Why we need to set our own boundaries and how gratitude can help
Updated: Jul 25
"They're not in masks"
"There's more than 6 of them in that group"
So much is angering us right now, and to be fair, the above, I too, would class as selfish. But what about:
"Oh she can sit around all day while I'm working hard."
or "He's taking another day off is he!?"
What most psychologists will say at first is - before we judge, remember that others have lives we may have absolutely no idea about. ...and then encourage you to focus on the areas in your life you can influence for your personal success.
However, there is still a gap that needs to be filled between that thought process "Hold fire on judgment" and "...Get productive for YOU" and I believe that understanding it will go some way to making it much easier to do both.
Learn to set your own boundaries!
Sometimes, when we feel resentment at others for seeming “freer” than us – it can be about us not having set our own boundaries appropriately.
Why do we struggle with boundary setting?
Sometimes if there has been a very dominant figure in our lives we develop a sense of “duty”. We may "learn" as a child (where there are few other alternatives, and our sense of self is only developing) that we are in for a smoother ride if we follow their instruction.
Such behaviour is not always meant maliciously, it is often out of that person's own sense of self developed through their experiences, upbringing and even cultural demands. If it is ever displayed negatively, it can be through their difficulty in managing and expressing their emotions. There are always complex reasons which, as a child, we will often not even consider, or would struggle to understand.
As adults, however, we can be more mindful of this and how some of our behaviours - often shaped at a very different time in our life - may not serve us now. A sense of "people pleasing" is one such behaviour. Not only will it result in giving our valuable time and energy away to those who may not appreciate, value or want it (but we do it because that is how we believe we will receive the love or validation we sought as a child), but it can also make us angry or resentful at those who have found their way to manage - or perhaps simply had a different upbringing.
This fantastic article written by Annie Wright sets out the behaviours that you might experience if you have not set your boundaries appropriately - and in particular she proposes that anger towards the behaviour of others can have a lot more to do with us feeling "I have so much on, what about ME...why can't I do that..."
What can we do about it?
The great thing about behaviour is that not only is it dynamic, but it is also within our own power to change...however, it's not always easy. Understanding the reasons why we might behave as we do...and realise that the negativity it can generate in us is not conducive to our success nor our relationships, can be a positive motivator to make the changes we need.
Being reliable, having a sense of duty, being diligent - they are all admirable traits, but we do not have the capacity to offer that high standard to everyone. And, it is helpful to remember that the chosen self discipline that we can apply to our chosen priorities and desires is NOT the same as the people pleasing driven by the old behaviour strategy.
So here are two very simple tips:
1. Set your priorities
Recognise who and what is important in your life. Write them down if you need to (my clients - and myself in fact - sometimes find a visual reminder can be helpful to keep focused).
2. Look after them!
When you choose to allocate time, make sure you are choosing your priorities first. For other demands see if you can delegate the task or even signpost the person somewhere. Also remember that "NO" is a complete sentence, and when you say "no" to an exhausting demand, it means when you say "yes" you are so much more present and able to contribute positively.
The third secret tip is to help you with your priorities - and that is Gratitude. Many positive psychologists will talk about this. It is a regular process where you value everything you have. You may do this by writing down three things you are grateful for each day, I now do it by looking around and thinking of the value the things my eyes fall upon gives me.
While commonly packaged in "decluttering" or the "the law of attraction", Gratitude has a psychological basis. When we want something, we value it more than all the other things in its context. Once we have it, that value swiftly diminishes - unless we ourselves work to keep seeing it. That works for people, for possessions, for anything we have in our lives. So gratitude is about reminding yourself to see appreciate everything in your life - just like you did when you wanted it. The things that you appreciate most will fall at the top of your priorities, and setting your boundaries will protect them too.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt