Over the last month or more we have been talking about self care and how to implement it, and how you can’t fill from an empty cup.
My clients have been asking how do I actually do this? How do I make the changes I need to make around the house to take care of myself? How do I care for myself with love and compassion and still care for my loved ones too?
The answer really is boundaries. Not narcissistic boundaries that don’t account for the needs of other too, but boundaries that are steeped in compassion for both self and others. In this way, boundaries and compassion coexist and work together. Let’s take a look at what this means.
What is a boundary?
When I ask my client what a boundary is they usually say something like “it’s a line,” or “it’s something you shouldn’t cross”. While this is true I like to remind them of one very important truth:
A boundary is made up.
This is significant for one very big reason: if you’re the only one who made it up, and no one else knows about it or believes in it, then you’ll find that boundary being crossed over and over and over again. Clients say to me all the time that they try to set boundaries but that no one listens to them. They set some rules and get walked over by the kids, the spouse, the friends.
Does this sound familiar? If so, then the answer is probably that you must not be believing in the boundary very much. I tell my clients that the key to success is that you have to believe in that boundary more than they don’t.
Think of a line between states or borders between countries. In reality, they are just imaginary lines we drew on the earth and then agreed upon their validity. Everyone agrees that the line is there and sooner or later, they all behave as if the line is real.
Sometimes, if there’s resistance, we might war over those borders, lines and boundaries until everyone settles down to it and a truce is met. We might use fences or guards to reinforce them, in case those who don’t quite agree try to sneak across. However it is done, if we truly believe in the line between two countries and everyone else does too, then we’ll do whatever it takes to keep that line real.
While this can have unreasonable implications in a world sense (that we won’t go into here: no politics please) this is a great analogy for understanding how we can implement boundaries in our own lives. Here are some clear steps you can follow the next time you want to create a boundary.
+ Step one: set the boundary in the place that you want it
+ Step two: let everyone know where the line in the sand has been drawn
+ Step three: be absolutely clear about the consequences of crossing said boundary
+ Step four: patiently engage in any negotiation, arguments, or war that arises: and reach a truce
+ Step five: be ready with fences or armed guards to catch trespassers.Some examples of boundaries
What kind of boundaries might need to be set? Here are some ideas:
+ how you expect to be treated or spoken to
+ behaviours you do or don’t expect from others
+ chores that need to be done around the house
+ activities you need to engage in for your self careWhile not knowing how to set boundaries takes away our own freedom and joy, the boundaries we create should never take away from another’s freedom or joy either. The key component that guides us here is compassion.
Compassionate boundaries account for everyone involved. Keep in mind when considering all of this that narcissists generally have great boundaries. This isn’t an exercise in narcissism, rather when drawing lines you are taking into account the needs and desires of others: you are always offering the same thing you seek: kindness and respect.
A few questions to ask:
+ Am I honouring and respecting myself with this boundary?
+ Am I honouring and respecting others with this boundary?
+ Am I making this boundary free of resentment, anger or vengeance?
If you can answer yes to these three questions then you’re probably on the right track. A narcissist will always be able to answer yes to the first but not the second. A martyr will usually be able the answer yes to the second but not the first. The third question is there to help you avoid setting a knee jerk boundary out of spite or revenge. This may mean waiting until your anger has subsided so you can set a more reasonable line.
Understanding your audience
Once the boundaries are set we need to bring compassion to how we enforce them. This means understanding our audience. For example, the way I reinforce the rules with a young child will be completely different to my grown husband. The child will require much more firmness and discipline, which would be condescending and hurtful to an adult, who needs gentle and clear communication only.
The exception here is if you are in a violent, abusive or otherwise unsafe relationship with an adult. In this case the boundary will most likely be to walk away: as any other boundary you try to set is likely to end in violence and abuse.
For a work colleague or employee there is extra tact required: you may remind them of the goals of the team and positively encourage them to meet the expectation of the boundary in a way that they failed to do so. Or you may gently remind them of the area of their job description that is not being met.
When it comes to boundaries the two most important things to remember are this:
+ If you can’t create boundaries for yourself you will always be running from an empty cup, and
+ The boundaries you set should still allow for the other’s personal growth.
As a Psychotherapist and Coach, I see many of my clients trying to give out caring and love when they don’t have enough of it to give. They are depleted, resentful, frustrated and tired. And they are mad at themselves for not having more to offer their loved ones. “Am I a bad mother?”, they ask, whispering. “Am I a terrible wife?”
If this sounds familiar (at least sometimes) then this article is for you. It is about a very simple truth that often goes unacknowledged.
“You have to have it to give it”.
In this post we’re going to explore what this means and how we can get “it” back with healthy self care habits. If you don’t have a solid concept of what self care is, or you’ve never been able to implement it for yourself, then stop reading here and scroll down to last weeks post on self care.
Ok, you’re back? Great… let’s move on.
However we perceive the mystery of life, what we know for sure is that we are in this human body, and that this body has needs. If we don’t meet these needs we become depleted. It really is this simple, we cannot give out what we don’t have to give. And the experts agree: as best selling author and psychiatrist Dan Siegel says, “If we don’t care for ourselves we become limited in our capacity to care for others”.
I think about this mostly in the sense of being a Mum. If I haven’t recharged myself I tend to drag myself toward my children in a way that includes my exhaustion, irritability, short-temperedness and reactivity.
When I’m refreshed, clean, well fed and nourished I can show up as my best self: patient, kind, open, responsive.
Yet, none if us live in a vacuum. The reality is that we have people to care for and sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. On one hand, we are wired to be in relationship and community, and we thrive on the company of others: Family is what brings many of us our greatest joy.
Yet, if we’re not careful we can be left feeling drained by what our loved ones need, and by what other people crave.
As a mother of four children I know too well that if we are feeling depleted then filling someone else’s cup is short lived. Once we run out of everything we’ve got (which I have done repeatedly) we have nothing left to give. At that point, taking care of others becomes an exercise in martyrdom and comes with very little joy.
While this joyless sacrifice may be necessary at times, we want to keep it to a minimum. Mostly, we want to be a carer, mother, friend, employee, or partner out of a balanced and healthy place that feels energising, not draining.
There is really only one way to do this, and that is to keep your cup full.
First, let’s look at some signs that let you know you’re running on empty:
+ feeling irritable, impatient, anxious or depressed
+ being forgetful and scattered
+ finding yourself nit-picking your loved ones
+ complaining more than usual
+ feeling tired, even after waking up
+ not being able to sleep, or oversleeping
+ having physical problems (excessive colds, headaches etc)
+ over or under eating
So, what can we do about this? How can we fill our cup when we feel like we have so much to do? Many of us have the mistaken belief that it is selfish to put yourself before your loved ones. This is often heightened if you are a parent and don’t want to put yourself before the kids.
Yet this isn’t a me vs you situation. We all know the rules of an airplane crash right? You put your own oxygen mask on before the children. Why? Because if you’re not getting the oxygen you need to breathe, you’re not going to be able to help them either. In this light we can see easily that this was never me vs you. Instead it’s always me, then you. It’s me, for you.
These days I keep my cup full. I do this because I’ve changed my thinking to believe that taking care of myself must be done. If I don’t put on my oxygen mask then how can I hope to get the right kind of air to my loved ones?
Likewise, filling your cup must become a priority. There are many ways to do this and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Some nights it may just mean choosing the movie YOU want to watch. Or when you’ve really had enough you can tell everyone you have a headache and spend the day in bed.
There are plenty more ideas in last weeks post on self care, so if you haven’t already done so, give it a read.
The real question at hand is, what kind of parent, wife, husband, or friend do you want to be for your loved ones? Cranky? Resentful? Grumpy?
Or open, loving patient and kind?
The decision is yours. Choose wisely.
Often it is when we most need to take care of ourselves that we “don’t have the time” to do it. Yet self care is so important, especially when times get busy or tough. In this post, we’re going to first talk about what Self Care is, and then explore ways you can implement it.
Self Care is really a form of self love. It is letting yourself know that YOU are important enough to take care of. This may go against what you learned about yourself as a child, or how you are used to behaving as an adult. But logically we all know that if we don’t take good care of something, it wears out faster, falls apart or fails.
Let me ask you, do you want to fall apart?
I didn’t think so.
So, what is self care?
Self Care is the antidote to falling apart. It is the daily, weekly and yearly maintenance you do to take care of your body, heart and mind. This can be small things, big things or anything in between. This maintenance can take a little bit of time or a lot of time, but as with anything, consistency is key.
Your care plan will look different depending on what you have going on. In other words: self care is going to be quite particular to you and your unique life. Let’s explore some potential ways to care for you.
+ drink enough water
+ eat in a particular way that feels healthy to you+ getting x number of hours of sleep
+ take time for meditation, prayer or breathing exercises
+ create a morning or evening ritual
+ incorporate some kind of fitness routine
+ do a group activity (ie yoga)
+ spend time with friends
+ spend time alone
+ spend time in nature
+ read an inspiring book
+ get pampered (ie massage, hair cut, facial)
+ create a bath ritual
+ take time away from children or family responsibilities
+ take a digital detox (reduce screen time)
+ enjoy a cup of tea somewhere quiet
+ eat a meal mindfully
+ go on a retreat
+ go to a movie by yourself
+ clean out your closets
+ hire someone to clean your house
+ schedule a daily nap
When reading this it is important to remember that you aren’t trying to do all of these things. Self care is about knowing when you are feeling run down or depleted, and then knowing what will fill you back up.
Let’s use Jodie as a real life example of reasonable self-care. Jodie is a Mum of 2. Her children are both under 5 years old and her husband works full time. That doesn’t leave a lot of time left over, yet Jodie knows how important it is to keep herself nourished.
Jodie’s self care
+ 6-7 hours of sleep at some point in her 24 hour day. Sometimes this means she leaves the tidying up for later and naps with her youngest.
+ Instead of meditating, Jodie does two sessions of intentional breathing each day. She aims for three minutes but doesn’t always get there.
+ drinks 2 litres of water per day and limits to 2 cups of coffee
+ Jodie uses a sitter for 3 hours a day, 2 days per week so she can take some time for herself to sleep, run, or take a bubble bath on her own
+ she has one outing per week with a close girlfriend while her husband watches the kids, and
+ one date night every other week with hubby while her close girlfriend watches the kids.
None of these are easy to implement. Her youngest is still up frequently at night, so 6-7 hours seemed more realistic than 8. The sitter required lengthy negotiation with her husband to budget out the right amount. And the breathing exercises were better than nothing, even though Jodie would much prefer to meditate. The date night with hubby is a swap with their close friends: one week Jodie takes their kids and then they switch.
How about you?
Take a look at your own life and see, what could you implement right now to ensure your body, heart and mind are taken care of? How can you prevent wear and tear, damage or burn out?
It might take a little creativity, and good communication with your partner, children, work colleagues or friends. Just remember self care is whatever gives, not takes away.