Setting and maintaining boundaries is a lot like driving a car: you have to constantly make adjustments in response to the changing environment in order to keep yourself safe. Life is constantly changing, so the amount of distance or closeness you wanted or needed from one person can change from one part of your life to the next.
Think of a best friend from childhood, for example. You may have grown up attached at the hip, having sleepovers as often as you could, and talking on the phone when you weren’t together. As an adult, you may still have this friend in your life, but if you have a spouse, you can’t continue to have sleepovers with your bestie every night. A boundary must be put into place in order to try to satisfy all parties, and maintain intimacy with your friend and spouse.
Unfortunately, sometimes, not all parties will be satisfied with the boundaries you put in place. And when that happens, guilt can show up a lot. We chatted with Jordan Madison (IG: @therapyismyjam), creator of Therapy Is My J.A.M., about boundaries you shouldn’t feel guilty for enforcing.
In a world where our phones almost feel like an extension of ourselves, Madison reminds us you’re allowed to ignore your device for your well-being. “Putting your phone on do not disturb so that you don’t have interruptions” is one boundary she says you shouldn’t feel bad about. “You are not obligated to answer phone calls and text messages as soon as they happen.”
You could likely use a device detox
If you think that your device isn’t pulling you away from interpersonal relationships, consider this: the average American spends about three hours on a smartphone, per day. Furthermore, research has found that one’s level of stress and how close they keep their phone to their bed at night have a positive correlation. A similar correlation exists between stress levels and time spent on phone calls each day.
You can say “No.” End of story.
Madison also reminds us that it’s okay to say no to something, without feeling the need to justify that answer. “No is a complete sentence. You don’t always have to explain or have a reason. If you don’t want to do something, then that is okay.”
How to get better at saying “No”
Researchers over at Berkley University compiled a list of proven ways to say no that is effective, without impacting the respect others have for you. One of those pertains to offering assistance. Sometimes people will ask for your help with something at a time you are burnt out or too busy. However, you may give up some of your much-needed relaxation time to help them since “technically,” you are free. But you need that time. Schedule your free time – your self-care time – and treat that as a standing appointment. Then identify times you can actually help someone. Then you can say, “No, I can’t help you that day. But this is when I can.” You respect yourself, while still showing your willingness to help.
Don’t worry; “No” doesn’t make you look bad
The same Berkeley research that found productive ways to say no also brought up our fear of being perceived negatively, when we say no. The study states that very rarely do others see us any differently because we say “No.” So a lot of that fear is in your head, and not a reason to disrespect your own boundaries.
Madison agrees you need time for you
“Carving out time just for you,” is something Madison says you shouldn’t feel bad about. “So often we are so focused on being an employee, a partner, a child, a parent. When do you get to just be you?” Research has found there may actually be mental health benefits to finding some time alone (“some” being the operative word, as humans are naturally social creatures). One such benefit is improved creativity.
A deeper look at the benefits of solitude
Because humans are social creatures, spending time alone has often gotten a bad reputation. In fact, it can trigger labels like “loner” or “outcast” which have negative connotations. However, research has found that there is a big difference in the outcomes of solitude, depending on the reasons. Those who have solitude put upon them can report greater incidents of depression and anxiety, but those who seek solitude often know what’s best for them, and enjoy improved mental health because of it. This is particularly true in young adults. Don’t see alone time as useless or selfish: it may be necessary.
Remain an individual, even in a couple
Madison reminds those in committed romantic relationships to “Spend time outside of your relationship. In a healthy relationship, there should be a balance of togetherness, and autonomy. So it’s okay to go out for a night on the town with your friends, or spend time with other loved ones.”
Friends are good for your relationship
Having and nurturing friendships, even when in a romantic relationship, is important for many reasons, including preventing codependent romantic relationships. But friendships can also be good for your relationships because research has found that friendships help couples get through relationship troubles easier than those who don’t nurture their friendships. So when you take time away from your partner to be with friends, you really are doing it for your partner, as well as for yourself.
You respect boundaries, don’t you?
We like this quote from Madison’s Instagram page because it seems to pertain to how we interact with boundaries. So often, you may worry that, if you set a boundary with somebody, they will lash out at you, or love/respect you less. But, keep in mind, don’t others enforce boundaries with you? And, don’t you (hopefully) respect those? If you extend grace at those times, you deserve to expect the same in return, when it’s you putting up the boundary.