Talk a walk with me down memory lane and tell me if anything you see looks familiar. A year or so ago, I was at the end of a really busy and stressful week. My caseload at work was unusually high, my youngest was transitioning to daycare, my oldest was figuring out life as a kindergartener, and my middle was struggling to adjust to being at preschool without his older brother. My husband and I were pretty much fried by the end of the day Friday. And then a text came through about an impromptu barbeque with friends the next day. My initial thought was “I’m too tired to even read this text.” But after briefly talking it over with my husband, I texted back that we were in and to please let us know what to bring with. The next day we went over, store-bought desserts in hand, and turned the children loose with the other kids to run wild in the yard. I was tired and didn’t particularly feel like socializing, but I grabbed a drink and made the best of it. Until the first bit of misbehavior started, and it quickly became apparent that mommy had no patience today. Things I’d normally overlook or ignore were suddenly the end of the world to me. I was easily angered and felt really on-edge. We ended up cutting our visit short and leaving an hour or two after we arrived. I cried in the car ride home, frustrated that we couldn’t enjoy our day with friends because the kids were so poorly behaved.

Anything sound familiar in this story? I’m guessing most of you have found yourself in a situation that was at least somewhat similar. So why am I sharing this story with you? Because this common story is a perfect illustration of how we frequently sabotage ourselves and contribute to our anxiety, anger, and overwhelm by having poor boundaries.

Boundaries are essentially the guiding principles we use to determine how much or how little of something or someone we want to let into our lives. We can set lots of different types of boundaries: physical, emotional, sexual, and time boundaries to name a few major ones. These rules help us prioritize things, figure out what and who to say yes to and what or who to say no to. They keep us physically and emotionally safe. Click below to download a brief guide to boundaries to learn more about the types of boundaries and how to assess your boundary style.

Click here to download Boundaries 101

So how did boundaries play into my ill-fated barbeque? In this instance, I dropped the ball on respecting my time boundaries and some emotional boundaries as well. I knew I was tired. I knew what I needed was to have unstructured time to recover from the week at home. I’ve recognized the importance of having time and space after a busy week and I had previously declared it a priority. I’d set the boundary. But I did not want to hurt my friends’ feelings by saying no to the barbeque. So instead of prioritizing my need for rest, I prioritized the feelings of others. I violated my own boundary.

Women in particular are conditioned to ignore and override our boundaries to make others happy. Unfortunately, this means we are ignoring and overriding the systems put in place to keep us healthy, happy, and in-balance as individuals.

By not respecting my boundaries and saying “yes” to my friends, I said “no” to myself. This left me (unconsciously at first) feeling resentful, disrespected, and overlooked. And if I feel resentful, disrespected, and overlooked, it’s not surprising that I’m also feel impatient, overwhelmed, and anxious.

The boundaries-anxiety link is an interesting one. We are well aware when there has been a major boundary violation and we totally understand the resulting anxiety. If we have someone that we’ve asked not to contact us via social media anymore, and they find another channel to reach out to us, we have an anxiety response. It’s a clear violation of the boundary we set. What we are less aware of are the smaller, more nuanced boundary violations that cause anxiety. In my barbeque example, I wasn’t aware of how I was violating my own boundaries. I wasn’t aware of how resentful I was feeling about showing up socially to please others when I needed to be at home. All I was aware of was this anger and anxiety that seemed to come from nowhere and caused me to be snappy with my kids. But the thing is, these are the boundary violations that are happening all the time in your life. These are the ones you need to search out and put an end to in order to support your emotional wellbeing.

Our boundaries hold so much power when it comes to maintaining internal balance and peace. We must define our boundaries within relationships to allow space to meet the needs of others who we value, but also to meet our own needs. The whole “you have to put your oxygen mask on first” thing is clichéd, but it’s clichéd because it’s true. How can you give so much of yourself on a daily basis, especially as a mom, and not create space for restoration? I cannot give endlessly to others unless I also give to myself. And this means not only do I hold others accountable for respecting my boundaries, but I must also hold myself equally accountable. Yes, I have to respect myself and my boundaries just like anyone else.

 

Carolyn Wagner is a psychotherapist specializing in maternal mental health and the founder of The Calm Mama Method. She helps moms who struggle with anger find calm by learning to tune into the messages their anger is sending and transform it into healing. Carolyn is passionate about serving the world by supporting moms. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband, three young children, and Boogie, their beloved black lab who does her best to stay calm amidst the chaos.