Boundaries Part I

Here is a fun exercise:

Get out a piece of paper and a pencil.

Look at the diagram below. You are represented by the smiley face in the middle. The other bubbles represent responsibilities in your life. Now draw similar bubbles that represent your own life. Include spouse, children, friends, household duties, and anything else that represents where you spend your time and energy.


Now, pretend that you have $100. This represents your time and energy. Designate funds to each bubble that show how much time and energy you spend in that area. (For example: $20 for your spouse, $20, for your children, $15 for your work, $10 for friends, etc.) Remember you only have $100 to share.

Remember to put some money in your own circle. You cannot take care of all of these responsibilities without taking care of yourself.

Look at the drawing you created. It gives you a beautiful, graphic illustration of where you spend your time and energy. The goals of this exercise are to help you:

prioritize the things that are important in your life.

make sure you are not overspending your time and energy. Overspending your time and energy leads to burnout, anxiety and depression.

make healthy decisions about where your time and energy are spent.

Prioritize: When we say “yes” to something, we are automatically saying “no” to something else. Pretend that your great aunt Edna needs you to spend a lot of time with her right now. As a matter of fact, she wants $30 of your $100 worth of time and energy. Because you only have $100, you will have to shift your time and resources away from other important responsibilities, such as your spouse, children, friends, or work in order to meet Aunt Edna’s request. If Aunt Edna takes more of you than you are able to give, you may become overwhelmed, stressed, and eventually burnout. It is important to gently set some limits as to how much time you can spend reasonably.

Another important tool is your calendar. If the PTA calls and asks if you have some time to spare, give yourself some space to check your calendar before saying “yes.” Then, let them know how much time you can give. If you are booked, let them know that you can help out at a later date when your calendar lightens up. This approach allows you to joyfully say “yes” when you actually have the time and energy to say “yes.” Saying “yes” when you are already overwhelmed is always a “no” to taking care of yourself and your most important priorities.

Overspending: When I think about how much money I need to put in my personal circle, I like to use the concept of Daily Minimum Requirements (Louden, J, 2007). Daily minimum requirements are the absolute minimum we need to feel like a human being each day. This may take a few weeks to figure out for yourself. Everyone is different. It took me a couple of months of observing myself to realize that my daily minimum requirements include things like taking vitamins, eating right, light exercise, a nap, spirituality, connecting with my spouse and kids, etc. Daily minimum requirements change in different stages of life, and become even more important in overly stressful crisis periods, such as when a family member is ill. If you neglect your own self-care, your body will suffer. When we budget time each day to meet these essential needs, we have more energy and time to spend on the things that are important to us.

Healthy Decisions: Practicing boundaries helps people make informed decisions that honor your health and the most important people in your life. It takes practice to learn to say “no.” And, sometimes the people who hear you say “no” may have a difficult time understanding, especially if you have said “yes” to everything in the past. You need to remember that you are not responsible to please everyone. Boundaries allow us to take responsibility for ourselves and for those relationships on the top of our lives!

Louden, J. (2007). The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year.

Contributed by:

Jennifer Christian, M.A., LPC

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