29/10/20 BLOG 21: BOUNDARIES NOT BATH BOMBS
This week’s blog comes from Paula, who is thinking about what boundaries mean to our self-care. Paula is the team leader of the Rosey Project at Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis. The Rosey Project provide support to young survivors of sexual violence aged 13-25 and deliver the national sexual violence prevention programme in schools and youth groups. You can find more information about the Rosey Project on their website and their instagram page.
The idea of self-care is often sold to us as if we could buy it in Boots: sparkly bath bombs wrapped in multi-coloured paper, always slightly disappointing when we actually drop them in the bath, and they fizzle out. At our lowest ebb it can even become just another thing to add to the to do list: clean the bathroom, go to Lidl, emails, phone Mum, self-care. It becomes just another skill we need to perform so that other people will tell us we are doing OK, so that we can reflect the version of ourselves that someone on the Internet told us we are supposed to be.
Forcing a performance of self-care for other people’s approval moulds us into a skin that someone else has created for us: it is a rejection of our own needs and desires, the opposite of truly caring for and nurturing ourselves. We can’t care for ourselves if we do not know who “me” is: we can be so busy working on the “me” we believe we are supposed to be that we are disconnected from the “me” we actually are now.
Working out what our boundaries are means working out what we need. There is no right and wrong here: you cannot un-need anything just wishing it were so, and naming what might help you is the first step to having those needs met. We may have been told through words or actions in our families or relationships that our needs are “too much”, or that we are unworthy of love or space. We have learned to push our needs away, to be less “needy” by shrinking down to what others say they can provide: by stopping resisting our needs we can focus our best energies on working out how to have those needs met.
Check in with your body and begin asking yourself basic questions to begin working out what your body needs:
For many of us, relationships have become a place for us to receive validation and approval, to the point that we will do anything to please the other person at the expense of our own needs. For one person this might mean providing emotional support to a friend when it feels like you have no reserves left to give, to another it might mean not feeling able to say no to sex with a partner because you are afraid that if you say no they will leave you. When we do this, we abandon ourselves to try and prevent being abandoned or rejected by another: instead of caring for ourselves, we join others in their disrespect of us. On top of this, most of us will know the feelings of resentment that develop as a result of saying “yes” to helping someone with something when your body wanted to say “no”.
Setting boundaries is a skill most of us never learned growing up: it wasn’t role modelled by those around us, and we weren’t encouraged to express our needs or to say no. For those of us who have been through trauma, there may have been times when setting the boundaries that were right for us would have resulted in us experiencing further harm. Setting boundaries can feel really scary: it can bring up a fear of rejection or abandonment that can take us back to really difficult times in our lives, or it can trigger a trauma response due to the brain’s fear that the other person will harm us in some way.
It is OK start with the boundaries that feel easiest before working your way up to things that feel more overwhelming. For example, if your friend asks you to go for breakfast and you think you will be too tired you could ask to do lunch instead, rather than saying no altogether. It might feel scary to set a boundary face to face, but more manageable to do it over text message. It can be hard to find the words, so some phrases that might help when you need to say no to something are:
Once you have set a boundary, sometimes you need to remind people of it by saying something like:
Your boundaries will be different from person to person and this is healthy and normal. Maybe when you are tired you feel OK being with your partner but don’t want to be with anyone else. Or maybe you are happy to talk about your romantic relationships with your friends, but don’t want your parents to ask questions about it. Boundaries can also change over time: in a romantic relationship as trust builds you may feel comfortable to share parts of yourself with your partner that you kept hidden at the beginning; or after an argument you may feel less comfortable talking about how you feel. You can learn how to communicate these shifting boundaries with compassion both for yourself and the other person for example by saying something like “I don’t feel safe when I feel like someone is shouting at me. I need some time before I will be able to talk to you about this.”
One of the hardest things about setting boundaries is accepting that sometimes people will be disappointed, sometimes they might even be upset with us. After a lifetime of abandoning ourselves so other people will approve us, this can feel completely unbearable and can trigger fears that our basic needs won’t be met or that we will be harmed. So know this: you can survive the feeling that another person is upset or annoyed with you. Sometimes if setting a boundary has hurt someone’s feelings, it can help to give them a bit of time to process their feeling and then you can chat about it. However, if someone disrespects your boundaries or is angry with you for having them this may be a sign that they aren’t a healthy person to have in your life.
The process of setting boundaries is revelatory: it teaches us things about ourselves and others that are completely new. It is part of the process of learning who we are and actually treating that person with care and concern: taking self-care beyond bath bombs and towards a meaningful journey of loving relationship with yourself.
 If you are in a relationship that is abusive then it may be genuinely dangerous to set a boundary. If you think you might be in an abusive relationship you can call the Scottish Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline 24 hours a day on 0800 027 1234.
Thanks so much to Paula. It can be useful for all of us to allow ourselves the time to not only think about how to set our own boundaries, but also think about what boundaries look and feel like.
We’ve got some more guest blogs coming up over the next couple of weeks and would also love to hear from you all about any topics you would like to see covered as part of this space. You can contact us via our contact form or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking forward to chatting!