Your gain: Learn why setting boundaries after a loss is so critical to a successful healing journey, and learn some of my best practices and recommendations for doing this.
In our fast-paced, highly interconnected world, setting boundaries has become more crucial than ever. Whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, establishing healthy limits helps us protect our mental and emotional well-being. When could that be more important than when we’re emotionally taxed with grief after a loss, right?
Let me remind you: boundaries are not selfish. Boundaries are a form of self-care! They ensure that we respect ourselves and others while maintaining our sanity and happiness (or some semblance of this, whatever we can find in grief… amitire?).
Let’s explore the importance of setting boundaries and deep-dive into ten effective ways to do so.
Self-awareness is Key
Before you can effectively set boundaries, it’s essential to understand your own needs, values, and limits. How can we do this? By taking time to reflect on what matters most to you, what drains your energy, and what fuels your passion. Self-awareness forms the foundation for creating meaningful boundaries.
This isn’t always easy to come by, and there’s truly so much to a self-awareness practice and really getting a hold of this. It takes introspection, a whole lot of patience, and so much more. In my Intentional Life After Loss membership, this is exactly what we do together! I know how intimidating this can feel when we’re in the throws of grief, and this is something we work together on to take the pressure off in this membership. Why? Because one of the last things we might feel when we’re stuck in extreme pain and sadness is any semblance of introspection and patience.
Really, self-awareness boils down to bringing ourselves back to the present moment. It’s having the wherewithal to know what feels good and what doesn’t, and how to then react if something does or doesn’t serve us in that moment. Try adding on the emotional turmoil of grief onto that and it sounds a bit out of reach at times, I know! But, consider this today as you think about how you can better set boundaries for yourself.
Clear and honest communication is fundamental to boundary-setting. Be open about your feelings, needs, and expectations with those around you. Y’all… I pride myself on being a good communicator, but this can be hard! Whether it’s just an uncomfortable conversation, not wanting to hurt people, not wanting to even “go there” (you know what I mean?), being fearful of how they might react to what you have to say… it’s all valid.
But let me tell you, it’s also super empowering when we do. We’re stepping into our own voice and sense of self when we do this, and this is an extremely powerful and amazing thing to be able to do. Not many people can do this effectively! Being open and honest isn’t always pretty, and as always I would recommend doing this as tastefully, respectfully, and maturely as possible. But no one can really argue with how you feel, right? No one can tell you that you do or don’t feel a certain way, or that you should. We’re living our own lives here, not the lives of others!
That being said, constructive feedback is a beautiful thing to be able to both give, and receive. Encourage others to do the same, and don’t be afraid of their thoughts! Why? Because this paves the way for healthier relationships and mutual understanding. When you can both “let it out” in a healthy way with “I feel” statements vs. “You do this” or “You do that” which end up coming off as accusatory, we’re all better off. There’s so much growth to be had in these conversations, so they’re nothing to veer away from!
Say “No” When Necessary
Learning to say “no” is one of the most powerful boundary-setting tools. Especially in grief, it’s okay to decline invitations, requests, or tasks that don’t align with your priorities or capacity. I spoke about this more at-length in episode 24 as well, but saying “no” respectfully asserts your boundaries and respects your time.
In grief, boundaries are more important than ever to help keep us sane and well-balanced emotionally. Simply put, just own your boundaries loud and proud!
Set Clear Expectations
Establishing clear expectations with others helps prevent misunderstandings and potential conflicts. Similar to the good communication we were talking about, expectations are a big part of this strategy. Be specific about your needs and limits. When others know what you expect, they are more likely to respect your boundaries. It’s pretty simple!
Now, does everyone make this easy on us sometimes? Absolutely not. Grief or not, we’re tested with our boundaries and expectations constantly. And when we’re grieving, we’re often more on edge with our emotions which can make us more easily frustrated when expectations aren’t met. So, all the more reason to communicate, and communicate well!
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this here: you can’t expect yourself from other people. I have an entire blog post on coping with unmet expectations here which I really hope you check out if this is something you’re struggling with. Because it’s hard… it really is. But we need to remember that we can all be raised so differently, taught to cope with grief and loss differently, are products of our surroundings and education and all the things! Just because you would or wouldn’t do something one way, doesn’t mean we can fairly expect that behavior from another. Just something to keep in mind today!
Ohhh, self-care… a big topic with a lot of intricacies. But let me say this: self-care isn’t selfish; it’s necessary. Make time for activities that nourish your body, mind, and soul. By prioritizing self-care, you send a strong message that your well-being matters.
Remember, there’s an entire Self-Care and Wellness section on the blog where there are more topics on this!
Identify Toxic Relationships
This is a big one, like a really big, important one. Recognizing toxic or unhealthy relationships is crucial for boundary-setting. If someone consistently disrespects your boundaries, belittles you, or drains your energy, simply put… consider distancing yourself. Surround yourself with people who respect and support your boundaries!
I, unfortunately, have some personal experience with this. Without going into vast detail or naming names, this happened on a few different occasions in different contexts over the last few years. I had a couple of people who would call me (or demand that I call them, actually) when I was driving home from visiting my mom at the hospital. They would lament about how sad they were about my mom’s condition, but in no time, the entire call was about them. How horrible their life was, how they were struggling with this or that…
Let’s be clear, it’s not that I wasn’t empathetic or didn’t feel badly about what was going on in their life. But, I mean… hello, mom is slowly dying over here!? Frankly, it was tone-deaf. There’s a time and a place for things like that, and bombarding someone when they just had a very emotionally draining visit with their mom in a hospital ain’t it.
Another instance was during wedding planning. Long story short, I essentially lost a friend during that process. One I had known for a very, very long time, too. I talk about this more in episode 16 of the podcast: Coping with the Wedding Process Without a Loved One. Basically, I was ghosted by a would-have-been bridesmaid on at least a couple of occasions. Ghosted to the point where two days before my husband and I were supposed to leave for Italy for our ceremony there, I still didn’t know if they were coming. I had to contact a family member of theirs to find out they weren’t, and I never heard from them after that. No explanation, no apology, no closure.
On one hand, no one really owes us anything in life, right? I could let that go. I’m no queen of a country over here. But it was truly just the lack of communication and respect for our friendship that was so devastating. So, after that, I had to make a choice. I had been burned too badly by these various people, I was moving into a new phase of life (certainly trying to) with a new mindset, and I realized I couldn’t bring these relationships with me.
So, think about how this could apply in your own life, and how you might want to make a shift.
Create Physical Boundaries
In the digital age especially, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and personal life. Perhaps we get calls or texts after ours. Perhaps we find ourselves checking our email when we should really be enjoying time with our family, present and engaged.
I can’t stress this enough, create physical boundaries by designating specific spaces for work, relaxation, and family time. Especially if you work from home like I do, your office space, where you relax and hang out with family, and where you sleep could all be within some pretty close quarters.
This helps maintain a healthy work-life balance, which we all need, amirite? Even if you have to do a little practice in presence (I have a free tool to help you with this right here, if you need it!) as you shift from room to room, or as you shift from task to task. Make sure you’re thoughtful and intentional with this!
Manage Your Time
Time management is a key aspect of setting boundaries. Using tools like calendars (whether paper or on your phone), to-do lists, apps (whatever works for you!) to allocate your time wisely. Prioritize tasks that align with your goals and values, and learn to delegate or say “no” to excessive commitments.
Why is this important? Because it gives us a sense of control at a time when we can feel very out of control. It takes all of the craziness and chaos in our heads, everything that might distract us from our grief, and puts it down in a place where we can really see it and manage it. This allows us to take a step back, look at our list, and think about what we really need to do first. To figure out what has to get done that day, by who, at what time, and what can truly wait. It’s all about being realistic and giving ourselves grace!
I hope this goes without saying, but as grievers, we need this said to us as often as possible, I think. Setting boundaries can be challenging, and you may encounter resistance from others—or yourself! Be kind to yourself during this process. Understand that boundary-setting is an ongoing practice, and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. It’s okay to feel a little resistance here!
Also understand that this will take time, and give yourself grace as you venture through it. You know the saying, “time heals all wounds”? To simply say that about grief really isn’t accurate, there are a lot of complexities to it. But time is a factor! But remember, time alone won’t heal us. It’s everything we’ve talked about in this blog post and so much more that will help us take those baby steps and move forward.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. They can offer guidance, encouragement, and a safe space to discuss your boundary-setting journey.
Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of grief that is a critical component to protect your mental and emotional health. Remember, boundary-setting is a continuous process and can be hard to do. But with practice, it becomes an empowering tool for a happier, more balanced life.
Looking for more help?
Speaking of support, guidance, and more help, I’ve got just the thing! My brand new Intentional Life After Loss membership (coming November 2023!) will be right up your alley. This is a membership designed to take you from simply existing and surviving in your grief after the death of a loved one to truly living and thriving.
This membership brings you valuable coping tools, the guidance of a Grief Coach, and a community that will support you as you heal, cope, elevate your soul, and design your most intentional life after suffering a loss with an uplifting support system you can count on.
If you’re in the early stages of grief right now, this might feel daunting and overwhelming. I hear you! It’s not about “getting over it” and “moving on”. It’s about trusting yourself, the process, and growing around your grief and giving yourself grace as you move forward. Acknowledging that your loss will always be with you, but doing so in a way that’s easy to digest and is all about the baby steps—in a way that isn’t daunting or too much too fast. It’s about building around your pain. It’s supporting yourself on this long, crazy journey with a sense of community alongside the perfect tools to help you!