The best holiday present you can give others (and yourself)

Source: Jill Wellington/Pixabay

It certainly is the most wonderful time of the year in New York. To watch the city transform itself into a winter wonderland with decked up Christmas trees, bustling holiday shopping and tourists gathering around department stores window displays.

As you celebrate and enjoy the holiday season, including the gift buying, list making, food shopping, having friends and family over and general merry-making, take the time to consider giving yourself and those you love something meaningful, abundant and generous. The gift of you. And no, I’m not talking about your time, love, affection, energy and loyalty. But more so, giving yourself authentically to others. 
I’m talking about boundaries here. Most of us don’t know what they are or don’t pay attention to them, and some of us choose to ignore them even when we do (or think we do).

If you’ve ever dropped a friend to the airport and not had enough cash to get back home, or agreed to meet someone for coffee or dinner, despite not enjoying their company, or not disagreed with your boss for fear of not being liked, or always agreed to cover for your colleagues, or agree to be someone’s booty call or said yes because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings– then you have a problem with boundaries towards others.

Lack of boundaries with others can range from having a hard time saying no to other’s requests and not having time for yourself, to being a mild pushover, to chronically acquiescing to the needs or demand of others at the cost of your self-respect, dignity, and self-esteem.

A problem with boundaries towards oneself can include obsessive shopping, binge eating or drinking or alternatively eating too little on purpose, working out too much, chronic dating and impulsive sex, and other addictive behaviors. At its very extreme, it can include suppression of one’s gender or sexual identity, self-harm behaviors or suicidal thoughts.

Many of my clients (who experience problems with boundaries) tell me that when they overextend themselves and fill up their calendars with obligations, they end up feeling quite overwhelmed. Despite feeling upset with themselves for getting into this predicament and resentful towards others, they succumb to the inner critic that shows up promptly to remind them that they are not being “caring, loving, loyal or a good friend” if they say no. 

When we feel taken advantage of, slighted, disrespected or miffed by someone in some way, it ultimately hurts our relationship with them as we can consciously or unwittingly retaliate with condescension, hostility, or anger towards them. What may be reasonable requests and concerns may be declined or overlooked. Our desire to protect ourselves may become stronger than the need to be vulnerable. Or we may simply ping-pong between the two. We might put ourselves in the very situation we detest and then become angry and bewildered at having done so.

It is important to recognize that we can only give ourselves to others abundantly when our own cup is full. Hence boundaries become tied to self-love and self-fulfillment which are the gateway towards love, compassion, and generosity towards others. Consider this, if you feel loved, respected and worthy–chances are you will treat others with respect, compassion, and humility. Your feelings may be overlooked as a result of your choices, not having had a good template (in a parent or caregiver) for taking care of your emotional needs, or because you are channeling your anger towards yourself. When your own needs are often overlooked, you are depleted and are less able to offer others emotional kindness. 

Some steps towards being more boundaried include:

  1. Give yourself a chance to take stock of your feelings and thoughts. Before saying yes or doing something, consider buying yourself some time. Take a moment to think it over. 
  2. Ask yourself why you are saying yes (to yourself or others). Does this feed any hidden insecurities you may have about not being liked, or wanting to be accepted, or wanting to numb yourself or distance yourself from others.
  3. Be true to yourself, don’t succumb to guilt, excitement or anger. Brené Brown, author and researcher of vulnerability, shame, courage and worthiness at the University of Houston advises “choosing discomfort over resentment”. Find something that reminds you why it’s important to be on your team and stand up for yourself.
  4. Address any long-standing issues you may have with worthlessness, shame, and guilt. You may be carrying a heavy burden and it may be time to let that go. Being courageous and facing one’s demons allow us to move forward unhindered.

So this holiday season, and through the year, remind yourself why boundaries and self-care are important. Don’t just focus on self-soothing through restaurant & spa gift certificates and vacations. Instead, place emphasis on being able to value yourself fully and completely, allow your feelings to communicate with you and say no (to others or yourself) when you need to.


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