It’s not selfish to put your own needs above a loved one’s needs. Here’s what to tell yourself if you feel wrong doing that.
If there is ever a time when setting boundaries is necessary, it’s the holiday season. Every year comes with high expectations of love, cheer and good vibes ― but that is not the reality for many people. It can also be a time of intense stress.
And as nice as it is to have family in town and holiday parties to attend, this can often mean violations of personal space or uncomfortable dinner conversations that turn into arguments. Setting boundaries can help stop some of these problems before they start, but can be a challenge for many people to implement.
However, it’s a “really important part of healthy relationship functioning … and I think in general we’re not so skilled at it. Boundary setting occurs between one or more people when one person has to make a statement or set a limit regarding something they will not do within a relationship.
The need for boundaries varies depending on the person and can be anything from spending less time with someone, not attending an event you don’t feel comfortable going to or setting rules around how much family members are allowed to spend on holiday gifts.
What seems like a reasonable or sensible boundary for one person might seem completely unreasonable to another person, which makes this really, really hard.
Even more so, the act of setting boundaries with loved ones can result in an immense amount of unavoidable guilt, experts say. For example, you may start second-guessing your decision after witnessing your family’s reaction. Or you may feel deep sadness after disappointing a friend.
If this happens, there are ways to manage your guilt and points to remember to make the guilt a little less consuming.
First, know that the guilt you feel isn’t necessarily a bad thing or even possible to totally stop.
Guilt is certainly not a great feeling. That said, it may be an inevitable emotion as you have uncomfortable conversations with loved ones that likely won’t make them happy.
I don’t know that there’s a time when guilt is not warranted, because warranted to me means validation for your feelings. I think whatever you’re feeling is valid.
It’s normal to feel guilt when setting a boundary with a loved one, and it’s perfectly normal to have thoughts like “Is this an overreaction?” or “Am I being too sensitive?”
But you’re the only person who knows when a boundary is right for you. It isn’t dictated by someone’s opinion or someone’s reaction. In fact, when someone does have a poor reaction to a boundary you’ve set, it’s likely a sign that it is necessary. Otherwise, they would continue to mistreat you or cross that line with you.
Though guilt may come when you set boundaries, it’s important to remember that by creating limits in your relationships, you’re making sure you’re treated in the way you want.
Without this, you would then wrestle with feelings of enabling their behavior and feeling complacent in their negative treatment of you, which would add a whole different level of frustration.
Someone who respects you won’t make you feel guilty about setting boundaries.
It’s important to remember that the people in your life who want to be in your life for the right reasons won’t react badly to boundaries. Even if they have a questionable reaction at first, they’ll be able to come back to you with a fresh mind and understanding viewpoint.
The people who really love you and care about you and have your best interest at heart will be happy about you creating this boundary. They are going to want to do whatever they can to make you feel loved and respected and cared for.
To help combat the feelings of guilt, you can affirm your relationships as you set boundaries.
It can be really helpful to affirm how important the relationship is at the same time you’re setting a boundary. This way, you’re sharing how much a relationship means to you to help ease any pain that can come with boundary setting.
For example, if you are having a difficult conversation with your partner and need a break before hashing things out, you could say something like “This conversation is so important to me, and you and our relationship are so important to me. I don’t want to mess this up. In order to do this right, I need an hour to get my thoughts straight, and I’m going to come back to this and do the job I want to do with this conversation.
Not only are you listening to your own needs when setting this boundary, but you’re affirming to your loved one that you do care about them, which in turn can also help if you are dealing with feelings of guilt.
If you can affirm the value of the relationship … going back and revisiting that in your mind when you start to feel guilty can also be a way of guarding against those guilty feelings.
It’s a way to remind yourself that you didn’t reject the whole person, you just set an important boundary, and by affirming the relationship, they know you still care about them.