Yesterday, I went into survival mode. Aka 'Flight or Fight'. I told my husband and 4 year old I needed some alone time and then I literally just walked into my closet and laid down on the floor. Well, Hello Animal Brain!
I knew I was running on empty long before I came to this point. So, why did I not stop and take care of myself as soon as I realized I was on empty? Hmm. Great question.
My engineering mind loves to understand processes and systems. So here goes my internal thought process...
Step 1: Reflect (Awareness)
First and foremost, I allowed myself to feel. I let the animal brain happen. I gave myself permission to lose it and be emotional. This is important. We must allow ourselves to feel.
The next morning is when I started reflecting. This is where I started asking myself some questions:
Why am I feeling like this? (I am empty. I have nothing more to give.)
What did I need before I got to this point? (alone time)
When did I need this? (a week ago!)
What happened today that triggered this? (I left my in-law's home later than I wanted to so I wasn't able to get my daughter to bed on time. I felt like chatting with my sister on the phone as soon as I got home but my daughter needed me so I wasn't able to. When I did get some alone time, I came to bed expecting my daughter to be asleep and then found my daughter and husband still wide awake waiting for me, at 10pm!!!)
What was my automatic response? (It's all my husband's fault - He should be able to read my mind and have known I need alone time. He should be able to put her to bed. Oh, and its also all my in-laws' fault. They make me feel like I have to stay with them longer, even when I tell them I have to leave.)
Step 2: Accountability (Discovery)
Whenever I am able to be accoutable for what is happening to me, the discoveries are endless.
What was my role in all of this? This is the million dollar question.
Whenever I fail to ask this question, I externalize all my emotional responsibility and the finger pointing begins. The anger only increases. And usually, I shut down and my family just deals with my wrath until I have suppressed it all somewhere deep down inside... until the next time it is all reawakened again.
But I know better now, so I asked myself this big question.
And my big discovery was: BOUNDARIES.
I did not clearly communicate that I must have alone time at least once a week to my husband
I did not clearly communicate to my in-laws that I must leave at a specific time so I can get home before my daughter's bed time
I have not done my part in giving my husband any ownership or accountability in creating a rotating bedtime routine for our toddler
So, why didn't I do all this?
I love self-study and so I wanted to go deeper... and this is when the big aha moment came to me.
Step 3: Process it all (Exploration & Understanding)
This is when the magic happens. I started processing everything (remember, this is the day after and post-animal-brain-mode).
During my morning meditation, I was inclined to look up boundary setting and self love. Without having to write down my entire journal entry or share a bunch of articles and research that I read up on, this is what I learned...
I learned that my ability to set boundaries is directly related to my love of self, self-worth and commitment to sanity. I am a strong, confident, loving person. This was hard for me to hear because this meant that I don't have a strong sense of self love. So here I go with the questions again:
Why do I struggle with setting boundaries and then following through with them? (Following through is the key word for me. Because I do set them but I don't always follow through.)
I feel guilty seeing my daughter cry for me when she knows her dad is going to put her to sleep.
I feel guilty when I am trying to get alone time and my daughter and hubby are asking me to spend some time with them.
I feel guilty when I tell my in-laws we need to leave at 6pm when they ask me to stay longer.
Guess what guys!
Guilt cannot exist where self-love lives.
This was a huge revelation. I realized how I have some important work to do for myself.
In order for me to set and follow through with my boundaries, I must love myself fiercely and completely.
Let me rewind a bit. I did take note of the fact that the other beautiful perspective here is that I am prioritizing and giving my time and energy to myfamily. However, please do remember the fact that I found myself in animal brain mode lying down in my closet just the night before. This is not about giving time to my loved ones. This is about knowing my limits and not being able to set them so I can stay mentally healthy and sane.
So if I am not loving myself here, what exactly am I doing?
I am seeking to please others and I am prioritizing their emotions and desires over mine.
This was a huge finding!
Love, love, love when these moments come to me. And check out the irony of what the next step is all about...
Step 4: Acceptance (Self-Love)
What is self-love?
According to Webster, self-love is "regard for one's own well-being and happiness".
"Well-being" and "happiness" - that is what boundaries do. Boundaries help us stand up for our well-being and happiness. Well, Wow! I definitely do not have my self-love on lock.
I knew I needed alone time. I knew I would be dealing with a meltdown if I pushed my daughter's bedtime. Yet I didn't leave when i wanted to. I didn't stand up for my alone time when I wanted to.
Soooo.... apparently, getting acceptance and validation from my daughter and in-laws are more important. Why?
I am unable to set boundaries and follow through with them because I am an empath that seeks to please others more than stand up for my well-being.
I am a people pleaser. I have known this about me since I was in high school, but I never had the insight, knowledge or tools to really unpack it like this until now.
Boundaries do not make me selfish. Self love is not selfish. In fact, this is the only means for me to be 'self-less'. When I love myself enough to be able to set limits, then I can give my time and energy from a place of love (not exhaustion and resentment).
So, now what? Now I begin my transformation into my self love journey.
Step 5: Actionable Solutions (Transformation)
This is where I create actions. What are my next steps? How do I work on this?
First - Make amends & clear the energy: The first thing I did when I woke up the next morning is texted my hubby:
I am not upset with anything you did. I am upset with me for what I am not doing. I love you.
Next - Set up a visual reminder: One of my favorite things to do is put up visual reminders. My thing is sticky notes. I put them all over my bathroom mirror - all the inner stuff that I am working on, re-wiring or unlearning.
So my new sticky note says:
Boundaries = Self-love + Sanity vs Empath seeking to please others
Now, the important stuff - Setting boundaries and putting them into action:
I had a conversation with my husband, in which I clearly communicated a plan to slowly transition our current bedtime routine into a rotating one.
I also made a personal promise with myself to:
Use our existing post-dinner "Quiet Time" for my alone time
Be confident enough to stand up for my decision to leave at a specific time when I am out with loved ones
Next time I experience guilt, ask myself 'How can I give more love to myself right now?'
So, how does this all tie into our kids and self-love?
Well, whenever I work on myself, I always ask:
How can I make sure my daughter is not 35 years old when she learns these type of things?
Would I have handled this situation better had I learned it differently as a child? Hek yes!
Why was it so natural for me to want to please other people instead of standing up for myself?
We all know that generations before us naturally focused on external things... their kids, their work, home, car, money, security, safety. This is survival mode. This is essential.
So, it's no surprise that for many of us, even self-love is externalized. Kids grew up in cultures where they seeked admiration and acceptance from others. That is how they learned to accept and love themselves.
This is how I learned how to feel good about myself. When someone did not accept or admire me, my love for self decreased.
This is why to this day my need for admiration and acceptance is stronger than my desire to stand up for my well-being.
However, there is an evident internal shift happening. We are currently living in an age of consciousness. We are shifting our focus from external to internal. Focus on our inner work and our inner selves has never been as relevant to humanity as it is today. Stories on people's self love journeys, self love meditations, self love tips, self love affirmations are everywhere... this is slowly becoming a trend of our current times.
Why? Because we, as a generation, are past the survival mode... that is why we are able to go beyond.
Generations before us have done so much of the heavy lifting for us to be able to get to this stage. Many of us are fortunate enough to say that we do not need to live in survival mode anymore. We have food, water, home, family, resources, a job. We have a sense of love and belonging.
That is why we are now seeking to move beyond the animal brain and survival mode and go into mindfulness and self-actualization. And I would argue it all begins with self love.
It is often said that the most powerful thing we can give our children is love. And now I know that self love may be one of the most important things I can teach my little girl.
This is how she gets to learn unconditional acceptance and forgiveness for all her wonderful failures and imperfections.
This is how she gets the courage to set healthy boundaries for her well-being.
This is how she gets to love herself exactly how she is and live a guilt-free and happy life.
This is what really gets me excited and pumped.
I get to do for my daughter at age 4, what I am barely learning at the age of 35.
How? I go through exactly the same process I just did with myself, only in kid-speak.
You can do this too!
Here is a printable activity for you, focused on Step 1: Awareness of Self-Love in Kid-speak. Click here to download now
Sending you lots of unconditional love & acceptance.
And of course, Happy Boundary Setting,