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What are boundaries and why do they matter to autistic and ADHD folk?

“Boundaries are the gateway to healthy relationships” (Nedra Glover Tawwab; Set Boundaries Find Peace 2021) and so many of my clients are discovering what they are and why they are important in all areas of life.

Many neurodivergent (ND) folk go through life with unmet needs due to nobody knowing that they were ND which can lead to an intense fear of disappointing others and chronic people pleasing.

Being autistic as well as

ADHD I found it hard (and still do) to infer meaning based on behaviour, body language and facial expressions (common autistic traits).

Even tone of voice has me stumped at times and I know that I have grown up being triggered by what I perceived as others talking in a ‘patronising tone’ which may very well have been the intent but I’m also aware enough now to know that whatever ‘tone’ is used says everything about the other person and nothing about me.

Even if I irritate someone and their tone expresses said irritation, that still is not about me. It is their feeling, their experience, and their projection. I know this now, but I only learnt this about 2 years ago, so that’s 46 years of painful messaging that I internalised and interpreted as there being ‘something wrong’ with me.

The difficulty occurs when us neurodivergent folk take these ‘tones’ personally and let’s face it, the messages many of us received over the years both non-verbally and verbally where that we were/are:

- Too much

- Over the top

- Too sensitive

- So dramatic

- Too intense

- Stupid

- Not fulfilling potential

- Unfocussed

- Naughty

- Careless

- Ditzy

- Thoughtless

These are just the tip of the iceberg, and it is no wonder that so many of us neurodivergent folk can grow up with low self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth. So, with this all-in mind it is easy to see how the concept of boundaries can feel alien, scary, and out of reach. However, …

The good news is that once we become aware of something and how we are affected, we can take control and do something about it!

We can discover our strengths, find our inner spark that may have been dulled but was never put out because us autistic and ADHD folk are born warriors!

Our empathy and compassion for others is off the scale and we care deeply.

There comes a time though when we must take care of ourselves first. If this article is resonating with you then I suspect your time has also come and it’s time to show your abundance of empathy and compassion to yourself. Yes, that’s right! It isn’t easy my friend, but it IS so worth it. What's the old saying? Put your own oxygen mask on first (so that you can help others).

So, what are boundaries? Until a few years ago my knowledge and understanding of boundaries was limited. I thought they referred to rules in school, what time I had to be home after ‘playing out’ on my BMX and in my teens what time to be home after being out with friends. That was about it.

Little did I realise that boundaries are “expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships” (Nedra Glover Tawwab; Set Boundaries Find Peace 2021) and involve communicating your needs and your expectations of others. What? ‘Don’t they know what I am thinking and what I need?’ No, turns out that people are not mind readers and assumptions like this lead to pain and heartache. Who knew?

In her book Set Boundaries Find Peace, Nedra Glover Tawwab (which I think is amazingly helpful by the way) says “Expectations in relationships help you stay mentally and emotionally well” and that “learning when to say no and when to say yes is also an essential part of feeling comfortable when interacting with others”.

So many of the people I talk to in the neurodivergent community express difficulty with saying no, over committing and burning out time and time again. As ND folk we do have added layers of challenge, memory being one. How can I remember to take care of myself when I can’t remember to turn the oven off?’

As mentioned before, people pleasing is also a huge issue which intersects painfully at times with RSD – rejection sensitive dysphoria, a painful emotional and often physical response to feeling rejected or criticised. For my Top 10 tips for managing RSD click here.

How do I know if I have issues with boundaries?

Here’s a few ways you may be experiencing lack of boundaries, and it’s not surprising how health, well being and relationships are affected:

- Affected sleep

- Stress

- Anxiety

- Lack of self-care

- Putting the needs of others before your own

- Feelings of dread

- Feeling overwhelmed

- Feeling resentful

- Available 24/7 to friends and family

- Feeling responsible for other people

- Trying to fix other people’s problems

I have boundary issues, what next?

  1. Spend time noticing when and where the issues arise

  2. Note down your thoughts and feelings around the issues (get yourself a nice journal or use tech)

  3. Read Set Boundaries Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab

  4. Get professional support if you need help setting and maintaining boundaries from a therapist or coach click here to book a call to discuss how I might help you

  5. Look out for the next blog which will give some practical ways in which to set boundaries. Subscribe to my mailing list here to be notified of next blog

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