Setting Personal Boundaries

Over the past few years, there has been a huge cultural shift toward accepting and recognizing mental health needs. This shift has been accompanied by a focus on prioritizing self-care and establishing clear boundaries. As an anxiety-driven, over-achieving, people-pleaser, I’ve learned a lot from the abundance of Internet guidance posted on these topics, but in my efforts to incorporate more self-care and to establish boundaries with others, I hadn’t paid much attention to where the boundaries actually needed to be established, at least not until the other day.

A friend was telling me about a co-worker who makes her just a little uncomfortable every time they speak.

This coworker seems to always need to touch the person he is talking to: a hand on the shoulder or the elbow, sometimes even grabbing someone’s hands as if to ensure he has their full attention. My friend blew it off as a harmless, generational thing, but admitted it made her uncomfortable and she wasn’t quite sure how to address it.  I heard myself telling her that I would have no problem telling this guy to back off. And while certainly, this guy needs to get with the times, this declaration was no act of feminist bravado on my part. Inappropriate behavior or not, I’m big on my personal space, and I’ve actually snapped at people who have made me uncomfortable by invading my bubble. I’ve also been called stubborn for simply refusing to do anything I don’t want to do. In fact, one of the first things my husband learned about me was that when I give an answer to something, I’ve already thought my answer through and am not likely to change it – specifically, he tried to coax me into trying his food at a restaurant and all he succeeded in doing was pissing me off.

Reflecting upon this, I realized that my struggle has never been establishing boundaries with other people.

I’ve never really had trouble saying “no” when I really don’t want to do something or have no interest in it. My problem is saying “no” to myself when I want to say “yes” but really shouldn’t. My people-pleasing isn’t about being afraid of letting people down or disappointing them, it’s about genuinely wanting to be helpful. I like being involved; I like using my knowledge and skills to assist others. Unfortunately, there is only so much I can reasonably participate in and acknowledging this is a challenge for me. Telling myself that I’m at my limit when I want to take on something new is always difficult. I find myself searching for ways I can make it work rather than admitting that I’m just working to overcommit myself. And this attitude isn’t any healthier than failing to draw clear boundaries with others.

In 2023, I’m going to focus on doing less, on telling myself no, and on reducing my responsibilities to the things I really need to be a part of.

I’ve realized that I might not need to spend so much energy on self-care and establishing boundaries with others if I did a better job of setting personal boundaries for myself, and I’m probably not the only person who needs to do so.

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


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