top of page
  • Writer's pictureCait Donovan

#straightfromcait - Building Boundaries that Protect You From Burnout

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

Boundaries are one of the most important pieces of healing from burnout - BUT - they’re not the boundaries that you’re thinking about. When you hear boundaries? What pops into your mind? Are you thinking about how to say no to someone? That’s assertiveness training. Are you creating language around when you’ll respond to emails, for instance - thanks for writing, I respond to emails mon-fri within 48 hours. That’s expectation management. Both of them set some sort of boundaries, but they are boundaries that live outside of you and the boundaries that count most when it comes to preventing and recovering from burnout? They are your inner boundaries. The ones that you are mad at people for crossing but no one knows (except you!) that they exist. They are the unspoken agreements that you think you have with the world but the world has other ideas. The imagery that I use most with clients when discussing boundaries is that of a free-standing home with a fenced garden and a gate. When your inner boundaries are unclear to you and to others, it’s like leaving your house with the alarm off, the front door unlocked and cracked, and the gate swung wide open and then coming home and being REALLY PISSED that your friend is sitting on your couch, drinking that cinnamon tea you love out of your favorite mug. How dare they? Don’t they know this is your space? And here’s the simple answer: NO. These invisible boundaries, these rules you decided were true to your life and therefore assumed they were true for everyone else - this is what is wearing down your energy, creating resentment, and burning you right out. Right now, in coronacation time, there is A LOT of policing these boundaries. For example, in my local community’s facebook group, there is a post EVERY SINGLE DAY about checking someone else’s behavior. RUNNERS - YOU NEED TO WEAR MASKS! WTF is wrong with people in parks! Does anyone know what 6 feet is? And here’s the thing - it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong (in fact, when you’re right, it breeds a sense of moral superiority and righteousness that comes back to bite you in the ass as far as burnout is concerned - if you’re so damn perfect at everything all the time, you tend to not forgive yourself when you’re not 120%.. But that’s another episode). Here’s a complaint that came up in the group: A woman decided that because runners are out, it is the runners job to be sure that they stay out of the way of people walking and it’s the runners’ job to be sure they are always at least 6 feet away. So, let’s break that down a little. She’s saying: I want to go outside for a walk and YOU RUNNER, You’re ruining it for me because you’re not following the rules! But what’s actually happening? The runner is outside, exercising, the woman is outside, getting some fresh air - does one of them have MORE of a responsibility than the other to maintain the proper distance? She’s decided that she deserves to walk on the sidewalk without being disturbed and that the runner should be the one being more aware. But why? And her irritation, her righteousness, her resentment toward all runners now is a heavy emotional burden to carry and will add to her burnout. Her boundary here is that OTHER PEOPLE SHOULD BE FOLLOWING THE RULES and it puts her in a state of being hypervigilant of other people’s mistakes - it’s exhausting to police everyone’s behavior all the time I know because I was addicted to policing people’s behavior for the majority of my life and it added to my burnout massively. I watched people on the tram to be sure that they got up for old ladies, pregnant women, and the disabled - I watched them like a hawk to be sure that they’d follow the guidelines that I BELIEVE are correct. I held the door open for people who were a just a tad too far behind me to make it comfortable and then passively-aggressively said, YOU’RE WELCOME! When they didn’t thank me - because according to MY RULES - they should say thank you! SO RUDE! But here’s what’s happening in those scenarios: 1. I am abandoning my own energy - by trying to apply my own internal rules and boundaries onto other people, I put myself in a constant state of judging and watching other people’s behavior. This means, naturally, that I am not paying attention to my own wants and needs. Over time, this turned into me not even being aware of what my wants and needs were. Who cares if I’ve had to pee for an hour, I have to hold this door open for that guy who will be here 4 seconds too late. 2. I am inserting my energy into other people’s business - with judgment and lack of trust. Living abroad for over a decade taught me that rudeness and politeness is in the eye of the beholder - every country has different rules and in each of them what is considered rude is based on cultural context. I think my rules are CORRECT because I agree with them - but really, they’re just a set of arbitrary rules. 3. I am disempowering other people - for everyone that I am to protect with my rules of behavior, I’m telling them that I don’t trust them to have a voice to stick up for themselves. If Prague granny has been riding these trams for 84 years, why would I assume that she needs my voice to correct this injustice - she can ask for the seat herself! 4. I am making assumptions about other people's needs and wants and providing solutions that I don’t even know they need - talk about a waste of energy! Maybe the guy who is going to be 4 seconds late for the door really wanted to stop just before the door to wait for a friend, now I’ve made it awkward. Maybe he forgot something and is about to turn around. Maybe it doesn’t fucking matter what he’s doing or where he’s going and I should get my energy back in my own body and let him do his thing! The biggest issue that I see here is that we are taught that all these things we are doing for others is being nice and considerate (I hope you can see now that isn’t necessarily true) so it’s hard to break them down because it makes us feel mean and selfish - but it’s the exact opposite of that. It’s mean and selfish to think that you have the “right rules” for everyone to follow and that they’re all jerks if they don’t follow the ones you created. So, if you want to abandon your house, leave the alarm off and the front door and gate wide open, by all means. Stick your energy into other people's business all day erry day and be exhausted as a result because there’s no world where we all follow your rules… it’s just never going to happen. If you’d like to create boundaries that work, your first job is to get your energy back. Close your gate and your front door, turn on your alarm if you have to and sit down and ask yourself: What do I want? Who can I stop policing so that I can gain some energy back? Where do I have big resentments that will show me places that I’ve abandoned my own needs? What rules do I believe in that I want everyone to follow? When we are stuck in a mode that is constantly giving to the world around us, it’s hard to see what we receive. When we have a lot of relationships that have resentment in them, we’ve abandoned ourselves and become frustrated that the ‘other person’ isn’t playing by the correct rules! Don’t they know how busy you are? Haven’t you helped this client enough? Do they really have the gall to ask for ANOTHER THING? They don’t know, and they probably don’t think it takes gall to walk into your house when your gate is open, your front door open wide, and your alarm off… they thought they were invited! XOXXOO C These #straightfromcait episodes are meant to give you the tools and understanding that you need to help yourself recover from burnout and they work. They work with my clients every day. Remember that if you need support going through this work, I’m here and I love doing this, so hop on a call with me by heading to and booking the time that best suits you. We’ll figure out what you need and how you can get it. Talk to you then…


bottom of page