Do you also struggle with acknowledging limits when it comes to helping others? 

So today I want to write about something on which I’ve recently been working that I’ve been advised about a lot but I never actually tried to put it into practice… Setting boundaries with when I can and cannot help.  I really needed to get honest with myself and others when acknowledging limits for a handful of reasons. 

Before I get started, please do not feel like this is me saying to not reach out to me, because that’s not what I’m trying to say.  I still want everyone to feel comfortable reaching out to me.  I’ll always be there for whomever to the best of my ability, I just have to explain what I’ve found “to the best of my ability”  to be.  I feel honored and It’s very flattering that so many people feel they are able to turn to me, trust me, and want to hear my advice.  It’s really a good feeling, helps me value my own input, and even helps my self-esteem overall.  I’m just trying to learn how to better balance my life and be the optimal friend I can be.

A Good Friend? 

In the past I thought part of being a good friend meant putting down everything I had going on in order to be there whenever.  While being there for friends is very important and crucial to relationships, part of why I personally felt this way was due to my low sense of self-worth.  I felt like I didn’t fully deserve to put my own personal struggles before helping my friends even if I had very serious happenings in my life that should have been my priority.  I’ve recently been learning that the overall majority of people in my life understand if I need to get back to them later.  In the past though, I would have felt horrible about it and beaten myself up for being a “bad friend.”  Honestly, I think I let people down more when my biggest fear was letting people down.

As I’ve learned more about setting boundaries and actually practicing them, I’ve had to get real with myself.  I have a lot going on myself and it’s come to a point where I just decided to just start telling people I can’t be the friend they need or deserve right then.  I’ve always tried to be as helpful as I can and still am as much as I can, but I’ve gotten to a point where I acknowledge whether or not I am actually able.  If I’m not taking care of myself, I’m not really that much help to other people.  I would often burn myself out doing just that, so lately if need to I say “Hey, I can’t really help right now.” The hardest part for me is feeling like I let people down or that I wasn’t being a good friend.  Honestly though, to just let people know my capabilities is probably far better for everyone. 

Prior to establishing these boundaries, I would find myself so overwhelmed by all the messages, other people’s stuff, and not being able to help them as best as I wanted to, to the point where I would just ignore my phone due to anxiety.  How good of a friend am I then?  It was really hard for me to get over that first, especially because I just want everyone to feel good and be happy with themselves, but when it’s coming at my own expense and I’m just feeling bad around overall, it’s no one wins then.  I leave people hanging less by just being upfront from the get-go, maybe even directing them elsewhere, instead of just ghosting later down the line when I’ve exhausted myself. 

While I do feel bad that I can’t help everyone and I do have a lot of unread messages piling up, it’s a lot better for my own mental health.  I am more able to focus on my own stuff.  I get back to people when I’m actually able to get back to them.  I’m not spread as thin, I’m practicing self-awareness.  Knowing when I am truly able to be there is a lot clearer now.  It is impossible to help everyone or take on everyone else’s issues and if I try to do so, I’m neglecting my own well-being.

The results?  In this hectic point of my life, I do not feel as burnt out; I do not feel as undeserving of my personal time; I do not feel as guilty or bad for not being dedicated to helping out everyone else when I really do need to look out for myself.  Then when I am spending time helping out people, I’m able to fully invest myself in it.  I’m more present and with a clearer mind.  We come to better solutions.  I don’t just respond for the sake of responding.  I don’t just stop responding mid conversation as much as I used to like when I’m overwhelmed.  I feel I’m a better friend. I know I always prefer people just tell me when they aren’t able to be there.

Learning Where to Spend My Time

Another thing that has been important is prioritizing my time.  First I have to prioritize as to when I am even available to talk.  Then, as blunt as this sounds, is learning those who should receive my time first.  While I do try to eventually respond to everyone, I have begun to make sure I first focus on the friends I know would provide me the same help I seek to provide them.  It’s a way to express my gratitude for all the times they’ve been there for me.  For example, I was involved in the Facebook mentorship program, and still have a couple people I casually chat with from there, I realized my time is much more valuable to someone I call a friend than someone just looking for an ear.  Once again, if it’s too much for me, I advise them to seek a new mentor or refer them towards other resources. 

It’s Not All on Me (or You)

And let’s get real – I’m not a therapist  psychiatrist, or even a coach.  I need to give myself credit for what I do, rather than beat myself up for what I can’t.  My time isn’t set aside and solely dedicated for this purpose.  With a full-time job, I have very little free time, so I have to acknowledge that it’s okay for me to keep some of that time for myself.  Though I wish I were, I’m not getting paid to spend my time helping others, it’s just not my situation.  I also remind myself there are people, organizations, helplines, etc. who do work in such capacity.  Why not direct others to them?  At certain points they are far better equipped than me to help.  Once again, everyone is better off from a little bit of honesty and acknowledgement. 

Why Practice This?

To sum things up, here are the reasons I’ve found this to be beneficial for me.  It:

  • Benefits my overall well-being.
  • Better ensures my friends get the support they need and deserve.
  • Helps me prioritize.  
  • Is more honest and genuine for everyone.

Liz Kay
April 3, 2021