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.