Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries

In the past few weeks I’ve had more than one friend tell me how, now that they are over 60, they’re having an easier time telling people what they actually think. They are having an easier time saying, “No” and putting their needs first.

One said, “Do you think that’s selfish?” My resounding answer was and is, “Absolutely not! In fact, it’s healthy.”

On the other hand I encountered someone trying to please everyone. As she found out, not for the first time, pleasing everyone is an impossible task. I’ve learned the act of trying to please one person often means being unfair to another person. Then, when that person squawks and you try to alter the situation to please them, the first person is affronted. What a mess! It’s a no-win situation for the people-pleaser.

Being a people-pleaser takes its toll on our stress level. While the people-pleaser is trying to please others, they are usually putting their feelings and needs aside. We already have our own problems. Increasing that burden by accepting ownership of someone else’s feelings or problems also increases our stress level. The current mantra of “Not my circus; not my monkey” is a healthy thought. Leaving someone else’s monkey on their back means you are setting boundaries.

All too often we look at setting personal boundaries as building fences that keep others out. In reality we are making others responsible and accountable for their situation. Remember the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors?” Just like a physical fence along a lot line, setting personal boundaries tells others which space is yours and which space belongs to them. It sets the tone of respect for your emotions, your time and your well-being.

One of the situations I’ve come across in retirement is people who think I am sitting around with lots and lots of time on my hands just waiting for them to give me something to do. Before I retired I was warned by an already-retired acquaintance how I would need to guard my time jealously. He was correct. This is where I found it necessary to set boundaries time and again as people thought I would make a great volunteer for their organization or I had time for one more class or an afternoon of playing cards or joining one more club or group. I struggle at times, but for my personal sanity I learned to say, “No.”

Most of the time I’m in a give and take relationship where my decision is accepted graciously. There is mutual respect. However, if my decision is not respected and pushback ensues, I have no qualms about pushing back myself. And, yes, I find it easier to tell people what I want, need and think now that I’m in my sixties. After decades of caring for others, sometimes to my detriment, this time is for me. Oh, I still have people I care for and want to take care of, but I put my needs at the top of the pecking order.

Working on self-awareness is wholly necessary to reach self-confidence in setting boundaries. Being mindful of who you are in retirement, what you want from these years and what you need emotionally to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle will help you stay on your chosen path. Fences do not keep people out; fences allow you to thrive on your terms.

10 comments on “Fences

  1. This article made my day (Being mindful of who you are in retirement, what you want from these years and what you need emotionally to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle will help you stay on your chosen path.)
    Absolutely right. I know most retired people are watching their grandchildren on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong maybe I will do the same some day but I don’t know if I want to do it every week day from 9 to 5.
    My plan is to retire in October unless my company offered me something I can do from home at least 3 days a week.


  2. Very well stated. A thought I need to pay more attention to and I am in my mid-seventies. But, we still find the time for ourselves although being in our mid-seventies. At least trying to say “No” more often than “Yes.”


  3. I think women, in particular, have been trained to think that setting boundaries is selfish. We need to be reminded that we cannot offer our best to others unless we take care of ourselves. Recently, I realized that I was feeling very frazzled and stressed out and that part of the problem was that I had lost the morning quiet time that I savor and use to center myself. Once I figured it out, I set some new boundaries. I started letting my phone go to voice mail in the morning and changed my voice mail message to tell people that I’m usually not available to take calls in the morning and encouraging them to call in the afternoon. It has worked wonderfully with several people who couldn’t “hear” my more subtle hints not to call in the morning, and I’m back in my happy place with my morning solitude that allows me to be fully present with others later in the day.


    • Good for you Jean! As a real estate agent I set up boundaries with my clients by telling them I returned calls at four every afternoon along with a number of similar ‘rules’. It was the only way to control my time, my business and keep my sanity. We need personal space. K


  4. Some southerners are like Julia Sugarbaker and say what needs to be said. Then there are those southerners like me who started out having trouble saying no. Fortunately, I’ve gotten a lot better as I go through mid-life. Especially since I have a kid!


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