Updated: Dec 16, 2021
These thoughts were inspired by a walk in Meadowvale Conservation Area. This walk includes marshes, cute birds flitting around and a much needed reminder that winter can be beautiful and fun.
"Boundaries are the root of self-care— saying no to something in order to say yes to your own emotional, physical and mental well-being." Nedra Tawwab
On a recent walk a friend asked me how I planned to take care of myself over the holidays. It was such a kind question and a fun one to explore. I love a good plan and it had never occurred to me to have some strategies in place for this demanding time of year. The first thing that came to mind was setting boundaries. This is likely because ever since I read Nedra Tawwab’s book Set Boundaries, Find Peace (info and quizzes here) every problem in my life has seemed to boil down to advocating for what I need to feel comfortable and safe, not just in my relationships with others but also in my relationship with myself.
After reading Tawwab's book, I immediately started experimenting with asserting boundaries with others (I decided to explore setting expectations for myself… some other time). After only a couple of conversations, I really began to understand why the title of Tawwab’s book includes ‘find peace’. Even though I would be nervous before setting a boundary and then often feel guilty afterwards, when I was in the discussion I found myself resting in a new and unfamiliar sense of calm self-possession. The anger and disappointment of others would just slide off of me. Arguments that usually overwhelm me became easy to navigate because I had no doubt that what I was saying was true for me, whether or not the other person agreed with it. Furthermore, when others ended up honouring my boundaries, the relationship became easier and any guilt I felt about asserting myself tended to disappear. Another interesting side-effect was how much more peaceful I began feel about the boundaries of others; I was suddenly happy for people when they were assertive, rather than insulted or inconvenienced.
Only recently have I started paying more attention to creating and honouring boundaries for myself. This involves upholding my own expectations around things like money, exercise, creative expression — any area of life that I’m tempted to neglect when the going gets tough. This is a less peaceful process because when the person that challenges your boundary is you, internal debates can be downright confusing. For example, it can sound like wanting to stay within a budget for the holidays and also wanting to abandon your money tracker app and just enjoy the damn holidays because last year was straight up SAD.
I can create a sense of safety and comfort by consistently following through on my promises to myself.
In the midst of these conflicting desires, it’s hard to believe that honouring a personal boundary will make life better. I find that focusing on safety helps though. If I don’t take care of my money and then become financially insecure, I will not feel safe. I can create long-term comfort and safety for myself by honouring my financial boundaries. Likewise with exercise, while I may be cold and tired, I know that going for a walk will ease my joint pain, calm my mind and, perhaps most importantly of all, help me to gain trust in myself. I can create a sense of safety and comfort by consistently following through on my promises to myself.
Finally, I really like Tawwab’s advice to immediately address any boundary violations. With others this can look like a verbal reminder, but with yourself it can mean getting back to business as quickly as possible. Boundary breaches are going to happen, but instead of telling myself that I’m not the type of person that can uphold certain expectations and giving up, I can ignore the negative self-talk and just get back to doing the things that I know are healthy for me. So how are you going to take care of yourself over the holidays? Whatever you choose, I’m wishing you all the peace, comfort and safety that a good boundary can bring.