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Self Care and Boundaries: Why You Need to Take Care of Yourself Before Anyone Else

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

The idea of the superhuman who can do it all is a false narrative. It implies that people (in particular women) can do and be everything to everyone. In current culture, women are expected to work full time AND manage the home. Even more if there are children and a family to take care of. How does self care fit in?

I don’t want to start this off by saying that women aren’t superhuman- oh yes, we definitely are. And, I do think that sacrifices must be made, and some things must be given up. I think that women trying to do it all is actually keeping us down in a patriarchal society (different soap box, different day). We don’t have to make sacrifices forever, but it is definitely not plausible to have it all, all at once. Especially if having it all means that we are not taking care of our own basic biological needs like sleep, food, and movement.

This is where self care and boundaries come in- we have to learn to say no to some things so that we can say yes to self care. Neglecting yourself isn’t going to make you- or anyone around you- better.

Think about it this way: If you aren’t at your best, then you can’t give your best. If your goal is to build the best life, take the best possible care of your loved ones, or start a revolution, then you need to be able to give from a place of having been taken care of first.

Why are boundaries important for self care?

Let me start by defining boundaries. Boundaries are limits, according to Seriously. When you think about limits in your relationships, that might be easier than thinking in terms of boundaries. I bet you know how to recognize your limits. When you’ve said “yes” to too many happy hours, or you’ve skipped too many pilates classes, or you stayed up binge watching netflix too many nights in a row- you’ve hit your limits and you can feel it in your soul.

What are the limits in your relationships? Especially when it comes to self care and boundaries?

Setting boundaries in your relationships is what will allow you to take the time and space needed for self care. That’s why they are important. And hopefully, you will be setting these boundaries looooong before you hit your limit.

Sometimes life can get so busy and out of hand and the first thing to get pushed to the side is self care. Setting a boundary around self care can prevent you from letting it go.

The first step is to know what your minimum requirement is.

For example, I like to wake up slowly and take my time, enjoying movement in the mornings, having time for meditation, gua sha, and breakfast before I have to start work. Because of this, one of my boundaries is that I go to bed early, and I usually decline social events during the week. 👵🏻 I wake up at 6 in order to be ready for work by 10. Being able to have my mornings move at a slower pace is my minimum.

In the height of COVID 2020, I had a different minimum. I needed to meditate during lunch, have additional movement (usually gentle yoga) after work ended at 5, and I spent about an hour before bed doing restorative yoga, yoga nidra, and meditation- just to be able to sleep at night. Anxiety was high and no joke at that time. (I also hated my job, but that's a different story).

Your minimum might be different from mine and it might change depending on certain life events and circumstances.

You have to be able to understand your own needs before you can set any type of boundary. I would recommend paying attention to how you feel after certain interactions, events, times of day or even days of the week. Look at energy levels, mood, thought patterns (mostly negative vs mostly positive). Once you have an idea of this kind of mental/emotional map for yourself- plan accordingly.

You have to be able to understand your own needs before you can set any type of boundary.

This will take some experimentation!

Setting Expectations and Boundaries

When you set boundaries with others, you are setting your expectations for that relationship. When it comes to self care, it can be a little bit more difficult because, essentially, you are setting expectations for your relationship to yourself. You have to take responsibility AND you have no one else to blame if you don’t adhere to those boundaries. *eye roll* Great.

Don’t worry- setting boundaries for self care can be hard in the beginning but with practice, self care becomes a part of your routine and you don’t even have to think about it. It will just be a part of how you move through your day.

6 tips on setting expectations and boundaries:

  1. Mistakes will be made.

  2. You may have to verbalize your boundaries more than once.

  3. People might not agree with you, they don’t have to in order to respect your boundaries.

  4. You are allowed to change your boundaries if you decide or find out that something isn’t working for you.

  5. Boundaries are not about asking others to change, they are about taking care of yourself.

  6. Relationships evolve. Boundaries evolve with them.

The holidays don’t have to be stressful, you just have to have boundaries.

Boundaries and self care hold more weight around holiday time. Why is that? Because we have (or feel like we have) more obligations to spend time with others. We are sometimes taken out of the cozy lives we’ve built for ourselves and placed right back in the middle of the traumatic upbringing that we’ve been trying to heal from.

If you are in the middle of healing and don’t feel ready to spend time with the people who are healing from, then you don’t have to. It’s ok to not go. If you aren’t ready to tell them exactly why you can’t come, it’s ok to come up with an excuse.

If you do end up in a place you don’t want to be, then it’s ok to take breaks for yourself. Go on a walk or step outside away from everyone. Spend some time hiding in a bedroom or a bathroom.

It’s also helpful to go into the holiday knowing and expecting stress. If there is nothing else that you can possibly do to avoid the stressful people in your life, it's ok to acknowledge that and to prepare for it. By preparing for extra stress, you inadvertently take care of yourself and lower the amount of stress anyway.

What to do when boundaries are crossed in a relationship

If you do find yourself spending time with people, during the holidays or any other time, and they aren’t respecting your boundaries, there are a few options for you to consider.

  1. End the relationship.

  2. Remind them about your boundary.

  3. Tell them ways that they can respect your boundary.

  4. Ignore that they are crossing your boundaries and build resentment toward them for not respecting you.

Ok, Numbers 1 and 4 are obviously a bit extreme- and they are still options! Many people choose one or the other. They seem easier than options 2 or 3 because they don’t involve having difficult conversations.

Intimacy and closeness in relationships are built on having these difficult conversations. If you are trying to grow, change, or improve a relationship, it will take work. Especially when it comes to family and holidays, trying to change how we interact with family members as adults vs as children is difficult. But you are worthy of having your needs met and limits respected. You deserve to feel good in all of your relationships.

Taking care of yourself is the first step in improving all of the relationships that you have with others.


Kaylin is a licensed therapist in Orange County, California and creator of Messy Authentic. With an all virtual practice, Kaylin is able to provide therapy to anyone in the state of California, and can coach business owners located anywhere.

Learn more here and schedule a consultation call to work with Kaylin.

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