Wellness Wednesday: Redirecting Relationships to Live in a Good Way
By Rebekah Elkerton
This time of year can feel extra demanding on our time, energy, and psyche. With celebratory gatherings many of us have a full schedule in the weeks ahead and the pressures of gift giving during the holidays can add a layer of stress. While for some the holidays are a time for being home with family, for others the end of the year means a rush of work, catering to the bustling energy of the season. In either situation, we may be spending more time than usual with people we don't feel seen or respected by. With the giving spirit in the air, we may be inclined to offer more of our time, energy, or material possessions to the people around us. Often we associate saying “yes” with being kind, and contrastingly saying “no” with being cold or unfriendly. However this mentality fails to address that we have personal needs for rest, safety, and care that must be respected.
These days the word “boundaries” has so many connotations attached to it. The concept however is uncomplicated- simply put, to set a boundary is to let people know what is and isn’t okay for us. Communicating boundaries is necessary for self-respect and better relationships. Boundaries are about honouring our feelings and the feelings of others, no matter how differently we may see things. The process of uncovering where to set boundaries in our lives can feel vulnerable but when we state and maintain them we are rewarded with better relationships and greater personal peace.
While some of us may not feel well-versed in the process of creating and maintaining healthy boundaries, we all know what it feels like when we ignore our boundaries to satisfy other people or let people cross the boundaries we’ve set in place. When this happens we no longer feel good in a situation or around a certain person- consequently we may end up carrying heavy negativity in our bodies and minds. When we are weighted with feeling crossed, unseen, or disrespected, not only does it impact the relationship at hand but also our relationship with ourselves and others outside of the situation.
As Indigenous people our boundaries have been crossed many times over. Historical and on-going colonial impositions in our communities have attempted to invalidate our autonomy and ways of life. Our ancestors were forcibly removed from their homelands, their decision making rights taken and access to healthy practices were cut off or heavily limited. There have been consistent systemic policies and practices intent on crossing the boundaries of Indigenous people. Intergenerational communication carries the weight of residential school trauma and our collective healing is still in progress. These experiences have had major impacts on the ways Indigenous people understand and feel (dis)empowered to set healthy boundaries. We have a responsibility however to work together to build healthier relationships and safer communities, an impossible task without articulating boundaries.
Setting boundaries around our space, time and energy can feel daunting, scary or even down-right unrealistic as we think about those who have, or may, cross a line of what’s comfortable for us. When something happens that doesn’t sit right it’s useful to get intouch with the “Why” of it. From there we can sort out what would feel comfortable moving forward. With these reflections and solutions a boundary can be created and then stated. This unpacking is important for guiding us toward the path that leads to peace and health. When we avoid delving into our own limits and comfort we risk straying from the healthy path and it can be difficult to get back on track later on.
Image by Tamara Gak
Stating and maintaining boundaries is the most challenging part of setting boundaries for many people. It can be helpful to practice the words you'll use beforehand. While ideally the people in our lives will compassionately seek to understand our feelings and address issues so the relationship can continue on good terms, some may have a more harmful reaction. The person we’re speaking with may aim to invalidate our feelings by being accusatory or attempting to poke holes in the reason the boundary was established in the first place. When this happens, explaining ourselves further can be draining and if so, it is ok to walk away. When we remove ourselves from harmful situations we are protecting ourselves and our energies- we are honouring ourselves and our ancestors.
There’s power in separating ourselves from the harmful thoughts other people carry and owning only what is true for us. There will be situations and people who challenge our boundaries, possibly daily, but when we care for ourselves by respecting the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves and others we seize an opportunity for growth and embrace healing and balanced relationships. Creating boundaries can be the first step in redirecting a relationship to a healthier place, one where all parties feel seen, safe, and respected. Uncovering one’s own boundaries is key to understanding the relationship we hold with ourselves and nurturing our holistic health.
I encourage you to listen to the little voice that tells you when something doesn’t feel right and pay attention to how your body reacts to any given situation- ask yourself: “Does my body feel light, energized with joy, anxious, weighted or stressed?” Every person and every situation is unique so the conversations we have with ourselves in the process will look different every time but what remains is that your feelings are valid. In many ways, our happiness comes down to the things we say “yes” to and the things we say “no” to, owning this idea is important when advocating for yourself. However big or small, boundaries are the key to intentionally taking action to live in a good way.