Setting Your Grief Boundaries

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa

Grief boundaries. They're a thing. Chances are you didn't know they were a thing before your loss. You probably wouldn't have guessed just how important they would be. But if grief is part of your life, it can be incredibly helpful to think through your boundaries.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are specific limits and needs that you define to create a healthy space between you and another person. They allow you to feel healthy, safe, and comfortable. Your boundaries will likely vary from person to person because your needs and what constitutes a healthy relationship varies from person to person. Your boundaries with your colleagues may look different than your boundaries with your siblings. And your boundaries with one sibling may be different than your boundaries with another. Your boundaries may change over time, as your own wants and needs change over time.

Why Do I Need Boundaries?

Beliefs about how much we should share with another person, ask of another person, and are entitled to from another person varies wildly from person to person. Boundaries protect us from giving away pieces of ourselves or receiving pieces of someone else that we are not comfortable with. They create the space we need to keep us healthy by protecting things like our time, energy, space, emotions, finances, health, etc.

What Types of Boundaries Do I Need In Grief?

There's no comprehensive boundary checklist and there certainly isn't one specific to grief. Part of the challenge of boundary-setting is that you have to assess for yourself. Your boundaries will be based on your own needs and the people around you. In grief, some common areas that can require boundaries are your time, energy, privacy, emotions, home and belongings, and finances. But a good place to start is to consider areas with friends, family, or colleagues where you have felt some sort of tension or rub since your loss.

Some examples of boundaries might look like limiting your support for other people while tending to your own grief. This one is important - you have to take care of yourself if you're going to have the energy to take care of others. It might involve limiting what you share about your loss and grief, to ensure you feel comfortable. It might mean limiting the type of feedback you're willing to accept from others about your grief. Just because everyone has an opinion about how you "should" be grieving doesn't mean you have to engage with those opinions! It might mean protecting your home, privacy, and energy by limiting guests. We gathered a handful of common grief boundaries people shared with us recently on Instagram. (Use the left and right arrows on the image to scroll).

How Do I Set Boundaries?

Setting boundaries can sound incredibly simple and incredibly complex all at once. The basics look like this:

  • Figure out want you want or need and why. You need to be clear on that first and foremost.
  • Very clearly define your boundary by stating your need (or don't need!) from another person.
  • Figure out what you will do to protect the boundary.
  • Communicate your boundary and the consequence.
  • Reinforce your boudary.
  • Be prepared for possible discomfort!

Simple, One-Time Boundaries

Some boundaries are so straightforward that you won't need a consequence to enforce them. These boundaries can be especially important for those of us people-pleasing, always-agreeable, conflict-averse types. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are allowed to protect our time and energy by saying NO, especially while grieving. In many cases, "no" is the start and the end of the grief boundary. No, I don't have the bandwidth to pick up any extra shifts at work. Sorry, I can't watch your kids this weekend - I'm grieving and need time and space to recharge. No, I can't host Thanksgiving this year - it is simply too much. Asked, answered. Done.

There may be people or situations in which someone asks you to talk about this circumstances of your loved one's death or about your grief, and you don't want to share that information. You are entitled to protect your emotional energy and privacy by declining to talk about it. We asked our readers to share examples of how they set this boundary, knowing it can be . Click through to see some of the most popular responses in the post below, if you need some ideas.

Enforcing Grief Boundaries with Consequences

In other circumstances, you may find that you've gently asked a particular person to stop doing something that is unsupportive or harmful to you in your grief, but they continue. For example, perhaps you're widowed and have a friend who keeps suggesting that you start dating. You've said you're not ready, but he persists in pressing you about it. In this situation you may been to clearly express the boundary and how you will enforce it. That might sound like, "I realize you're trying to help, but I've told you I am not ready to date. I am not going to to engage in any more conversations about it. If you bring it up again in a conversation or by text, I'm gong to end the conversation and I am not going to respond to any more text messages".

Do I Have to Explain the Reason for my Grief Boundary?

It is up to you whether you explain the rationale behind the boundary, in grief or any situation. Some people will be much more willing and able to respect your boundary if they understand your boundary. That said, you deserve to have your boundaries respected even if the other person doesn't understand why the boundary is important to you.

For example, in the case of the friend who keeps bringing up dating, you could say, "I realize you're just trying to help, but I am not ready to date. Talking about is draining. I don't feel heard and supported when you continue to bring it up" (then follow it with the boundary and the consequence). With an understanding of how you're experiencing the behavior, he may be more likely to honor the boundary. But this also requires a greater openness and vulnerability. It may also create a space for the person to question your experience or rationale in a way you don't want to risk. It is a personal decision how much of your rationale your share.

Remember - Grief Boundaries are for YOU

Yes, you! It can be easy to think you are setting grief boundaries to try to change someone else's behavior. But guess what? The old cliche is true - the only person you can change is yourself. A boundary is you getting clear how you will respond to another person's behavior and communicating it with that person. That person may adjust their behavior accordingly, they may not. All you can do is be consistent with your own behavior in order to protect yourself and stay healthy. It isn't easy, but it is important.

Boundaries Can Be Flexible

You decide what boundaries are important and healthy for you. As your grief evolves, certain boundaries might change. The important thing is that they change only when you're at a different point and can stay healthy without that boundary. It is important that you don't change your boundary simply because someone keeps ignoring it and because enforcing consequences is hard. Boundaries take practice and support. If you know a boundary is still important for your health but you're having trouble maintaining it, talking to a therapist can be a big support.

Have advice for setting boundaries? Leave a comment down below!

We wrote a book!

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for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

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8 Comments on "Setting Your Grief Boundaries"

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  1. carole tyrrell  February 1, 2024 at 5:08 pm Reply

    I identify with relief about the parts that were difficult and relieved of having to put up with the curtailing of my wishes when he was alive.
    I can do what I like. But I miss him more than I ever thought and trying to do all the things he did have been really hard like putting oil in the car; coping with finances. I am still running out when I hear the dustcart because I had forgotten to put the bin out.
    Loneliness is very hard. I wish there was a companion to go places with. But men want a younger woman and I don’t want to be a carer of an older man. My late husband was a year younger.

  2. P  August 26, 2022 at 11:45 pm Reply

    In November 2021 I lost my closest, oldest friend (50years of our 69!) to brain cancer in under 6 weeks.
    I feel that my church has let me down and I don’t want to go back because her death, my loss, is still such an overwhelming shadow over my life that I can’t begin to let anyone there “in” on my grief. She really was my only friend so now I have none. I am sad, I miss her about 1000 times every day, and I doubt anyone there will understand. I couldn’t bear to hear any clumsy, careless, unintentional hurtful comment. There were some when my parents died, so I fully expect them this time
    So I don’t go to church and may never.

  3. Michelle  December 11, 2021 at 10:52 pm Reply

    Coming from a highly dysfunctional family, having to learn to set boundaries long before my husband passed to Heaven, boundaries are crucial to protect myself and my environment. Boundaries are more important now than ever before. Standing firm with set boundaries in place are helping me to forge forward through this mountain of grief.

  4. Rita  November 25, 2021 at 4:20 pm Reply

    I decided to not cook anything today. I also spent my holiday alone. I chose not to have my younger son, Jeffrey, over because of his extreme Fentenal use. Rita

    • Puranjot  August 22, 2022 at 1:43 pm Reply

      So glad you looked after you!!!

  5. Anonymous  November 23, 2021 at 7:16 am Reply

    I lost my husband a year ago, we were almost 40 years together. He was in a modest way quite an extraordinary, very intelligent person with a great sense of humour and a wide range of interest in and never ending curiosity for books, music, people at any age and of any place in society, politics, cooking, building, conversation, insects, birds, cats, art, you name it.
    Most of all, he had a great gift for friendship. We had many friends in different countries. In fact, for a few of his closest friends he was their best friend, their soulmate. His (sudden) death came as an big blow for many people, and specially for them.

    And here comes my issue, that makes me weep when I think about it -like now whilst I am writing this- more then anything else.
    On the whole I cope very well with my husbands death, being gifted with an optimistic and energetic nature, carrying on with my life with all the richness that my man left me. But In that first half year to my surprise there was also a sense of liberation, as there were also problematic issues in our relationship, to do with what I call the dark side of my husband, that seemed to disappear when he was with our friends (although the close ones certainly knew about this).
    Much as I loved him, much as he gave and left me, much as he enriched my life in many ways: he was not an easy person to live with on a day to day base, as he could be depressed, full of self doubt, with very high (intellectual and practical) standards for himself as well as for me. He could be very critical of me. He was the glass half-empty type, I the half-full and keeping the balance was not always easy.
    By the way, I read your article about grief avoidance with great interest and felt reassured by it.

    In your article about boundaries I hoped to find something about what I think might be called boundaries set the other way round, as I have experienced with two of his soulmates, who’s friendship is also very important for me. I expected them to be there for me, to contact me regularly, to be able to share our grief and our many dear memories, like with all the other close friends and family members, specially the first half year or so (mainly per mail or zoom or phone as most of them live in other countries, some of them coming over for some time, in spite of corona).

    Those two (who don’t know each other by the way) were not able to communicate to me, they just withdrew into themselves it seemed. I tried to talk/write to them in a gentle way, showing my feelings and needs without any reproach, trying to understand them. It didn’t seem to work. It makes me feel I have lost them as well as my husband and it is difficult not to feel hurt, to keep thinking of their way of grieving as well, that is clearly different from my way.

    I wonder if anybody else has experienced this and/or has gained some insight that could help me.

    • J  July 12, 2022 at 12:22 am Reply

      I am so sorry for your loss. I think I had the exact same thing happen with my two adult children. I thought they would understand that I was grieving the loss of my husband and their father. But, one of them said “crying just means your only thinking of yourself” and the other said ” just don’t think about it. And if you need someone to talk to maybe you should make an appointment with a phycologist.”. I know this has devasted me. I think I need to set boundaries on how they want to allow me to grieve! It’s been difficult navigating a relationship with them since…maybe that’s why. In the end it comes down to… I have to deal with this grief, period. I have to live with/through this, no one can do it for/in place of me.

  6. anonymous  November 19, 2021 at 12:07 pm Reply

    No advice from me this time around.
    Simply a thank you.
    This is so timely for me personally.
    A big help.

    Going out for a quiet walk now.
    Thinking of the WYG community.
    Peace to all.


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