What are healthy boundaries and how to set them

healthy boundaries
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I first learned about healthy boundaries in my recovery program. Having been raised in a home where such things were never discussed, my first foray into boundary setting came well into my 30s.

Depending on your experience, this may shock you. If you grew up in a home like mine, however, you may feel glad you’re not alone.

My parents kept me in line by registering their disapproval at every turn. This led me to believe my very existence required an apology. So, I did my best to shrink, not ruffle any feathers, and always always put other people’s needs ahead of my own.

I had heard of boundaries, but did not believe they applied to me. At the time, my self-awareness hovered around zero, which prevented me from articulating this fact. But my life showed all the evidence.

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Now that I’ve learned to set healthy boundaries, it’s hard to imagine a time when I couldn’t say ‘no’. Now ‘no’ is my default answer. You have to give me a good reason to say ‘yes’.

Now that I've learned to set healthy boundaries, it's hard to imagine a time when I couldn't say 'no'. Now 'no' is my default answer. Click To Tweet

Let’s talk about what healthy boundaries are not.

1. Healthy boundaries are not walls.

Some people who grow up with abuse and neglect wind up with nonexistent boundaries (like me). They realize from being told over and over (with or without words) that their needs are inconsequential. Their job is to discern other peoples’ needs and take care of those instead.

They self-sacrifice and people-please. They lack a concrete sense of self because they never learned their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. That’s because they were too busy studying other people to know themselves.

healthy boundaries
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But there’s another outcome from childhood abuse and neglect that often gets overlooked. That’s the child who decides they’re going to make damn sure their needs are met.

This leads to extreme self-sufficiency and a decision that everyone else is to blame for anything that goes wrong. They cannot afford to believe they are at fault because their sense of self is too fragile to handle that.

They have a fixed mindset and believe people don’t change. That means they have to be perfect and the best way to do that is avoid emotions at all cost. This equates to an extreme fear of intimacy and stonewalling anyone who tries to discuss emotions.

These are not boundaries, but walls, and they are just as dangerous as having no boundaries at all. Because they ensure the person will never enjoy true connection with another human being.

2. Boundaries are not rigid.

Rigid boundaries are another hallmark of an emotionally avoidant attachment style. This means you give no second chances when someone crosses your boundaries.

You have a rule that you only wait 5 minutes for someone at a restaurant. If they’re a minute late, you start ordering for yourself.

You cut people off easily when they slight you. You’re not interested in apologies or extending forgiveness. They should have known better.

You work so hard to be perfect and other people should, too. If they don’t, isn’t it fair they pay the price?

You may have many friendships but they’re all superficial. Your fear of intimacy and lack of trust prevent you from allowing anyone to get too close.

You can’t tolerate criticism, and lash out at anyone who dares challenge you. Your fragile ego can’t handle the idea you might be wrong.

What are healthy boundaries?

On the other hand, healthy boundaries are born out of love for self and others. Not a mistrustful need to protect oneself from constant perceived attack.

Healthy boundaries tell the world what you want and don’t want. They tell people what you will and won’t tolerate. They improve communication and make relationships go more smoothly.

Healthy boundaries tell the world what you want and don't want. They tell people what you will and won't tolerate. Click To Tweet

You speak up for yourself when mistreated. Though you give second chances, you won’t stick around for abuse.

You know you can forgive people without continuing a relationship with them. That’s different than cutting someone off at the first slight.

Comfort with saying no is the best way to set healthy boundaries. You are tuned into yourself enough to know your bandwidth.

You won’t overextend yourself to please someone else. This prevents the burnout and overwhelm that afflicts so many of us.

You won’t overshare by telling your whole trauma story to someone you’ve just met. You’ll let them get to know you over time. And only if they reciprocate with their own sharing.

If you’re busy or tired and someone needs your time, you’ll be honest. You’ll either say ‘no’ or put a limit on the amount of time you have available. This prevents resentment and misunderstanding.

If you're busy or tired and someone needs your time, you'll be honest. You'll either say 'no' or put a limit on the amount of time. Click To Tweet

If you’re dating someone and only want to see them once a week, that’s okay! Our culture loves to promote the idea of being joined at the hip. But healthy boundaries include limits on time spent with your love interest.

What other examples of healthy boundaries come to mind for you?

Why a done list is more important than to-do lists and how to create one

done list
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We live in a society that values productivity more than anything else. Maybe you’ve become mired in to-do lists and derive your value from checking off items. But have you tried a done list?

A done list reminds you of what you’ve achieved rather than what you have yet to do. Sometimes we forget to give ourselves a pat on the back for all the little things we do.

We wait until we reach the monumental goal before celebrating. And, even then, we shrug and move on to the next big thing.

If you grew up without hearing praise or encouragement, celebrating small wins won’t come naturally. You have trouble believing anything you’ve done is good enough.

If you grew up without hearing praise or encouragement, celebrating small wins won't come naturally. Click To Tweet

You likely struggle to relax and unwind. That’s because your parents never gave you the pat on the back that indicated a job well done. As a result, your off switch which helps you power down is broken.

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Part of the self-parenting process is giving ourselves the recognition we missed growing up. This is where a done list comes in. Not to replace the to-do list, but enhance it.

Why the done list is so important

1. It improves your mood.

You may think crossing items off your to-do list makes you happy. And, there is a certain satisfaction to getting things done.

But when you don’t celebrate those wins, life becomes a mountain climbing expedition with no reprieve.

When you acknowledge small accomplishments, you feel better about yourself. Instead of falling behind, you see how far you’ve come.

2. It increases confidence.

When you set goals, you’ll inevitably reach the end of a month without achieving all of them. And, like the missing ceiling tile, we focus on the one or two things left undone.

But when you look back at your goals and write down the ones you did accomplish, it’s uplifting. It makes you feel good about yourself. Because many of those goals seemed difficult to attain at the time you set them.

3. It helps you relax

A done list is different than a to-do list with checkmarks. If you take stock at the end of a day or week, you’ll see how many things you had to do that were not on your list.

You’ll go easier on yourself when you realize distractions and dealing with emergencies are part of life. You may find there are too many items on your to-do list. Reducing the number to a manageable amount will bring peace and sanity.

4. It brings clarity

A done list can help you see what you enjoy and what you’re good at. If the same things aren’t getting done week after week, that could mean you’re avoiding them.

The things on your done list are often things that come easily because that’s where your talents lie. You might realize, as I did, that you’re better off outsourcing those undone tasks.

How to create a done list

As you go through your day, make a list of all the things you did, whether or not they were on your to-do list. Give yourself credit for what you completed and accomplished.

Often we treat tasks outside our official to-do list as if they don’t count. But the fires we put out daily are not mere distractions from our real lives. They are life itself.

Acknowledge yourself for taking care of them and never again say, “I got nothing done today”.

Acknowledge yourself for tasks outside your to-do list and never again say, "I got nothing done today". Click To Tweet

Do you set weekly or monthly goals? At the end of that period, pay attention to the ones you achieved instead of dwelling on those you didn’t.

Celebrate your accomplishments and notice whether they represent tasks you enjoy and which use your skills and talents. Consider enlisting help for the jobs you keep putting off.

That means asking for help or paying someone to complete the task professionally. Now, you can add stretching outside your comfort zone to your done list, and celebrate that, too.

5 signs of self abandonment and how to overcome

self abandonment
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Do you struggle with self abandonment? That means you have a habit of doing what other people want and have trouble discerning your own desires.

You may be so used to abandoning yourself, you don’t realize you’re doing it. Read on to discover 5 signs you self abandon, and the most likely reason you do.

1. Poor self care

Your body shows signs of needing rest but you push through anyway. You need time alone but you don’t take it or even ask for it.

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2. Putting others’ needs ahead of your own

You don’t have the energy to listen to someone vent but you let them do it anyway. And you never ask them to reciprocate by listening to your problems.

You wouldn’t share those problems anyway because you don’t want to come across as a burden.

You don't have the energy to listen to someone vent but you let them do it anyway. Click To Tweet

3. Giving up on your dreams

Deciding to stop pursuing a passion because it’s not working is one thing. But self abandonment means you stop because of what other people think or say.

You can’t tolerate disapproval of your desires so you give them up. You’d sooner let your dreams die than risk challenging cultural norms.

4. Uncertainty over your likes and dislikes

self abandonment

As a result of giving so little attention to your own needs, you lose touch with them. You may be so used to doing what other people want, you forget what you like and don’t like.

An example is the mom who goes grocery shopping after her kids have flown the nest. She has no idea what to buy when her decisions are no longer dictated by other peoples’ desires.

5. Difficulty making decisions

You’d prefer that others make the decisions because you don’t trust your own judgment. When you do make a decision, you second-guess yourself.

You overthink things to the point of “analysis paralysis” which delays decision-making, sometimes indefinitely.

What causes self abandonment?

For most of us, self abandonment happens as a result of unmet childhood needs. If your parents never took care of your physical or emotional needs, you won’t, either.

Living with the pain of unmet needs feels familiar. So, you stay in a situation that looks like “home” to you. The one where other people’s needs come before yours. Even when they’re strangers.

Living with the pain of unmet needs feels familiar. So, you stay in a situation that looks like "home" to you. Click To Tweet

You have no blueprint for having your needs met. And since our refusal to meet our own needs is subconscious, we have trouble knowing how to correct the problem.

You may feel like you want something very much. But suffering the disapproval of others to get it is unthinkable. That life or death fear of rejection is different than the normal sting we hear about in self-help material.

As children, our parents abandonment (whether physical or emotional) felt life-threatening. They were our lifeline, our only hope for survival.

We deduced early on that displeasing them put our lives at stake. So, the healthy inward-looking nature of a child that helps them discover themselves, explore, and grow, gets thwarted.

In its place develops an outward looking creature desperate to please, first its parents, and later anyone in front of them. It feels very much like a matter of survival in a way that chasing our dreams does not.

Self abandonment is self protection

Give yourself a pat on the back for taking care of you the only way you knew how. You kept yourself safe by doing your best to assuage your parents negativity (and later, others).

Now that you know better, you can learn to reparent yourself. That means checking in with yourself to see what you need. Then meeting those needs yourself.

You’ll learn to set boundaries that let other people know what you want and don’t want. And you’ll see their respect for you, and your own self-worth, skyrocket.

If you’re interested in living life free from the pain of self abandonment, join the wait list for The Self-Parenting Solution. It’s an online course that takes you from self-abandoner to compassionate self-advocate in eight short lessons.

10 ways to an amazing and free self care routine

free self care
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I read an article that said to forget about your expensive and complicated wellness routine. The author claimed free self care routines like walking outside give you all the health benefits you need.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve written here previously about the dangers of so-called self care that puts you into debt. Sacrificing financial security for body treatments will only bring more stress in the long run.

Self care isn’t selfish, it’s true. But another truth about self care is that it’s often free.

There’s an industry banking on you believing you need expensive spa days to feel good about yourself. But true self care goes much deeper than that.

Here are 10 ways to take excellent care of your needs without spending money.

1. Go for a walk.

Walking in nature gives you optimal health and wellness effects. But even a walk down the street can soothe and help you sort out muddled thoughts.

The striding motion has a way of calming anxiety. Have you ever felt confused and overwhelmed, then gone for a walk and felt your head clear?

2. Take a bath.

No quick dip, but take the time to relax and sink into a long, warm soak. Light some candles and bring a book with you. Create a mood with your favorite soothing playlist.

3. Be mindful.

Mindfulness is the kind of free self care we should do every day. It’s simply staying present rather than looking back or ahead. Most of our anxiety can be blamed on a lack of mindfulness.

There are many different ways to practice mindfulness. You could do a guided meditation. Or eat a meal mindfully, chewing slowly and savoring each bite.

There are many different ways to practice mindfulness. You could do a guided meditation. Or eat a meal mindfully, chewing slowly and savoring each bite. Click To Tweet

4. Read for free self care.

Have you fallen into the habit of reading things that make you more productive? Or that teach you how to be a better parent or improve in some other way?

I raise my hand to that one. Due to my interest in personal growth, my reading list had become heavy and prescriptive.

Lighten up your list with some pleasure reading. Buy or check out titles that have no other purpose than to make you smile or feel easy and content.

5. Journal.


Writing down your thoughts brings peace of mind and clarity. It can help reveal hidden thoughts and fears, and uncover things about yourself you didn’t know.

Journaling helps you find direction and plot next steps. All you have to do is put pen to paper without an agenda. Simply write.

Journaling helps you find direction and plot next steps. All you have to do is put pen to paper without an agenda. Click To Tweet

6. Declutter your closet.

Closet organization can be life changing. And it will prompt you to clear clutter in other areas of your life, too.

You’ll be amazed at how easy it can be. Not to mention the mental health benefits you’ll enjoy. Download a 5-step guide to cleaning out your closet here.

7. Watch something funny for free self care.

Tune into a show on Netflix or animal videos on YouTube. This is not the same as binge-watching which makes us numb out and escape our feelings.

Finding something funny to watch has tremendous self care benefits because you’re engaging your emotions rather than running from them.

8. Write a love letter to yourself.

You probably spend more time criticizing than praising yourself. For many of us, the inner critic rules. But tell her to take a seat while you write out a list of your stellar qualities.

9. Stretch for free self care.

Download an exercise app and do a non-strenuous fitness routine. I use Fiton which has some wonderful low-impact, no-stress routines that provide gentle and free self care.

10. Sit still.

Take some time by yourself and do nothing. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and let your thoughts roam. You’ll be amazed at how many problems solve themselves during these sessions.

How monumental experiences change us in ways nothing else can

monumental experiences
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Have you ever known or heard of people whose lives were transformed by monumental experiences? A brush with death, for instance, sends them running after their dreams full-tilt, unwilling to settle for anything less.

I’ve known people who have emerged from near-fatal car accidents and completely changed their lives. One abandoned her career trajectory to start a new business. And, best of all, she charged what she was worth.

You don’t need to escape death to change your life for the better, though. Here are 5 other monumental experiences that render our old lives unrecognizable.

Struggling with self-sabotage? Download Chapter 1 of It’s Not Your Fault free.

1. Divorce

They say divorce is the hardest thing a person can go through, short of losing someone through death. Some say it feels like a death, the loss is so extreme.

When we go through something as hard as divorce, it gives us new courage. We decide to pursue things we never did because we feared what people would think.

A divorce exposes you to all kinds of public scrutiny. You suddenly realize you can survive the disapproval of others. Heck, you can even thrive in the face of it.

A divorce exposes you to all kinds of public scrutiny. You realize you can survive the disapproval of others. Click To Tweet

You likely experience abandonment from at least a few of your friends. You seek out new friends more aligned with your values.

Surviving this painful process gives you courage to pursue passions that laid dormant during your unhappy marriage.

2. Losing a loved one

So much beauty has come out of the ashes of untimely deaths. For example, the mother of a boy whom a drunk driver killed, started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

The organization has saved thousands of lives with its roadside sobriety spot checks. These have become part of our holiday routine and bring us together in a shared desire to keep others safe.

Countless other foundations have sprung up in the name of lost loved ones. The mothers of these lost souls abandon careers to take up new roles they never imagined themselves in.

3. Moving

monumental experiences

Moving to a new region or country is one of those monumental experiences that can spur you to change everything. That’s because, suddenly, your life is a clean slate.

Nobody knows you or your history and that brings tremendous freedom. Now, you can be more intentional about friendships and let go of those that only survived due to proximity.

Moving can spur you to change everything. Nobody knows you or your history and that brings tremendous freedom. Click To Tweet

You find freedom in the distance from family members. No more obligatory visits or unwanted intrusions on your life.

Whether they’re toxic or not, a little distance from family can help you re-discover yourself. Who are you without the influence of those who’ve known you forever?

4. Job loss

Losing a job can prompt you to start that business you’ve always dreamed about. It can make you more authentic and care less what people think.

You no longer have to wear a mask to fit into the culture at work. Nor do you have to tolerate the workplace bully.

You might realize for the first time that money doesn’t equal happiness. You want to make up for all that lost time you traded for a regular paycheck. That makes you more intentional about how you spend your time now.

5. Um, a pandemic

We won’t step around the elephant in the room, the worldwide pandemic. Among monumental experiences, this one ranks high.

The pandemic has brought unspeakable losses, both in life and finances. We’ve been forced to look at life differently, and accept things we never thought we’d have to tolerate.

We’ve seen how much humans can stand and how resilient we are. Without our distractions and routines, we’ve been forced to get quiet and look within.

That’s forced some of us to take stock of who we are and what matters to us. Have we been living life authentically? In some cases, that introspection has led to the very monumental experiences discussed above.