Boundaries and Self-Care Are Vital to Mental Health Recovery

February 11, 2015 Mike Ehrmantrout

Good self-care is vital to mental health recovery. Here are 3 ways to practice self-care during mental illness recovery.

This past week brought a lesson in how vital self-care is to mental health and mental health recovery. Self-care can be overlooked when we are suffering from depression or experiencing other mental illness symptoms. I have a dear old friend who many consider the sweetest person they’ve ever known or may ever know. This dear woman has always been the type who will go to the ends of the earth to help people, and not just friends and family.

A Caregiver Forgets Her Vital Need to Self-Care

She is the person who will stop and have a conversation with mentally ill panhandlers on the street before giving them something they can use to make their lives just a bit more comfortable. It’s she who buys homeless folks Subway sandwiches.

She has been a caregiver to many in the past, even seeing folks through their final days on this earth with compassion and dignity. She’s the one who will work extra days on the job so her fellow employees might have some time off. She’s truly a fantastic person with a great attitude toward life.

There is, however, something wrong. In the midst of being so kind and helpful to others, she sometimes forgets herself and her own needs. So it wasn’t altogether a surprise when she ended up in the emergency room of a local hospital complaining of chest pain and suffering from very high high blood pressure.

Self-Care Is Vital for a Healthy Body-Mind Experience

She explained that she does not treat herself the way she treats others in caring and providing compassion and understanding. “I feel selfish if I care for me at the expense of caring for another,” she said recently.

We were surprised to hear her say this. After all, this woman is probably the least selfish person we’ve ever known. But when she said she feels selfish is she self-cares, I knew something had gone just a little off.

Good self-care is vital to mental health recovery. Here are 3 ways to practice self-care during mental illness recovery.

“Why would you feel selfish to care for yourself when you care for others so much?” I asked her. She explained that she’s beginning to realize there are deeper reasons sometimes for her altruistic attitude. She said she’d always been a people pleaser, that some of her good works have not always been strictly from love or a compassionate perspective. Sometimes she did these good things because she was afraid not to. In her mind, she equated saying “no” to “I’m not a good person because I can’t or I don’t want to say yes to this particular request or need.”

It's Vital to Practice Self-Care for Mental Health Recovery

  • Set realistic boundaries: Here’s an example of setting a functional boundary: I won’t work on my days off just so other employees can have more time off than me. The object is to learn self-care by making our own needs just as important as everyone else's.
  • A new golden rule The Golden Rule, as it's known by many, is "Treat others the way you want them to treat you." I propose a mental health recovery Golden Rule: Treat yourself like you would want others to treat you.

Imagine you saw a woman holding her child’s hand, scolding him. You can hear her as she berates him, calling him “stupid,” “untalented,” “mediocre” and other abusive things. Most all of us would say, “that woman is a tyrant and that poor child doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.”

But, in this illustration, that child is us, and the mother is us as well.

How we chide and abuse ourselves because we don’t measure up to some arbitrary measurement society, our parents or someone else has placed upon us.

This self-abuse is a hallmark of depression and other mental illnesses and can eventually lead to self-injury if not dealt with. We use the phrase, “beating ourselves up,” because that’s what depression can make us do. Depression causes us to be constantly pointing out our flaws of character and morals, our imperfections and our blemishes, to ourselves and to others.

It can be a vicious cycle, the depression beating us up and our self-abuse making us more depressed than ever.

  • Defend yourself against yourself: Continuing our illustration, if you find yourself being the tyrant woman to your child self, step in. Defend that child. Don’t let that evil person continue to destroy the child’s worth and dignity. Don't allow yourself to be abused, even if the abuse is coming from yourself.

Good self-care is vital to mental health recovery. It’s one of the foundations for good mental health.

You can visit Mike on Google+ and Twitter.

APA Reference
Ehrmantrout, M. (2015, February 11). Boundaries and Self-Care Are Vital to Mental Health Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Mike Ehrmantrout

Dr Musli Ferati
July, 8 2018 at 11:38 pm

Setting boundaries during daily life functioning exhibits a double edge sword that may deport us to extreme antagonist social context: social isolation and self burn out syndrome. So, it is of vital importance to manage the necessity to install in appropriate way this self -defend mechanism. First of all, it is of great importance to respect the right and freedom of others without lesion our personal space and time, as well. In this direction, your recommended golden rule to treat yourself like you want others to treat you indicates the useful guide to upgrade the concept of healthy boundaries. However, the custom to self-care is a predictor to be successful and useful person in intrigued and dynamic social circumstances. In addition, if we neglect personal welfare, we could't be serviceable for others.

July, 7 2018 at 4:10 pm

Awesome words to live by

Matthew Mckenzie
February, 16 2015 at 8:10 am

Really enjoyed going through your post. So informative and certainly brings out what many care givers experience. We need to reminded of boundaries since we cannot and should not be placed in a situation where caring risks mental health concerns.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
February, 16 2015 at 8:12 am

Hi. I'm very glad you got something that helped from this article. Thanks for letting us know!

February, 11 2015 at 3:25 am

Great article. I personally often go to the aid of my friends when they're upset, but have trouble doing the same for myself when I feel negative. Your new golden rule would be a great mantra to remember! 'Treat yourself as you would want others to treat you'!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
February, 11 2015 at 6:00 am

Thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed the article. :)

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