boundaries in grief

Understanding Boundaries in Grief: Why Boundaries Are Essential While Grieving (With Boundary Examples!)

boundaries in grief

Grieving is a difficult time no matter how you look at it, and our culture is not good at allowing space for grief outside of giving you a few days off work.

If you want to have an authentic and meaningful grief experience, you have to create it. Part of creating and honoring a sacred grief experience involves setting boundaries in grief.

Understanding boundaries in grief and why limits are important during this difficult time can be crucial for your grieving process.

But why?

Doing the work of setting boundaries helps you cultivate an awareness of where you are stretching yourself too thin or doing things that feel wrong to you. Setting limits with yourself and others can be a useful tool in creating a meaningful and even slightly less painful grieving experience.

So let’s take a closer look at boundaries in grief. (I’ve also included boundary examples at the end of each section, but you can skip over these if you don’t need them!)

Protect Your Emotional and Physical Health With Boundaries in Grief

When experiencing grief, setting boundaries becomes crucial for emotional well-being.

Boundaries in grief refer to the limits we establish to protect ourselves from additional pain, stress, or overwhelming situations during the grieving process. It involves recognizing and respecting our own needs and limitations, as well as communicating them to others.

Setting boundaries when grieving is essential because grief is deeply personal and everyone copes in their own way. By setting boundaries, we can create the space we need to feel and process our emotions without feeling pressured or overwhelmed by others’ expectations.

Boundary Example

You’re grieving your fur baby and taking a few days off work when your boss contacts you and asks how you’re doing. It seems like a nice gesture, but then they ask you to complete a small task that they really need done, even though you have taken a few days off.

Recovering people pleasers and codependents will likely feel guilty saying no, since the boss asked how they were doing. After all, it’s only a small task. However, completing the task would feel ingenuine and even violate the boundary you have with yourself, that this is your time off to be in pain and grieve your beloved animal, not to work.

What’s the best way to handle this? You reaffirm your time off: “I won’t be able to complete any work during my time off, but thanks for checking in.” If they push you or request something else later, you can set a boundary: “I am still off. Please don’t ask me to complete any more tasks.”

Hopefully you don’t have a pushy boss, but if you do, you can go one step further if they ask again and say, “I’ve asked you not to request things from me during my time off. From here on out, I won’t be checking messages from you until I return to work.”

Yes, you may initially feel guilty (and then annoyed, if they keep following up), but you will feel worse if you complete the task. And even worse, your boss may just keep asking you to do stuff, which would then be more difficult for you to say no to, since you’ve already done the first thing, thus negating your time off—and hindering your grieving process.

Focus on Your Grieving With Healthy Boundaries

Personal boundaries in grief can vary greatly from person to person, so it’s important to understand and acknowledge your own boundaries and limitations.

If you haven’t done this before, it can be difficult to recognize your own needs. Some trauma survivors and codependents do not even realize they have needs, so this can take some work. Be patient with yourself!

What are some needs you may have while you’re grieving? You may need:

  • Time alone
  • People you can talk to
  • Friends and family to check in
  • More rest and less activity
  • Someone to help you around the house (grocery shopping and cleaning)
  • People not to ask too many questions about your loss

Boundaries also allow us to prioritize self-care during the grieving process, which is crucial when your body and mind are far from their best. With boundaries, we create healthy limits for ourselves in conversations, interactions, and activities, conserving time and energy to process our loss and seek support when needed.

Boundary Example

Let’s take a look at boundary examples for each item in the bulleted list above.

  • Time alone: “I need some time alone right now. I’ll call you back tomorrow.”
  • People you can talk to: If you don’t have people in your life you can talk to about your loss, make a boundary with yourself that you will research support groups or contact a new therapist or coach. If you have people in your life, you can reach out and say, “I really need to talk this out, can I call you?”
  • Friends and family to check in: “I’m really struggling right now. I need you to check in with me more often, daily if you’re able.”
  • More rest and less activity: Make a boundary with yourself that you will say no to events that you know will exhaust you without providing any benefits. You can also allow yourself to rest as often as you need to (or be busy if that helps you right now!). Please don’t shame yourself for doing what you need to do to survive this difficult time.

Ways to say no or ask for what you need:

“I can’t make it tonight. Thanks for understanding.”

“I’m having a difficult time right now and can’t do our regular check-in calls, but I will let you know when I’m available to chat again.”

“Do you have any more projects for me? I find staying busy is helpful to me right now.”

“I can’t do our weekly run, but let’s grab coffee if you’re up for it.”

  • Someone to help you around the house: Mundane, everyday tasks like preparing food, grocery shopping, cleaning, or taking care of other fur babies or human children can feel impossible when you are grieving. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. Many people want to help and don’t know what you need, so by asking them, you can make things clear for everyone and get the support you need—a win-win.

Ways to ask for what you need:

“Would you be able to walk the dogs today? That would help me out a lot.”

“I’m really struggling with focusing on small tasks right now. Do you have time to come grocery shopping with me tomorrow?”

“Are you available to help me clean this weekend?”

“Can you take the kids on Saturday? I really need some time to myself.”

  • People not to ask too many questions about your loss: Some people are well-meaning when they ask questions about what happened. But if you are not comfortable discussing it or unwilling to discuss your feelings and the events with certain people, you can simply say:

“I’m not comfortable discussing it right now.”

“There’s a lot to process, and I’m not there yet. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to talk about it.”

“I’d rather not talk about it just yet.”

“I’d rather not be asked questions about it right now.”

“I’ll get back to you.”

Navigate Shifting Relationships in Grief

Relationships can quickly change after a loss. Boundaries create the foundation for healthy and long-term relationships with others, as it allows people to have a clear understanding of what we need during our grieving process.

By expressing our needs and limits, we can avoid taxing interactions, misunderstandings, and even conflicts during grief. Healthy boundaries give us the power to allow others to support us in the most helpful ways possible.

Communicating your boundaries is key in maintaining healthy relationships during the grieving process, even as some (or most) of those relationships will shift. Clearly express your needs and limits to loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Let them know what kind of support or interaction you are comfortable with and what may be triggering or overwhelming for you right now.

Boundary Example

Your partner is sympathetic about your tattoo dysphoria, but they don’t really understand your feelings and can be insensitive about your struggles.

They comment on your new tattoo or when others ask about your tattoo, they are quick to state an opinion, such as, “Doesn’t it look great?” or “Roses are their favorite.”

Your partner’s behavior is exacerbating the anxiety, depression, and dread you feel about your new ink. So you have a conversation with them and set boundaries, which can look something like this:

“I’m really struggling with my new tattoo. There are some things I need you to do to help me feel a little less bad during this time. I need you to not comment on my tattoo, so please don’t bring it up unless I do. When others ask about it or talk about it, you can support me by changing the subject or redirecting the conversation.”

You Don’t Have to Set Boundaries in Grief Alone

Ultimately, setting boundaries in grief helps us honor our journey into grief and protect ourselves for the difficult work ahead. Remember, everyone’s grief journey is unique, and setting boundaries can be an empowering tool along the way.

Walking with grief and setting boundaries can be challenging, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your loss. Seeking the guidance of a grief therapist or coach can provide valuable support. They can help you establish healthy boundaries, develop coping strategies, and work through the complexities of grief.

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