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Ask yourself: “What’s your level of investment?”

Ask yourself: "What's your level of investment?" | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

“I’m not sure I’m doing this whole healthy boundaries thing right.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“Well, you know my story. For most of my life, I went from never ever holding boundaries and feeling like I was always being taken advantage of to then learning what boundaries are and trying to practice them.”

“Yes,” I said, “I’ve watched you make a lot of progress.”

“Maybe. But now I feel like I’m moving through the world, braced for battle all the time, constantly on the lookout for people who are being disrespectful to me and feeling like I need to say something each time “as part of my healing work”. It’s exhausting. I don’t feel taken advantage of, but I feel tired. Are those my two options?”

Ask yourself: "What's your level of investment?" | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Ask yourself: “What’s your level of investment?”

She shared this all with me, sounding dejected.

This conversation is an amalgam of conversations I’ve had with therapy clients over the last decade who, like with most of my relational trauma clients, is re-learning what it feels like to hold and assert healthy boundaries.

It’s a common experience in this re-learning: feeling like you can either not set boundaries and be taken advantage of, or hold boundaries at every turn and feel like a little battle-scarred and weary of it all.

But, as I tell my therapy clients, I think there’s a very valid third option and there’s one specific question and tool I use to arrive at that third choice.

Ask yourself: “What’s your level of investment?”

For most individuals who come from relational trauma backgrounds – backgrounds in which they were raised by personality- or mood-disordered parents resulting in a childhood that didn’t meet their emotional and psychological developmental needs – boundaries can, at the beginning of the healing journey, feel like a little bit of a mystery.

And what’s also true is that as you start to learn and relearn what healthy boundaries look like, you may start to feel like you swing to the extreme opposite end of a pendulum.

What do I mean by this?

Someone who never spoke up, asserted herself and confronted anyone about anything may, in the course of trying to overcome her past and esteem herself, now feel compelled to speak up whenever she feels slighted.

She swings from one end of the pendulum – not holding any boundaries – to the other – holding boundaries about everything with everyone.

And this swing – living at either end of the spectrum – can feel draining and exhausting.

But also, this same person may imagine that, if she doesn’t confront and speak up, she will be “tolerating poor behavior” or “not acting in integrity” – things which she refuses to do anymore.

So what options does this leave?

Personally, one of the things I love to share with my clients when they find themselves in this situation – wondering if there is an option between confronting and letting something go but feeling like you’re abandoning yourself – is this:

We can hold boundaries with literally anyone about anything, but it’s also really important to ask “What’s my level of investment in this relationship?”

I share with them this example:

If I’m at the grocery store and the person bagging my groceries is rude to me, sure, I could confront them about this, let them know how they’re impacting me, and challenge them about this, but then I ask myself, “What’s my level of investment in this person?”

I don’t mean this in a checkout-teller-doesn’t-deserve-compassion-and-regard-from-me-kind-of-way.

Instead, what I mean is that I’m likely not going to see this person again (or often) and, given that, the role and impact they have in my life is minimal.

So in that case, because my level of investment in the relationship with this person is low, perhaps I can give myself permission to not confront and hold a boundary, knowing that that might take more energy, time, and vulnerability than I’d like to spend on this person.

And perhaps that – not confronting, not holding a boundary – is the more self-loving choice at that moment.

Not holding boundaries with someone doesn’t have to look like self-abandonment.

Sometimes, when our level of investment in a relationship is low, it can actually be the more self-supporting choice to let things go.

To walk away and not confront.

To save our emotional and mental energy for the conversations that really do ultimately matter more.

However, if the person who was rude to me or who crossed my boundaries was one of my best girlfriends and the experience was getting in the way of me feeling close and connected to that person, then my level of investment in the relationship would be high.

And because my investment in that person and in that relationship is high, I’d be more inclined to move through the vulnerability of speaking up and holding a boundary with them if something they said or did was truly bothering me.

This is an example of a conversation that would matter more, that is worth expending my precious life energy on.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed and are wondering if you really do need to hold a boundary, confront, or process something with someone, pause and ask yourself:

“What’s my level of investment in this person? In this relationship?”

Let this question be a self-supporting discernment tool that you use as you move through the world, living more in the middle of the proverbial pendulum than on either of its extremes.

Now, if you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

Did this question feel helpful to hear? Do you sometimes find yourself “over processing” with others because you believe it’s what’s required to be healthy and on your healing path? Does any part of you feel some relief and permission thinking about the discerning tool I offered up?

Please, if you feel so inclined, leave a message below about your experiences and how you’ve learned to live more in the middle of the pendulum swing when it comes to setting boundaries. Our community of 20,000+ monthly blog readers might benefit from your wisdom and from hearing your story.

If you would personally like support around this and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.

Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

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  1. Deanne McCoy says

    Hello Annie dear,
    As I read this, it occurred to me that when I have chosen not to engage on a boundary issue based on my investment level… that IS a healthy boundary. Maybe several. I am not obligated to react or even respond to the emotional state of another, even when they splatter their junk all over my world. I am the steward of my energy, my emotions, my time, my response. Nobody gets to decide for me that I must react a given way.

    • Annie says

      Hi Deanne, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate how you articulated the concept – a steward of your energy! I’m so pleased this post resonated with you and proud that you’re upholding your boundaries. Take such good care of yourself. Warmly, Annie.

  2. Foster says

    This is JUST what I needed today! Thank you! The barista at the coffee shop that I frequent is very rude to me. I was going to write an email to the manager, but your post helped me today. What is my level of investment with this barista? I will spend my limited precious energy on maintaining healthy boundaries with my “investments.” It is an act of self love to just get my iced espresso and speak lovingly to my inner child, “I am sorry that lady is so mean to you, but I love you and you did nothing wrong.”

    • Annie says

      Hi Foster, oh my goodness, I’ve been in that exact same situation with baristas! I think what you noticed and how you’re choosing to take care of your inner child in order to protect and manage your own energy and emotions speaks volumes to the person work you’ve done. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know this post resonated with you. And I’ll be thinking of you the next time I order my iced espresso, too! Warmly, Annie

  3. Laura G says


    This was very helpful. It can be very draining to learn boundaries because its a lesson I am still learning even after many years of knowing about boundaries. This helps me to “triage” my time and attention. I have a roommate with whom I live pleasantly but who is not really an inner circle friend. I find there is a lot that doesn’t need boundaries but more tolerance and the knowledge that this is not a permanent arrangement. I have a harder time with a woman who is in my inner circle and is an alcoholic. I have Al-anon to help but I have also recently decided to look for a better friend. Sometimes, the best boundaries are with myself.

  4. Dana says

    This resonated with me deeply, Annie – especially the part about feeling like I am self-abandoning, or compromising my (hard-won) integrity/authenticity, if I let a boundary incursion slide. When I do decide not to call someone on what feels like maltreatment, I relentlessly question whether it is because I am indeed making the self-compassionate choice based on my level of investment in the relationship, or if that is simply a rationalization for avoidance or cowardice (either-or, nothing in between… I believe black-and-white thinking is also a legacy of relational trauma, haha?!).

    In any case, I wanted to offer one additional possibility that I have experimented with successfully. It is sometimes the very relationships that I have the least investment in that allow me to flex my boundary-setting muscle… a laboratory I can experiment in where the stakes are not so high should they not go as I hope… to practice for the times when the relationship I am having an issue with has a higher valence… to (hopefully) hone my skillfulness and expand my window of tolerance for when the outcome really matters. Does that make sense?

    Thank you for what you do!

  5. Ami says

    Hello Annie! Long-time reader here. To respond to your question at the bottom, yes, I think this question is very helpful and has also helped solidify my thinking on something.

    So, I am a black person (from the UK) and often within discourse from younger folk in my community it can be perceived as “weak” if you “allow yourself to be disrespected” – as in, don’t provide a retort – to people who are rude to you in that manner.

    During my own journey with my counsellor, we have done a lot of work around self-perception through different societal lenses like race, class etc. However I still trip up on some things once I have left the safety of the counsellors office, and I found it hard to shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong if I chose to ignore something like this or maintain neutrality when responding.

    I think reading your newsletter was really affirming in this regard, in that my personal decision to not immediately move to “checking someone” that is a passerby in my life was more on the money than I thought – especially when it takes so much for me to have those conversations in the first place.

    I really worry about others perception of me when I make this choice, but I am glad to read that this can be a positive decision in those circumstances where the relationship is not important/just in passing.

    As always, I really appreciate your newsletters and hope your course has been doing well! Very best wishes xx

    • Annie says

      Hi Ami, yes I recognize you from the comments! Thank you for being a blog reader and long-time supporter. You have so many good thoughts here. I agree that even passing, surface-level interactions can feel tiring, but recognizing this and making the positive changes to re-frame your thinking is so powerful! I’m proud of you for picking up on that and honoring yourself. Take such good care of yourself and have a great week. Warmly, Annie.

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