By Funmi Olagunju
Setting healthy boundaries is a huge undertaking, in every way imaginable. We set too many boundaries, and we appear rigid and closed-off; too few, and we can expect a tsunami of emotional and mental discomfort. We all need boundaries to protect our energy, thoughts, relationships, health, and even our money. But what happens when we start creating boundaries with ourselves that become barriers to our self-care? Because self-care is a life-long process, we should put self-kindness first and foremost, releasing certain boundaries that no longer serve us before they create barriers that hold us back from living our best lives.
Finding a balance for social connections
Friendships are collaborations—not contracts—yet many of us romanticize our meaningful relationships to a fault. We are disappointed when our friends reveal themselves to be flawed and human—a universal truth. Instead of letting things play out organically, we prevent deeper connections from blossoming by not carving out space for people to find their natural footing in the relationship.
I’ll never forget the anxiety of trying to orchestrate my eighteenth birthday party. It felt like a nightmare when people (some of whom, admittedly, I didn’t know that well) started dropping out of attendance like poorly placed dominos. Now, as an adult, after having more successful shindigs, I’ve graduated to the happy realization that we have a choice in who or what we spend our time and energy on. Certain people bring out the light in us, and it is okay to be more selective with our invites, whether it be for a party or an invite into our personal worlds.
However, on the inverse, we often set extreme boundaries on our social lives, turning down all invitations in favor of me-time. But building relationships is an important aspect of self-care. And we need to make sure that we aren’t walling ourselves off with boundaries and shutting everyone else out. Communicating what we want out of our relationships is just as fundamental to forming the personal bonds we cherish.
The occasional splurge
Treating ourselves, even during the little pockets of me-time, may ignite feelings of guilt. For example, we may overspend on the luxuries of life because there is no better delight than buying what makes us feel or look good. Once, after splurging on a birthday present for myself, I felt proud of the pair of funky sneakers I’d decided to treat myself to. But soon, I realized that I had no use for them in my wardrobe. They were just sitting there, catching dust in my closet. I criticized myself for buying them in the first place and for not returning them while I could. I felt like I had made a financial faux pas, and that I was obligated to try to get some use out of them.
But ultimately, it’s possible to create financial boundaries that leave us with an unrealistic relationship with money. We strictly budget for more practical pursuits and recoil into a web of guilt when we spend on our impractical wants. Breaking that vicious cycle is an important part of self-care. We all know that money can’t buy happiness, yet leading a life heavily policing our financial freedom isn’t sustainable either. We have to monitor our finances and budget, but it’s important to treat ourselves occasionally—guilt-free.
Hitting the healthy reset button
The pressure to establish a healthy ritual, whether it’s taking our vitamin gummies, regularly applying skincare, exercising, or smoothie-making, can, ironically, leave us feeling burnt out. Setting time aside for a reset is always a good idea. It may sound anti-self-care, but it’s important to take time to indulge: eat what you want, read that book you’ve put off, and sleep in.
Additionally, writing our goals and boundaries down is always a good practice. This allows us to better question our real motives, rather than festering on the inner dialogue that harshly critiques our insecurities. We can then determine the difference between looking and feeling healthy and recognize when our internal gears aren’t working properly. The essence of setting boundaries is to revive our sense of freedom in our own skin.
I believe the discomfort of setting healthy boundaries lies in the guilt of ruffling people’s feathers, including our own charming sets. Yet, once we realize that our feelings are valid, like everyone else’s, we can see boundaries more as a collaborative choice with ourselves to develop the life we want to lead, and not as expectations we put on ourselves from others. And most importantly, looking inward enough to register when we’ve wrapped ourselves in too many boundaries can rescue us from spiraling into the abyss of stress and worry. Self-check-ins are key to dismantling intense routines, poor habits, and unrealistic expectations we’ve set for ourselves and others. At the end of the day, self-care is about taking care of ourselves. No one else can define what that is for us. In the meantime, let’s accept that we are all works in progress and that boundaries are flexible—they aren’t perfect or set in stone.
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