Building boundaries with ADHD

As ADHDers, when we don’t have boundaries we burn out.

We had the wonderful Michelle Minnikin of Workpirates come down and run a two-part session all about the who, what, when and why of boundaries. Why did we choose this session for ADHDers? We tend to stretch ourselves, go over our limits and cross our boundaries just to make other people happy.  Boundaries are essential.

Michelle used Brené Brown’s definition of boundaries.

“Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why” 

The Boundaries Spiral

This is that spiral that you start to go down when you notice a boundary has been crossed and you can’t dig yourself out. Sometimes you don’t even know you are in the spiral, but fear not! It isn’t too late, there are ways out!

Often this spiral is triggered by something called an NPT or Non promotional task

  1. At first, you are triggered by something. A comment, a look, a piece of work. Something that bothers you.
  2.  You don’t want to cause a problem, or fear confrontation, or you’re not sure how to address the problem so you keep quiet and put it in your resentment bucket (a metaphorical bucket that fills up more and more as boundaries are crossed). 
  3.  This evolves into feelings of resentment. You feel stuck and frustrated and bad. It hangs around like a grey cloud. 
  4. Then you begin to beat yourself up, feel taken advantage of, and not appreciated. You very much feel like a victim.  
  5. After all of that, you self-soothe with cake, cigarettes, alcohol, TV, shopping; whatever makes you feel better. 

…And because it’s a spiral it goes again from the top. 

How do you escape the Boundaries spiral? 

  1. You start in the same way, triggered, but this time you are going to put it in your resentment tracker.
  2. Get curious – Why did it bother you? Explore that emotion.
  3. Use your compassion. What does it say about your needs and wants vs the other person’s needs and wants
  4.  Make a plan! Can you talk to someone to figure it out? Can you negotiate a solution?
  5. Take control. Control what you can, and let the rest go. Mindfulness exercises can be great for this as well as talking it out.

Building boundaries scaffolding

Much like with actual buildings boundaries need scaffolding and structure to help build them up and make them strong.

Michelle suggested that you should look at goals like gifts and not shoulds. Giving it to yourself as a gift can help you break free from the resentment, especially towards yourself.

She then talked about making your boundaries the default. Schedule your boundaries, put your emails on holiday mode while you’re not working, put it as a disclaimer. This makes the boundaries super clear for you and others.

Plan based on your strengths, resources and energy. Do you have the energy to assert your boundaries with that new person? Would you be more comfortable holding your boundaries in a place you know or maybe even online? If you have a support worker can they help set your boundaries and keep you accountable? Are you really great at asserting your boundaries virtually or are you better in person? Think about what and who you have around you.

Have an accountability buddy. What’s great about this is they don’t even have to know! You could have a boundary that at five pm you take on no more tasks, and if you have a co-worker who religiously leaves at five, use them! Ask a friend to let you know when you get a little to people-pleasy. If you have a support worker or any kind of assistant you can ask them to join in meetings and email threads where possible.

Remember to always practice balance and self-compassion. You are not going to get it right 100% of the time, but you can always forgive yourself. Balance is all about balancing your needs against someone else’s. With ADHD if you don’t have boundaries you will burn out, but you also need to find balance and compromise within everyone else’s needs.

What would a Selfish Ar*e do?

Michelle gave us a strategy based on what would a selfish butt do? When you are struggling to not people please, think of the most selfish thing you could do at that moment. Use that to figure out a safe and healthy middle ground and alleviate yourself of the people-pleasing guilt.

Not everything here will work for everyone.

It’s all about trying. Try something new, try something different. Remember that most people don’t realise if a boundary is being overstepped and it has to be communicated, however, most people are nice and want to help.

 If your boundaries change along with your lifestyle and health then that’s also okay. Just because you have a boundary does not mean it’s for life, it’s not a tattoo!