No Boundaries, No Joy (Know Boundaries, Know Joy!)


When I was a kid, I never heard the word “boundaries” mentioned. It was not a buzzword back in the dark ages, some 50 years ago. But like everyone else on the planet, I did have the experience of my boundaries being violated. It’s something all humans experience.

Like many of my coaching clients, I experienced countless violations over the years, because I was never taught how to set boundaries, and was never encouraged to set boundaries.

As is often the case with us humans, I always felt awkward about setting boundaries. I was worried I would trigger someone’s anger, draw their criticism, or be cut off by them. Interestingly, I did not learn to set boundaries with myself, either.

As I have practiced my own personal development, as well as coached many bariatric-surgery veterans, I have come to understand that setting boundaries with oneself and others is directly connected to one’s happiness in life.

If you’re not sure what exactly boundary violations look like, you may be surprised. Certainly, a punch in the face is a boundary violation, but so is giving someone a gift, under certain circumstances.

Here are some examples of boundary violations:

  • Someone borrows your car without telling you.
  • You go to pack a cheese stick and your partner – even though she knows you need them for the bari-friendly lunch you bring to work every day – eats the last one while she is grazing and chatting on the telephone.
  • You are crying and someone tells you to cheer up or to get over it.
  • Family members, who know you are swamped, leave you to take care of something they could easily do.
  • Your mother asks you if you’ve gained weight again or points out that your clothes are getting snug.
  • You always watch what your spouse wants to watch, even though you don’t like the show.
  • You feed yourself when you are not hungry.
  • You want something but don’t ask for it.
  • You criticize yourself mercilessly every time you look in the mirror.
  • You stay in stressful relationships that trigger you to stress eat.
  • You don’t say anything when your friend calls you late at night, and you’re tired, and she is repeating the same complaints as she had night before.
  • You let someone off the hook when they’ve not kept their commitment to you.
  • You are the one who says yes when the boss asks you to stay late, even though you are the only staff member with kids.
  • It’s your son’s birthday, and his grandma brings a gift for you, but not for him. (True story.)

Healthy boundaries affect how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, how we respond to violations, and how we allow others to treat us. And we all know, stressful relationships with anyone (including ourselves) can hijack our self-care.

So, how can we possibly take care of ourselves if we don’t know how to set boundaries? Further, if we must set boundaries, how can we do it without pushing people away?

One of my coaching clients has said for years that she would take better care of herself if she didn’t have to do everything for everybody else.

One of the most common symptoms I see in my work with struggling bariatric-surgery women is the painful belief of “I have to.”

Sure, sometimes we do “have to,” but often we get into the “have to” habit and lose all sight of our self-care needs. We’re just too busy running from our kid’s soccer game to our mother’s doctor’s appointment (because our brother “can’t” miss work).

We volunteer because no one else will, or we work longer hours because our boss needs us. We babysit the grandkids when we’re exhausted, because if we say no, we’ll deprive our hard-working, adult son of a night out with his friends.

We become the saints, protectors, and martyrs of our families and communities. And we are miserable. We are neglected. We feel used, overworked, and taken advantage of.

But…, but…, but… we “have to.”

So, there go our own doctor appointments. We don’t have time to cook a decent meal. We’re too tired. Plus, comfort food is one of our most reliable tools to calm ourselves. We feed ourselves to soothe ourselves and to reward ourselves.

And the scale starts to climb. Our iron levels are too low. We don’t have the energy to exercise. We haven’t gotten away for a weekend in … it seems like forever.

When I began to learn how to set boundaries, I soon realized there is a real joy in the practice. The other night, my husband Mike wanted to watch a zombie movie. I simply said, “I don’t want to watch that. Let’s pick something else.” He said, “Ok.”

I know, that was an easy one. But that’s where we start! We set boundaries that are low stakes and build from there.

Please know that recognizing the need for and setting boundaries is something we all can master with practice and enough of the right kind of support.

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From Katie Jay’s Small Bites newsletter. Subscribe and get your complimentary report: The 21 Most Common Mistakes People Make after Bariatric Surgery at © 2022, Katie Jay. All rights reserved.