Self-Care: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Finding Balance

Setting healthy boundaries and balance. This is a tough one for a lot of folks including myself. We’re taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive and that being selfless is a virtue. And in some cases those are noble values. But when the list of people to please and the lists of tasks to do mount, what is a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality, and your willingness to engage with life and others. And depending on the viracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

I used to have poorly defined boundaries as did those who were closest in to me. If I had a grievance with somebody I would hold it in and resentment would eventually take hold. Leaving me with a silent grudge that was left to fester. But it wasn’t just me. Most of the people I was in contact with day to day acted the same way. Arguments would erupt because of the smallest infraction or mistaken intention. All of which could have been avoided if we had just spoken candidly about how we felt about whatever the issue was. And sometimes even that isn’t enough!

I had a sort of falling out with a loved one recently who won’t talk to me because I asked them a question about a shared experience from our past. The question was benign enough. I asked if they had something from our youth that smelled of jasmine. They responded with, “I love you, but I just need time.” Time from what I’m not sure, but I know this person has a good heart. They just give more than they had to give and the result was, in this case anyway, a loss of a friend who could be a source of support.

We’ve all been in this person’s shoes. Too much to do and too many people and things to keep track of with not enough time to do it all in. The stress mounts until it feels like it’s all just too much to keep in. This is where setting personal boundaries and finding balance by offsetting some of life’s stressors is most important. Ideally we would have some resources to fall back on before we get to this level of stress. But it’s never too late to take a break and give yourself the time and space needed to recover from the constant inflow of life stressors, whatever they may be.

One of the first steps in psychological self care is prevention. If the above scenario feels all too familiar, difficulty saying no to added responsibility, then setting a boundary around saying no to added responsibility will help to prevent some stress. It’s healthy to want to do for others. It’s one of the ways we create tight bonds and close relationships with one another and one of the love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

Alternately when stress does mount, journalling can be a way to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Giving yourself the time and space needed to gain a new perspective. Coming up with a resource list can be helpful as well. Something I’ve added to my journal for times when you feel as though you’ve run out of ideas or are just too tired to think.

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive, resource and release from stress. It’s funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would be happy to. But I’m usually too preoccupied or engaged in what I’m doing to relax enough. If you’re uptight like I am not to worry, humor is something that can be cultivated. By searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you or finding an author who speaks to your sense of humor. And don’t forget conversations with friends, family or co-workers that you are able to be comfortable with. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. Ask about others funny stories. They’re out there and they’re some gems!

Though, stressful times are often when it’s most difficult to focus on cultivating a relaxed state. Being mindful of the times we are stressed can be a powerful tool in helping us to come back to the mindset that can help cultivate a relaxed state of being. And help to aid in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed we can then realize that it is a passing emotion and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of, the stress.

Exploring and cultivating interests and hobbies. Saying no to stressful situations and responsibilities when you know you’ve taken too much on. Journaling or spending time with friends and family communicating and laughing, are all ways to help cultivate a relaxed state of being. They also allow us the time and space necessary to create the boundaries and balance that are so important in caring for our mental health and well being.

So whether it’s asking a co-worker to pick up a task that you know you just won’t have the time to do. Writing about the emotions that come up during the day in your journal. Or finding a new comic or author to immerse yourself in. Taking time to recognize when you’re stressed and how to bring yourself back to a more relaxed version of you is a skill worth practicing. And one that will bring you peace and balance.

“Finding balance” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have one. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land that job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body or to even know what my emotions Were. Also that I was the one in charge not my emotions. My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle is… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of traumas. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, states of being such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a real source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it is, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

So how do we begin to recognize our critic? And possibly even more importantly, what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with them? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself. I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up :]

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Self-Care: Step One; Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Self-care. It’s not easy for some. That’s why the next few articles I’ll be posting are going to be on just that. But looking at self-care through a slightly different refrain.

Self-care starts with the self but it always extends beyond the boundaries of our personal borders. For instance how we treat ourselves directly affects how we interact with others and our immediate environments. If you think you’re not worth the time and effort you are going to overlook your effect of your actions on your immediate environment. If you treat your apartment like a giant trash bin you will also most likely treat your green spaces the same way. And more than likely you won’t find time to fulfill some basic responsibilities we all need to get after in order to heal the world we live in. Like recycling and composting or shopping sustainably.

So with these ideas in mind I’m going to be writing articles steeped in these values as I explore the boundaries between care of the self and where the self really ends or begins. And what to do to mend, heal and engage more fully in the care of ourselves and our world. Start small, act big.

The goal is to create a list of areas and corresponding actionable items to execute to further the care of ourselves, our spaces and our communities. The more we work together the greater the network of care-giving becomes. And hopefully we will all benefit from our change of perspective to a kinder, more forgiving and accepting nature.

These are some lofty goals. And I’m not trying to imply that there is some magic bullet that will cure all persons particular outlook of self and how we interact with the world. But it sure starts with taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. And hopefully this exploration of self-care will give those looking the jolt of a confidence boost. To start the process in taking themselves into account and becoming part of the solution instead of adding to the unrest. The disquiet that has currently taken hold of so many in our constant growth, consumer driven economy and power structures.

The outline of the articles will focus on specific areas and actions taken in these areas to obtain a more whole concept of self. And how this concept translates into a physical action. Also how it impacts our immediate environments and communities. The areas of focus will include, Physical, Psychological, Emotional, Spiritual, Personal, and Professional.

Using the above areas as a starting point, I will cover everything from where to buy clothing to our roles in cleaning up the streets in our neighborhoods and towns. Getting involved in healthy eating habits by starting, or joining a community garden and how to transform unused community space into a bee refuge and public gardens to feed the homeless.

So here is the part of the post where I write a call to action. Something like, together we can make a difference. And that’s true. Together we really can make a difference towards the loving and understanding that’s strong enough to bolster a community rich in interconnected ties. One that is steeped in values that provide acceptance and understanding. But it starts here. Within each of us. Some of us have more internal cleaning to do. In fact it may look like a complete renovation. But it’s possible. Not only is it possible, but we can have fun along the way as well.

That being said it may not be an easy row to hoe, but it will yield gratifying fruits. And don’t forget, you’re not alone!