Everyone has been there…your best friend/sister/uncle needs a ride to the airport, which is about 1 hour away. They need said ride on a Thursday afternoon, somewhere in the rush hour zone, during the time of day that you might have to cart a kid to soccer, or attend a business meeting. Or, heaven forbid, have a few minutes to yourself.
Yet, although this scenario screams “SAY NO!!” we don’t. We suck it up, we move our meeting, and polish our halos with the fabric of our resentment. We have no one to blame but ourselves, however; we are the ones who forgot to have boundaries.
There are those that equate boundaries with selfishness. This, however, is incorrect. In geography, a boundary is something that separates one place from another. Many people mark these boundaries with shrubs, or a fence. And no one says “ooh look they’re so selfish to put a fence around their property.” It’s their house/land/kingdom, and what anyone else thinks is simply not important.
Having boundaries simply means that we consider ourselves and our needs important, and that we honor this when deciding how to spend our time and energy.
For ADHDers, boundaries can be even more crucial than for NT folks.But they also can be harder to keep intact.
Because ADHDers can have difficulties with time management and organization, if we don’t have strong boundaries, we will often commit to things that we just can’t get to-and might not even realize that until it’s too late. However, it can be more difficult for ADHDers to uphold boundaries because many ADHDers are people pleasers, due to hearing negativity day after day after day. So those boundaries can often be ignored, in the pursuit of feeling valued by others.
So, what is an ADHDer to do? Start by building a metaphorical fence. Or a moat, if you’re into that royalty thing.
First determine what you would like your boundaries to be. Do you want to have weekends free from work obligations? Is having dinner as a family a priority for you? What activities are important to you, professionally or personally? No boundary is silly, or selfish.
Once you’ve decided where you’d like your boundaries to be, that is where you put down your imaginary stakes. On one side is you and how you’d like your life to look. On the other-everyone and everything that is vying for your time and attention.
This is where it gets tricky-where buttressing the fence with the concept of valuing yourself and your needs comes in. Not a strong suit for people pleasers.
It’s so easy to say “oh, I can skip the gym this once” or “it’s okay if I work an occasional Saturday.” And there will be times that warrant bending the rules a bit-an emergency, a situation that really speaks to you. But if that’s not the case, you need to remember this one thing:
I PUT A FENCE HERE FOR A REASON THAT MATTERS TO ME, AND I’M NOT TAKING IT DOWN.
What can help you remember this? Visual aids?A large picture of a white picket fence above your desk? A quote on your phone’s wallpaper? A coach or friend/family member reminding you? Leaning on a strategy here is a great idea!
Another area that bears discussion relates to HOW we speak of our boundaries. We all like to make others happy; no way do we want to make anyone angry. Telling people “No thanks, I’d rather stay home tonight with my cat than go out with you,” or “I was away for the weekend, so I didn’t check my email,” can cause at least a mild amount of hysteria. Sometimes more than a mild amount.
So practicing phrases like “I wish I could, but I’m busy,” or “I’ve got a lot going on right now,” or even “I’m just overwhelmed already, I can’t add another thing to my plate,” can help to keep the fence in place and steady, without anyone getting all worked up about it. And without you having to defend your choices, which is also a slippery slope for those of us who can feel that we don’t deserve to make choices.
You may feel like these sentences are lies, that you are being disingenuous by saying them. In fact, they are the truth. Because being busy or having a lot going on does not mean “except for things I want to do.” Those activities are just as important as tasks imposed upon you at work, or by family.
So build that fence. And start using it. It gets easier with time, and practice.