Depression and Setting Emotional Boundaries
Saturday, April 2 2016 Liz Smith
Depression can make it difficult to set emotional boundaries with people in your life. Many people I've met who suffer from depression, including myself, suffer from difficulties being assertive enough to look after their own emotional wellbeing but setting emotional boundaries is important in depression.
Setting Emotional Boundaries with Depression Is Hard
One of the main reasons it's so hard to be assertive about your emotional limits when you have depression is because of its pervasive effect on your self-worth. On those really awful, down days, the low self-esteem that comes with the depression makes it hard to consider yourself worth looking after physically, let alone emotionally. I've had days when getting out of bed and taking a shower was just too hard. I knew, rationally, that I should do these things to take care of myself, but the bottom line was, taking care of myself didn't feel worth it, let alone having the energy for emotional assertiveness or my self-esteem. Because depression makes me anxious about how I come across to people, I often find myself holding back on asserting how I feel with people who tread on my boundaries or hurt my feelings; because, I think doing that will drive them away. Sometimes I'm not even sure if I should be hurt or upset by what someone has said to me, because depression can cause you to have poor perception of your own boundaries and needs. If you have trouble deciding on those limits and boundaries for yourself, I'd encourage you to read this article about setting functional boundaries and maybe writing down a few of your own ideas to cement your boundaries in your mind.
Danger of Being Depressed with No Emotional Boundaries
When we are not honest about our feelings and can't communicate when we're upset, where do you think those feelings go? I certainly turn them inwards (I Can’t Reach Out, I’m Depressed). I don't want to confront my friend who has upset me, but I also don't have anywhere for the feelings of anger or sadness to go except inside. I'm not suggesting we should let loose and rage at our loved ones every time they annoy us. Unbridled anger aimed at another person is unlikely to be good for our personal relationships. While it's healthy to be honest about our feelings, we do have to be mindful that others have feelings, too. Being upset and angry can blind us to that sometimes, particularly when there's depression in the mix (The Relationship Between Depression and Anger). I recently had an experience like this with a friend -- he is the type who always blurts out exactly what's on his mind, because he just can't hold his feelings in, but he's often not terribly tactful with it.
How to Assert Emotional Boundaries When Depressed
Even though depression is a difficult and painful experience, it's useful to keep in mind when we need to tackle an emotionally difficult situation that others can be hurt, too. You must remember to choose your time, words and audience carefully.
Is It the Right Time for the Conversation?
Sometimes, if you feel confident you can address it in the right way, tackling an emotional boundary violation straight away is the right thing to do, but if you have any doubt that you can handle the situation positively (both for yourself and the other person), maybe consider taking time to think about it and handle it at a later date. I find it helpful if I'm angry, to write down how I'm feeling, because that at least gets it out of my head even if I can't confront the other party right away. Writing my feelings down helps me to manage overwhelming emotions and get a healthy perspective.
Are You Able to Use the Right Words?
Rather than talking in terms of "you said this" or "you did that," use the "when you said/did x I felt y" technique. That way, you are talking about the behaviour or what was said and your resulting feelings, rather than accusing the person of deliberately being hurtful or provoking you. A lot of the time, I find that people simply don't realise that they said or did something triggering or upsetting. A calm explanation of why the behaviour or the words made you unhappy will usually suffice. Of course, if it doesn't and the other person either doesn't at least try to understand or doesn't see why they should change their behaviour, that may be a sign of a deeper issue in the relationship.
Is the Audience for This Conversation the Correct One?
Finally, address your grievances with the person concerned. Don't talk to all and sundry about it. In a close-knit social circle, it's bound to reach them eventually and they will then be on the defensive if they feel they've been talked about behind their back. That's happened to me -- I didn't realise I'd upset a family member with something I said until I heard it from another person, which then made it much more difficult to resolve the issue as I resented being badmouthed. By all means, talk it over with a trusted friend or family member to gather your own thoughts and gain another perspective, but don't tell every single person you meet that day.
Asserting emotional boundaries is like any other skill in life -- the more you practice it, the more it becomes a positive habit.
Image attribution: Tambako the Jaguar, used under Creative Commons License