1. Hold your own boundaries: Heal yourself, heal your communities
What is self-care?
It can mean spiritual connection to whatever is bigger than us—the moon, the ocean, a forest, a community, a friendship, a partnership, a movement, a creative project.
It can mean loving oneself with the tenderness and care you would give to a newborn. And part of it is giving yourself boundaries. Children thrive with boundaries. Children need bedtimes and routine and expectations, and gentle discipline, just as vines need a trellis to grow onto. They need good food, physical activity, social connection, medicine when their body/mind is imbalanced, a schedule. We all need these things.
When we exercise this gentle discipline with ourselves, we are more able to be assertive when others cross our boundaries. With ourselves, as with others, we must honor the inner guide that allows us to be respectful and firm.
When should we be firm with ourselves? We can’t let our inner children run the show. And sometimes they want to! If we let them do that, we’d never survive in capitalism without a trust fund. The inner child can quickly become an addict to distraction without gentle discipline. How can we be firm with ourselves while also being loving and kind?
A friend of mine bought a book recently about how to talk to an actual child in this way, and uses it to guide herself and speak inwardly. I think this is brilliant.
The book suggests being gentle, compassionate, but firm. Not talking down, not infantilizing. Respecting the child, nurturing them, and also providing a needed sense of safety with limits. My friend, who is in ACA (for adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families), has found this a great tool for, as they say in 12 step “letting go of perfectionism while working on (her) character defects.”
How do we move this self-love outward so that when someone we share community with, or someone we are close to, violates us, we can inform them of the pain or discomfort they caused us with compassion and care? Humans are interdependent beings. We require healing in community for each part of the eco-system to feel whole. Punishment doesn’t help anyone.
I am reminded of restorative justice models here.
Of course if the violation is big enough, we are free to cut them out of our lives.
At least I think that’s true.
But when someone you are very close to betrays or hurts you, sometimes you work your whole life to grow your heart big enough to hold all that ambivalence of love and rage.
And the world is better for it.
I am stronger in my broken places. I give my heart to loved ones, friends, community, my students, colleagues. I let love flow through me in my writing and work in the world with emotional and intellectual labor for the work of radical social change. I am a child abuse survivor. I am a wounded healer.
2. Can’t always educate—When to just direct traffic or cut off toxic people
If a stranger, or someone you realize maybe should be a stranger, violates a boundary, it is okay to just ignore and vent about it later.
I’m going to do that right now.
I was headed into a gender-free bathroom, and an older cis white straight man walked out. He non-consensually touched my shoulder (as cis white straight men often think is ok to do to females and feminine folks) and said:
“You’re going to want to clean up in there.”
I mean…seriously? Not only are you telling me you just pissed or shat where you shouldn’t have, you didn’t bother to clean it up yourself, and you are telling me, I, the female presenting one, should do it. I should take care of this for you. And by the way let me put my creepy hand on you while I tell you to clean up my bodily refuse.
I did what any self-respecting person would do. I lifted that pissed-on seat, put a seat cover down on the toilet rim, and peed myself out.
Would it have made me feel better to say: “Please don’t touch me.”? Or “Why are you telling me this?!”
Yes, maybe. But I didn’t want to do the job of educating this fool. And sometimes it’s better not to engage.
My heart is a muscle, and it’s worked out a lot in this life. Not every jack ass gets to benefit from the power of its flexing.
More Radical Reads: 4 Keys to Talking About Sexual Desire and Boundaries With Your Partner
The process of deciding when a person who I was once close to no longer gets the benefit of my heart is a much more nuanced process. I will just say that this implies deep wounding, and the vampires don’t get the benefit from the blood, either. Some people can’t be helped, be they assholes in the bathroom or dates or lovers or even family.
To protect ourselves sometimes we have to stay away for the highest interest of all—to show up best for ourselves and the people who deserve our love and labor.
More Radical Reads: 8 Questions to Ask About BDSM and Respecting Boundaries
3. Sometimes we f*ck up and cross others’ boundaries. Go back to self-care.
Part of the resonance of the title: “The Foundation of Good Boundaries is Good Self Care” goes in the other direction too. We have to look at our stuff. I firmly believe that while humans are interdependent, social beings, if we are truly in alignment with our highest selves, with spirit, we are much less likely to betray other people’s trust and violate their boundaries.
I have noticed this lately with my partner. When I can’t emotionally self-regulate on my own, I sometimes look to her, and she sometimes can’t meet all my needs. And that’s not her job.
If I can get in alignment with my own inner peace and wisdom, I don’t need to take from her, even if it’s subtle. Yes, there is give and take in any relationship, but it needs to be balanced, and I must own up to my vampire tendencies.
Let’s remember that vampires were themselves once just wounded humans who went through a transformation that robbed them of the ability to feed themselves without harming others. But there is a cure. We don’t live in the world of Buffy or god forbid, Twilight.
We can feed ourselves with tools for grounding—a good meal, being in nature, noticing our surroundings, being in our bodies, getting creative, talking to a friend who has consented to listening. Sometimes healers are needed. All of these tools remind us of our humanity which we jeopardize when we don’t ask for consent in emotional support.
Boundaries are a two-way street. I have mine, my friends, family, community, and partner have theirs. I need self-care to honor both sides of the street.
[Feature Image: A black and white photo of a person’s laying in bed. Their face is hidden behind their light hair and white pillow. An eye and part of the mouth and nose are visible.]