Posted by: Abby Caplin, MD | April 28, 2010

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is a core principle of self-care. I’ve learned this the hard way. The moment I feel better, I find myself basking in the glory of a body that doesn’t hurt, the fluidity of bones moving freely with ease, amazed that my energy seems boundless!

And then I begin to say, “Yes.” “Yes” to a meeting or two, “Yes” to “Can you just swing by the grocery store for me?” “Yes” to attending another social function. Before I know it, I’m busy, engaging in everything except self-care.

How does one commit to self-care? It takes some planning. It’s not easy, or we would be doing it all the time. The first step is to set a “boundary” in your mind. That boundary is where you choose to say “No” to a request, instead of “Yes.” Only you can make this decision, because it is your body, your health, and no one else really cares more about it than you. After all, your loved ones aren’t living in your body. They are thinking about their own lives, as they should.

The notion that you are the one who must care the most about your health may seem off. “No! That can’t be true,” you may insist. “What a disheartening thought!” But once you acknowledge this existential reality, letting it sink in, you will be empowered to start healing.

The boundary is in knowing that you have the capacity to protect the precious energy you need to heal, and the willingness to momentarily disappoint the ones you love. It can feel painful, but you are actually modeling self-care. You are teaching others, and helping them in the long run.

Below is a suggestion to help you learn (or relearn) how to set your healing boundary.

Step One:

Make a list of all the times in the past week when you have said, “Yes” but wanted to say “No.” Circle each item. Next to it write “NO” in BIG LETTERS. Say the word “No” aloud as you write.

Step Two:

Write (hopefully in a journal) your fantasy of how you would spend your day if you had it all to yourself. You might have several different versions of this day by the time you have finished!

Step Three:

Look over what you have written. Circle the items that are actually doable. Next to each item write, “YES” in BIG LETTERS. Say the word “Yes” aloud as you write.

Step Four: IN INK, write those items in your calendar.

Step Five: Do them, each time giving yourself a big hug for job well done!



  1. Thanks for this Abby! I made it to the pool this week, in spite of severe assaults from others on my time and energy. I would also like to develop a very good semi-permeable membrane to be able to let in what is good and keep out what is toxic. Some people have such a poisionous effect on me that they might as well be snakes full of venom. I become paralyzed with inaction and devastated by their criticism. I keep hoping to develop that “thicker skin” which will really help reduce the effects of these poisonous people!

  2. A great lesson. Boundaries help us heal, grow and live fully. Instead of living lives of distraction, with boundaries we become more focused from within to live more effective lives.

  3. Thanks for sharing your comments, Martina and Dr. K!


  4. I used to say Yes straight away and all the time. Now I take at least a day to think about what I’m saying yes too.

  5. Hi! I found your blog through another blog. I am a raw vegan graduate student (mental health) living with RSD/CRPS. I keep a blog about my journey to healing and work for the holistic healing website, where I also write guest blogs on mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Looking forward to reading through your blog!

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