Setting Boundaries

A few weeks ago, I had an accident on a boat dock that resulted in a large and deep bruise on my outer thigh.  Even though I didn’t do any major damage…nothing was broken or torn…my leg was swollen and sore.  I walked with a bit of a limp, and I couldn’t stand to have anything touch the wounded area.  And while I thought that I would be back to normal within just a few days, it turned out that my recovery actually took a few weeks. I still have a small and somewhat painful lump, although I’m glad to report that my outer thigh no longer looks like a colorful abstract painting.

The point is, for a few weeks, I wasn’t able to do many of my usual activities.  I still went to the animal shelter three times a week, but I didn’t walk any of the big dogs, and I even avoided the smaller ones that were especially jumpy.   I skipped my yoga class, didn’t ride my exercise bike, didn’t take long walks around the neighborhood no matter how nice the weather was, and in general, made sure that I didn’t put any more strain on my leg than was absolutely necessary.  I was often frustrated by my limitations, and sometimes those frustrations were aggravated by the thought that I was letting other people down.

I worried that my friend who teaches my yoga class was going to be annoyed with me for missing so many sessions.  I worried that my fellow shelter volunteers were going to be unhappy that I wasn’t helping them get the big and rowdy dogs out for their daily walks.  And I worried that the huge decrease in my level of exercise meant that it was going to be even harder to stuff myself into my already tight jeans.

I wanted my old life back.  I wanted to be able to do all the things I was used to doing, and to be able to meet all the expectations that other people usually had of me.  I found myself fretting a lot, becoming anxious and short-tempered, and feeling that I had to constantly remind everyone that I did, indeed, have a sore leg that was taking far too long to heal.

Thankfully, I finally came to my senses.  I realized that while I might not be able to do the things that I wanted to do, and that other people expected me to do, I truly was doing all that I could do at that particular point in my life.  And I realized that by looking for other people to “give me permission” to step back from my normal activities, I was setting myself up for nothing but guilt and disappointment.  Because no one else knew exactly how my leg felt on any given day, or what I could and couldn’t do without causing unnecessary pain or fatigue.  I realized that it was up to me to set my own limits and live within them, and not to pay too much attention to whether or not other people understood or approved of them.

The thing is, we are each responsible for setting our own boundaries, whether they be physical, mental or emotional.  We know what is going on in our own lives better than anyone else does, and we not only have the ability but also the responsibility to decide exactly what we can or can’t do.  That doesn’t mean we ignore challenges or become self-absorbed and selfish, but it does mean that we recognize our own limits and stop apologizing for living within them.  And once we do, we stop being worrying so much about living up to other people’s expectations.

There’s an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  Honestly, I think the same thing holds true for personal boundaries.  Because knowing our own boundaries, and respecting other people’s boundaries, makes for good relationships.  And that makes life better for all of us.

32 thoughts on “Setting Boundaries

  1. I’m sorry to hear your leg was giving you a lot of trouble for a while but glad it’s getting better. I think you have a good point about setting boundaries for ourselves. Trying to do the impossible in order to please other people is just likely to upset them even more when we fail in the attempt. When we’re sick or injured, we have to be sensible and slow down a little. I wish a certain presidential candidate had taken this advice a little earlier in the week.

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  2. A slower recovery time is sadly a product of aging! I can remember when a strained muscle would repair over a weekend, but now it is 6-8 weeks! Very frustrating, but a fact of life.
    As for trying to meet other people’s expectations? I don’t! I adopted a quote which says, in the context of me/you doing our best in any given circumstances- “Those who matter won’t mind, and those who mind won’t matter.” Simple but quite profound. 🙂

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    • That quote is profound, and very true! Sadly, pleasing others is something I seemed hard-wired to do, and I have to make an intentional effort to listen to my own internal voice and make my choices that way. I’m getting better at it, though, so I suppose I should be grateful for small blessings!


  3. When I was still working I had a very heavy fall one Sunday, resulting in a badly bruised and painful thigh and hip. I could barely move, never mind walk, so took Monday off. On Tuesday I was no better so my husband insisted on driving me to the doctor, who said nothing was broken but to rest a bit longer. When I phoned my boss his voice expressed disapproval as he told me how short staffed they would be, so I went in on Wednesday. White as a ghost, I lasted till 4pm. They weren’t actually short staffed and some of my colleagues berated my boss for guilting me into coming in. I took another day off and returned on Friday – not fully fit, but ready to work. The moral of this long-winded anecdote is that we both needed to learn your boundaries lesson! I knew I was unfit for work and should have defended that. He should have accepted that I knew best what I felt, not him. After he left I found that he’d entered “Bruised leg” as my reason for absence. Grrrr! (I probably sound as if I’ve resented this for years – I haven’t really, but your post brought it to mind!)

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    • It doesn’t sound as if you had a very good boss! He should have respected that you knew the result of your injury and you would be back at work as soon as you could. As for putting “bruised leg” as the reason for your absence, that’s silly: there are surface bruises, such as mine, which are painful but don’t stop us from walking around, and then there are bone bruises, which it sounds like you had. And they do limit your ability to move! The bottom line is when we accept other people’s opinions on what we can do over our own, it rarely works. Thanks for sharing this story!!!


  4. It comes back to that old people pleaser thing…. Certain of us (me included) are used to making others happy and don’t want to disappoint. It took me years to care more about my own needs. It’s so freeing to stand up for me now. I think having my gray hair (I don’t color it anymore) kind of gives me the freedom to say the things I want and act like my true self. Everyone simply thinks: oh well, she’s just old! Ha ha. I say: whatever, at least I’m finally true to myself now. Well, I sort of always was a loud mouth, but I just felt bad sometimes. Not anymore! 🙂

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  5. This post resonated with me so much, Ann, because I am currently in the process of working with boundaries. Firstly with my boss, who really does go too far with her demands without regard to my student caseload. With my husband whose job hopping is spilling over way too far into my life as it relates to stress and fulfilling my own neefs. When you wrote that no one can know but you how much your leg hurts that was a great metaphor for everything there is about us that no one can know. Thanks, Ann.

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  6. Yes, too true Ann, we’re often our own worst enemies and make life harder for ourselves than we need to. I’m glad you finally realised that it was up to you set the boundaries and not to worry so much about what other people think. Hope you’re now well and truly on the mend. Take care. xo

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  7. “That doesn’t mean we ignore challenges or become self-absorbed and selfish, but it does mean that we recognize our own limits and stop apologizing for living within them.” OH, I love this. You nailed it, Ann. I really like what Anabel wrote; it reminded me of a similar boss response after I’d found myself flat on my back with a muscle spasm in my lower back. Written in my employment record was something about missing work, but no reason. Like I was a flake. I knew I needed to rest and not over use those muscles (the spasm was caused by the way we must sit to treat patients in dentistry). Sadly, I think my boss’s response/experience is common; still, no job is worth being treated like that. We must not only set our boundaries but not shy away from enforcing them. Thanks for the reminder! ❤

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    • Thank you for your kind words and support! It is hard sometimes not only to set our boundaries, but to enforce them, but as you say, we have no choice but to do so. Sadly, it’s harder with bosses, because to a certain extent, we depend on their good opinion of us to keep our job. That’s when we have to remember that you are right, no job is worth that!

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