How to Set a Boundary When You’re at Capacity

There’s still a lot about setting boundaries that we need to process in mainstream conversations and I came across a tweet that sent Twitter into full meltdown mode. I found it pretty relevant to what many people struggle with as they think about what it means, and how, to set a boundary.

Here’s the tweet:

Tweet courtesy Melissa A. Fabello, PhD


Many said the text was too stiff. Some people said many other problematic things…it is Twitter after all.

I am still surprised by the reaction.

It’s OK to set a boundary with a loved one

Does this (originally offered as a template/example to be adapted) message come off stiff? SURE. But, it’s also a template. The one thing that I noticed about the reactions to the original post was the apparent difficulty people have with saying “no” to their friends or loved ones when they felt like they can’t be supportive.

It’s OK to say “no” or “I want to, but I can’t help now, but am free/able later”.

Being able to be fully present and supportive to someone takes a lot of mental energy. If you’re not up to the task, then postponing can be a helpful way of letting your friend know that you care and want to help but just aren’t able to at the moment.

When someone reaches out for support, you may not be able to be as helpful as you want to right then. You might be working or you could be dealing with your own mental health issues or personal concerns. You also might be tapped out because your job takes a lot out of you emotionally (hello, fellow therapists!).

It’s OK to set the boundary that is in the spirit of that initial tweet. It doesn’t make you a bad person to say, “I want to help but can’t right now. I’ll follow up you tomorrow.”

It’s OK to want to help but you also have to know your limits.

Setting a boundary is healthy for your relationship

Odds are your unavailability for the moment might be hurtful to your friend in the moment. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. And, ultimately, setting that boundary will serve your relationship better in the long run. It will make the relationship healthier.

We are not able to be all things to all people all the time.

When you’re not able to actually be supportive and ready to listen it’s much better to let people know that instead of forcing yourself to be there and performing your support not so wholeheartedly. We can feel when someone isn’t really there with us too, right? Sometimes that feels much worse. It makes that support feel unauthentic. I would argue that is when we really start to feel like burdens to other people.

Does this message verbatim have to be the way you set your boundary or limit? Absolutely not. Find the words that feel more right for you. Talk to your friend (or partner, parent, etc.) in the way that you normally do. But, don’t be afraid to offer yourself the same care and thoughtfulness when you really need a moment to gather yourself too.

You’ll both be better for it.

Need help with boundary setting? We got you! Learn more about what we offer in therapy here.

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