Setting boundaries is seen as a fundamental element of heathy relationships. There are countless articles freely available that instruct us on setting boundaries with co-workers, bosses, neighbours, intimate partners, children, and others.
In my work with Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, survivors of child sexual abuse, and with parents, it’s something that comes up time and time again. Victims and survivors can find it difficult to set healthy boundaries, and to maintain them, once they have been set.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about how setting boundaries with others is definitely necessary – but it’s also necessary to set boundaries with ourselves. It’s an element of self-care that is worth highlighting. Self-care is something that a lot of my clients tussle with. It seems indulgent, wasteful, and something we’re not worthy of; especially those of us who have been brought up to believe that we are worthless.
Once people can be convinced that they are worth caring for, and once they can be helped to identify ways, and means, and techniques, that are examples of self-care for them, it’s hard to then place limits on those self-care practices. I feel like I’m saying to people ‘You deserve self-care, but not that much self-care.’
Being aware that addiction stems from trauma, and that traumatised people often battle addiction (even, sometimes, ‘acceptable’ addictions, like work, and exercise) led to my awareness that it’s necessary to establish, and maintain, boundaries with ourselves.
A self-boundary is recognising that a slice of cake might be good self-care, but an entire cake might not be. It is recognising that a walk in nature might be good self-care, but pushing yourself to walk 10kms a day might not be. It is recognising that healthy food might be good self-care, but four servings of healthy food in one sitting might not be. It is recognising that an early night might be good self-care, but that staying in bed for twelve hours a day might not be.
How do we know, then, when self-care becomes self-abuse? I think we can identify that by paying attention to our emotions, and how we feel about our self-care practices. Is your self-care practice something you look forward to, or something you are desperate to indulge? Is your self-care practice something that feels like you’re being kind to yourself, or something that you’re punishing yourself with? Do you feel better after your self-care, or guilty/ashamed? If it’s the latter, then you might want to look at establishing better boundaries with yourself. It’s a line we need to establish, and maintain, with ourselves exactly the same way we would with others.
Because, after all, the person you want to have the healthiest relationship with, is yourself.