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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!
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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
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.
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss goes on sale September 27, 2022, but you can preorder at the following retailers: