In Pursuit of the Balanced Life
“When you say yes to another make sure you’re not saying no to yourself” -Paulo Coelho
So much is said these days about having balance in our lives. Eating a balanced diet, work-life balance, balancing mind, body and spirit etc.; and there is good reason for this. Balance is vital to living a joyful life that is filled with contentment. As such, I strive to make sure I have this important component in my life. Recently however, I found myself feeling anything but balanced. I was physically & emotionally drained, and I felt resentful which was overlaying a lot of deep hurt. That state of mind isn’t conducive to my health or my spiritual growth. Like a sore throat alerts me to the fact that something is wrong with me physically, the feelings I outlined above alert me to something being wrong with my emotional health or what I refer to as emotional sobriety.
I went to a few meetings, shared about what was going on and how I was feeling. I got some great insight from people. I also prayed and meditated on the issue. All that kept coming up for me was that there was a lack of balance in my life; which was in fact, true. I just knew there was something more to it. I Googled the definition of balance and a lot of variations were returned but two struck me. 1. “To keep or put something in a steady position so that it does not fall.” 2. “To offset or compare the value of one thing with another”. The second one started alarm bells to go off in my head.
That was it! I felt off because I had been assigning a higher value to the wrong things. Conversely, the important things that make everything in my life possible (recovery, spiritual practices, health, family and friends) somehow had reduced in value; discounted like day old bread. Where had my priorities gotten mixed up and why? This imbalance was a manifestation of a deeper issue. As I constructed a timeline around what led up to feeling drained, resentful and hurt it became clear that I had reached this state of inequity in my life because I allowed my boundaries to be compromised. Without healthy boundaries, there cannot be healthy balance.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others” -Brene Brown
People who grow up in dysfunctional homes with active addiction live in an environment filled with denial, contradiction, distorted thinking, fear and often violence. It’s hard to tell where one person leaves off and another begins. Boundaries are nonexistent. This can be very traumatizing and deeply influence how we learn to have intimate connection to other people. That was my experience. It took several years of delving into recovery work to learn about healthy boundaries and how to practice them. As I looked to see where I had allowed my boundaries to become compromised the three that surfaced came as no surprise. They were areas deeply rooted in having a profound need to feel connection while simultaneously having a fear of being abandoned.
1. Over-sharing. The individuals with whom we share intimate details about ourselves should be people who have earned the right to hear them. They should be individuals with whom we have meaningful and equitable relationships. There is two-way sharing; they open up to us as much as we do to them. Those individuals will honor the sacredness of the information we entrust to them and will not misuse it. It’s a good bet to steer clear of people who we cross paths with infrequently at work or we meet up with briefly at a volunteering event (or things of that nature).
2. Going against personal values to please others. Helping other people is wonderful. To know we made a positive impact in someone’s life is rewarding and healing for both parties. However, offering help at the expense our own health and happiness to gain approval and feel worth is people pleasing. It perpetuates the belief that we have to purchase love and acceptance.
3. Feeling guilty for saying no. This is another common trait of adult children. We often think that we will be criticized and viewed as incompetent if we say no. We spent much our lives trying to prove we were worthy of love and this was one of those ways we bartered for our needs to be met.
“Our best teacher is our last mistake” -Ralph Nader
As a member of the human race who resides on planet earth, even after years of being in recovery every now and again I take a few steps back. Everyone does and anyone who tells you differently isn’t being honest with you; most likely because they are not able to be honest with themselves. Sometimes taking a few steps back helps us get perspective and gain deeper understanding. When we move ahead again we do so even stronger. When I started feeling hurt and resentful it motivated me to revisit my beliefs about healthy boundaries, and how I defined them.
I used to believe that boundaries were just about keeping bad things out but that’s just one element. Boundaries also protect the things I love. The reason I can let my dogs run freely and play in my back yard is because I have a fence that protects the perimeter of my property. It not only keeps things out that I don’t want, it keeps in and shields the things I love. The new definition of boundaries I came up with for myself is as follows: Boundaries make it possible for me to protect and honor the sacred parts of my life and who I am. They make clear what I will and will not tolerate. Boundaries not only keep the things I don’t want out, they protect what is sacred to me and keep those things safe. I found a lot of power and liberation in rewriting this definition.
Do you feel like your life is balanced? Do you have boundaries? Do you honor and respect yourself by practicing them? Below I captured some things that I found helpful as I worked through my issue. If you have some that you think would be helpful please add them to the comments I would love to hear them.
1. Pay attention to both physical and emotional feelings. If you notice you are feeling off physically and/or emotionally be curious and listen to what your body and Spirit are trying to tell you.
2. Know what your priorities are. Identify what is important and sacred to you. Make a plan to protect those things.
3. Know what your limits are. Before agreeing to something, be clear on what you will and will not tolerate and be as specific. If someone makes a request and you’re not sure if you can accommodate say you need time to think about it. If you can’t do it, respectfully say no without justification.
4. Be Assertive. State what you need without room for misunderstanding. Any ambiguity will create mixed messages and this leaves things open for boundaries to be crossed.
5. Have self-compassion. Changing behaviors can feel awkward. Be gentle and honor yourself as a child of God. When you show yourself compassion and love you’re acting from a place of truth and you teach others what behaviors you will and will not tolerate.
6. Practice Understanding. Having understanding when we feel hurt is hard. Extending empathy doesn’t mean we condone poor behavior. It simply affords us an opportunity to see that another person’s behavior is not personal and it promotes our healing and theirs. Most people are trying their best given the tools they have at their disposal. Asking God to enter the situation always tempers our vision with love.
Boundaries bring us to a balanced life and a balanced life brings us to a feeling of peace. Our Creator wants that and so much more for us. To think we deserve anything less would be to desecrate the beautiful handiwork of God. YOU!
Peace and Love