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Building and Maintaining Boundaries: an unexpected form of self-care

If you’ve been reading Crystal’s blog articles on self-care, you probably caught onto the fact that self-care is so much more than spa days and nights out on the town. I like to view self-care less as an event I have to remember to pencil in, and more as a lifestyle shift. I ask myself the question: what do I need to do to make sure that I am practicing compassion for myself? A difficult and life-altering realization that I came to while learning how to offer compassion to myself and take care of my mental health is this: I need to build and maintain appropriate boundaries with the people in my life. So what does this mean exactly? I love the simple definition that Brene Brown offers for boundaries: “what is okay? And what is not okay?”. Meaning that I have to decide and make clear to those around me what is an okay way to engage with me, and what is not. She goes on to describe how common it is for people to build up hate and resentment by not setting clear boundaries in their life. Here is what I am going to add: when we become resentful and hateful towards the people around us (which are oftentimes the people we love the most) we are not taking care of ourselves or nurturing the most important relationships in our lives! Self-care and compassion for self includes sustaining authentic, loving relationships with important people in our life. When we are not able to set clear boundaries with the people we love, we are doing both ourselves and our loved ones a disservice in hopes of avoiding conflict and appearing polite. One of the most jarring ways that I have seen this effect my clients, myself, and others in my life, is when it comes to relationships with family members. This makes sense because when we love someone as much as we love our family members, we will often do anything to avoid hurting their feelings or starting conflict. We want to come off as sweet and accommodating, not harsh and rigid. But again, the very actions we do to avoid conflict are actually fueling the fire for greater conflict and unhealthy relationship patterns; and in turn take a toll on our ability to take care of ourselves.

Here’s an example: when I moved into the college dorms, I moved in with someone I had never met. We spent a lot of time together and built a friendship. She started using my computer with my permission because at the time she did not have one. This was not a problem (okay) until she began procrastinating writing her papers until the night they were due and keeping me up all night typing right by my bed (not okay)! I was so frustrated but for the first few weeks I didn’t say anything to her (make explicit what was okay and not okay) because I didn’t want to be rude. I worried that I could damage a new friendship and I thought that because we were forced to live with each other all year, I should just grin and bear it. Instead of talking directly with her, I would complain to our suitemate instead. Talking with my suitemate would only fuel the fire of my frustration and I built resentment that in the end really affected my relationship with my roommate and new friend (without her even having knowledge of what was really going on). When I was finally able to confront her and make clear what my boundaries were, she was able to shift her behavior and we were both better able to nurture our growing friendship.

As Brene Brown said, “I’d rather be loving and generous and very straightforward with what is okay and what is not okay”. She went on to say “now I think I am not as sweet as I used to be, but I am far more loving”. I’ll take loving over sweet any day, especially when it means I can also be loving to myself!