Boundaries are super important for all of us. With work, relationships, even ourselves. While boundaries are important for everyone’s mental health, I think that for Chronic Illness Warriors, the key is to be able to set boundaries that still allow you to ask for help when needed. I would say that I am pretty good at setting boundaries, but that was definitely a skill that I developed over time. I was reminded of boundary setting as I was preparing for group counselling that I’m co-facilitating as part of my practicum. So I’ll admit I’m borrowing some of this information from Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). The group has a few pscychoeducation components as well as counselling, including mindfulness (you know that’s my favourite), emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal relationships. Though I’m not a “DBT-er” (I’m clearly happy to be co-facilitating the group though and learning all of this) I think that many bits of information from DBT and this course have great applications for many of us! (For those of you wondering I am drawn to existential therapy as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).
Okay, so why should we set boundaries? Boundaries allow us and others to know what we are okay with and what we are not. For example, some people are huggers while others don’t like to touch (granted Covid, so many of us are in the non-hugging category right now). The person who doesn’t like to be touch needs to tell the other person (politely, if possible) that they are not okay with that. The tough part with boundaries is that if they are crossed, it can be awkward or feel rude to point that out. However, your mental health is important and if you’re really not okay with something it’s good to be vocal about it. Another example is a work one. Is it okay for your work to contact you when you’re not there? I was in a position about 6 years ago where I told my work it was totally okay for them to contact me when I wasn’t there. About two years ago (same company, different store) I told them I wasn’t okay with it. I set the boundaries and stuck with them based on the level of stress I was able to handle at the time.
When it comes to chronic illness, setting boundaries can revolve around many different areas, but I’ve found two are the most important: others, and ourselves. With others, you can decide how much or how little information those in your lives get about your illness/health, mental health, etc. I totally believe in sharing but everyone has different comfort levels with sharing, and I totally respect that, as I expect others to respect mine. Boundaries can also include what other people get to help you with. I loosened my boundaries after my hip surgery because I acknowledged I needed more help. Now granted I found myself feeling more grumpy at the time, but it wasn’t because I changed my boundaries, it was because I couldn’t as much myself! And that ties into our boundaries with ourselves. What are we okay doing? Saying? When we push our boundaries are we doing it to help ourselves or because we “think we should”? Sometimes it’s okay to push personal boundaries. With phobias for example, it’s possible to get over them by stepping out of your comfort zone and confronting the feared animal/situation/whatever it is (best to do it with a professional but I’ve known people to do this on their own). Getting over a phobia can be helpful for overall mental health. Saying yes to a night out with friends when you’re not feeling up to it is an instance of crossing your personal boundaries when it is not okay.
I’ve been sharing example from a “personal bill of rights” (Linehan, 2015) throughout and if you’re struggling with boundaries, I would say create your own (or use which ones of these resonate with you). Even stick it somewhere that you’ll see it often. Remember, that boundaries while important should be flexible because they lead to healthier relationships (including the one with yourself). I would love to see what you come up with so feel free to share on Instagram and tag me (@janeversuspain)!
Have a great week and keep making the most of it!