Do I Know What My Boundaries Are? How to Tell if You’re Boundaries Need Shoring Up

Boundaries are another area I spend a lot of time on in this blog. The main reason being, if you were raised in a situation where boundaries were constantly being violated, then it can be difficult to know what is, and is not acceptable behavior. This was the case with my upbringing. I didn’t even know what a boundary was, and even worse, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection in some cases. This was a very unhealthy emotional place to inhabit.

Luckily I’ve learned a lot about what healthy boundaries are, and what they are not, but it took a lot of putting myself in some pretty iffy situations. Lessons that I could have probably learned in a much healthier fashion than how I had. But lessons learned nonetheless. In this post I’ll be talking about how to find where your boundaries lay, and also how to tell when they’re being encroached upon. These are difficult waters to navigate when you have no bearings in the way of role models. But there are ways of finding your bearings. It’s not impossible, but it is trying. And in trying times I like to remember the saying, “we were built for this”. Let’s find some healthy boundaries together : )

Where Are My Boundaries?

So as I said above, these can be tricky to find. If you’ve been immersed in a situation where a lack of boundaries were the norm, than knowing where you end and another begins isn’t always clear. Or maybe your boundaries were too rigid, too defined. This can also be as suffocating and a fearful place to be. Either way, if you’ve been left in one of these boats, you’re gonna need to find another vessel. Luckily there are places to find out what a healthy mix of boundaries looks like. Let’s take a look at being raised with no boundaries first. These can be, I feel, the most confusing.

No Boundaries:

Being raised with no boundaries can be a very confusing place to grow up while trying to navigate your young world. For me, no boundaries meant; being mean to others with callous disregard for their emotions, eating anything and everything I felt like when I felt like it, picking up vices like smoking and drinking at an early age (14) and knowing no restraint in these areas, using others and confusing a lack of boundaries for affection.

These are polarizing ways of being and were mostly caused by a lack of healthy role modeling of appropriate boundaries, also known as, neglect. I was mostly looking to feel loved by my neglectful caregivers by acting the ways that I watched them behave. My caregivers were mean and rancorous, so I was mean spirited and rancorous. It’s what I thought it meant to be grown up, mature. Later, when I realized that my role models were acting like Jim Morrison, I knew I had been mislead.

Being raised with no boundaries came with a feeling of desperation. The lack of connection for me was the cause of my desperation. My thoughts were consumed with what I could do to feel a sense of love and belonging with those around me, by doing things that were clearly disregarding my best interests. For example I stopped going to school at around age 16 and by then was drinking quite a bit as well. I never exercised and my diet wasn’t stellar either. And I did this all because I was looking for some way to belong to something that would give me a sense of comfort and security. Not realizing all the while how far I was straying from the habits I could have cultivated to create that sense of security and comfort for myself.

And the worst part of having no boundaries was, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection. I assumed that any chance for contact was good, seeing as how I never connected or bonded with my caregivers. I figured if I let them do what they wanted to me, the greater chance I would have of being loved by them. For me that meant they could say whatever they wanted to me, go through my personal belongings whenever they felt, invade my personal space on a whim and treat me as though I weren’t a person with basic needs and rights to personhood.

This set me up for failed relationships with the women I would later choose to be in my life and a lot of feeling as though I was never enough. That I needed someone to treat me poorly because I felt I wasn’t good enough to be in a healthy relationship, which left me feeling uneasy in relationships and lucky that a woman would even consider being with me. This perpetuated the cycles of poor boundaries and low self esteem and I acted in arrogant ways to cover over my feelings of inadequacy.

The end result was a lot of burned bridges and a staggering amount of unhealthy habits. I had no career prospects, had ended the most stable relationship I had been in for eight years on a whim, and had no idea what my future was going to look like. For all intents and purposes, I was one unfortunate event away from being homeless and completely without resources. I had made a life’s time worth of poor decisions and most all of them could be traced back to being raised with no boundaries or very rigid boundaries.

Rigid Boundaries:

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my other caregivers had very rigid boundaries. There was no touching, we never talked about how we felt. There was never any conversations about who or how I was as a person. Preferences, likes and dislikes weren’t discussed. We never had any conversation that went deeper than the state of the weather and we barely saw each other as well. Any chances that we had to build a relationship was thoroughly crushed by the oppressive frigidity of the nature of our relationship.

These types of boundaries left me feeling as though I wasn’t good enough to be around. As though there was something wrong with me. Though nothing was ever explicitly stated, there was an uncomfortable air of feeling deeply wrong for some reason. Again, a sense of desperation set in as I tried to figure out why I was being rejected, only this time the rules had changed. I felt empty and as though I wasn’t good enough because there was a lack of trust on my caregivers part.

I had no idea that the lack of trust didn’t stem from me. Only that the rigidity, the stiffness of the boundaries made me feel as though, if I wasn’t behaving properly, or didn’t show the lack of emotion my caregiver displayed, than I wasn’t good enough.

Either way, I was being rejected again for some reason, but I had no idea what it was or what I was, or wasn’t doing. But I did know that some attention was better than no attention, so a lack of boundaries was more “nourishing” than being completely frozen out.

So in my youth I chose to emulate my caregivers that resembled Jim Morrison, and live a destructive lifestyle. I would later make the switch to becoming rigid in my boundaries, basing my values on how much I could sacrifice while thinking in black and white terms. But no matter which path I chose, I still didn’t feel belonging. This was where I came to realize just how unhealthy my boundaries and my relationships truly were. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. But I’ve picked up some resources along the way that have helped me to make some sense of my relationships. Let’s take a look at a few.

Finding the Balance:

I have a few photos on my phone that rotate and serve as my wallpaper. They are: two photos of dogs I want, a photo of yoga with Adriene, a photo of the Minimalist Baker, Tom Hanks, a picture of the bedroom I would one day like to build in my future home, and a photo of Tupac Shakur. The reason I bring up these photos is because they’ve come to represent a sense of balance in my life. Things that I’m aspiring to, and where I’ve come from.

The photos of the dogs helps to remind me of the possibility for companionship, unconditionally. I’ve never seen a dog look at a person and say, “I can’t wag my tail at you, you’re too ugly.” They are just little fluffballs of loving energy. This helps to remind me that no matter how rigid boundaries have been in the past, there are always sources of healthy connection and affection. I just need to find them and choose them.

The photo of Adrienne reminds me that there are people out there doing good work. They don’t have to sacrifice themselves to be liked or accepted and in fact are loved and accepted for pursuing something they love doing. They are also a source of positive energy and motivation. Also helping me to look out for my best interests in regards to decisions about my health. Yoga has taught me how to care for my physical self without pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Taking care of myself on the mat is a way for me to respect my boundaries around what I feel I should be accomplishing, when I feel my boundaries are too rigid. I.e. pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of achieving. I know that the purpose of my practice isn’t to push myself until I pass out. I’m there to listen to my body, and respond to its needs with care. Push my limits, while also listening to what my body is telling me.

The same is true of my photo of Dana from Minimalist Baker. She has seen me through some tough times, while helping me learn how to cook for and care for my nutritional needs while not sacrificing the flavors I love. I owe them a great deal and am constantly grateful for what they’ve taught me. Dana was the start of me understanding what healthy boundaries looked like in regards to food and nutrition and I eat a healthier diet thanks greatly to her.

Tom Hanks is there mostly for the roles he played in the movies I grew up watching. There was a time where he was the only responsible role model I had. I watched as he showed care for the people he was acting with and in a stable and responsible way. He was never abusive, mild in temperament and shared freely his emotional world. These roles showed me that it wasn’t unreasonable to have a reasonable expectation of a person. That it was normal and healthy to have healthy boundaries.

And growing up in a void of healthy role modeling meant that there was nobody to talk to. The T.V. was my closest family member and all this made for a very lonely upbringing. I was never really sure of what I was feeling, and the lack of connection was, looking back on it, criminal. I’m surprised that I made it as far as I did, and relatively unscathed. Relatively.

Which brings me to Tupac. Tupac is on my phone to remind me of where I came from. As the man said, “everybody and their lady got a little bit of thug in ’em”, me included. Which is funny because I was and still am mostly hippie : ) Tupac reminds me that when I feel those rigid boundaries begin to creep in, the ones that tell me I have to be as good as humanly possible or fear for my life the repercussions of some unknown authority, to ease up.

Everybody has a little rebellious streak in them, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you let that side take the reigns as I did, situations can get out of control quickly. But stifle it too much and you’ll become paralyzed by fear.

So whether you’ve had poorly defined boundaries, or too rigid boundaries, there are ways to find a new way of being that leaves you feeling as though you are in charge of your life, while also being able to let go a little. But it takes work. Boundaries unfortunately don’t build themselves. But with some dedication, and a few good role models, it’s possible.

So if you’re looking to shore up your boundaries, start by choosing some healthy role models. Are there people you are drawn to that seem to have a healthy grasp on their life? Start here. What are they doing that you admire, are drawn to? Do you have behaviours you are unhappy with, or wish you could change? These areas may be worth exploring a little more as well. Maybe find someone who has been in your shoes before. What are they doing, how have they changed?

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. It isn’t an easy path, to nurture something that has been neglected for a long time, but it’s worth it in the end. Stay strong, and remember, you were built for this! Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Blurring Boundaries” by Karthick R is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Food and Family: How Cooking Together can Build Tighter Familial Bonds

It’s no secret, food brings people together. Culturally it creates bonds and even some good natured disagreements. I’ve been cooking for most of my professional career. But it wasn’t until recently that I really started cooking for myself. If you’ve read my post on self-care Sundays, you’ll know that food was an area that I neglected for a long time. What I hadn’t realized though, was that this was also true for my entire family.

This seems crazy to me now, knowing that most all my caregivers were involved in the food service industry to some degree. One was working in it and one had gone to cooking school!

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. If you have an insecurity around food it stands to reason that you would find a way to be immersed in it. After all, eating is one of the things we need to do to survive. If we experience abuse or neglect around this basic need, things can get really out of hand.

As I’ve said above, I know this to be true from my experience. Cooking for me as a career choice was a way to be surrounded by a source of nutrition so I didn’t have to worry about feeding myself. But this was no way to live.

I was just trying to survive at the time. I was barely able to take care of myself, and all I had down at that point in life were the very basics, just enough to get by. And I found that a lot of people are drawn to the food industry in some variation of this same reason.

When you work in the industry, the bonds you make can be pretty tight. There was definitely a sense of family when I showed up to work, or family as I had known it. With the hustle and pressure that came with the dinner time rush, to the beers we drank together while cleaning up, it definitely felt like gathering for a holiday or some special event like a graduation.

And while I have fond memories of working in the food industry, the ways I was living were not sustainable. And I imagine it was this way for my caregivers as well. I was certainly emulating their behaviors in the ways I was living. And it isn’t a great stretch of the imagination to think that they were experiencing what I was at some level. Another way to put it, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Even more to the point, when I did gather with my caretakers, there was such a sense of urgency paired with lots of drinking. The same atmosphere that was present in most kitchen jobs I worked in. We were creating the same type of perpetual party that was the culture in the restaurant scene. And if it wasn’t sustainable in the restaurant, it definitely was less so at home.

I remember many mornings where my caretakers would be cleaning up after the night of rancorous drinking. Where there were as many cans as there were loud opinions being tossed around, figuratively. This was a strange place to grow up in as a child, and one I wouldn’t wish for anyone to experience. I’m not trying to imply that my caregivers are bad people. They didn’t know any differently and more to the point it’s how they grew up. But it was a scary place to be as a vulnerable child to be sure.

More recently, I’ve been cooking for myself as a way to care for my nutritional needs. Something I was never taught. Now I am coming to enjoy the process of bring my meals together. I usually batch cook recipes for the week. I’ll pick two to three recipes to cook, pick a day to go grocery shopping and cook my meals for the next two weeks all in one night.

I usually light a basil scented candle and put some of the more ambient lighting on in my kitchen. I clean out my fridge and gather my ingredients, ready my recipes on my computer, put some soft music on in the background and go through my recipes one at a time. Making sure that I take as much time as I need so as not to feel rushed or pressured in anyway. If it’s in the winter, I choose recipes that utilize the oven to generate more heat in the kitchen, to create a more cozy, comfortable setting. I also like drinking a few cups of herbal tea while cooking in the colder months. And in the summer, more salads and dishes with raw veggies. As well as some lemonade or iced herbal teas as a refreshing change for the warmer season.

The ease that I’ve brought to this aspect of how I take care of myself has become a great resource for me. I feel safe, calm and at ease in the kitchen. Instead of insecure, a bit of fear and the uncertainty I used to feel. What I realize now, was I was carving a space out for myself to feel safe, in control. I was so used to having almost every aspect of my life being so out of control that I literally didn’t feel safe anywhere. Once I established a foothold for safety in the kitchen, I padded my kitchen and cooking time with loads of resources in order to bring that sense of calm, ease and comfort I was working so hard to cultivate there. So after I made my kitchen and meal prep routine a resource, I thought to myself, “how can I share this with others?”

I’ve been having dinner with my parents more often lately. It’s been good, but I’ve always kind of had the feeling that something was missing from the experience. We typically would gather around the T.V. after serving ourselves from the kitchen. We’d talk a little, but the T.V. had always been the focal point while we idoly chatted about random events. Nothing too personal or in-depth. Just glancing the surface of what was happening around us and speaking in broad generalizations.

We never shared cooking duties. One person usually picked the recipes and the other would cook while we waited for the meal to be ready. It was very mechanical and without much feeling. We were eating to survive and not enjoying the process of coming together to share a meal. Then one day while I was making dinner, or cleaning up, I had the idea to make dinner feel more like a family event as opposed to just shoveling food in our mouths while watching the television.

So it was a natural transition that I thought to take the way that I’ve turned my meal prep into a self-care routine, and bringing those same principles to our family dinners. I thought that this way, we can practice taking care of ourselves and one another together, while also bringing an element of peacefulness to something that, for me, used to be a hectic and sometimes scary place to be.

Also, we’ve never cooked a meal together before. This was also something that kind of blew my mind. So as well as practicing self-care, we’ll be growing tighter bonds with one another and the food we’re creating. I suggested that we take turns picking the recipes. Each week someone can choose, and we’d all come together in a thoughtful way to create something we’ll all enjoy. The idea landed and we planned to come together the next Friday night to cook a meal I chose.

The recipe was chana masala. A simple dish I enjoy that I had just found a new recipe for. I was definitely nervous about the night leading up to dinner. I was really taking a risk by opening myself up and sharing something that has become such a resource for me. I felt vulnerable, uncertain, scared and a little on edge.

The reason I felt so unsure was that most of my childhood memories around meal times were filled with lots of angry yelling and shattered dinner wear. I knew that things were different now. We had all mellowed our tempers since those early meals together, but there was still a place inside of me that felt as though it could happen again. That I wasn’t safe.

As the time came nearer to begin cooking, we all gathered in the kitchen and readied ourselves for the event. I made myself a cup of tea and went around gathering the ingredients we would need for the dish. My father gathered some utensils and started in on prepping the veggies and my mother began gathering and measuring out the spices and herbs we needed. We all took to our tasks quickly and rigidly with pensive attention.

The atmosphere was tense. As though we’d all been here before, but hadn’t been there for so long that we forgot what to do. It should have been instinctual, but instead we were left with awkward half spoken sentences. Reading and rereading the same directions over and over again. Missing steps, forgetting ingredients, I was using a mortar and pestle to grind chiles, garlic, cilantro and ginger into a paste that took what felt like forever and the closest I came was a wet chunky mess. The lighting was bright and harsh, and the music I tried to play kept turning itself off. It was the opposite of the resource my meal prep had come to mean for to me.

But when I finished washing our dishes and went to the stove to see how the chana was coming along and how the ingredients we had prepped separately had come together, it looked good. It smelled aromatic and was thick and stew like. It was better than I had imagined. And as the meal prep went on, our conversation felt more natural as well.

We found out about how each other’s day’s had gone. My mother just got new glasses and we were discussing the differences she noticed from her old ones as compared to her new ones. My father told me stories about his past, something I know very little about. As I was cleaning the cutting board I asked where my father got it. He couldn’t remember and my mother didn’t know either, but I enjoyed cleaning that board as I always do knowing that’s it’s just always been there.

As we finished cooking our meal, I put the naan I had picked up for the meal in the toaster and my father had gotten some bowls from the cupboard, I felt more at ease. I wasn’t totally comfortable, but it was the start of feeling safe again. As though maybe it was okay to start to trust those I choose to keep company with. This was something I had been notoriously bad at when I was younger.

The friends I had kept in my youth were mean, spiteful and said hurtful things often and without reserve. It truly felt like a sport we were playing. Who could demean the other to the point where someone would break. And of course we all pretended not to be hurt, but we couldn’t feel anything to begin with because we were already so numb. The damage had already been done, the games we were playing were just practice from lessons we learned long ago.

This is what makes building new bonds so scary. Knowing How I used to be in relationship with others, and that I chose to be in those relationships was nothing but self destructive. And what’s more, I’m trying to rebuild some of my relationships with people I originally learned those old lessons from?! It felt a lot like juggling knives. So knowing that I can trust myself enough to create healthy bonds, or at least know what unhealthy relationships and boundaries look like was something I wasn’t wholly sure I was able to do.

But then I realized that I had already done this in some ways. I remember getting together with an old friend somewhere close to both of us. This was a step towards seeing if we were able to stay in touch, keep connected. When we sat down and started talking about old times, some of those same spiteful remarks were popping up in our conversation. It was as though they were poking around the edges, to see how close they could get to my core. To see if they could still walk right in, past security and do whatever they felt without meeting resistance.

Luckily I had established some healthy boundaries for myself. I was not my same old self, the one who would leave themself wide open to be abused in the ways I had been used to, all to feel a sense of belonging. I recognized what was happening and since have kept to my boundaries. And I feel much better for it though it wasn’t easy. I still miss the bonds I made but now recognize just how unhealthy they were.

And with the new bonds I’m creating, there is definitely a sense of mutual respect. We care for one another in that we respect one another’s space and boundaries in ways I wasn’t ever shown before. And that was one of the aspects of making dinner with my father and mother that was so reassuring. That we were all nervous about how we were affecting one another showed me that they were thinking of my wellbeing. And that makes me feel a little more secure in building new bonds with them.

This all seems pretty basic, but if all you know growing up are people without boundaries and saying and doing the most hurtful things to one another, it’s nice to know that you can change the ways you used to be. That there is hope for the future and future relationships. That was something that was definitely missing from my early interactions in all my relationships.

Now that we’ve cooked together once, we plan on making it an on going, weekly event. We ended the night by sharing how we felt and our hopes for the future. It felt more natural than it ever had and I think we all left that night feeling a little more hopeful for our future together.

And it’s something that has made me stronger in my other relationships as well. I went into the next day feeling a little more self confident in communicating to and interacting with other people, knowing that I had people I could rely on. That I had carved out another little space of safety in a world that sometimes feels as uncertain as it did in my youth. A place to go back to when I needed some support and feeling loved.

And all it took was for someone to come up with the idea and bring it into fruition. I am now looking forward to helping them this summer in the vegetable garden, knowing that the meals we’ll be making will be even sweeter using the fresh produce we’ll be harvesting from the yard. I’m also looking forward to helping them with projects around the house.

Helping them build a back porch or patio, a place to gather and enjoy the garden and grilling weather in the summer. A place to eat meals and gather outside. Carving out another place where we can all feel a little safer coming together. With a little luck and some work, maybe we can make the house feel more like our home.

So if you have some family you’re trying to reach out to but aren’t sure how, maybe cooking a meal together would be a good place to start. And if cooking isn’t your thing, find something you are all interested in, start there. Wherever it is, be the one to make the first step. I’ve found that people are almost always going to say yes when you ask them if they want to have a good time.

Usually it just takes someone to make the first step, make the plan. Be that person. You’ll be happy you did. But if it’s something that is still tender, or emotionally raw, go slow. It doesn’t help to rush yourself to try and feel comfortable because you feel you “should” be. Have a plan where you can take care of yourself if the need arises.

I am lucky in that the people I chose to rebuild my relationships with were not only willing to try, but also capable of doing the important work of self-introspection. Being aware of how they feel and how they affecting those around them. This is no easy task for people whom are used to isolating as a form of self protection. And not everybody is able to take to it so willingly.

Don’t be afraid to end your plans if you feel as though your boundaries are being violated. Above I mentioned that I had got together with an old friend who had not changed from our shared unhealthy past. I had ended our meeting early that day, telling them I felt uncomfortable with the way things were going. And now I keep very limited contact with them for this reason.

I was honest with myself, and with them about how I felt my boundaries were being abused, and took care of myself by removing myself from the situation. Also limiting future contact with them, until I am certain I can trust them enough not to violate my boundaries. This is how I’m actively taking care of myself, and building trust in myself in the process.

And it’s not easy. But if you don’t define your boundaries, others are more than willing to define them for you. From work, to romantic relationships, family and friends, if you don’t have a clear idea of how you want to be treated in your relationships, you leave yourself open to having your trust abused as well as many other important aspects of your connections. And it isn’t always the other person’s fault either.

Friends and family aren’t mind readers. What may be a sign of intimacy to one person may be an insult to another. This is why speaking your feelings is so important. When establishing boundaries, especially if you’ve had unhealthy ones before, you need to establish what is and is not okay to do in clear terms. This can be awkward, but however awkward it may feel in the moment, it’s worth it to know that you’ve established your expectations clearly on how you will be treated.

It’s empowering knowing you’re taking care of yourself in this way. And also a good indicator of the other person being trustworthy of being emotional support to you. By actively, not passively setting boundaries, you are building the trust and bonds that will last. If this is something you’ve had difficulty with historically, then it’s a good way to slowly rebuild healthy relationships knowing you have your best interests at heart.

Establishing boundaries, especially with those whom you may have already fallen into unhealthy ways of relating to one another can be tricky. And like anything else, it isn’t easy! This is an area where you will need to bring, and if necessary, cultivate a lot of patients with yourself and others. And it’s important to go slow. There’s no point in rushing into something if you or the other person aren’t ready for the changes. So go slow and keep an open mind, and know that you are good deep down, and worthy of trust. Peace 🙂 be well and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Lindell family cooking” by One Tonne Life is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Self-Care: Listening to Ourselves When We are Asking for a Rest

When I wake up in the morning, I know I’m usually going to have a pretty long list of things to do during the day. From my hour and fifteen minute commute, to the demands I have to meet at work. The workouts I like to get in, at least twice during the week, to all the budgeting, cooking, cleaning and laundry I have to squeeze in during the week, it gets pretty stressful.

I meditate everyday, for about fifteen minutes, and it’s been invaluable for my mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s taught me patients, how to slow down what I’m doing and listen inwardly to what’s happening inside. I used to react immediately to my emotions, which lead to a lot of regrets and hurt feelings on either end of the relationship and was unconducive to feeling at ease. In fact, the more I sped up, the faster the reaction, the more likely I was to do or say something I would later regret.

So the faster I went, the more hurt I felt, which left me feeling tired and neglected. And I didn’t know any better, it was what was taught to me by my caregivers. And they in turn didn’t know any better either. So we had just been passing down this hurt from generation to generation not really know why we were, or how to stop.

This is where patients with myself made all the difference. Slowing down enough to feel the hurt I had been running from using whatever I could, but mostly keeping myself busy and tired, so I didn’t have to feel what was being neglected. But turning around and feeling so vulnerable in front of what felt like an insurmountable pile of fear and hurt was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to endure. But I did it, and most importantly, I didn’t do it alone.

I now have a long list of tools or resources I’m able to pull from, when I’m feeling tired or like I’m not enough, but that wasn’t always the case. I started with what felt like nothing. Running on empty. Mostly because I was using old resources to fill myself back up. If I could just work hard enough, throw everything I had at how well I did my job, then I could feel worth something. Then I would be accepted. But that hasn’t work for me, and I’m willing to bet a lot of people run into similar results. It mostly left me feeling physically and emotionally hurt and exhausted. And it didn’t stop with work. I was trying to prove myself in all sorts of ways with the same outcome. I was just wearing myself down.

So I was left with what felt like nothing, and on my own, because I was too afraid and wounded emotionally to reach out for help and I didn’t know how, even if I thought it was a good idea. What helped me to wade through the fear and hurt was something I heard later on in my journey, but made immediate sense as soon as I heard it. “Start where you are, with what you have.”

I felt like I had nothing and nobody. What I had was a phone, some headphones, hundreds of hours of podcasts and a handful of loving and supportive friends and family.

The podcasts (thanks again to Tara Brach who really put trauma into perspective for me) helped me to learn how to trust people when it felt like too much to reach out in person while also reinforcing positive messages, that I was strong enough, that I could count on myself and that others were trustworthy. This helped to lighten the load of the negative thoughts I had that had taken up residency in my mind. Knowing that I could tune out the negative while listening to some positive reinforcements, and also that it wasn’t just me feeling the weight of a life’s time worth of emotions, actions and thoughts, but I was doing it with thousands of others, for an hour at a time helped me to feel a little more sane in an otherwise chaotic world.

By the time I felt as though I was strong enough to reach out to others, like I had the resources, the few friends and family I had, that stuck with me were there to start to build the relationships I needed to become stronger than I was on my own. And this is where the load really started to lighten. Knowing I was enough as I was, without having to reach some unachievable standard helped to build strength. Instead of constantly tearing myself down for not feeling as though I was worth someone’s time or effort, mostly my own.

It’s been a crazy journey that’s for sure. And it’s not over, but the weight doesn’t feel as heavy. I now go into my day knowing that even if I’m physically tired or just not up to it, I can rely on the resources and people to help me through the day, or whatever I’m heading into. It doesn’t seem as difficult knowing I can count on them to be there for me when I need them.

But there’s another side to counting on people as resources that’s worth exploring. If the friends or family you do have close in, if they have poor or no boundaries, relying on people as support can feel uncomfortable, like you’re a burden to them, or like you’re using them. This is where it’s important to choose those you keep close carefully. If someone makes you feel as though you are constantly bothering them with your problems, or they ignore or disregard your own personal boundaries, it may be time to take a closer look at the relationship.

For me, I had to evaluate all of my relationships because I had no idea what boundaries were. Salvaging some and severing many, I lost a lot of friends that I thought would be there with me for the rest of my life. I remember vividly, getting together with an old friend at a local Whole Foods to talk and catch up. As we settled into the conversation, I realized she was consistently saying hurtful comments, and it seemed as though she wanted me to return with as much venom. This, I realized later, was the pattern of our old relationship, and she was establishing ground rules, to make sure things hadn’t changed.

Luckily for me they had changed. I forgot how mean spirited I could be, and it was a shock to see my old ways of being so clearly in action. I haven’t spoken much with her after that day, and it’s sad. Sad because there were good times, and people are people, they aren’t objects you can just toss aside. But for me, it’s best to honor the good memories I have while keeping my distance and respecting my boundaries by not allowing myself to be treated with disrespect. Because if you don’t define your boundaries, somebody else will do it for you.

This all seems pretty abstract, but coming up with your own resource list can help you to manage difficulties that come up. For me, I make a selfcare dinner for myself once a week, I have a few friends I reach out to when I’m feeling lonely, a few playlists of songs that remind me of the positive times in my life, running and yoga to help keep me feeling my best, and a few types of teas I enjoy during the day. Sleep is important too. Making sure you’re well rested and have healthy meals are all resources you use to keep yourself at your healthiest version of yourself.

And there’s one more thing that’s worth mentioning, it’s not a race. When I was learning how to care for myself again, I threw everything I had at it. I was going to be the healthiest version of myself and do it in record time! But most of what makes us healthy takes time and patients. Building supportive relationships doesn’t happen in a weekend. You need to tend to them over time and consistently to yield fruitful bonds. And rest often, there’s no sense in being the healthiest version of yourself if you’re too tired to enjoy it.

I hope this has been of some help. It can be difficult when you first start out, looking to make things better for yourself. Just know that if you are consistent and show patients toward yourself, you will be alright in the end. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Exhausted Salaryman” by hiromy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0