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I Feel Guilty When I Choose Self-Care
Kaitlyn McQuin explores the price women pay when we set boundaries as an act of self-care
Women are taught to be available twenty-four hours a day, regardless of what we’ve got going on in our own lives. If someone needs us, we must drop everything and be at their beck and call, there to listen to and nurture their woes, provide them with advice if asked, or to perform any type of selfless duty, and, perform it well.
Learning to establish boundaries is one of the most important things we, as women, can do for ourselves, but it’s also one of the hardest to implement and for others to receive and respect. Oftentimes, the person on the receiving end of a boundary, whether it be a partner, a boss, or a friend, can skew the nature of the boundary and make it personal, thus resulting in conflict between both parties, or worse, guilt from the boundary setter.
“I’m your best friend. Why aren’t you talking to me?”
“You’re my girlfriend. You should be here for me any time I need you.”
“I’m your boss. What do you mean you’re taking a mental health day?”
I’ve heard them all.
Setting boundaries is an act of self-care, and everyone approaches self-care in their own way. For some, it’s a bubble bath in the evening or a warm cup of tea before bed. For others, it’s an indulgent shopping spree and a marathon of their favorite TV show. For me, it’s removing things in my life that don’t feel good in an effort to bring myself back in balance. Sometimes I remove dairy. And sometimes I remove people.
Sometimes I remove dairy. And sometimes I remove people.
Guilt accompanying boundary-setting is, unfortunately, a natural response for women, and it’s because the expectation society has set for women to constantly meet the needs of others is unfair and unattainable. When you’re accustomed to being on call to the point of burn out, it’s only natural to feel a bit (or a lot) of guilt when your body and mind are screaming for space. So, you do what Instagram or your therapist or even your friend says, and you set boundaries.
You request a mental health day at work. You tell your partner you’d like a night alone at your apartment. You tell your friend that you’re going through a lot and you need some space and quiet. Their response? That’s when the guilt comes flooding in.
Your boss tells you that other people show up to work, so why can’t you? Your partner takes it personally that you’re opting for a night of solitude and space. Your friend accuses you of being mad at them and not being supportive because your response patterns are different because you’re going through a lot. And more often than not, due to the nature of another’s response, a woman suffering will backtrack her boundary to appease the other.
It’s astounding to me the things women will put themselves through as to not offend people in their orbit, even if that means sacrificing their own wellbeing. It’s astounding. And yet we do it, time and time again.
We sacrifice our own needs to meet the needs of others. We say yes when we want to say no. We hold our tongues when someone hurts our feelings, because, in a weird way, we don’t want to offend them back, especially if they’re close to us. And it all needs to end.
I recently discovered the importance of boundary setting after experiencing quite the hellish week of receiving personal news, being inundated with people seeking my attention, and simply existing in America in an election year. I had a moment of anger with myself when I felt overwhelmed by minor things surrounding me that simply did not matter because the weight of everyone else’s needs and demands were quite literally crushing me.
I didn’t know what else to do but to state my piece and set boundaries, and honestly – it sucked in the moment for all of the aforementioned reasons, but you know what? I’d do it again and again and again. Because I feel like I can breathe now. And, I damn well deserve that.
If you’re in need of a boundary, whether it be time off of work, a day spent outside talking to no one but your dog (a great day, I can attest), or even space from a friend, take it. Take it twice. Take it thrice! Take it!
If your boundary is received with malice, manipulation, or any other garbage response, please know that is not your fault. The person receiving the boundary is simply navigating their own personal issues, and they’re projecting them onto you. Release the guilt. It has no place living in your body. Trust me.
And that’s just the tea, honey.
At the end of the day, you have to take care of yourself, because no one can love you and care for you the way you can. Whatever you need to do to get back to balance, make that happen. If people or jobs or opportunities drop off because of it, well, bye. It’s simply making space in your life for even better people or jobs or opportunities to come in. And I can get on board with that.
Your happiness and health matters. Women’s happiness and health matters. Women’s self-care matters. Women’s needs matter. And women deserve to establish boundaries and have them respected.