opportunity.

While this may work, sometimes, this is of course not true in all circumstances. I can think of countless occasions when my extra effort did not pay itself back, leading instead to bouts of frustration and/or exhaustion.

Fact is, when you do too much, or give too much, in fear of saying “no,” you run the risk of feeling unfulfilled, disappointed, and overworked.

Thus, we “yes-ers” must learn to create healthy, compassionate boundaries in our lives to keep our energies focused on what matters most. This does not necessarily mean we must cut back and do less-- but it does mean we must do “smarter” and “healthier.”

What is a compassionate boundary?

Compassionate boundaries protect us from spreading too thin. They call us to stop and think about situations differently, by considering an outcome that is compassionate to both parties involved: yourself and the other person.

Many times, we can be so quick to say “yes,” to jump on doing a favor for someone else, or caring for someone else, that we neglect our own limits and our own wellbeing.

In these moments, we fail to be compassionate to ourselves.

Consequently, compassionate boundaries must be set. One’s mindset must be adjusted to more consciously pick and choose opportunities to give that simultaneously bring strength and joy. 

For instance, helping does not have to be a solo, either/or act. Helping can also take the form of providing a connection, recommending an outside service, or offering advice in the moment for personal action. It can also look like just sitting, listening, and being present with a friend…without any additional action.

“In essence, setting boundaries can help us to care longer. While they are seemingly dividing, boundaries actually allow us to connect with others more fully, and compassionately, and for longer —because we have compassion left to give…” 

-Dr. James D. Wellman

Signals you may need to set a boundary? Do you find yourself saying yes, when you really want to say no…?; Do other peoples problems consume your mental space?; Do you neglect important personal matters?; Do you neglect your physical wellbeing?: Do you apologize too much without actually speaking your truth? If you responded yes to any of these questions, it’s time for you to set boundaries.

Setting compassionate boundaries requires one to tune into moments where it’s okay to be the cheerleader on the sideline and not the coach.  Sometimes, the act of stepping back, and putting your own needs first, actually strengthens your resilience and clarity of mind for the moments you must step in.

In this way, compassionate boundaries protect our reserves and help us channel our energy in ways that equally appreciate our own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others.

Here’s how to get started:

1.  Notice the next time a boundary has been crossed. For example, the next time you find yourself saying “yes,” and then immediately regretting it, listen to your body. What physical sensations are occurring? Where do you feel them most? Starting to recognize the inner feelings and sensations that activate when a boundary is crossed can help you better recognize, monitor and enforce your own compassionate boundaries in the future.

2. Investigate the needs enmeshed in your feelings. Emotions and sensations are clues! They are trying to tell you something. So, it’s important to listen and investigate why you may be reacting in such a way. Maybe it’s anger, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, or like you have to ‘prove’ something. Each of these reactions provides insight into how to address the deeper underlining challenge, which may have nothing to do with the favor, task, or person involved.

3. Identify your compassionate boundary. Identify what you need, or what may be lacking and strive to set a boundary and stick to it. For instance, this may be building in time for a mandatory exercise or yoga break, or limiting yourself to two acts of kindness per week, or even keeping a journal of what you actually want to say to start building your wit and confidence to speak more genuinely.

4. Cultivate it in action. Always start with the good. Even in the times when your boundary tells you “sit this one out,” you can lead with compassion by acknowledging the other person and their needs in the equation. Then, share what is true for you in a kind way. Remember, you can always care for someone and express it, even in the moments when you can’t offer more.

Setting compassionate boundaries can help us to honor what is true; how we feel in the present moment. If we don’t begin to honor what’s within, then our boundaries will continue to be crossed and we fail to be compassionate both to ourselves and to others.