Emotional HealthHealingRecovery 3 minutes to read

Have you ever wondered why we can be so kind and compassionate to our friends and then act like absolute jerks to ourselves?

In a recent training I was a part of with IITAP, we were encouraged to write a letter to our closest friend encouraging them in a really difficult season. The letter I wrote was beautiful. It was affirming, kind, tender, and empathetic. After we completed this letter to our friend, we were asked to write a similar letter to ourselves, as if we were going through a difficult season. 

You would think the letters would be the same: tender and compassionate.

Honestly, guys, the letters I wrote were COMPLETELY different. 

Where the letter to my friend was compassionate and tender, the letter to myself was like a motivational speech you would give to a soldier. It was full of “you’ve-got-this” and “keep-your-head-ups.” The letter to myself was in no way tender, compassionate, or understanding.

We are typically harder on ourselves than we are on others. From my observations, this is actually why we can be so hard on others––because we’re so tough on ourselves.

You probably already know about all this, but I wanted to bring it up because this principle can also be applied to setting boundaries.

Setting boundaries is not easy. I’m going to say it again: setting boundaries is not easy. There’s always something at stake or some risk involved. The likelihood of us hurting someone’s feelings or coming off like a jerk is very high. Fear creeps in the room when the topic of setting boundaries comes up.

Interestingly, we tend to easily support and encourage the boundaries of others. But when it comes to setting our own boundaries, we are much harder on ourselves.

On a recent walk with some co-workers, one friend asked about setting a boundary with her family. She was unsure if setting the boundary was okay for her and wondered if it would cause more drama in her family. I used my jedi-mind-friend-encouragement trick in my response and put the question back on her. I asked her, “What would you say if a friend asked you the same question about their boundaries?”

Her response confirmed it for her. If a friend were to ask about setting a boundary with their family, her answer would have been a loud and emphatic “YES!” Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

So, why was she struggling so deeply with setting the boundary in her own life?

I think it’s because we tend to be harder on ourselves––including our need for boundaries. 

We encourage our friends to set healthy and firm boundaries. We encourage them to pursue health and create an environment for physical and emotional safety. But with our own boundaries, we hesitate to set them. We feel the responsibility to flex our need for health and safety to make others happy. We fear the potential blow-back we’ll get if we set boundaries.

On that walk, my friend was facing a double bind (a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation) of setting boundaries with family. Fear was standing in the way of creating safety and health for herself. And instead of having self-compassion and understanding, her self-talk sounded like the letter I wrote to myself: a bunch of unempathetic, motivational  “shoulds” and “ought tos.” 

Where this reality of being critical of our need for personal boundaries is fairly normal, that doesn’t make it okay. We must be that good friend to ourselves when it comes to setting boundaries. We need to express tenderness, compassion, and understanding to our own need for health and safety. 

Ultimately, boundaries are not for others, they’re for us. If we flex on our boundaries, it hurts us. If we bend our boundaries, it leads us to unhealth. If we allow the fear of blow-back to keep us from setting boundaries, we’ll never live in peace.

Especially in the holiday season, we must support our own need for boundaries. Be a good friend to yourself: tender, compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. Allow yourself to set the boundaries you need to be the healthiest version of yourself. When we do this, we aren’t the only ones who benefit. Our health benefits all of those around us (whether they see it or not). 

So, be tender toward yourself. Be understanding. Show self-compassion. And support your need for boundaries this holiday season.

Trevor Winsor

Trevor is the Marketing Director for Pure Desire. He has been in ministry leadership for 10 years. Trevor is a certified Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional (PSAP) through the International Institute of Addiction and Trauma Professionals (IITAP). He is a licensed pastor and has a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Corban University. He is passionate about integrating trauma and addiction healing with spiritual disciplines to produce holistic healing.

2 Comments

  1. ssorphancare@gmail.com

    Thanks for that Trevor, that’s really good! I think for me, with an addict personality, I figure I can actually do more rather than being realistic like I am with others – kind of an over-elevated view of my abilities – lack of self care.

    1. Trevor Winsor

      That’s a good realization. Yes, we need to be realistic and flexible with ourselves. So important to give ourselves compassion and grace, because we need it too!

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