Updated: Apr 1, 2020
I went off on a little tangent the other day on Instagram because a post I read triggered something in me - something I hadn't really recognized before.
Setting boundaries is healthy. For years, I was horrible at it. I felt this wretched, aching sense of grief and shame course through my entire body any time I had to say "no" to someone. To the point where, a lot of times, I would say yes just to make the feeling go away. Where did this gut-wrenching feeling come from, you ask? I think it was the culmination of a lot of things.
When I was sitting in my trauma-informed training this past weekend, we started talking about something called "epigenetics". Ever heard of it? Basically, it's the study of how the physical structure of our DNA can be changed. In our training, we focused on how trauma can change the chemical structure of a person's DNA - and how that change can be passed down to future generations.
Although studies vary and scientists still argue about this theory, I believe it to be utterly and indisputably true.
For me, it manifests as an uncontrollable desire to put everyone else first, above my own personal well-being. I don't care what the science says, this is something that is engrained so deeply in me, I didn't even know (until about a year ago) it isn't a belief I personally hold. And, wow, was it so hard to shake. Even a year later, I struggle daily with the belief that my happiness is somehow secondary to everyone else's. And, really, who could blame any of us for this? When society places constant pressure on women to "do it all" and "be it all", how can we possibly keep it up?
That's why it's IMPERATIVE that we take a stand and start setting healthy boundaries for ourselves...and help other people who may feel the same societal pressures do the same.
Start small. This could be as easy as asking someone to hold your water bottle while you fish for your car keys in your purse (true story: this was incredibly difficult for me to do). Once you do this with success, you can keep increasing requests like this until you no longer feel like you have to do it all yourself.
Ask for help. Find a friend, partner, family member, etc. who will help keep you accountable WITHOUT JUDGMENT! That last part is really important. The last thing you want to feel is shame for falling off the bus.
Practice saying "no". Like in the mirror after you get out of the shower. Or in the car. If someone asks you for a favor and you're on the fence, ask them to let you think about it. If you really want to say no but are afraid to hurt someone's feelings, practice what you'll say to them. There is a kind, tactful way to say no. And, let's be honest, if someone gets upset with you, they probably have unrealistic expectations to begin with.
Listen to your body. If you're tired, rest. If you're thirsty, drink some water. If your brain is foggy, take a damn walk! Hustling is no fun if it leads to mental, physical and emotional exhaustion and dis-ease. It's ok to get up from your desk for 5 minutes to take a walk up and down the hallway (or outside, or up and down the stairs), I promise.
Ultimately, you've got to do what feels right. Start listening to yourself more and trusting your intuition, our bodies are so intelligent and tell us exactly what they need from us. Remember, you can't fill someone else's cup if yours is empty.