In DBT, the concept of observing limits has to do with options for how much you want to extend yourself in relationships. In other words, how much of your time, energy, or frustration are you willing to invest in other people? To what extent can you give people other things, do things you don’t want to do in order to keep a relationship, or balance the demands on your time?
The important thing is that limits vary from person to person. Some people will bend over backwards to keep relationships or go the extra mile, while others may be more protective of their time, happy with independence, and more inclined to say no. Both of the above examples have pros/cons associated with them. For instance, extending oneself frequently may result in feeling taken advantage of, while too much independence may result in loneliness.
Sometimes extending limits makes sense because it shows how much you care. Sometimes saying no and risking the consequences of another person’s unhappiness helps you avoid biting off more than you can chew. Sometimes saying no gives you the time you need to stay healthy. Sometimes saying no forces other people to be more proactive. Limits change according to situations, people, and contexts. There is no set or fixed rule for determining what your limits should be.
Ultimately, you are the one who has to live with the consequences and frustrations of over-extended limits. You may want to take some time this week to figure out what your limits are, what gets in the way of maintaining limits, and the cost/benefit ratio of extending them.