Setting “Should” Boundaries

A few weeks ago I got a notification informing me that my blog has been active for eight years.

I always take these anniversaries with an asterisk, because technically I started my blog, wrote one post and then forgot about it for an entire year. BUT it was that decision to start it eight years ago that got me here today, so I’ll take the celebrations as they come.

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you might know that I have a tendency to be very anxious. This is something I’ve always known about myself, but have been slowly unpacking the depth of for about, well, the last eight years.

The best way I can describe it is that I once felt like a knot made up of hundreds of other knots. And I was just walking around, rigid and terrified, but not sure why or how I got like that. But then, slowly, one by one, I’ve started to untie those knots, and with each release comes relief, wonder and understanding. I wouldn’t necessarily call it easy, but it is worth it.

One of those knots that’s recently been bothering me is the word should. And, of course, it’s brother, shouldn’t.

The most basic understanding we are given as children is right and wrong, and thus, should and shouldn’t. But somewhere along the way, these defining directives branch out into areas of our lives that are not so easily understood as black and white. And for me, these words became near biblical in their intensity, outlining each and every minute of my day.

I should eat this, I should wear this, I should say this, I should call her, I should let that go, I should exercise, I shouldn’t eat that, I should go to bed, I shouldn’t watch television, I should be a better friend, I shouldn’t think about that, I should try this, I should stop doing that, I shouldn’t act like this, I shouldn’t feel like that, I should be more of this and less of that.

For a long time, I rationalized my obsession with these words as guidelines—parameters that would allow me to have a good day and thus, live a good life. But recently I’ve realized that these words bring more anxiety to my life than joy, and that I haven’t just been trying to hold myself accountable, I’ve been demanding perfection, and not just my definition of it, but everyone’s.

In doing so, the should’s and shouldn’t’s constantly clashed, not knowing whose standard I should be held to, for how long and for what reason. I was trying to be too many things at once, trying to impress too many people who never would have even noticed, and trying to prevent myself from making a single mistake.

I was living in a very “everyone except me” mindset, in that everyone was allowed to make mistakes, have bad days, get lost, feel sad, and be lazy except me. Because I thought I didn’t deserve that grace. I needed to prove myself. I needed to meet the expectation—everyone’s expectation—even when no one was looking.

This was (and is) a very tangly knot.

There are a lot of things that tie (pun intended) into this mindset. A lot of things I have to both learn and unlearn from past experiences. But I am relieved to find the clarity that it’s not the way I have to live.

And it’s not the way you have to live either.

I am trying to set “should” boundaries.

When a should question comes up, I’m asking why?

Should I do_____

Should I say _______

Should I change ________

Why?

Is it because I want to? Because I think it could help me, encourage me, inspire me, or make me feel better?

Or is it because I think it’s what other people expect of me, what society or social media demands of me, or because I don’t think I’m good enough as I am?

Other people—friends, family and strangers alike—can come into play in these questions, and so I know it can’t always be as simple as “do I want to do this?” But when I’m sitting on my couch on a weeknight, wanting to watch television; when I wake up on a Saturday morning, later than everyone else; when I don’t want to go out or have a drink or do what everyone else is doing; when my mind starts to spiral, turning a simple preference, habit or decision into a reason that people are going to be mad at me, reject me or leave me behind—that’s when I know I have to set a “should” boundary.

I am allowed to do the “wrong” thing, the thing that is not the healthiest or the most productive or the most popular. I am allowed to have bad days where I don’t say the right thing or I can’t express how I’m feeling or I just want to be alone. And on the flip side of things, I am allowed to make healthy choices, even when everyone else isn’t, even when it seems uncool or slightly pretentious—this doesn’t mean I’m judging them, it just means I’m doing what makes me feel good.

The bottom line of it all reminds me that I am living my life and everyone else is living theirs. I am the only person living inside my body and feeling my feelings, so I am the only one that can truly understand the benefits and consequences of the should’s and shouldn’t’s that come my way. So I can’t ask myself to be perfect—especially to everyone. I can’t even ask myself to be liked by everyone. I can only ask myself to be honest, and sometimes a little brave.

When I created my blog eight years ago, my mind was swarming with shouldn’t’s, but I did the unthinkable at the time and listened to the single, solitary should that sat inside me. And I’ve never regretted it.

So thanks for giving me a safe place to untangle these knots. I’ve still got a long way to go, but the load gets lighter every day!

3 comments

  1. Love this, and don’t! Love that you are untying those knots.. hate that you feel all those feels that are difficult and worrisome.
    Proud of you for 8 years of being vulnerable and thankful that you have taught me so much through your writing.
    Love you!
    XO

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