The world sets so many expectations on us: you have to do this, that and the other. You see it is your duty to fulfil these expectations, and since you are able, you do so. And you keep on doing more, and more, and more. You persevere, again and again.
This may only be temporary. The reasons that lead you to the situation may be varying and complex, but one thing is for sure: For one reason or another you struggle to set boundaries for yourself – to see the limits of your own endurance. Somehow you have allowed the idea that others’ needs are more important than your own to take over and that has affected the balance in your life.
That’s what happened to me. Looking back on my youth I realise that I was the student who always met the expectations of every teacher in the school – to the best of my ability. (And by the way, there were a lot of them!) Later in life at work, I felt that I had to earn my place each and every day, and that I deserved it only if I could finish everything, to perfection, that was my responsibility. In turn, because I took on so much responsibility, I was then given more and more responsibility. Until… I was crying myself to sleep at night.
When I got tired of crying myself to sleep, I let a friend teach me how to meditate. In time, meditation helped me. That, however, was only the beginning of the long path to figuring out why I always had to meet others’ expectations – why I try to keep others’ lives in order and in doing so tearing myself to shreds?
With meditation came the practice of self-compassion, self-gentleness: What if I saw value in myself? What if I cared primarily about myself, my own boundaries, and my own well-being? For a long time this way of thinking was difficult, but the mere act of giving myself – my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences – space, began to slowly change my perception. I am allowed to take time for myself.
The continued practice of introspection began to reveal a variety of emotions that had put me on the path of serving others before taking care of myself; feeling shame, thinking what if others think I am lazy and bad, feeling fear that others find me redundant. I realised that I was living in fear, fear that I would not fit in – fear that I would be rejected – if I did not serve others and the world.
When I first started setting boundaries for myself it felt really difficult, because it required trying to change the feelings I felt at my core. It was painful. At times, the emotions were so heavy that I felt I couldn’t breathe. However, because I still dared to feel those deep and difficult feelings, I had control over them and they could no longer influence my actions. My activities gradually began to change, and I was able to take the space for myself that I needed.
Through that space, I began to experience that I am more a part of this world when I am myself. (Even though the fear that was so deep-rooted in me believed I would no longer be part of the world if I didn’t act on my fears.) I felt like I was finally releasing the burden of the whole world from my shoulders and at the same time, I was ridding myself of the knot inside me that pushed me to work harder, and more, even when I couldn’t do anything anymore.