Establishing Personal Boundaries During the Pandemic

Lisa Martens

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Setting boundaries has always been extremely difficult for me. I was raised to think that having my own personal needs and desires was selfish, or that I was "exaggerating" all the time. I used to think that if someone was in more pain than I was, I absolutely had to drop everything to help them. I had to make things easier for other people, even if it meant making something impossibly difficult for myself.

I found it difficult to say no to family, friends, and boyfriends. This was hard during normal times, but what about during a pandemic, when everyone's needs and expectations are much higher?

People may test the fence.

If you say that you don't want someone touching your baby until the pandemic is over, or that you don't feel comfortable going to a restaurant...people may test the fence. They may pressure you. They may act personally offended. Exes and old friends might come out of the woodwork. People you didn't get along with may suddenly demand you "put the past in the past" during "these trying times."

Why don't you want to go eat with them? Why don't you want them to hold your baby? Why don't you want to host a party in your nice house—Don't you want it to be like old times? Or are you "scared"?

This is a way of testing a boundary. They may not be doing it maliciously or intentionally (though they could be), but it's important...even if it's uncomfortable...to hold the boundary you have set.

They could be doing this for a number of reasons. Maybe they're used to you not having boundaries, or, in the past, using pressure and guilt has worked. Maybe they are more malicious and manipulative. Whatever the reason, it's good to have a plan of action for when people test your boundaries.

First, it is important to resolve the issue internally. When we are triggered, we may try to lash out. When I feel someone is crossing a boundary, my first instinct is to run away. I have been trying more and more to communicate my needs instead of avoiding confrontation.

My normal way of dealing with crossed boundaries is to leave the situation entirely. This is because I have been in situations where the other person was not reasonable, even violent. So I learned that either my needs would not be met, or I would simply have to leave the situation.

Fortunately for us, most relationships can adjust to your new boundaries. If they are unwilling to respect them, then it might be time to rethink the situation.

You have every right to set and hold your boundaries.

This is always true, but we may feel like it is not. We might make exceptions because there is a pandemic, or because someone is sick, or because someone's feelings are hurt.

However, you not setting a boundary will not fix the pandemic (it might make it worse!), heal anyone, or resolve someone else's feelings (they may simply realize you will enable them and give in).

You have every right to say, "I can help you with this later" or "I am not comfortable traveling right now." You have every right to ask for compromise, and ask someone to meet you halfway. Even if you're taking care of someone, you have the right to organize nights off for yourself.

You are a person with your own desires and goals. You can control your actions, and work on your own feelings. You cannot control the actions of others, and you cannot control the feelings of other people.

I was in a series of relationships without boundaries. I would give too much, and then expect too much. I would give too much to people who never gave to me, and then I would expect too much from people who had a healthier view of relationships.

When I plugged the hole and finally started setting boundaries and not letting them be crossed, I realized just how much happier (and whole) I was.

Boundaries relieve stress and conserve energy.

People do not enjoy setting boundaries because of the confrontation involved. That's how I felt—I felt like I was being "mean" every time I said no to someone.

But a funny thing happened—People stopped asking me for things that would cross my boundaries. They started to respect them, and respect my time. They started to meet me halfway.

Not everyone did. There were some people who continued to violate my boundaries and time. Unfortunately, if you spend your life running to everyone's help, they may expect you to do so indefinitely, and become angry with you when it's no longer the case. As heartbreaking as it was, I had to let some of those relationships go, and in one case, I almost resorted to legal action.

You are not anyone's property, and if you work to resolve a relationship and communicate your needs and boundaries, and they are not respected, then it might not be possible to salvage that relationship.

While the short-term stress of confrontation seems daunting, the long-term effects are overwhelmingly positive: I now have a strengthened sense of self, clear boundaries and expectations, and I use my time wisely. I respect my own time and energy far more than I did. I had thought of myself as relatively expendable, a free agent that could be used toward anyone's goals—I was not. I have my own goals that I want to achieve, and I don't need to shrink myself for anyone else.

During a pandemic, we must be there for one another in a way we can tolerate.

Of course, we want to be there for family and friends during a pandemic. However, over-giving makes us resentful, and makes us want to leave.

So truly, if you love people, eventually you must set boundaries with people...otherwise, you'll all drive yourselves batty.

You cannot be everywhere at once—You do not have to watch everyone's kids all the time, or give people who don't social distance access to yours. You do not have to travel if you do not want to, nor do you have to stay with relatives who cross your boundaries just because they want you do. You do not have to force yourself to be uncomfortable for the comfort of someone else, because this will erode your love for them. You might think you're keeping the peace, but really, you're setting the stage for resentment.

With the extreme exception of very emotionally unhealthy people, most of our friends and family do not mean to make us feel bad. This is important to keep in mind. They are scared and want help, and turn to us. It is a very touching thing that someone would trust and care for you so much.

Once we calm down and realize we are all human experiencing a pandemic together, we can begin to process our needs and the needs of others in a healthier way.

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