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The Importance of Setting Boundaries When You’re Living with a Chronic Condition — and How to Get Started

Sex and Relationships

April 28, 2021

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Fat Camera / Getty Images

Fat Camera / Getty Images

by Alexa Federico, FNTP


Medically Reviewed by:

Tiffany Taft, PsyD


by Alexa Federico, FNTP


Medically Reviewed by:

Tiffany Taft, PsyD


Your energy is too precious to be wasted on plans and activities that don’t serve your health.

Do you have boundaries in place to protect your health?

You probably hear boundaries talked about most often in terms of relationships and work-life balance. If you have a chronic illness, you also need a personal set of boundaries to prioritize your well-being.

Setting boundaries is a part of having a healthy relationship with yourself. If we don’t have any in place, we let our energy and happiness be drained by things we don’t want to give in to.

Those with chronic conditions know that energy is too precious to be wasted!

I used to be afraid to say no to plans. I feared that turning down plans would look like I was using my chronic illness as an excuse to not be social.

Instead, my energy was used up by things I didn’t want to do and I wouldn’t have enough energy for the things that were important to me.

Once I realized where I needed boundaries and stuck to them, I started to feel better. My mental and physical energy was prioritized for what I actually wanted and needed to do, instead of what I felt like I should do.

Boundaries are a form of self-love because they protect you from the things that don’t serve your mental or physical health. Without them, energy can be drained very quickly.

Here are three boundaries you should consider setting if you have a chronic illness.

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How to set boundaries

If you feel like it is time to establish some boundaries in your life, consider these three to start.

Limit interactions with people unsupportive of your illness

It’s unfortunate, but you might come across a relative or friend that isn’t supportive of you. This can look like:

  • always being upset if you cancel or alter plans and not offering empathy
  • gaslighting, such as trying to convince you that your pain is not that bad or that it is all in your head
  • consistently pushing you to eat or drink foods that you have said make you feel poorly

As with any negative situation with someone, you should try talking to the person first before taking other drastic measures, like cutting them out of your life.

Often, people who are unsupportive are projecting their own pain onto you.

That pain could have nothing to do with you, or it might be that your relationship has changed and they feel resentful about it.

Either way, it is unacceptable, but an open and honest conversation could be the key to getting past that.

If someone denies that they’re being hurtful and they’re unwilling to change, then you have every right to limit interactions or walk away from the relationship.

Say no to plans and other asks that don’t support your health

“No” is not always a negative word. In fact, it can be liberating!

It can be tempting to want to say “yes” to every plan or ask that comes your way. However, there are times when saying “no” or even “I don’t know yet” will be more beneficial to you.

Here are two situations you may face and examples of how to respond if you aren’t ready to commit.

  • Situation 1: You are asked to commit to plans that take more energy than you know you have.
  • Response: “I would love to attend, but that kind of event will be too much for my health right now. Thanks for thinking of me!”
  • Situation 2: You are asked to commit to plans far in advance.
  • Response: “That sounds great, but I just don’t know how I will feel so far in advance. Can we touch base in a couple of weeks?”

Remember, your boundaries can be fluid. Always listen to your gut instinct in each situation.

Put an end to unsolicited advice

Most advice, especially coming from friends or family, is well meaning. And while it can be annoying, try to see it as a compliment that this person was thinking of you and how they could help you. It likely came from a place of love.

Sometimes, however, advice does not feel so loving and is actually rude or ignorant.

Whether unsolicited advice is well meaning or ill intended, if it does not serve you, be direct and let the person know.

Depending on the scenario, your reply may be something like:

  • “That’s sweet of you to think of me. I have tried that, and it did not work for me. Unfortunately, just because it worked for that person, does not mean it will for everyone.”
  • “I know it seems like that could solve all my symptoms, but my condition is a lot more complex than that. I am in touch with my care team who will help me figure out my next steps.”
  • “I appreciate the suggestion, but I would rather not talk about this. I think about it enough already!”

Most of the time, people in our lives just want to help, so be gentle but direct.

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The bottom line

Remember, the purpose of boundaries is to help you to put more of your time and energy into things you want to do and experience.

Something that is an easy “yes” for someone else may be a hard “no” for you.

Don’t worry about creating boundaries that make sense to other people, it just has to feel good for you!

Article originally appeared on April 28, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on April 27, 2021.

Medically reviewed on April 28, 2021

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About the author

Alexa Federico, FNTP

Alexa Federico is an author, nutritional therapy practitioner, and autoimmune paleo coach who lives in Boston. Her experience with Crohn’s disease inspired her to work with the IBD community. Alexa is an aspiring yogi who would live in a cozy coffee shop if she could! You can connect with her on her website or Instagram.

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