Do you say, “Yes” when you really mean, “No?”
Do you agree to make a dish, attend a party, or host overnight guests when your schedule is already maxed out?
Do you disregard your needs just to please others?
And does the resentment you feel about doing this send you running to the tin of holiday cookies your neighbor brought over?
If you can relate, you’re not alone. Many people do not learn healthy boundaries growing up, especially if they experienced early trauma. With the added demands of the holiday season approaching, it’s crucial to your health that you know when to draw the line.
Me —> Boundary <— You
Boundaries are the emotional and physical borders we place between ourselves and other people. They reflect how we see and treat ourselves in relation to others.
Strong boundaries are essential for your health and self-care. They support you to make good decisions for yourself. Weak boundaries support others at your expense.
For example, Karen has strong boundaries and is very clear when she doesn’t want to do something. (“Thank you for the dinner invitation but no, I can’t. I’m looking forward to a quiet evening at home tonight.”) While she’s sensitive to other people’s feelings, she is not ruled by them.
Suzanne has weak boundaries and often says, “Yes” because she fears displeasing people. (“Sure, I’ll meet you tonight,” she tells her friend. She then beats herself up, “Why did I say that?! I have tons of work to do!”) Her fear of disappointing people makes their needs more important than her own. The resulting resentment and anger she feels send her straight to the fridge. Can you relate?
If you struggle with setting boundaries around your time and energy, somewhere along the way you probably learned your feelings and needs didn’t matter. Trust me, though, your feelings are the only things that matter. Because when you honor what you need, you give yourself love and compassion which strengthen your self-worth.
Setting boundaries takes courage. It’s not easy to think you’re hurting someone’s feelings or letting them down. You may think you’re being selfish or mean. But setting boundaries doesn’t mean you’re being selfish at someone’s expense. It means you’re being self-focused for your own good.
Listen to Your Body
Your body tells the truth. When someone asks something from you and your body feels tense, drained, or heavy, pay attention. These are signs telling you that you need to pause and not commit right away. If you comply, most likely you’ll end up feeling resentful and angry. Or worse, like a victim.
Here’s one of my hard and fast rules for myself: Never do anything out of guilt, fear or insecurity. If you do, you potentially set yourself up for emotional eating to cope with feeling powerless. Saying, “I’m not sure but I’ll get back to you” gives you time to pause before responding in your automatic way.
Be flexible. If you agree to something you later realize is too much for you, give yourself permission to change your mind. Saying, “I’m so sorry. I realize I just don’t have time to make those pies for dinner but I’ll pick something up at the bakery. I hope you understand.” is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.
Freedom From Guilt
If your habit has been to put the needs of others before your own, you’ll probably feel guilty when you start to set healthy boundaries. That’s okay. Here’s what I tell my clients:
Guilt is just an old feeling inside you. It gets triggered when you put yourself first. But feeling guilty doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Let the guilt be there. Say, “Hello guilt. Here you are again. Thank you for reminding me to take care of myself.” And do what’s best for you anyway.”
When you do something you don’t want to do just to stop feeling guilty, you keep guilt inside you. When you allow guilt yourself to feel that guilt and still do what’s best for you, guilt no longer holds you hostage. It begins to release its grip and eventually goes away. And so does the urge to emotionally eat.
When you stop betraying yourself by giving in to others’ expectations, you give to you. You feel a sense of lightness in your mind, body and spirit. It’s all connected. You’ll no longer reach for food to fulfill you… because you know how to fill yourself.
Now, wouldn’t that make for a happier holiday season?