In part one of the Summer Wellness blog series we discussed how the summer months for many come with increased energy and motivation. However, sometimes with an abundance of energy and motivation we can easily over commit to everything and everybody around us. When we have difficulty saying no or take on too many peoples problems we can easily become burnt out, frustrated, hurt and resentful. In order to maintain that strong agni (fire) and be able to show up and serve it is important to make sure their is still some fuel for your fire. Last week we discussed digestion, and nutrition tips in order to keep your body fuelled, however this week we will discuss some psychological safe guards called boundaries.
Boundaries are lines we draw in order to maintain a healthy balance between yours and mine. This protects us from the physical, mental and emotional demands of others. For some boundaries may seem uncomfortable or even selfish, however its important to take care of yourself while taking care of others. Boundaries are not about always putting yourself first, rather they are about self-care, self-kindness and self love. Boundaries allow us to express our needs in a healthy way and be confident in who and how we are. Healthy boundaries may also increase our will to accomplish goals and place us in a better position to serve those around us.
Setting boundaries requires self awareness; noticing how you feel, getting clear about whats important to you, connecting to who and how you want to be in your life, and safeguarding your time and energy so that you may be in healthy relationship with those around you and with yourself.
Setting boundaries can be difficult especially if its not something that you are used to doing.
There are many other reasons why we may find the process of setting boundaries difficult including:
- A tendency over empathize with others emotions.
- Feeling that you must sacrifice your needs for others.
- Feeling your needs are not important due to lack of self worth.
- Lack of awareness of your own needs.
- History of violence and abuse.
- Lack of attention and care growing up.
- Being a caregiver for children and elderly.
Some signs that you may need to set healthier boundaries include:
- Saying yes when you mean no.
- Sacrificing your intuition for acceptance.
- Not speaking up out of fear of rejection.
- Constantly attending to others needs only to feel resentful when attention is not returned (martyr/bitch cycle).
- Being all things to all people all the time.
- Sacrificing your own projects/time to finish somebody else’s in time.
- Adopting a belief system to fit into a group.
- Feeling obligated to touch or have sexual intimacy with another even if you do not want to.
- Giving beyond your means.
- Feeling guilty about self care.
FOMO (fear of missing out) & FONBE (fear of not being enough)
The root of many of the issues sourounding boundaries is a fear of missing out, a fear that we won’t be accepted, or loved, or a fear that we aren’t good enough just as we are. This fear and resulting anxiety drives us to sacrifice our own needs, time and energy for the acceptance, attention, and attachment. Sometimes we do this consciously out of service, however sometimes this behaviour is an unconscious survival or defence mechanisms that we are not consciously choosing to invest in.
As Human beings one of our greatest needs after survival and satisfying physiological needs is connection. Our social survival is wired to the same survival instinct as if we were in danger. When we fear somebody won’t like us if we say no or ask for what we need, we end up saying yes despite our intuition yelling NO. We trade our intuition and authenticity for acceptance. This does not make us weak, a pushover, ass kisser, victim or whatever label it is given. This makes you a human being. In fact because so much of our survival behaviour is automatic and unconscious we are often not even aware we are doing it. Adding negative labels to our behaviour only increases the shame and ultimately discomfort we experience leading to more compensatory behaviour. Throw in additional stress, trauma and the constant noise of social media and it becomes even more difficult to connect to our inner compass. We can choose our actions only to the extent that we are fully aware of what is happening. In the state of hyper-vigilance this is very difficult. If this is practiced day in and day out, our own needs often become dormant and feelings of fear, shame and guilt intensified. We may even experience “pleasure anxiety” when doing something for ourselves. In addition if we always put others needs in front of our own we may be training others around us that this is an acceptable way to be treated. You are not manifesting shitty people in your life as some suggest, rather narcissist and sociopaths prey on this type of behaviour. When I am constantly putting everybody’s needs in front of my own I also tend to attract and feed those people around me who are needy, narscsistic and disrespectful of my time and energy. Continual feelings of anger, exhaustion, frustration and resentment may be your intuition telling you to speak up, defend your self and set some boundaries for your time and energy.
The Practice of Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries may feel selfish at first but it is a prerequisite to self-care. As you continue to practice setting healthy boundaries, you may begin to notice your self-compassion, self-confidence and relationships improve. The more you say yes to your own needs (in a non-hedonistic way) the more you reinforce that you are worthy of attention, care and love. If this is something that is extremely difficult for you, find someone you can practice with like a trusted partner, friend or therapist. Personally I found exploring boundaries in my asana (yoga) and other movement practices was a safe and helpful place to start.
Self-Compassion: meeting your suffering with care and kindness
This first step of setting boundaries is about recognizing that you are worthy of time, attention, and COMPASSION. There is a lot of talk about self-love these days and sometimes on instagram and Facebook its hard to tell the difference between healthy self-love and narcissism. Instead of putting a band aid of self-love over self-hate, I have found meeting my self-hate with self-compassion to be more powerful. Acknowledging self-hate and feelings surrounding worthiness can be a difficult step, but in my experience its the place many end up most often. While affirmations of self-love are helpful, I often found myself saying them, knowing I “should” believe them but also not ever fully feeling or embodying them. The practice of self compassion is not about becoming blissful all the time and not another thing to beat your self up about either. Criticizing yourself for self-criticism is not helpful.
Its not like we learn to love ourselves and all of the deep scars disappear, rather we learn new ways of being with and relating to our experiences and scars. You will most likely re-visit this first step several times throughout your life—falling down is inevitable. Remember to be always be gentle with yourself. Self-compassion is not about “triumph over” “its all good” and “fucking your fears”. You can read more about the power of self-compassion here. In the spring challenge blog I also shared an exercise in self-compassion for transforming “bad habits” called composting. In this exercise the focus is on giving ourselves that which we are seeking, versus fixing or changing bad behaviour. It is easy for us as humans to focus on everything that is wrong with us. We are built with a negativity bias and are hardwired with an inner critic to keep us in-line. Further to this marketing and social media preys off our insecurities and deep need to be accepted by others. Self compassion allows us to recognize our humanness and suffering while we practice self-kindness or #self-love.
Self awareness and reflection: what do I need/desire?
Once you have learned how to practice self compassion and discovered you are worthy of your time and attention, the next step towards setting healthy boundaries is getting clear on your needs. A practice I have found helpful in getting clearer on my needs is self awareness followed by self-reflection.
Self awareness allows me to be more aware my emotions. Once I am aware of my emotions they can become messengers that point me in the direction of my needs. For instance, when I am experiencing an emotion like frustration, anger, resentment etc, often one of my needs is not being met. If I understand that emotions are motivators of behaviour, than determining what behaviour these emotions are trying to motivate me towards will point me in the direction of my needs. I find the mindfulness practice of open awareness meditation and or restorative yoga allows me to observe my feelings, thoughts and sensations in a way that neither accentuates or rejects. While breath and sound meditations are great for increasing focus and creating a calm and safe environment, I have also found sometimes with these methods there is a tendency to become rigid around the instructions. When we become rigid around the instructions we may push away thoughts, feelings and emotions instead of observing them. Each person may find different techniques useful. I have shared a few audio meditations here