Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Primer on Boundaries I Always Needed

I've mentioned the awesome counselor I got to see for a year and a half. I started seeing her right before I went through my first IVF cycle. In my first appointment, I told her I was going to be an extremely anxious pregnant woman or I was going to be completely devastated and at a loss for what to do with my life. Either way, I was going to need her.

I am so grateful for her. I learned so much. I think I've also mentioned before that I told her, "I came for the infertility support; I stayed for the boundary education." Because, whew, boundaries... I didn't have them.

I started feeling the need for boundaries (even though I didn't know that's what it was at the time) when I started seeing a fertility doctor. I didn't want everyone anyone knowing what I was going through. It was hard enough going through it; I couldn't talk about it or explain it to someone else at the same time.

So, for maybe the first time in my life at the age of 34, I stopped sharing. From what I've now learned, I went from having porous boundaries to having rigid boundaries. Overnight. No wonder my friends and family were confused.

So. Boundaries... Most simply put, they're important. Also, having them often includes engaging in behaviors that you may not initially associate with boundaries.

Which brings me to my book review/suggestion! I first mentioned it during my post about Jody Day's Reclaiming the Childless Holidays. She mentioned it there. I jotted down the title, looked at the table of contents on the yellow-themed shopping website that I don't use, and ordered it from thriftbooks dot com.

Oh yes, the book haha. It's called Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab. And it is great! It's so informative and easy to read. I read it with a highlighter and found a gem for myself on every other page.

The book is divided into two parts: "Understanding the Importance of Boundaries" and "This is How You Do the Work of Setting Boundaries." It was part 2 that I was most in need of. A primer, a How To for establishing and maintaining boundaries, if you will. Finally! 

The whole book is good.
Here are some of my favorite bits from part 1:

  • "The root of self-care is setting boundaries: it's saying no to something in order to say yes to your own emotional, physical, and mental well-being."
  • "Healthy boundaries... are an indication of how you allow people to show up for you and how you show up for others."
  • "If you experience depression, it can be helpful to set boundaries about how many things you expect yourself to do in a single day... Highlight the small wins."

  • She describes six different types of boundaries, gives examples of violations, and offers ways to set and honor boundaries for each type. Those six areas of boundaries are physical, sexual, intellectual, emotional, material, and time.

  • She spends an entire chapter explaining what boundary violations look like. This was really helpful for me! I needed specific examples to help me really understand what having boundaries looks like.

  • "The healthiest way to communicate your boundaries is to be assertive... Communicate your feelings openly and without attacking others."
  • "When making our expectations known, we worry about saying the right thing. The 'right thing' is a matter of stating what we need through assertiveness."
  • "Someone else's opinion about your life isn't more valuable than your own."

  • She provides a long list of boundaries to consider. I particularly resonated with these:
    --I protect my energy against people who threaten my sanity.
    --I allow myself to feel and not judge my feelings.
    --I create space for activities that bring me joy.

  • And then, the most important point of all for me was this: "It's okay to create boundaries about what you share with others. For example, you don't have to share any of the following... what's next in your life, how you spend your time... your lifestyle... Remember, you have a choice about what conversations you are willing to have with others."

And that was just part 1! 

Part 2 covers boundaries with family, romantic relationships, friendships, work, and social media and technology. It was part 2 that I was most excited about because that's the part that gave me the specific information that I needed: signs I need boundaries, what boundaries look like, and what boundaries sound like. (Yes!! A script! Scripts can be so helpful, even if it's just a sentence.) 

Here are three important take aways from part 2:
  • "Your boundaries are a reflection of how willing you are to advocate for the life that you want."

  • "Self-discipline is the act of creating boundaries for yourself."

  • "Your wellness hinges on your boundaries."

Such. Good. Stuff.
But that's not all!

There were three things in particular that I could relate to my experiences with infertility.
  1. In a chapter about blurred boundaries (when we aren't clear with others about what we want or need), the author talks about instances of when people tell other people how to live their lives. Basically, she's not a fan of doing that. Lol. The author writes: According to Kate Kenfield, a sex and relationship educator, "My absolute favorite question anyone asks me when I'm struggling is, 'Do you want empathy or a strategy right now?'"

    Wow. How awesome is that. Do I need empathy or a strategy? Can you imagine if someone would have asked us that when we were deep in our grief?? How considerate.

  2. In that same chapter, the author writes about accepting and letting go when a relationship ends. Since most of us have experienced the "friendship apocalypse" that often happens with infertility, I thought she had some good thoughts for us. She writes, "When a relationship ends, it's okay to grieve the loss (cry, be angry, feel sad)... process what you learned about yourself... [and] determine how you would like to show up in your present and future relationships." I thought those were some helpful steps for how to move forward when a friendship ends. Because that shit hurts!

  3. Finally, in the chapter about identifying and communicating boundaries, the author gave me a good reminder. She is addressing the guilt that can come with setting boundaries, but, really, the message is applicable to all emotions. I can replace the word "guilt" with the words "profound sadness" and it still works. She writes, "Like all feelings, guilt will come and go... Embrace it as part of a complicated process--just one piece, not the entirety of the experience."

I needed this information. I needed this boundary education. I honestly needed this book my whole life. But, as it is with a lot of things, I probably came across it when I was ready to hear its messages. (Well, that and it was just published in 2021! Hahaha.)

5 stars, 2 thumbs up, 10/10 would recommend!!


  1. "Do you want empathy or a strategy right now?" - This might be the best question I ever heard in this context!

    Good books are so valuable. They can open up worlds to us and help us progress so much. I am glad this one was of help to you!

  2. Oh my gracious, I need this book. I live this: 'Do you want empathy or a strategy right now?'" YESSSSSSS. adding to my list. Thank you!

  3. Yes!!! Boundaries are so important, but I always need reminders and encouragement to set them and use them. I'm going to have to get this book. Thanks!