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Why do I feel guilty after setting a healthy boundary?

self care, love yourself, you matter

Congratulations! If you’re reading this you have probably started working on setting healthy boundaries in your life. You’re probably also reading this because this new journey to developing healthier relationships has been leaving you with an impending sense of guilt. I see you, and I hear you, and I am here to remind you that it is all part of the process.

But why do I feel so guilty?!:

1. You’re going against what comes naturally to you.

Let me guess, you may have always been that person to work an extra shift on your day off because your boss needs an extra hand (even though you haven’t had a day off in 6 days). You may be that person that instead of sleeping in on your day off agrees to drive your friend to the airport at 4AM (even though you haven’t had a good nights sleep in 5 days). Don’t get me wrong, being a helpful employee and a supportive friend are all great qualities. It is when these behaviors take away from your self-care needs and your values that boundaries are necessary. Just because you say no to your bosses request to come in doesn’t mean you’re a bad employee-you deserve to prioritize time for you and your family. Just because you say no to driving your friend to the airport doesn’t mean you’re not a supportive friend-you may just need sleep and without it-it would be unsafe to drive.

2. You learned that not helping others = selfishness.

If our early experiences with setting healthy boundaries was received with dismissal or unacceptance we may have ‘learned’ that boundaries are selfish. For example: You start at a new job and your boss tells you to come in on Sunday-but Sunday’s are your dedicated day to spend with family. Instead of your boss respecting this obligation and need for connection with family he responds with: “But we really need you and it would help the team if you could come in for a few hours- you see your family every Sunday, what’s one week, right?”. Instead of seeing your family time as your right and priority, you are taught to see it as a selfish act. Just because others use the power of manipulation to convince you otherwise - boundaries are not about being selfish.

So we’ve addressed that the guilt is there- in whatever way it personally presents itself to you…

How do you deal with it?

1. Name it to tame it:

Feelings are feelings, not facts. Guilt is one of those ‘big’ emotions. Sometimes when we are rushed with intense emotions it can be hard to slow down and instead we become reactive. With maintaining boundaries this ‘reactivity’ can show up and dismantle our boundary right in front of our eyes. Through naming our emotion, for example: “I feel guilty…I feel guilty because she looks sad/disappointed” we can take a step back and choose how we react. Instead of reacting from the feeling of the emotion we can invite our cognitive brains into the mix and challenge the truth behind/fueling those feelings.

2. Challenge the thought/feeling:

Maybe you’ve said “no” and have been received with anger, a sad face, or a disappointed tone. This challenges our boundaries because these reactions make us think, “Well, if I did her the favor of taking her to the airport she wouldn’t look so sad…” You are not responsible for other people’s feelings. Just because someone is disappointed in your boundary- does not mean that your boundary isn’t necessary. You are allowed to take care of you before taking care of others. 3. Reflect on the purpose:

Again, boundaries aren’t intended to be selfish. The purpose of boundaries is to take care of ourselves emotionally, physically and spiritually. If we are not taking care of ourselves this can lead to burn-out which will make it even harder for you to be there for others. You are not saying no to driving your friend to the airport because you ‘just don’t feel like it’; you are saying no to driving your friend to the airport because you have had limited sleep. Realistically it would be unsafe for you to drive without appropriate sleep. In setting and maintaining the boundary you are not only helping yourself, but you are also helping others.

So understanding and practicing healthy boundaries will set the tone for those around you to give them an appropriate, respectful way of treating you. It's ok to say no or I am not able at this time. YOU matter...


Annabella Lipson is a Mental Health Counselor at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling in Scarsdale, NY.

She enjoys working with teens & adults who are dealing with stress, anxiety, college transitions, and other behavioral challenges.

Annabella incorporates a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), EMDR Therapy and Mindfulness practices with her clients.

Make your appointment today and begin on your healing path...


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