Setting boundaries with others can feel like forging unmarked territory for many ADHD adults. Let’s face it, ADHD has been a part of your entire life’s experience. And as a result, since you’ve known your family your entire life, it’s common to become muddled and enmeshed with any one of your family members. The same holds true for intimate loved ones and close friends. Without clear boundaries, in time, relationships will struggle and may even buckle.
Many ADHD Adults struggle to set boundaries because their family members were too engaged in their early lives, and those relationships are somewhat stuck in the past. So, if this is you, setting new adult ADHD boundaries may be an essential ingredient in forging functional adult relationships with your loved ones.
ADHD boundaries defined
Boundaries are the things that keep us safe. Think of boundaries like the guardrails along a highway. Those guardrails are always there, reminding you that crossing them could be dangerous. They keep you safe, and are only put to the test when they’re impacted. Similarly, personal boundaries are like the guidelines we set with ourselves and others to communicate our expectations, availability, and energy. Because they communicate how we feel, boundaries prevent us from overcommitting or feeling resentful.
Cues your boundaries are being crossed
When you experience strong emotions or triggers, it can be a sign that a boundary has been tickled, tested or trounced. For example: You may feel overwhelmed because a family member is meddling too much. Or perhaps you avoid someone with whom you disagree about ideals or values. Maybe you can’t bear to be alone with this other person. Or you may feel snarky, resentful or disengaged. If this sounds familiar to you, learning to set boundaries can help. Imagine what it would be like to feel comfortable about openly exchanging ideas, thoughts, and feelings with your loved ones. This is possible when you learn how to set, hold and honor healthy ADHD boundaries.
Types of ADHD boundaries you can set
1. Physical Boundaries
Consider your boundaries around personal space. What are they? How much space feels comfortable to you? Do you need a certain amount of physical time away from others to rest or eat food, especially after a long work day. How do you recharge? Or, do you prefer sharing space with someone while working separately on different things?
We are all different, and physical boundaries differ between us. What helps you feel comfortable and reset? What requests could you make to find more balance with your physical boundaries?
2. Time Boundaries
Time boundaries prevent you from overcommitting and ensure that you bring positive energy to the events you do show up for. How much time do you have to spend with your family? What other commitments are important to make time for such as school, work, or community involvement?
We all have 24 hours a day, but the discretionary time we have is limited to our many commitments and interests. If you struggle with time boundaries, it can help to track your time for a week, to actually measure how much of your personal time is actually yours. Gathering data can point to ways to adjust your commitments and schedule your life in a more balanced approach.
3. Emotional Boundaries
With ADHD you may have several emotional boundaries that have been crossed your whole life. As such, you may find it hard to discern one from another. For clues, consider these questions: Do you have a family member who comes to vent to you all the time? Do you have a friend who’s more of an energy vampire than a supportive ally? Do you struggle with feeling obligated to show up to events, even when you don’t want to? Or maybe you feel coerced to, or text back to certain people? Or maybe you need to set an emotional boundary to someone who responds critically when you share your feelings.
4. Intellectual Boundaries
If you struggle with a competitive ‘us vs. them’ dynamic with your family or friend group, consider setting intellectual boundaries. You can set intellectual boundaries around areas where you feel especially vulnerable such as discussing politics, religion or biased conspiracy theories. You may limit your conversations to other news in a family group chat. Intellectual boundaries can prevent tension during family dinners or holidays.
Follow these tips to set healthy ADHD boundaries…
Be empathetic and compassionate as you learn to set boundaries.
Every human has basic needs for safety, sustenance, autonomy, rest, empathy, community/belonging, meaningful work, autonomy, honesty, and challenge. Healthy boundaries are set by knowing your needs however requesting others to meet your needs may be new territory for you. If you’re a ‘Boundary Beginner’ approach this adventure with kid gloves.
- Consider that your family may misinterpret your new boundary and feel pushed away.
- Be clear about what you’re doing with loved ones, so your discussion becomes a way to learn more about each other’s needs.
- Check your loved ones’ emotions often along the way and ask what their needs and boundaries are.
- Invite your family to explore and to learn about setting boundaries along with you.
- Consider starting the boundary with a “thank you” statement.
2. Explore your own basic needs.
Many people with ADHD have suffered a long history of symptoms and learned to either ignore their needs or mask their symptoms from a very young age. When you disconnect from your natural human needs life can feel unmoored and disordered. As a result, they have become disconnected from their basic human needs.
So in order to get better at your own boundaries, you need to begin by recognizing your own needs. And even this can be a challenge, so try starting with the negatives. Ask yourself:
- What makes me feel uncomfortable?
- What do I NOT like? (foods, environments, scenarios?)
- What makes me feel bad or unsafe?
- By stating your dislikes, you experience when important boundaries are crossed. In order to feel safe and secure, you need to set boundaries around those things to protect yourself.
Focus on your needs when expressing boundaries to others.
When you state a boundary, don’t focus on the ‘other’ in the dynamic. Instead, focus on what you need or want. This will help others feel less blamed and therefore less defensive. Try some of these examples on for size:
- “In order to continue this discussion, I need us to …”
- “I notice we don’t get very far when we talk about politics. Can we change the topic to something else?”
- “I would love to join your family for dinner, but I can only stay for an hour.”
To set ADHD boundaries, be clear about your needs and communicate them.
- When you understand what you don’t like, it’s much easier to optimize around what you do like. Ask:
- Under what conditions am I most comfortable?
- How can I avoid situations or make them less tense and more enjoyable?
Feeling resentment is a good cue. When you feel resentful, it’s possible that you’ve not clearly communicated your needs, and need to realign. For instance, you may need space. Or instead of going with the flow of the group, say that you prefer one activity over another with your family or group. Avoid trying to appease others at the expense of meeting your own needs.
Anticipate your triggers.
Prepare for stressful family situations and plan ahead for how you will handle them. If you have an uncle who talks endlessly about politics, prepare what you will say before entering into the dialog. And remember, you may need to discuss your boundaries more than once with many family members. In fact, when we grow up around families our entire lives, our relationships tend to rebound back to the power dynamics we had as children. That is what makes it so easy to fall into old habits with how we relate. It might take a few (or more) reminders for certain family members to get used to the boundary you set. Know your NO’s and know your YES’s!
And, if you become triggered, rehearse how to intervene and mitigate the fallout before it happens. You may decide you’ll leave the room, or excuse yourself for a moment while you regain your composure. Address the boundary break and then reassure your family member that in the future, respecting this boundary can strengthen your relationship and bring you closer.
Formula For Setting Clear Boundaries and Making Requests
To establish trust and rapport, resolve your own ambivalence, and invite new possibilities within your close relationships you may wish to consider using the Nonviolent Communication® (NVC) model developed by Marshall Rosenberg and the Center for Nonviolent Communication. (NVC)
The NVC model helps clarify how to communicate with each other when boundaries are crossed. The models found in the links provided can help you distinguish between:
- observations and evaluations – So instead of starting with “You’re ignoring me! ” Try “When you scroll your phone while we’re talking”
- feelings and thoughts – Instead of saying “You piss me off when you do that! ” Try “…it makes me feel ignored and upset”
- needs and strategies – Try saying something like “because I want your attention and consideration”
- as well as requests and demands – Instead of demanding something of your partner, “You ‘should’ do, or stop doing… ” instead make a direct request for the behavior or action you desire instead: “Would you please put your phone down while we talk, so we can connect and make a plan together?”
This formula can be so helpful! Study it and practice it to make your boundary conversations about your needs and requests instead of demands. Don’t be afraid to try this! It works for me, and I know it can work for you too.
Although setting boundaries may sound aggressive to your average people-pleaser, they are really important and healthy. But if you’ve never really set them or even been aware of your own, it will take some time to become comfortable with the conversations ahead. Setting your own personal boundaries helps you respect and honor both parties, so you can deepen your relationships, build trust, and grow together. Boundaries enhance self-esteem and build connections between you and your loved ones, allowing everyone to learn more about each other. If you’re struggling to set boundaries and would like to talk with me to explore ADHD Coaching – reach out through a Discovery Call and let’s see if I can help.