A couple of weeks ago, on a video blogging course*, I was catching up with a good friend in a break and she said something along the lines of, ‘I’ve decided to be less available to people’.
Now, she’s a very good friend who I respect hugely and have learnt a great deal from but my first thought was ‘Woah there! You can’t say that!’ To me the phrase felt really…well ‘icky’. It felt selfish and arrogant and ‘just not British’. But my friend is not the slightest bit selfish, or arrogant, and she’s definitely British – so I knew that there must be something more to this statement. We chatted some more and I asked her questions, delving deeper into what she meant, and how she practiced not being so available.
By the end of the conversation I had come up with an explanation that didn’t challenge me – i.e my ego – so much. It was all about boundaries. Phew, this was a concept that I was comfortable with, and one which I had been learning about over recent months with regards to my own life.
Setting appropriate boundaries around our time, demands and relationships is an important part of maintaining a strong, resilient, efficient and compassionate self. In other words, happiness is only possible if we set appropriate boundaries. If we are constantly doing things for other people without limits, without doing things that recharge and nourish ourselves, then we will eventually grow drained, resentful and possibly bitter – however much we love those who are doing the demanding, or however much we love the cause that we are giving so much to. It’s like the safety warnings on aeroplanes: always fit your own oxygen mask before helping others. Brene Brown has a wonderful video on this.
But over the next week I kept thinking about this conversation and started getting curious as to why I had had such a strong reaction to the idea of restricting my ‘availability’ to others. The strong reaction was a clue that my ego was involved, and if so, then there was probably something important that needed to be explored here.
What my ego was saying when my friend said ‘I’ve decided to be less available to people’ was: ‘Eeeekk, don’t say that! Who do you think you are, choosing to put yourself before others!? You are here to please other people because that is how you get other people to like you, and approval is what keeps you and me safe! That’s how the world works. Don’t you dare do that Thea, or we are toast!’
Luckily, I knew my friend enough to be conscious to the fact that it was my ego who was the one I wasn’t in congruence with, not her. As usual, my ego’s strong reaction was teaching me something. I’ve learnt to take heed when I get a reaction like this. What was going on?
What was going on, I realised, was that I do make myself available to people, especially my family, more than is perhaps healthy for me. I don’t put in enough boundaries that would protect my energy, allow me to recharge, and enable me to create more fulfilment in my life.
One example of this is the after school routine. Since my eldest son is 14 next week, the after school routine goes on till around 9ish when he goes to bed. So that’s 6 hours of being completely available for my children. I don’t do much for myself in those hours and seem to pander to their every need. If you came to my house and watched me, it wouldn’t seem that I was ‘under their thumb’ so to speak because I do have enough boundaries in place to feel like I’m in charge, or at least things are running to my agenda. I’m not a wet blanket, I expect my children to do chores, to listen to me and do as I say. I stand up for myself when my kids are disrespectful. I always – I mean always – prioritise kindness in their behaviour. But then, why am I so mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted at the end of the day, most days? It’s because the boundaries I’ve set are not working for me.
I noticed this last week that I am so much more available for them than I realised, that my boundaries are clearly not strong enough. I drop what I’m doing for them – accompanied by an irritated ‘Wait a second! I’m just finishing this‘. [there’s a weak boundary clue] – and am available for them within a minute or so. I walk from room to room when they call me. I let them interrupt me and gain my attention whatever I’m in the middle of. And I let them negotiate and influence my decisions all the time. All in the name of being nice. Of keeping the peace, not threatening the fragile harmony that might exist. This is because my ego and I have learnt over the years that conflict and arguments are uncomfortable and draining for me – but what I didn’t realise was that this constant keeping the peace and being available to their every need is draining me so much more.
And after this realisation I went to bed and lay there thinking. I tried to do a quick gratitude mediation but kept getting distracted. What was I thinking about? Bloody Facebook. What that friend has shared; how that article looked interesting, would I remember to read it tomorrow; what that person who I no longer see and don’t have much in common with was saying about her life. Totally irrelevant and superficial stuff completely unnecessary to my life, especially at bedtime when I wanted to switch off, get myself relaxed and feel grateful for my life. Why do I choose to let all these other people’s thoughts and opinions and lives come into my life? Why do I give them priority over what I know is more important to me?
It’s all about setting appropriate boundaries and being aware of what we are letting into our minds. Our thoughts are the most powerful things we have and we are letting them get hijacked by everything and everyone around us regardless of what we really want. Yes, I do want to be available for my kids, but now they are older, this dynamic needs to shift. Yes, I do want to keep connected to friends and find inspiration on Facebook but I need to work out times when doing so works for me rather than taking my energy and attention from things that really nourish me.
So that’s what I’ll be working out over the next few weeks – what new boundaries do I need to build to support and nourish me in the next phase of my life.
I’d love to hear what boundaries work for you, or where you’ve realised that you need to set new ones. How do you feel about the phrase ‘being less available for people’. Please comment below or get in touch.
Written at home, at my husbands desk, being pestered by two curious kittens while listening to Explorers, The Globalist, The 2nd Law, by Muse. That’s me, not the kittens listening to Muse. I have my headphones on.