Setting Boundaries and Saying “No” As a Self-Care Practice

This past weekend, I took a lovely yoga training with Angie Knight and Jenn Wooten called The Art of Holding Space. In essence, it was about how to hold space for others (being available for them through active listening and an open heart) without letting their energy or emotions overwhelm you.

If you’re a care-giver, teacher, parent, or highly sensitive person, you KNOW what it’s like to take care of others at the expense of your own well-being. So can we learn to set boundaries on how much we can give? Can we say “no” when we need to? Can we give without letting it deplete our own energy stores?

This weekend intensive was draining and overwhelming to say the least, and I’m still processing all the information. But I wanted to share with you all some of the strongest points that have stuck with me.

Set boundaries or say “no” when something isn’t right for you.

I realized, as a born and bred people-pleaser, that this was the first time someone had told me that it’s okay to take care of myself first. You mean I can walk away in the middle of someone speaking? You mean I can excuse myself without explaining why? You mean I can set a time limit on how much time I have to give someone?

It gives me anxiety to think about doing ANY of those things. I might come off rude. But we learned that it doesn’t matter.

If you’re not mentally, emotionally, or spiritually capable of holding space for someone, it actually doesn’t do THEM any good for you to agree to listen to them or respond to them out of obligation.

It isn’t coming from a pure and loving place, so it doesn’t serve either of you.

How do you know if an interaction isn’t right for you? Your nervous system will tell you. You’ll feel your heart racing, or your stomach dropping, or your throat tightening. Listen to your body.

Here a few ways to set boundaries:

-Set a time limit. I remember one time I had a student stay after class talking to me about a subject I didn’t really feel comfortable with for THIRTY minutes. I had places to be. I had things to do. But I felt so uncomfortable stopping the conversation for fear of upsetting this person that I didn’t say anything.

What I’ve learned now is that when someone begins a conversation after class, I can say, “Awesome. I’ve got 5 minutes to give you my full attention, and then I have to head out.” This way, you’re both aware of what kind of energy exchange can take place.

-Excuse yourself. Man, this is one I really need to learn how to do. Lately, I’ve been getting into political and religious conversations with people close to me, and I truly don’t have the capacity to sit there and listen to so many things that anger me. So when I start to feel overwhelmed, it’s OKAY for me to say, “Sorry to interrupt, but I need to take a moment,” and excuse myself.

That’s going to be hard. I’ll need to work on it. But it’s important to understand that I’m worthy of setting that boundary.

-Don’t give your full attention. If you’re uncomfortable with someone giving you their whole life story or dragging you into the latest drama in their life, you DON’T have to actively listen. You don’t have to engage. There is a time and place for active listening and holding space. But it needs to be when you agree to that, not when it’s depleting you. Zone out if you need to.

If you do get caught holding space for someone when you haven’t agreed to it, here are a few things you can do.

-Draw on source energy. You can think of this as God, the Universe, Source, Life Force, Nature, whatever. There’s something bigger than you. There’s some energy force that is greater than you. Draw on that. Provide the energy of the universe, not your personal energy. You only have so much of your personal energy, and you don’t have to give that away to others. Instead, give them the energy of the universe.

-Ground down into your body. This one is going to be huge for me. Learning how to come back to my own body in space and time is really important. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, feel your feet into the earth. Tap your body with your hands to feel that connection. Remind yourself where you are. Draw your energy back in to yourself if you feel it going out towards the other person.

-Wash your hands. This is symbolic more than anything. After a difficult interaction, I have a tendency to obsess about it over and over. I can’t let go of it. So taking a moment to wash my hands to symbolically wash myself of that interaction and that energy can help me to release and let go, move on.

Yes, any or all of this might cause conflict with the other person, especially if they’re not used to you setting boundaries or saying no. But ultimately, that’s their problem. It’s not your responsibility to tend to others (unless you’re getting paid for it). It’s not your responsibility to fix or heal others. You can be there for them with love, always. You can actively make the choice to hold space for them, and that’s great. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed and depleted, PLEASE take care of yourself first. You’ll have so much more to give.

If any of you are in the Austin-area, I definitely recommend looking into this training. They hold a weekend intensive about once a year, as well as a 9-month long mentorship throughout the year.

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