You cannot force yourself to let go, no matter how much you know you want to.
You cannot force something out of your brain space, no matter how much you don’t want it to be there.
You cannot just simply loosen your grip and relax a little and will yourself to stop thinking entirely about something around which your entire world used to orbit.
This is not how it goes.
You are not going to let go the moment someone tells you to “move on,” the day you realize you have to admit certain defeat, the heart-dropping second it occurs to you that hope is, indeed, futile.
You do not let go by simply willing yourself not to care anymore. This is something that people who have never been really, really hung up on something think. This is something that people who have never been deeply attached to something for a sense of safety and security and love and their future believe.
There is nothing wrong with you because you almost get angry when people tell you to just “let go” so nonchalantly, as though they couldn’t fathom the storms in your head and heart.
How can you become so passive about something you have spent so much of your time, and your life, actively working to maintain and restore?
You start to let go the day you take one step toward building a new life, and then let yourself lay and stare at the ceiling and cry for as many hours as you need.
You start to let go the day you realize that you cannot continue to revolve around a missing gap in your life, and going on as you were before will simply not be an option.
You start to let go the moment you realize that this is the impetus, this is the catalyst, this is that moment the movies are made about and the books are written around and songs are inspired by.
This is the moment you realize that you will never find peace standing in the ruins of what you used to be.
You can only move on if you start building something new.
You let go when you build a new life so immersive and engaging and exciting, you slowly, over time, forget about the past.
When we try to force ourselves to “let go” of something, we grip onto it tighter, and harder, and more passionately than ever before. It’s like if someone tells you to not think of a white elephant; that’s the only thing you’ll be able to focus on.
Our hearts work the same way as our minds in this regard. As long as we are telling ourselves that we must let go, the more deeply we feel attached.
So don’t tell yourself to let go.
Instead, tell yourself that you can cry for as long as you need. That you can fall to pieces and be a mess and let your life collapse and crumble. Tell yourself that you can let your foundation fall through.
What you will realize is that you are still standing.
What you build in the wake and the aftermath of loss will be so profound, so stunning, you will realize that maybe, the loss was part of the plan. Maybe it awakened a part of you that would have remained dormant had you not been pushed the way you were.
If you are certain that you cannot let go of what is hurting you, then don’t.
But take one step today, and then another tomorrow, to rebuild a new life for yourself. Piece by piece, day by day.
Because sooner or later, you’re going to go an hour and realize you didn’t think about them, or it. Then a day, then a week… and then years and swaths of your life drift by and everything you thought would break you becomes a distant memory, something you look back at and smile.
Everything you lose becomes something you are profoundly grateful for. With time, you see that it was not the path. It was what was standing in your way.
It starts out a day like any other. Everything is on track until a bombshell turns your world upside down. Everything is good and beautiful until the news poisons the mirage. Everything is going well—until all of a sudden, it’s not.
I remember thinking throughout my journey that I could never ever stand tall as weak was all I could be. Standing tall felt honestly like an insurmountable task. I wanted the floor to absorb me most days. All I could think was ”I wished I knew how to be soft yet strong, too”.
I did not know it then, did not know it until many months or even a couple of years later; in my weakest moment, I was the most strong. Out of my most fragile state, the broken pieces stitched themselves back together from fibers of heartache and steel.
You see, when you feel like your world is ending; when you feel like you are shattered beyond repair and that you will never be okay again; this is where the magic happens.
It is only in your most honest moments, it is only when you feel utterly exposed, it is only when you are stripped bare of everyone and everything that has comprised the construct of who you are, that you can truly transform. Observe, learn, grow. You are the only one who can unbreak yourself. It is out of the ashes that your strongest self emerges bright with resolve.
Weak? You were never weak. To be raw is real. To be open is to be courageous. To be vulnerable is to be brave. You turned out to be stronger than you ever could have imagined. Your heart is a garden, and within it blooms strength.
You’re allowed to dig deep into your soul and find the things that lift you up and give you purpose and feed them. You’re allowed to nourish them and cultivate them in your own life each and every day. You don’t have to wait for someone to give you permission to begin. You don’t have to coast by, you don’t have to fly under the radar, you don’t have to live in a way that doesn’t let people see your shine – you are allowed to flourish.
You are allowed to thrive.
You’re allowed to thrive in a marriage or a partnership that makes you want to lasso the moon. You’re allowed to wait for the kind of love that sticks. You’re allowed to wait for that person who feels like home, and your best friend, and your biggest cheerleader all rolled into one human being. I hope you hear me when I say that you do not have to merely settle into your marriage or your forever partnership.
You don’t have to settle for struggle – you’re allowed to thrive.
You’re allowed to thrive in a career that makes you feel excited to get up for work every day. It’s ok to want something that fills your heart and your bank account with meaning. It’s ok to wish that the two would co-exist. (They can.) Just as you wouldn’t settle for the great love of your life, I hope you wouldn’t settle for a career that leaves you empty, either. Let yourself shine in the skills that you have, and stop beating yourself up if you flounder within that discovery. It happens to the best of us. The trick is not believing the lie that you will flounder forever – you don’t have to. You’re allowed to thrive.
I’m not telling you that there won’t be moments of struggle. Of course, there will be. There will be moments of struggle, and moments of floundering. There will be moments when you think that you’ll never break through the surface or see the sun again. The key is remembering that you don’t have to stay hidden beneath the dirt for forever. You were built to grow, to bloom, to blossom and to flourish.
Disappointments, pain and suffering are probably the hardest ways to learn any lesson but if I’m being honest, they’re the best ways to learn what’s important.
That gut-wrenching feeling in the depth of your heart, those uncontrollable tears, that moment of utter despair when you feel like you have failed yourself or you were taken advantage of or the temporary brain freeze after a shocking reality of a situation or a person, these are the moments you actually need to never let yourself stoop to that level again. This feeling will haunt you every time you face a similar situation, like an alarm bell that goes off every time you’re in danger and it will remind you of how you felt, what you went through, how long it took to get over it and in that moment, you’ll realize what’s important. You’ll put yourself first. You’ll promise yourself never to feel that way again.
You’ll get disappointed in a lot of people but that’s how you’ll learn not to make excuses for the ones you care about if they’re not treating you with respect. You’ll learn not to give someone the benefit of the doubt if they’re constantly giving you reasons to doubt them. You’ll learn that you don’t have much left in your tank for people who are in your life for the wrong reasons. You’ll finally learn how to say goodbye and drive off alone.
Your life will not always teach you the important lessons in a tender way and maybe that’s not how you’re supposed to learn such life-changing lessons. That’s why the things that shake us up the most are things that live with us. The incidents that change us and the circumstances that force us to face our fears, our demons or our weaknesses do not come in a subtle and comforting way, they come in like a storm wiping away everything you once knew and believed in. They come in and reverse everything so you can see things from a whole new perspective.
And maybe it’s a little unfair that every time we have to learn something so valuable, we have to go through a hurricane of emotions or our lives have to fall apart but if it will save us from a lifetime of the same disappointments or mistakes, then maybe it’s worth it.
If pain is an inevitable part of life, then the least we could do is try to minimize it. We may not be able to get it right every time or sniff the pain from miles away and run but maybe we can armor ourselves with tools like strength, resilience, wisdom, logic and faith so we can protect ourselves from the severity of that pain or the agony of these tragedies.
Maybe we don’t pick our pain or our suffering but we can pick how to cope with them, we go back to those hard lessons and we remember what’s important, we remember what’s worth suffering for and pick ourselves up again faster every time because we’re well equipped. We’re well prepared.
Nearly 1 in 3 people are wired to feel everything deeply. So what does that mean for trauma — and for healing it?
Most, if not all, of us will experience trauma at some point in our lives, simply because we are human. Trauma is not just the threat to life as was previously thought. Instead, it can be any instance that disrupts safety and forces us to reorient and adjust to a new reality.
Some forms of trauma are small “t” — including major life transitions and chronic stress. But when we think about the negative and long-term impacts of trauma, what we are most often thinking of is large “T” — trauma including things like assault, rape, natural disaster, war, mass shootings, loss of a loved one, or personally witnessing another’s endangerment.
In essence, trauma reshapes how we see the world; at times, it can completely change the course of our lives.
How Trauma Affects Highly Sensitive People
About 30 percent of the population tests as more sensitive than average, according to Michael Pluess, a behavioral scientist at Queen Mary University of London. Known as highly sensitive people (HSPs), they are wired at a biological level to think, feel, and experience the world more deeply. This is a survival advantage that allows sensitive people to process more information about their environment and notice things that others miss. In animals, high sensitivity can be what saves a creature from the jaws of a predator. In humans, it’s more likely to show up as creativity, innovation, empathy, and depth of emotion.
But this ability to feel more deeply can have downsides, too — and profoundly changes how HSPs experience trauma.
HSP survivors of trauma tend to feel like the black sheep or the outsider in their family, because they were more negatively impacted than their non-HSP siblings. Based on the “dandelion vs. orchid” theory by W. Thomas Boyce, M.D., there are two different kinds of children: the “dandelion” child — hardy, resilient, healthy — who are able to survive and flourish under most circumstances, and the “orchid” child — sensitive, susceptible, fragile — who, in the right environment, can thrive as much, if not more, than other children. This speaks to why HSPs who experience trauma can be “hit harder” than their non-HSP counterparts. The following are specific ways HSPs are more impacted by trauma.
The Connection Between Hyperarousal and HSPs
Hyperarousal is a common issue that occurs for most survivors of trauma — and, for highly sensitive people, because they feel things more deeply, the experience is intensified. At times, it can even become detrimental. Symptoms of hyperarousal include:
Risky or destructive behavior
Hypervigilance (an elevated state of assessing potential threats in the environment)
Heightened startle reaction
Considering that HSPs tend to be more hyperaroused as it is, trauma can exacerbate the likelihood of becoming overwhelmed and overstimulated. It can be difficult to determine whether someone who has experienced past trauma is a highly sensitive person if they also have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is triggered by a scary event.
The reason for this is because many of the symptoms of PTSD are also found in the HSP scale, an assessment used to identify how sensitive someone is. For example, some features that occur in both are:
Being easily startled
Avoiding large crowds
Needing to withdraw to have relief from stimulation
Discomfort with loud noises
Avoiding violent movies and TV shows
For sensitive people, the world can already be overstimulating. So when trauma occurs, it compounds the impact of the highly sensitive person’s previously heightened nervous system.
The Connection Between Compartmentalizing and HSPs
After enduring trauma, HSPs are more likely to dissociate, trauma-split, or hyper-compartmentalize. What this means is that, in order to survive, they will effectively shut off certain emotions or facets of their personality in order to feel less so they can function more.
A well-known example of this would be dissociative identity disorder (DID), otherwise known as multiple personality disorder. Each identity controls a different part of the person’s behavior. Working with a therapist is important so that the person can reduce the frequency with which they switch personalities and identities.
Other common forms of compartmentalizing that are common for HSPs include ignoring difficult or raw emotions by controlling the environment around them while engaging in a “flight” response (vs. “fight”), as Pete Walker explored in his book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.
Those in flightmode may appear high-functioning, as they are always on the go. But, eventually, they will crash. Hyper-compartmentalizing emotions often results in basic needs being ignored, which can not only lead to mental health issues, but also medical/health issues being overlooked.
For HSPs who have endured trauma, compartmentalizing can feel like the only way to survive, but there are many healthier — and more compassionate — options.
Knowing how trauma impacts a highly sensitive person is a good place to start. The next step is to gain knowledge about how to cope with the impact trauma can wreak on the HSP nervous system. You do this by learning ways to thrive and become more resilient.
3 Ways Highly Sensitive People Can Cope with Trauma
1. Remember that education is power — know what you experienced so you can heal and regain your power.
For trauma survivors, it is important they understand what they are experiencing (or have experienced), so they can regain power they lost as a result of the trauma. By this, I mean knowing what is happening and why. For example, it helps to understand what triggers you have and how the body reacts to them as a result of trauma — this can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Since conscientious thinking is common for highly sensitive people, learning about your trauma can fulfill the need you have to seek out answers to life’s great mysteries. Education is so crucial for recovery that, in mental health therapy, the first step of trauma work involves psychoeducation. This provides a language to describe what you’re going through.
If therapy is not an option, there is a lot that can be learned from trauma-focused support groups, blogs, podcasts, and literature. One of the most widely read books regarding trauma, The Body Keeps the Scoreby Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, is a good place to start.
2. Limit negative news on TV, online, and on social media.
After an HSP has endured trauma, it can be helpful to limit the news (especially negative) being watched or read, particularly during times of incredible unrest in the world and in relation to things that are out of our control.
It can help to set boundaries with friends and family, too, to let them know you are avoiding (or limiting) your intake of the news, as many people tend to spread the distress they experience from negative news by talking about it with others.
For some, completely cutting the news out is either not an option or it feels uncomfortable. This is due to the strong pull HSPs have toward social justice and wanting to care for the world. In these cases, it can help to set parameters and limit consumption to times of optimal arousal — and not during times of heightened levels of stress.
3. Spend time with others while being patient with your progress.
When recovering from trauma, it is important not to rush the process. Rather, practice mindfulness and acceptance for where you find yourself in the journey of healing. When you do feel ready, however, one of the most powerful ways to process trauma is in the presence of others.
Trauma can disrupt the sense of safety a highly sensitive person has around others. Some ways to work through this may be attending a support group for trauma survivors or joining group activities that help regulate your vagus nerve, which is responsible for telling your body whether or not you are safe. Some ideas include singing in a chorus or a self-defense class.
While these ideas can have a positive impact on recovery from trauma, they are not always easy to do. If possible, try practicing authenticity about how you are feeling and share your struggle with at least one person you can trust.
If the thought of sharing your trauma story with even one person feels like too much at this time, other good options are online support groups, listening to podcasts, finding self-help books that resonate with your experience, or working with a mental health therapist who is well-versed in trauma and HSPs.
Hope for Highly Sensitive People with Trauma
It is important to remember that healing is not a linear path — rather, it is a dynamic journey that will change over time. The journey for HSPs can also feel longer and more arduous than for others. But it is important to remain patient and loving toward yourself. Self-compassion is not only going to help reduce the negative impact that trauma can have, but it is also exactly what you need — and deserve.
Strong women know who they are on the surface and deep down. They don’t alter their identity to please someone, especially a love interest or a significant other. They don’t compromise when it comes to the things that make them who they are, like the language they speak, the culture they come from, their unique style, the food they love eating, and the activities that bring them joy.
2. Belief System Boundaries
Strong women are clear about the way they see the world. They stand by their beliefs and they stand strong, which is one of the things that make them strong in the first place. They don’t bargain with their integrity. They don’t say something they don’t identify with, even if it means that they will be judged, criticized, or threatened for their morals or religious and spiritual practices. If they don’t believe it, they ain’t doing it. Period.
3. Standards Boundaries
Strong women stay true to their vision in life, whether it be a vision for their personal life, career, family dynamic, friendship connections, or intimate relationship. They hold people to the same standards they live by. They don’t lower their expectations or their needs so someone can match their level. Just like they won’t decrease their vibe to get to someone else’s vibe frequency. They choose their integrity and self-respect over the presence of someone who lacks both of them.
4. Emotional Boundaries
Strong women regulate their emotions. They don’t allow someone to impact their emotional state of being. They know that it’s not their job to regulate the emotions of others. They also know how to express their emotions with maturity over hostility, open over passive communication and ownership over blame. They call someone out when they cross their emotional boundary and take the necessary action accordingly.
5. Energy Boundaries
Strong women protect their energy with every fibre of their being. The people they choose to be around are people who have good, positive vibes. The things they invest in are things that motivate, inspire, and challenge them. They don’t stay in places where they are not appreciated, they don’t stay in environments where they are not seen, and they don’t stay in situations where they are not supported.
6. Mental Boundaries
Strong women practice mindfulness. They are aware of their inner voice. They believe their thoughts are not them, just another visitor stopping by. When they experience anxiety or depression, they know to take care of themselves and how. They reach out for support from their inner circle and help from a professional. They commit to routines/habits that improve their mental health like journaling, meditating, reading or therapy. They make their mental health a priority, and when they see that someone does not respect or take it seriously, they leave.
7. Time Boundaries
Strong women don’t entertain what does not entertain them. They respect their time. They don’t invest time on things, people, places or parts of them that don’t add value to their life. To them, time is the fuel to their passion because once invested the right way, it takes them places they never imagined were possible. When someone fails to value their time, they let them go immediately because they know it speaks volume about their intentions and character.
8. Physical Boundaries
Strong women respect their bodies. They cherish their personal space. They practice consent and expect the same from everyone else. They don’t stay in physically unsafe environments. They don’t take it lightly when someone tries to physically abuse or harass them. They know, however, that it’s not their fault if someone inflicts physical pain on them because they know they can’t always protect themselves from evil.
9. Sexual Boundaries
Strong women have a healthy relationship with sex. They don’t fake orgasms. They don’t engage in unsafe sexual acts. They don’t do things they are uncomfortable with just to pleasure their partner. They are confident with saying not right now, not this, not you. They don’t engage in casual sex when a relationship is what they want. They ask for what they desire and like in the bedroom, and if that is not their partner’s cup of tea, they aren’t afraid of ending it. Basically, they don’t settle for mediocre sex.
10. Personal Life Boundaries
Strong women keep their personal life personal. They don’t feel the need to disconnect or overshare. They reciprocate what they are given and disclose information with people who have earned their trust up to their comfort level, of course. They don’t mix personal with work and they don’t mix family with friends. They know how to live a balanced life because balance requires strength. They let go of anything or anyone that disturbs that balance because letting go requires strength. And they live by each boundary listed because living by what you believe in requires strength, too.
Most parents teach their children that you need to respect yourself by living in a manner that is consistent with your purpose, values, and personal goals. When you live with integrity, you set a positive example. Dealing with groups of children and teenagers, we encounter all the stereotypes: the kids who bully, the kids who sit on the sidelines, the gossipers, kids who take charge, and kids who are victimized. We encounter parents who have developed either negative or positive habits and push these habits onto their children.
We may not all be able to get along due to the different values and habits, but how can we live with more integrity despite our backgrounds and beliefs?
1. Identify your habits
We all do certain things a certain way every single day — the way you tie your shoelaces, the way you greet or acknowledge your neighbour or mailman, the way you like your coffee or play with your hair. Some of our bad decisions are down to force of habit and become second nature to us. Maybe you are always avoiding confrontation and people due to past experiences, or you are always late, or you fail to respond to emails or calls, or you spend too much time on social media, or you overspend your money. We sometimes fail to see our negative behaviour patterns and the way they might affect other people.
To be able to live with more integrity is to identify these patterns, recognize that they might be a problem for others, and aim to replace them with positive habits. Acknowledge your neighbour by saying hello, answer your phone, spend less time on social media, and give more attention to other things around you. You can even compliment a stranger daily and see the smile on their face to step into a more positive behaviour pattern.
2. Accept that we all make wrong choices sometimes
If you recognize negative habits that have affected other people around you, accept what happened and learn from it to make smarter decisions in the future. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and remind yourself that we all make mistakes at some point in our lives. Sometimes these mistakes guide us to see our vision for life clearer and eventually fulfill our purpose. Nothing in life is constantly perfect — we are always evolving and learning.
3. See each relationship as bidirectional
In our relationships, it is essential to have mutual trust and respect. This is not always easy, especially among children and teenagers who are all still figuring out how to build supportive relationships. Oftentimes, adults still haven’t learned how to be consistent with their values. It is important to make effective decisions in regards to helping others, as this adds value to your own life. When you listen to someone and give them a little bit of your time, you will encourage feelings of trust and compassion to your own life.
4. When you start believing in yourself, others will follow your example
You set yourself up to become successful in life only when you believe in yourself. Only then can you inspire and motivate others with your actions. Setting a positive example is not always smooth sailing, especially if you are up against complicated matters and people with conflicts.
The way to influence positively is to stick to your words and get things done by holding on to your positive habits, values, purpose, and goals. If someone doesn’t respect your values, it may be impossible to stride towards a healthy relationship. They might be even emotionally harming you with their anger which is toxic. We can sometimes try to hold space for anger if it’s a conscious expression of one’s feelings and unmet needs, but not when it’s holding blame or insults. We need to respect ourselves enough to be able to move on with integrity.
Always aim to keep your circle positive, as life is way too short for constantly dealing with negativity. When you learn to make effective decisions, you see the difference in positivity around you. We are all in a journey of evolution we don’t plan.
“Who am I?” and “What’s my purpose?” are two simple fundamental questions we need to remind ourselves of when we are feeling lost and need to get back on track with living with our best life.
It is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution.
It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from livingto do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for the day.
A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure.
True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.
And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.
It often means looking your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is not satiating your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is disappointing some people. It is making sacrifices for others. It is living a way that other people won’t, so maybe you can live in a way that other people can’t.
It is letting yourself be normal. Regular. Unexceptional. It is sometimes having a dirty kitchen and deciding your ultimate goal in life isn’t going to be having abs and keeping up with your fake friends. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening.
If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.
It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor and procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to “fix yourself” and start trying to take care of yourself… and maybe finding that taking care lovingly attends to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place.
It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It means rewiring what you have until your everyday life isn’t something you need therapy to recover from. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good. It is giving the hell up on some goals so you can care about others. It is being honest even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious and dependent on other people.
It is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be. Someone who knows that salt baths and chocolate cake are ways to enjoy life – not escape from it.
Boundaries are so important for those who are empathetic, and for those who love deeply.
When you have so much love to give others, when you just want to be the person who shows up, when you just want to be the person who fixes and helps and makes sure that the people in your life feel the sunniest kind of happiness, when you take on their emotions as your own, when you just want to make sure everything is okay, everyone feels seen, everyone feels loved — you attract human beings who are kind, and compassionate, and who give you that same love back, but you also tend to attract human beings who see your heart as something they can take advantage of at times. This is why so many empaths, or people who are deeply compassionate, fall into these relationships or friendships or family dynamics that end up draining them, or end up becoming one-sided, or toxic. The empathy, the love, the depth — it can be something so light filled and soft, but it can also, in a lot of cases, leave you feeling depleted, or leave you feeling empty because you’re not always poured into the same way.
And that is why it is so important to learn how to protect your energy as an empath. It is proven that a lot of highly sensitive people lack boundaries. They care very deeply, they want to nurture those around them, and they want to give and give and give. They pour out for the people they love. They have hearts that just can’t say no, that sometimes can’t walk away from situations that hurt them, or that drain them, because they ultimately don’t want to give up on the people in their life, they don’t want to turn their back on them, or abandon them, or make them think that they don’t care for them.
If you are like this — you don’t have to apologize for that. It is beautiful to be the person who cares, and often, a lot of us have grown up around this belief that love is sacrifice. That you don’t ever give up on someone. That you don’t ever walk away. That you give, and give, and give, and you fight for those in your life; you put them first. But that doesn’t mean you sacrifice at your own expense. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have boundaries and be empathetic, and compassionate, and of value to those in your life.
However, it takes a long time to learn that because, often, a lot of compassionate people don’t realize that they need to set stronger boundaries with those they care about. When you give so much of yourself, you often continue to give and you don’t pay attention to how your relationships or how the people in your life are affecting you, or your heart, or your happiness, until you’re burnt out. Until you feel alone. Until you’re in a toxic friendship, or relationship, and you just feel disheartened.
As an act of self love, it’s important to step back and find self-awareness. To really ask yourself what is building you up in life, and what is tearing you down. What hurts. What drains your energy.
Really ask yourself:
Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain? Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to “save” people close to you and fix their problems all the time? Do you find yourself deeply invested or deeply attached to very intense relationships, very quickly? In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either light-filled and beautiful or heavy and haunted with no in-between? Do you, in your heart, hate drama or anything along those lines, but you constantly are the person who gets put into the middle of it as a fixer or as a voice of reason? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed when you have to go and see people in your life because you know it will leave you drained afterwards? Do you feel like you often don’t have enough time for yourself because you’ve promised it away to others? Do you feel like you’ve let yourself down, or let yourself go, because you’ve given so much of your energy and time to others, and now you don’t have any energy to pour into yourself?
If any of these questions hit your heart, or made your stomach flip — it’s time to stand up for yourself and to create boundaries that help you protect your energy. At the end of the day, you are your own home. You have to take care of yourself. You have to take responsibility for not only the energy you’re putting out into the world, but also, the energy you’re allowing around you. We teach people how to love us. We teach people what we can handle, and what we cannot. We teach people how to respect us. And you deserve love, and respect. You deserve the same empathy you give to others. Love should not be something that leaves you feeling exhausted and drained. Nor should friendship, family. There is only so much you can give, before you need to really defend your heart.
So — how do you start to set boundaries?
You do it by being intentional, and by really coming home to yourself and being honest with yourself. People who love deeply often need to most learn how to create balance and boundaries around the amount of time they give to those they care about.
Ask yourself — really take the time to think about what your heart needs, what you need, for once.
How much space and solitude do you need to feel nourished, and energized?
What genuinely refreshes and recharges you?
What tends to drain you, what asks for you to lose yourself in order to keep it in your life?
What people tend to drain you?
What people tend to make your heart feel like it isn’t being held, like your love is not being valued, or reciprocated, like you’re giving and giving and giving to the point of exhaustion?
When do you feel your best? The most you? The most free?
When do you feel your worst? The heaviest? The loneliest, even when you’re surrounded by certain people?
When do you feel anxious, like you’re trapped, like you know you need to walk away or give less, but you just can’t?
That is where you begin. The things that came up for you when you were asking those questions to yourself — you know them deep in your heart. You know where you need to be kinder to yourself. You know where you deserve to pull your energy from, where you deserve to let it flow. You know. It’s a matter of allowing yourself to create boundaries around those things.
It can start by allowing yourself to say no to helping someone when you genuinely know that you don’t have the energy to do so. A healthy boundary looks like taking time for yourself, really giving yourself space to do even 15 minutes of something that makes your soul come alive, or that grounds you. A healthy boundary looks like pausing before you say yes to something, and really checking in with yourself. Do you actually want to do that thing? Do you actually want to go to that event? Do you actually want to be surrounded by those human beings? Or are you just saying yes to please people? Are you just saying yes so you don’t disappoint the people you care about? A healthy boundary looks like reinforcing your worth, and your needs. It looks like really affirming that you are allowed to ask for space, for help, for time away from someone, and that doesn’t take away from the value of your love, and that doesn’t mean that you are letting anyone down.
A healthy boundary looks like checking in with your feelings, and your thoughts, and asking yourself — is this mine? When you are compassionate or empathetic you feel things very deeply, and you often can take people’s emotions home with you. You can take their problems on as your own. You can make it your responsibility to fix what is going on in their life, you bring it into your mind, your heart. It’s like having an emotional hangover in a way, you walk away with conversations, feelings, fears, negativity, and it’s all stuck to you and it can drain you and exhaust you and really impact your mental health. Learning to assess those feelings, those things you’re holding onto and reminding yourself that often they are not yours to hold, is important. Let them go. You are not responsible for fixing the people in your life. You are only responsible for loving them. And you can love them deeply, and well, and also take care of yourself, and your heart.
A healthy boundary looks like really being honest with yourself about what hurts, and giving yourself permission to let go. To stop fighting for those who aren’t fighting for you. To stop pouring so much of your love into those who cannot value it. To really stand for what you desire, and what you need from a relationship, or from a loved one, and understanding that if they cannot give that to you, or reciprocate, then it is okay, but that you might need to match their energy. There is only so much you can give. There is only so much you can fight for until it breaks you. A healthy boundary within this is truly standing up for your heart and really making the decision to uphold that each and every single day. It’s checking in with yourself whenever you are made to feel like you are hard to love. It’s checking in with yourself whenever your heart aches, or it is mistreated, or you feel like you’re not being valued or respected. It’s about saying “I deserve more than this.” And it’s about sticking to that. It will be difficult at first, it will be so tough, but you have to defend your heart, and the way you desire to be loved. Again — you teach people how to love you. You do that by being dedicated to what you deserve, what you truly want. You don’t settle for things that don’t nurture, or nourish you, or fill you with love. You commit to that.
However, boundaries are not easy things to set. They come with a lot of guilt for people who love deeply. When we set boundaries, there are so many voices inside of us that tell us that we are being selfish. Or that we aren’t being a good person, or partner, when we don’t put someone before ourselves. We tell ourselves that putting someone’s needs before our own is the compassionate thing to do, that it is the right thing to do. We convince ourselves that by not giving them what they need, or giving them our love, or giving them every aspect of ourselves, we are unkind, or uncaring. We tell ourselves that we are responsible for their happiness, that we can’t just turn our backs on them. We tell ourselves that we are strong enough to give even if we aren’t receiving, that we were made to be the people in this world who pour even if no one is pouring back into us, that we can handle it.
But this is something I want you to really understand and sit with. The guilt you feel when setting a boundary is not because the boundary itself is wrong, it’s because of all the deeper, limiting beliefs you have that tell you it’s wrong. That tell you it is selfish. That tell you it is uncaring. That tell you it is dismissive. That tell you it is cruel, or unloving. But the boundary isn’t any of those things. It’s not wrong to want to take care of yourself. It is not wrong to walk away from a love that only ever leaves you feeling unworthy, and trapped. It is not wrong to advocate for your heart. It is not wrong to stand up for yourself. It is not wrong.
Try your best to remind yourself of that whenever the guilt bubbles up in your chest. It will be often, and consistent, at first. But you have to talk it down. Tell yourself: A boundary is not a lack of compassion. Boundaries are not a lack of caring. A boundary is not a lack of empathy. Boundaries are an act of self love, that better help for you to love those around you. The more you show up for yourself, the better you can show up for others. It’s why we’re always told to put our oxygen masks on before those we are seated beside when we are on a plane. We cannot pour from an empty cup. Boundaries help for you to ensure your cup is always full. And imagine how much more love you can give from that kind of place. How much lighter it would feel.
Lastly — be aware of how people react to your boundaries.
It’s important to see these reactions as valuable signs. Pay attention to how others react to your boundaries. Do they push against them? Do they have a hard time taking no for an answer? Do they make you feel guilty or bad about yourself in some other way? Do they take you seriously or think your boundaries are unreasonable or don’t apply to them? All of this is helpful information about the quality of that relationship. It hurts when we come to terms with the fact that the people we love and care for don’t have the same consideration for us. But it can be a guiding light. It can be a moment of clarity that encourages us to invest more in relationships where our boundaries and needs are respected than in those where they are not. And that is what you deserve.
You deserve the love you give to everyone around you. Your heart deserves more than just exhaustion. And you know that. It’s time to stand up for that. To really commit to that. The most important boundaries of all are the ones that you set for yourself. Whatever behaviour you permit for yourself and the rules that you live by will signal to others what you’ll accept from them too. You can’t help others until you help yourself first, so the ultimate act of self-love is setting a high standard for what you will accept in your life. Know that you are worthy of that standard.
This year, promise to treat yourself like a friend.
This year, just be kinder to yourself. In everything that you do think of yourself like a friend, treat yourself like a friend. It can be difficult to change that mindset at times, because we live our own lives, and we all have these internal worlds where we are constantly in our own heads. And those internal worlds are not often the most peaceful places to be, because I know that we all hold ourselves to such a standard. We want to grow, we want to heal, we want to do better, and be better, so much so, that we can sometimes be extremely hard on ourselves. And that is valid, because it means you care. It means you care about what you’re putting into this world, about how you’re showing up in this world. It means you care about meeting your potential, about being who you want to be.
But within all of that, I think a lot of us have a hard time being kind to ourselves. We’re always pushing for more, always letting our pasts or our mistakes create this narrative of negative self talk, or self doubt within our minds, it’s like we are constantly putting so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, that we’re not really allowing ourselves to be real.
So, promise to treat yourself like a friend this year. You care about so many human beings as if it were the deepest extension of yourself. You are empathetic, you have compassion for them. You want the people in your life to experience all of the beauty it has to offer. You want to remind them of their worth every single day. You want to protect them from anything that could hurt them or harm them, you want to encourage them to walk away from the things that ask them to settle for less than what they are deserving of. You encourage them when they doubt themselves, you remind them of their unique potential, you speak so much love into them on their hardest days. This year, I want you to promise to do the same things for yourself.
Ask yourself :
Would you talk to someone you loved the way you talk to yourself?
Would you allow for someone you loved to be treated the way you allow yourself to be treated?
Would you let someone you loved, someone you saw so much potential and beauty in, give so much of their energy, their time, and their heart, to those who did not value it?
Would you let someone you loved vilify themselves for their mistakes, for their pasts, for the person they had to be in order to survive or to heal?
You wouldn’t. You’d be in direct opposition of it, and you are. You are constantly defending the people you love, protecting them, reminding them that they are good enough, that they are worthy, and you do this because that is what you do for the people you love. So love yourself enough to be that for yourself, as well. Promise yourself that, even if it is hard at first, to work towards that kind of compassion for yourself. When you feel self doubt creep in, when you start to tell yourself that you aren’t good enough, when you stay in situations that hurt just to make someone else comfortable, or just to not be alone, when you know you deserve more but you can’t push yourself to stand up for that — remind yourself to treat yourself like a friend. Would you want any of that for them? If not, actively work towards being kinder within the thoughts, actively work towards fostering compassion for yourself in a situation, actively work towards giving yourself the same empathy you give to everyone around you. Make it an active thing, combat those thoughts, and that pressure, and that negativity, and meet yourself with kindness as best as you can. You are your own home. Make it a beautiful place to be.
This year, promise yourself to let go of almosts.
Promise yourself that you will stop allowing yourself to settle for less than you know you deserve. To keep giving so much of your heart to those who do not value it. To put so much time, and energy, and effort into those who are only loving you in halves.
I know how difficult it is to walk away from almosts. How difficult it is to be in a situation where you care so deeply for someone, or where you are genuinely excited about the potential you see in another human being. I know how dismantling those relationships can be, I know how hard it can be to see them for what they are, because they are often filled with a lot of hope, and a lot of intensity, and you’re just waiting for the day all of that is realized, and all of that is concrete, and rooted, and whole. I know how hard it can be to hold all of that hope within yourself, how heavy the weight of almosts can be. How much they can make you doubt yourself, how much they can make you question if you are enough for this person who only wants to love you in miminums. Almosts shake up your heart, they make it question itself, and you don’t deserve that.
Because the love you have to give someone is good love. The love you have to give someone is deep, and honest, and empathetic. And if someone cannot see that, if someone cannot value that, or meet that — you deserve to find the people who can. Please, just promise yourself to let go of the people who leave your heart confused. Let go of the people who make you feel like you are compromising all that you desire, all that you hope for, all the goodness and the beauty that you know exists in this world, for a malnourished version of love, for a skinny version of love. Let go of falling in love with potential, with falling in love with the idea of someone rather than who they truly are. Let go of the fears you have that keep you holding on to something that hurts, something that is so heavy, something that has only left you feeling misunderstood, or unworthy, or at war with yourself. Let go of waiting for the people you have always treated kindly, to treat you kindly. Let go of waiting for the people you have always treated with respect, to treat you with respect. Let go of waiting for the people you have always chosen, to finally choose you. Let go of waiting. Let go of holding your breath, just hoping that things change.
Let go. Don’t allow yourself to get comfortable existing in spaces where you know you deserve better. Love is not meant to hurt. Let me repeat that: love is not meant to hurt. Love is not meant to be given in bare minimums. Love does not require for you to be cooler, or less emotional, or less yourself, for you to be worthy of it choosing you. Love chooses you. In the good, and the bad. It isn’t an almost thing. It isn’t something you have to beg for. It isn’t something you have to fight for constantly, something that is always a source of pain and confusion and hurt. There is power in letting go of anything that is forcing you to let go of yourself. Don’t ignore what you know in your heart. Remember — it is better to be alone, than to feel lonely in what you’re settling for. It is better to be alone, than to try to fit your heart into the hands of someone who does not want to hold it. It is better to be alone, than to fight for someone who is not fighting for you. It is better to be alone, to be your own foundation, than to spend any more of your time waiting for someone to see the beauty in what you are giving them. You deserve good love. Promise you will let go of anything that does not feel that way, this year. Promise to stand up for your heart.
This year, promise to believe that nothing is too good for you.
This year, promise to believe that you are worthy of everything you want in life, and that you are not asking for too much. And I know that isn’t easy, because I know that the world has ways of convincing you otherwise. I know that we have all gone through this life, and have sometimes been weathered by it in ways we didn’t necessarily ask for, but in ways that have stuck. In ways that have caused us to doubt what we deserve.
And I am sorry for that. I am sorry that you had to experience things you did not ask for, that you had to go through certain losses that carved into you lessons you were too young to learn, or lessons that were heavy to carry within yourself. I am sorry that somewhere along your journey, society convinced you that you were not beautiful, that you had to be smaller, that you had to want less, or settle for things outside of what you always dared to hope for. I am sorry that at times the world made you feel like you didn’t hold space within it, that you didn’t deserve to be here, or to be loved, or to be the kind of person who achieves great and beautiful things. I am sorry that you had to endure things at the hands of love that made you stop believing in it’s goodness, that made you stop believing in just how possible it was for you to find someone kind, and honest, and committed, in this generation. I am sorry that somewhere along your journey, you were convinced that you couldn’t dream the way you wanted to dream, that you couldn’t strive to experience all of the beauty this life has to offer.
And I know that sometimes because of all that you have been through, you doubt the part of yourself that knows there is more out there for you. You doubt the part of yourself that is trying to push you to believe that your past does not deserve to control you anymore. But you have to do it. You have to have the courage to believe in things you have yet to feel. You have to have the courage to believe that you are capable, that you are strong, that you are worthy, no matter what the world tries to tell you. You have to have the courage to be your own guiding light, to validate your own purpose, to push yourself to believe that nothing is too good for you, that nothing is out of reach, that nothing you want in this life exists within impossibility if you’re willing to leap towards it. You have to have the courage to crash every ounce of your hope into this world, outside of your past, outside of the opinions of others, outside of what society tells you is appropriate or achievable. So whenever you feel that doubt creep in, remind yourself that nothing is too good for you. Whenever you doubt if you are deserving of the good things that come into your life, remind yourself that nothing is ever too good to be true for you. The things you want, the life you want to live, the people you hope to love, the way you want your life to feel — it’s possible for you. It’s possible. Don’t convince yourself that it’s just not in the cards for a person like you. Promise yourself to believe that you are worthy. Each and every single day, and especially on the days the world tries to weather you into believing otherwise. Hold fast in your hope. Believe in impossibility. You are worthy of all that is kind, and good, and awe-inspiring in this world. Promise yourself that you will never forget that this year.
This year, promise to remind yourself of just how far you have come.
I know that in a society that makes you feel like you have to constantly be moving forward, in a society that puts so much value in external achievements, and often sells this concept of success or achievement as being a very specific thing, it can be difficult to connect with just how much you’ve achieved along your own unique journey. It can be difficult to connect with just how far you have come.
Because, at the end of the day, while it is beautiful and inspiring to be the kind of person who is pushing themselves to achieve a level of happiness, and success, that exists on their own terms, sometimes we can be so focused on what is ahead of us, that we forget to honor and embrace what we have survived. Sometimes, when we feel like we haven’t grown at all, it takes looking at who we used to be, to realize that so much growth happened when we didn’t even feel it taking place. That in the dark, or moments of rest, we changed, we healed, in the quietest of ways. We pushed ourselves forward. We managed to evolve. We managed to stay strong enough to make it to where we are now, and that within itself is an achievement that deserves to be celebrated.
This year, promise to remind yourself of just how far you have come. When you feel like you are falling behind, think back to all of the moments in your life where you thought the same thing, and just how much those seasons of confusion, or slow growth, taught you about yourself. When you feel like you are never going to heal a broken heart, think back to all of the moments in your life where you held the same heart in your hands and you put it’s broken pieces back together — how you healed slowly, and in the smallest ways, day after day. When you feel like you will never get out of the dark, remind yourself of the moments in your life that enveloped you in a heavy kind of hope, remember how you tucked light into yourself and fought to be here today. Remind yourself of all of the ways you survived, when you didn’t think you were capable. Nothing in this life has ever had the ability to defeat you. If anything tests your resilience this year, remind yourself of that. Remind yourself of the ways in which you have saved yourself so many times before. You have come so far. Honor that.
This year, promise to stop comparing yourself to others.
Within the last year we have all grown even more attached to social media as a means of experiencing life. Apps like Instagram, and TikTok have the capacity to fill our days with so much stimulation, and so many perspectives, and illustrations of people, and while we know that most of social media is a highlight reel, it can be difficult to disconnect from that when it is a main form of what we are consuming each day. It can be difficult not to feel a little sad that we don’t look like someone we admire online, it can be difficult not to feel a little discouraged or lonely when we see beautiful videos of happy couples splashed across our feeds, it can be a little difficult not to feel like we are falling behind when we see the achievements of others scrolling across our phones constantly. Social media can be really disarming, and very polarizing, and it’s extremely difficult not to compare our lives to those we see online.
And so I just want to remind you that this is human. These feelings are very real, and very valid, and it’s important to really pay attention to them when they arise, because it is within that awareness that we can reframe how we’re letting them affect us. When you start to notice yourself comparing yourself, when you start to notice yourself wishing that your timeline looked more like someone else’s when it comes to their career, or their success, or their relationships — remind yourself that you are living your own unique life, and that your journey is an extension of that. You are going to achieve the things you want to achieve. You are going to find good love. You are going to heal. You cannot lose what is for you. You will never miss out on the things that are meant to happen for you in life. So you do not have to rush yourself forward, you do not have to force anything into happening before it is meant to happen in your life. Get clear with what you want, and more so, get clear with yourself on how you want your life to feel, rather than what you want it to look like on the outside, on social media. And go in that direction. Have intention with it. Believe that it is going to happen for you, that is unfolding within its own unique way in your life, and do not compare that journey to anyone else’s, because it is your own.
This year, promise to take 15 minutes out of each day to make yourself the person you want to be.
How can you take fifteen minutes for yourself each day? For your goals, for your self care, for your heart — how can you show up for yourself?
We build so many resolutions around these large and looming things, and while I think those hold space, I also think that they can be overwhelming. They aren’t always sustainable. So start small. Make a micro-shift in your day, each day. You don’t have to run for an hour — but you can push yourself to move your body for 15 minutes. You don’t have to read three books a week — but you can push yourself to read for 15 minutes before bed. You don’t have to only treat yourself to a self care moment when you are depleted, and you feel like you will bubble over with anxiety if you don’t. You can take 15 minutes each day to put your phone down, to connect with yourself, to do a face mask, to take a hot shower, to sit and drink water. These things sound so small, but they add up.
And it’s not often even about the specific things you’re doing, it’s more about the fact that you’re doing them for yourself. You’re showing up for yourself. You’re being kind to yourself. You’re taking time or yourself no matter what, on even your hardest or busiest days, to take care of yourself. To do something that makes you better, in even the quietest way. I promise, it improves your life, because you really start connecting with the fact that you are nurturing yourself, you are nurturing your body, you are nurturing your mind, and it becomes a habit. And that is really special. That is something you learn to embrace, that is something you learn to celebrate, because in a way, it’s teaching you to celebrate and honor yourself, to treat yourself with kindness, and to stand up for the future version of yourself that you’re becoming. Fifteen minutes each day. Whatever it may be, whatever that looks like for you — dedicate yourself to it, promise it to yourself each and every day. You deserve it.