Center for Shared Insight, PC

Spread Too Thin: 4 Reasons You Fail to Set Healthy Boundaries

Mother overworked and tired

In my work as a relationship therapist, specializing in attachment theory, one phenomenon I often see is overcommitted women and men struggling to stay on top of competing priorities, resulting in complete exhaustion and burnout.

If you feel depleted, overwhelmed, burned out, or inundated, it might be time to revisit the commitments in your life and restructure where needed. The challenge in overcoming the tendency to take on too much is understanding the unique reasons you overcommit. In order to get a better handle on how you spend your time and developing strategies for communicating with others in your life to better manage your time, it’s important to start with understanding the root of this behavior.

Here are four reasons you might be facing overcommitment and burnout.

You Feel Like You are “Not Enough”

Whether it’s a subconscious fear or something you actively recognize, wanting to do more and be more is a way to combat a fear of not “being enough”.

Examples of compensating for this fear by overcommitting include joining your child’s school’s PTO group because you question whether you are involved enough in his or her life. Or, entertaining friends more weekends than not in order to feel that you are aptly committing to your social circles (and to ensure you are included in future social gatherings). If you ask yourself questions like “do I play enough with my kids?” or “do I have enough friends?” or “am I making enough of an impact in the world?” you might struggle with feelings of inadequacy.

If you are a full time stay-at home parent or caregiver and don’t financially contribute to the household, or contribute far less than your spouse, you might tell yourself that you not helping enough and doubt your own worth and value to your family, spouse, and/or children. If you are the primary provider in your household, you might never feel like you are making enough money and doubt your ability to give your family the best life possible.

Overcoming your own inner dialogue about self-worth is a lifelong practice. Whether it’s using self-affirming mantras or resetting your own personal expectations, healthy self-acceptance is a process. Here are some tips from The Positivity Blog for overcoming self-doubt.

You Struggle with Healthy Boundaries

Without healthy boundaries, life can feel stressful and misaligned with goals and needs. Setting good boundaries requires knowing, accepting, communicating, and upholding limits. Boundaries are the bridge between burnout and self-care, and are also a foundational need in all relationships – those with parents, kids, loved ones, colleagues, and others. Our boundaries teach others how to interact with us in all sorts of situations, demonstrate our limits, and create healthy, value-rich spaces in which we can truly thrive.

Without healthy boundaries, you may you say “yes” to every social invitation due to a fear of missing out (FOMO) or take on more than you know you can manage at work for fear of being perceived as lazy.

At Center for Shared Insight, we work closely with you and clients alike to understand how to establish and enforce healthy boundaries at work, home, and with yourself. Upholding healthy boundaries is an important practice and contributes to a feeling of self-worth.

You Compare Yourself to Everyone Else

In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “comparison is the thief of joy” and this truth reminds us that not only does comparison lead to feelings of inadequacy and eventual burnout, it distracts you from recognizing the blessings of your life. While comparison can sometimes be a motivator for excellence, you might let your friends’ artificially happy Facebook feeds make you question the value of your own life, parenting and relationships. Social media is a highlight reel of life and shouldn’t be the basis for comparing your life to others. Here are some great tips from Zen Habits to help overcome your tendency to compare yourself to others.

You Thrive in Distraction

Overcommitment can be a way to distract yourself from true intimacy. When you fill up all the space in your life with activities and commitments, there is no time to go deep with anything. This might be a way to avoid intimacy with your loved ones, or a way to distract yourself from deeper thoughts and self-reflection including “what is the true purpose of my life?” and “am a truly happy with the life I am living?”. Get honest with yourself to determine whether your tendency to say “yes” too much is a way to avoid the deeper and more complex questions in your life.

Once you have identified the reasons you overcommit and frequently face burnout, which can happen faster when working with a therapist who specializes in such relationship dynamics, you might be able to tie the root of these behaviors to your attachment system. It’s possible that if you have a anxious or avoidant attachment system, you’re more at risk for overcommitment. Anxiously attached individuals needs close and consistent affirmation from others, while anxiously attached might use overcommitment as a means to fill their time and emotionally detach from loved ones. Our team at Center for Shared Insight specializes in determining and overcoming these patterns. 

And like all behaviors, if your closest caregivers were overcommitted and you grew up witnessing those dynamics, you will be more likely to embody them as normal and naturally behave in those ways.

While the the complex behaviors related to overcommitment and burnout take time and practice to overcome, a simple solution is to practice being the best - note I did not say perfect - you can in any role you play in your life at that time – whether it be a mother, father, brother, colleague, daughter, son, or spouse. When you give 100% while you are in any role and are fully present, you might feel greater peace and sense of accomplishment rather than feeling scattered and distracted due to competing commitments.

To learn more about strategies for overcoming burnout and to discuss your unique thoughts and feelings, contact our team at Center for Shared Insight to schedule a free consultation.

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