​How to Set Boundaries for Better Self-Care and Mental Health

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on October 29, 2021 # Health

Male wearing a red hoodie and using a wheelchair. He is on a jetty next to the oceanLiving with paralysis – or caring for a loved one with paralysis – comes with a lot to manage. Sometimes it might feel like your life is consumed with managing your health, navigating barriers, securing accommodations, and adapting your environment each day to maximize independence. Life can quickly become emotionally draining, which is why individuals and families in the paralysis community should pay extra careful attention to their energy levels and social capacity. We are all human, and no one is immune to social burnout. Especially for those who struggle with people-pleasing, you may find yourself consumed by the needs of others, you may sacrifice your own needs to show up for someone else, or you may feel overextended in your commitments or social relationships while simultaneously neglecting your own needs. For both individuals living with paralysis and caregivers alike, it’s critical to prioritize your needs and avoid self-neglect. To do this effectively, it might be helpful to reevaluate your social boundaries.

Social boundaries are the limitations that we set within our social environments to protect our needs. Understanding how to set boundaries is important because this practice allows us to protect our energy and define our roles in relationships. In essence, our boundaries are a form of our self-care. They are healthy and necessary because they prevent burnout and resentment. For example, if we continuously let other people take advantage of us – even in small ways, such as making us feel obligated to do favors for others at the expense of our own needs – we will likely experience a reduction of quality in the relationship. Each and every person has a capacity for how much energy they can give to other people. It’s not fair when other people expect us to overextend ourselves to them and it’s also not fair when we expect others to do the same.

We may put limitations on how much time we spend with people, how much we volunteer, or how much we talk about certain subjects. For example, you might choose to limit your social events if you enjoy having time alone to recharge. You might avoid talking about politics or religion with your coworkers. Or you might have social boundaries when it comes to family holiday gatherings. Boundaries do not mean cutting people or things out of your life, but rather boundaries are about setting realistic limits to keep yourself – or the relationships – healthy.

Many people feel uncomfortable setting boundaries because they may have received messages growing up about the importance of helping others and being amenable to other people. For example, most of us were taught to share with others, to be selfless, to be humble, and to volunteer our abilities to other people in need. Although it is certainly an attractive quality to be giving toward others – a quality that many people take pride in, and one that fosters kindness in our communities – we have to be very careful about that narrative so that it does not become a slippery slope leading to the overextension of ourselves to the point of burnout. We have to be careful about holding a generalized assumption about selflessness always being a good thing. It’s good to help each other in life, but we should never overextend ourselves to other people when it is doing harm to ourselves. In other words, we don’t need to set ourselves on fire to keep others warm.

Given the extra demands placed on individuals and families living with paralysis (health considerations, medical needs, accommodations, etc.), it’s so important to master the skill of setting boundaries. If you don’t have any practice doing this, now is the time to start. The following are some examples of how you might communicate a boundary:

“Thank you for your opinion, but this is my decision.”

“I need to focus on my health right now, so I’m going to pass.”

“I need a break from this problem, I’ll come back to it later.”

“I don’t look at work emails past 6 PM.”

“I can only attend for one hour, then I have to leave.”

“I’m not comfortable talking for or about this person, please directly ask them.”

“Thank you for asking, but I am unable to do that for you.”

“I need some time to myself to recharge this weekend.”

It’s equally important to practice respecting the boundaries of other people. This allows other people room to exercise their boundaries, and in return, they will be more likely to respect our boundaries as well. So how can we respond to the boundaries of others? Below are some examples:

“I hear where you’re coming from, and I understand.”

“Okay, no problem, thank you for letting me know.”

“We feel differently, but I respect your decision.”

“I will miss you, but I’m glad you are taking care of yourself.”

“It sounds like you’re making a good decision for you, and that’s important.”

If you have questions or if I can be a resource for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Your mental health matters.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.