• Tricia Thornton

Boundaries: Self-Focused rather than Others-Focused

This title seems a bit strange due to the message that we so often are taught about the need to focus on others by being kind. From another perspective, is it possible that we need to focus on ourselves with kindness in order to care for others? I recently saw an enlightening meme about if we would talk to ourselves the way we talk to our precious dogs, we would be showing ourselves so much more love and respect. Interesting thought.


As we are in the throws of what is normally a busy, hectic holiday season, I am inviting you to pause and take a self-inventory. Look back over the past several weeks or months, did you feel or do some of these:

  • Feel guilty when you have to say no to a friend when you feel spent or have other obligations.

  • Sacrifice your health to keep up with a busy schedule.

  • Yell at your children, a friend, or a family member because you are irritated that they are asking you to do one more task.

  • Apologize before you even say something because you know you should not say it but you say it anyway.

  • Fear floods in when you want to speak up but feel ashamed to do so.

  • Notice that very often you feel exhausted from keeping up with everyone around you.

The list above are a few signs that we may not be showing ourselves self-love and putting others first. The concept of setting boundaries can feel foreign and overwhelming. Before entering the possible emotionally-reactive time of the holidays, take time for yourself and see if you will actually feel relief and positive power.


After years of learning about boundaries and how to establish my own, I have realized that the following three ideas have emerged.

  1. Take time for myself, "I deserve it!".

  2. It is okay to say no, and I do not have to feel guilty.

  3. Loving myself involves exploring my inner ego and understanding why certain people or events cause me to have big feelings.

Let's break these three ideas down a bit more.


Take time for myself, "I deserve it!". This phrase has become a bit of a cliche amongst my friends and family. Occasionally, I will have a friend phone and say, "Tricia, I got a massage today, and as you say, 'I deserved it!'" I have learned that if I do not take time for myself and even treat myself to a little "happy" every now and then, I will begin to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. It is clear that I have not been taking care of my inner self when my teenage daughters will say to me, "Mom, you seem tired today, how about you just go take a bubble bath!" They have learned that when I have taken some down time, I am much more balanced and grounded; therefore, I am more attentive, patient, and thoughtful. As you set your boundaries and others become more used to you having them, those around you will encourage you along the way.


It is okay to say no, and I do not have to feel guilty. This is much tougher for some, especially if you grew up in a household that was fast-paced, had high expectations, and full of go-getters. It can be ingrained in you and familiar to be able to do it all! In fact, many of us feel that multitasking is a talent. It may be, but it can also be a deterrent from taking time for yourself. In fact, research from the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control. Refer to this article for more about the study, https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/467495 Slowing down and taking on less would actually increase your brain's function. Remember showing yourself empathy will allow you to care for others.


Loving myself involves exploring my inner ego and understanding why certain people or events cause me to have big feelings. While in graduate school, my group therapy professor challenged me to think about any unwritten rules that I had to live by in my family of origin. This question reshaped my whole thinking about myself! I was thrown into some deep self-exploration as I uncovered limiting beliefs that I had lived by for years. By doing this self- analysis, I was able to then to start to rewrite the rules. This is a process I have to do regularly. Our brains are wired to store causes of past traumas within the emotional learnings of our implicit memory. Because of neuroplasticity, the ability for our brains to change and rewire, we can heal as our implicit memories gain presence in awareness and language, hence becoming explicit memories. Once we begin to uncover the why behind our actions, thoughts, and feelings, then we can begin to understand why people or events trigger us.


In past parenting articles, I have referred to everyone has two buckets that need to be filled each day. Bucket #1 is being seen and heard. Bucket #2 is having positive power, feeling empowered. By no means do I have the skill of setting boundaries perfected. This is a life-long learning process, but it does become easier over time. The buckets do not necessarily need to be filled by others first. As the the title of this article suggests, having self-focus could actually help us to be others-focused. What if you would go about your day allowing yourself to feel seen and heard by YOU, then you would be empowered to actually establish healthy emotional boundaries. By setting aside daily time for yourself, giving yourself permission to say no, and by loving your inner ego, you are filling the two buckets. Remember that you show your pet unconditional love. I wonder if we would start to show ourselves the same tenderness, we would then be able to have unconditional love for others.




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