There is a very old Oak tree that stands at the edge of the bushland. The trunk is gnarled. It’s limbs are heavy and reach outward, crowned by a canopy of leaves. It rustles in the summer breeze. This afternoon a storm brews. The wind picks up, catching the tips of the branches and the leaves shimmer with the slight agitation. As the gusts begin to strengthen, leaves, twigs then branches begin to sway, eventually snapping and breaking under the fierce gale. The mighty trunk yields slightly, but the tree remains tall and rooted. In the storm the trees survival depends on its strength and ability to move not against the wind but with it. The roots of the Oak spread deep within the ground, they provide stability. A tree that refuses to yield can withstand immense pressure but eventually it will crack, while a tree with weak roots will topple. The secret of the oak tree is in it’s soft strength. It’s a power that comes first from learning to stand rooted in your own values, and from there, reaching out with compassion to those around you. Like the oak, a person’s roots can reach firmly down into the ground of their values and emotions.
Like the oak, from a position of strength, it’s possible to flex and sway. You can absorb the gusts, however forceful, but you need not lend that force any more energy. When your roots are firm and deep, you know where you’re able to bend.
Like the Oak in the passage it is vital that we establish healthy boundaries in our lives. We must be able to yield, bend and compromise of course but without those strong roots to ourselves, we will topple. SO, how do we kindly and proactively ensure healthy boundaries?
1 | Tune in
Our bodies always give us signals when we are near a personal limit. Notice if you feel your jaw tighten or your fists clench. Maybe you start to squirm, or you break into a sweat. Perhaps you feel it in your throat or stomach? Whatever the cue, listen to what your body tells you and take some time to explore your discomfort and understand the arising boundary.
2 | Understand your priorities
Your time is a limited and valuable resource. If you try to please everyone, you not only purchase a one-way ticket to resentment, you also deny yourself the pleasure and growth of focusing on what you value. Next time you say yes to someone, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself. Take some time to write a list of priorities and compare it to where you spend your time and energy to assess if you need to make any adjustments.
3 | Communicate with clarity
Practice saying no when you don’t want to do something. You don’t have to explain yourself or offer an excuse. The following phrases are complete answers: “No, thank you.” “Thanks, but I can’t.” If someone you care about has crossed your boundaries, you may want to give them more information but in general the answer of simply no, thank you needs to be normalised. Not everything needs explanation.
4 | Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
If you’re not used to asserting your boundaries, you may find yourself feeling awkward, scared, guilty, or nervous when addressing a personal limit. Give yourself space and time to build up your tolerance. It is not an easy task, and often, rather intimidating; telling people what you need might seem selfish, aggressive, or even rude. But it’s important: Boundaries allow us to feel safe and respected both physically and emotionally. Honouring those limits helps us to take better care of ourselves, builds trust, prevents burnout, and infuses more meaning and authenticity into our relationships.
5 | Take space
If you’re ever caught off guard by someone crossing a boundary, and you’re not sure how to respond, offer yourself permission to return to the conversation after you’ve had some time to reflect and regroup. Try saying something like, “I need some time to think about what just happened. I’d like to come back to this conversation in a few hours/days.”
6 | Boundaries can be flexible
Our boundaries will change for different people, and they may shift over time based on the conditions of your life and the evolution of a relationship. It’s crucial to check in with yourself to ensure that your relational rules feel good for you. If your boundaries are quite rigid or extremely loose, it may indicate that something is going on underneath the surface for you. If that’s the case, you might consider getting some additional support.
The last couple of years have been testing to say the least. In many ways the start of this year has started to feel a little more like normal in terms of what we can and cannot do. It is important to remember though, we have lived through something extreme and coming out the other side of it, we might feel differently about many aspects of life. This is normal and not something you should shy away from. If you need to make changes, plant new roots, learn to bend or flow differently, that is ok.
Take care this week.