February Is A Hard Month

Posted by: Lee Thomas

Time to read: 4 minutes

People say that the internet is forever, but try finding a Tumblr post from circa 2012.

I don’t remember it exactly, and it’s quite possible that I’ve sort of mentally Frankensteined it from a few different posts, but I remember it going something like this:

Of course you have seasonal depression. Look outside. Nothing in nature blooms all year round. Human beings are meant to spend the winter months curled up by a fire telling stories with our loved ones, not trying to perform the same amount of work in December as we do in July.

I’m sure it was phrased better by the original author, but you get the gist.

It impacted me a lot when I first read it. Not enough to change my behaviour at the time, of course. But enough to remember it over a decade later.

“February is a hard month for me” is a phrase I have been hearing a lot recently. And every time I hear it, I think about that post, and I feel the unsettling feeling creep over me that what we’re doing is deeply unnatural.

I’ve become really interested in birds over the last couple of years. Extremely millennial of me, I know. And in one of the bird books I read, they talked about how when migrating songbirds are kept in a cage and not allowed to migrate, the birds get distressed. This is true even if the bird was born in a lab, even if it was separated from other birds its whole life, even if it was kept in a location where it couldn’t see the outdoors to get any seasonal cues from nature. All of its other needs were met. It was warm, safe from predators, and had plenty of food. But it could not migrate, and so it did not thrive. 

It didn’t learn migration from its peers. It didn’t see the weather changing. It didn’t need to leave to find food. 

And yet, its body was clearly telling it: something isn’t right.

I think it’s easy for us non-birds to look at this situation and be like “yeah, no shit, that’s what this type of bird does, so of course it’s going to be stressed when it can’t do it.” We see a tiger in a cage with plain concrete walls and think “no wonder it’s not thriving”. It’s not rocket science.

…And then we feel exhausted and we shrug our shoulders and we say “February is a hard month for me.” And we go back to work.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways we’re taught to distrust and dismiss the things that our body communicates to us. When we’re exhausted, we don’t look at our agenda and see where we can do less. Instead, we berate ourselves for not doing as much as we think we should be able to. When we’re “overeating” we look up strategies for eating less, rather than noticing how our body is communicating that we need to stop restricting. We exercise before we’re fully recovered from injuries or sickness. Instead of getting more sleep, we drink more coffee.

We feel shame about our hunger — for food, for rest, for companionship — and we try desperately not to need these things. The worst thing we can be is needy. We call babies “good” when they don’t inconvenience us too much with their needs, and we keep telling them that for their entire lives.

I am still haunted by Brandy Jensen’s observation from her 2020 advice column Ask A Fuck-Up: American culture has always been allergic to need. We despise it in ourselves and recoil from it in others. So, it’s not particularly surprising that your question is not “how do I find this vital thing my life is currently lacking” but “how do I learn to stop needing it?”

I wonder about how differently we might react to our February exhaustion if we saw our bodies as legitimate sources of information. When we say “why am I feeling this way?” it’s so often a condemnation — usually what we’re really saying is “I shouldn’t feel this way.” But what if that question was from a place of genuine curiosity? What if we we saw our bodies as an equal partner, with their own wisdom and insights? As a friend worth listening to?

Lately I’ve been referring to my relationship with my body as an “ecosystem.” In an ecosystem, it’s okay to need. Trees need to shed their leaves. Bears need to hibernate. Birds need to migrate. I no longer believe that my human body is the exception to these natural rules.

And if we can accept that, and meet those needs? Maybe February won’t be such a hard month for us.

Body Image Group: Befriending Your Body

Do you feel like your body is the enemy? Do you believe that “all bodies are good bodies”… except yours? When you look in the mirror, do you criticize yourself – and then you criticize yourself for criticizing yourself? 

Our relationship with our body is one of the longest-term relationships we’ll ever have. But, like all relationships, sometimes it takes work. If criticizing your body hasn’t gotten you the results you’re looking for, maybe it’s time to try something new.

Befriending your Body is a six-week, professionally-facilitated group where you will learn how to rewrite your body relationship story.

As a group we’ll explore what body image is, learn about where our body stories come from, and develop new techniques to help bring peace to your relationship with your body. 

If you are interested, just CLICK HERE or email Raquel@BirchStand.ca and a member of our team will connect with you for more information!

Facilitators: Lee Thomas (they/them) MSW RSW and Raquel Griffin (she/her) MSW RSW

Location: Video sessions through secure online platform

Cost: $90 per session (may be covered through insurance – check with your provider!)

Time: Tuesdays 7:00pm-8:30pm Atlantic time, Feb 27th until April 2nd

This group is open to participants aged 19+ and living in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, or Ontario. All participants must agree to the Group Participation Agreement. Registration deadline is February 20th. 

CLICK HERE to let us know you’re interested!

Webinar: Befriending Your Body

Do you struggle with body image? Do you believe that “all bodies are good bodies”… except yours? Are you hard on yourself, and then hard on yourself for being hard on yourself?

Our relationship with our body is one of the longest-term relationships we’ll ever have. But, like all relationships, sometimes it takes work. If criticizing your body hasn’t gotten you the results you’re looking for, maybe it’s time to try something new.

Befriending your Body is a free one-hour webinar hosted by The Aleo Collective. It is open to members of the general public, health professionals, and anyone who has a body.

Time: Feb 15, 2024 12:00 PM Atlantic time

Location: Zoom

Cost: Free

Registration Link: Here!

About the presenter: Lee Thomas (they/them) is a social worker and therapist based in Edmonton, Alberta. Their main areas of expertise are eating disorders and body image concerns, with a special focus on how these issues impact queer and/or neurodivergent individuals. Lee is licensed to work with clients in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Alberta. You can learn more at leethomas.ca or connect with Lee via email at leethomasmsw@outlook.com.

About Aleo: The Aleo Collective is a group of interdisciplinary mental health practitioners who share similar values and approaches to sustainable recovery from eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours. To learn more, visit aleocollective.ca

New Year New View: A Dietitian’s Take on Challenging Diet Culture

Posted by: Courtenay Vickers RD
Time to read: 8 minutes

What is diet culture anyway?

Diet culture can be defined in many ways. I’ve been an RD (short for Registered Dietitian) for the past 10 years, and adopted a weight-inclusive lens with my practice about 6 years ago. I’ll preface this blog (as I did in my recent webinar) that I am constantly learning more about what diet culture is, how it shows up, and what to do instead.

When asked this question (re: what is diet culture anyway) I often reply by saying something to the effect of: diet culture is the harmful belief that certain body shapes and sizes are better than others, and there’s a “right” way of eating. To which I typically get the follow up question of “but you’re a dietitian, isn’t there a right way of eating?”. My response from here can get quite nuanced, depending on the audience – in short, there is no one-size-fits-all way of eating, because bodies are meant to be incredibly diverse and different! Not to mention everyone’s unique relationship with food, cultural connections and traditions with food, access to food, etc.

One definition of diet culture that I keep coming back to is by Christy Harrison:

“Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • – Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • – Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • – Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • – Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.”

Diet culture in the new year

So, now that we have a bit more of an idea of what diet culture is, here’s a short list of various ways I’m seeing diet culture show up so far in 2024:

  • Overemphasis on getting “strong”
  • Influx of “clean eating”
  • Overambitious fitness goals
  • Bigger emphasis on dietary supplements
  • More orthorexic tendencies
  • Orthorexia = an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating
  • Sudden removal of entire food groups
  • Increased use of calorie-tracking apps + smart watches
  • Health washing + green washing on food labels
  • X # of day challenges related to food and/or fitness
  • “Watching” what you eat
  • More labelling of foods as good/bad, healthy/unhealthy
  • Lifestyle changes and wellness journeys

Here’s an interesting fact to highlight diet culture’s prevalence: according to Forbes, the top New Year’s resolutions in 2024 include improved fitness, losing weight, and improved diet.

I think it’s important to note that while there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with these resolutions, I find they are often fueled by diet culture and can perpetuate, worsen, or ignite eating disorder behaviours.

Why I’m concerned as a weight-inclusive dietitian in the eating disorder space

I’m concerned because diet culture can often be a precursor to eating disorders, and can perpetuate disordered eating behaviours. I think it’s important to mention that many factors can spur a full-blown eating disorder, such as genetics, food insecurity, trauma, and more (this is probably a topic for another blog post). And, diet culture is, unfortunately, a common piece that shows up along the way either in the development or recovery from an eating disorder. 

Challenging diet culture

Depending on where you are at with your journey to healing, you may have already started to challenge diet culture! I’ve compiled below a short list of ways I commonly find helpful to challenge diet culture (whether you’re starting this for the first time, or perhaps you are further along):

  • Learning more about the harms of diet culture
  • Setting boundaries (with yourself and/or others)
  • Stop labelling foods in binaries such as good/bad, or healthy/unhealthy
  • Take time to check in with yourself
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Get curious about a non-diet approach (or similar)

Here’s a short list of some keywords you may find helpful to guide your own reading and research as you start to learn more and challenge diet culture:

  • Anti-diet
  • Intuitive Eating
  • Body Liberation
  • Non-diet
  • Weight-inclusive
  • Health At Every Size®
  • Fat Positive

What to do next

A big (non-exhaustive) list of specific things you may or may not want to try instead of participating in diet culture this new year:

  • Eat regularly throughout the day. For some, this might look like multiple meals and snacks throughout the day. This might mean seeking help from a trusted support person, or a professional such as a dietitian. 
  • Integrate challenge foods, if you find there are foods in your life that are holding some sort of power over you. This might be foods that you are fearful of, foods you avoid completely, or foods that you often feel ‘out of control’ around. Integrating challenge foods is something that I typically only recommend once we are getting enough food in regularly first, and then slowly integrating the challenge foods one at a time in a structured way. 
  • Play with movement in a way that feels good for you and your body (only if this is medically appropriate and accessible for you).
  • Work on staying appropriately hydrated. What this might mean is ensuring you are drinking adequate fluids (or high fluid food sources) throughout the day. Watch out for overdoing it with caffeine as this can cause dehydration. 
  • Prioritize rest! And not just sleeping enough at night, but allowing space to rest during your waking hours. For some this might mean taking a nap, allowing yourself to ‘do nothing’ for an afternoon, or perhaps it’s pausing what you are doing for a few minutes periodically throughout the day to slow down and check-in with yourself.
  • Take time to explore your relationship with food and body. This might mean journaling, talking about this in therapy or with a dietitian, or reflecting on your own. 
  • Cultivate self-compassion ❤️ I truly believe we can’t talk about nutrition without talking about self-compassion. Nourishing ourselves and challenging diet culture is not always an easy thing to do. And at times, it can feel like a struggle. Can we work towards being kind and gentle with ourselves as we navigate all the sticky murky bits?
  • Challenge your food rules – especially if you find there are specific rules/patterns/or behaviours related to your eating getting in the way of recovery.
  • Re-evaluate your use of the scale and set limits around this. Many find it helpful to hide the scale, reduce the frequency of how often you use it, or get rid of it entirely. If it’s absolutely medically necessary to be weighed, consider these limits or have it done blindly at a clinic.
  • Put away diet apps and/or fitness trackers/watches. As a dietitian, I rarely find these pieces of tech actually helpful, and, if anything, they often cause an unnecessary focus and obsession with food/movement.
  • Curate your social media to better support your pro-recovery and anti-diet goals
  • Pick up a workbook or book related to ED recovery and/or an anti-diet approach
  • Improve your sleep hygiene. For some this might mean developing a bedtime routine, sticking to a sleeping schedule, or reducing caffeine intake.
  • Try a support group geared towards eating disorder recovery, body image, or intuitive eating (depending on where you are at and what fits best). 
  • Get professional help from an eating disorder registered dietitian, therapist, social worker, nurse practitioner, family doctor, or psychiatrist. 

I hope that by the time you are done reading this, something has stood out to you. Whether it’s a small takeaway, a new learning to ponder, or a new perspective on a familiar theme, I hope this has resonated with those reading. 

For anyone wanting to dig a little bit deeper, I’ll end with a few reflective prompts below.

Reflective prompts to help you challenge diet culture:

Whether or not journaling in a pen-and-paper way is your thing, these reflective prompts may be helpful as you work on challenging diet culture and healing your relationship with food and body:

  • How has diet culture shown up for you in your life?
  • What would it be like to step away from diet culture?
  • What’s the scariest part of challenging diet culture for you?
  • Who or what might be helpful to you during this process?
  • What’s one small thing you can do this month to challenge diet culture in your life?

Postpartum body image tips: from an ED therapist with ED lived experience

Posted by: Raquel Griffin

Time to read: 5 minutes

Originally appeared on: NEDIC.ca

At first, I thought I was successful in combating ED thoughts and the diet mentality that followed the birth of my child. Sure, my ear would initially be tickled with ED whisperings of fatphobia and diet culture. But just as quickly as they appeared, self-compassionate and comforting hums would replace them. But as time passed, I began to feel more stress about my new body shape and size. I had a number of friends and acquaintances who gave birth very close to when I did, and I really began to struggle with body comparison. Why was my body larger than theirs? Why did it seem like they were restored to their pre-pregnancy body sizes when I wasn’t? These fatphobic thoughts and expectations hung like a cloud as I squeezed my body into my too-small clothes.

At 4 months postpartum, I was horrified to come across a post in my social media feed from my local hospital’s pregnancy unit for an upcoming Q&A on C-sections. The post included a naked, very thin, flat-tummied, stretchmark-free, White person, from the navel down to the thighs. Laying on top of this body was a newborn baby, peaceful in slumber, blocking the birthing person’s labia but also positioned low enough down to wonder how this person had no pubic hair. It was a completely unrealistic picture of any body, let alone a postpartum body. I was so upset that a reproductive-focused medical facility was perpetuating such a harmful body standard (not to mention a weirdly sexualized one). I felt  shame about my postpartum body and at times bought into this diet-culture idea that my body should be getting smaller the further away I got from  my child’s birth date.

Pregnant people are often highly encouraged to try nursing at any cost (a whole separate conversation) and one of the “benefits” often included is weight loss. I hate to admit it… but when feeding/nursing was going well with my baby I was partially relieved, because in the back of my mind, I thought it would help prevent me from needing to adjust to a drastically new and different body. But, I was wrong. I was experiencing shame that my postpartum body was “too large” or differently-shaped. And, then I had shame about my fatphobia-induced shame, as that was not aligned with my values.

It’s a strange thing to hold reverence for the body that withstood such a major medical event and brought my treasured child into the world, while also resenting the bodily evidence left behind. To admire the softness and smoothness from stretched skin where my child was held in their first home, then to shortly thereafter hold disgust for new skin/fat folds and stretch mark scribblings. The good news is, with a lot of work, over time my relationship to my new body as a result of pregnancy and childbirth is becoming easier. If I’m being honest, I’m not yet at a place where I like my postpartum body and I’m willing to accept that maybe I will never be. But, I am at a place where my feelings toward my body are much more neutral and compassionate. My body has been and is capable of great things. My body is worthy. 

These are some of the things that have been helping me move toward body acceptance:

Remind yourself that eating is especially important during this time
Our bodies need energy in the form of food. Providing consistent and adequate nourishment following labour and delivery is extremely important—especially for postpartum bodies. The last thing your body needs right now is to have its starvation response triggered.

Whether your birth was vaginal or Caesarean, your body needs to recover and it needs food to do that. You will need the energy from food to help you combat the sleep deprivation you’ll be experiencing. I was able to have several family members and friends provide food and meals in the weeks after my birth so that I didn’t have to worry about cooking. This was an absolute life-saver. I also made sure I had Ensure and meal supplements on hand to quickly consume nutrients with little time/effort. Eating enough consistently and regularly will also help your milk production if you are nursing.

Respect your body by dressing in clothes that fit and are comfortable
Stop trying to squeeze into your old clothes. Wearing clothes that are too tight does not feel good. 

Pregnancy/maternity clothes are meant to accommodate a changing body. Your body may keep changing postpartum so just because you’re no longer pregnant doesn’t mean you should stop wearing pregnancy clothes if they are comfortable and fit. If it helps you feel better, stay away from the items that accentuate a “bump”.

If you find that your new body shape does not fit in any of the sizes provided in a store, consider buying a size that is too big and then taking to a tailor or a family member who has some sewing skills. Get familiar with thrift stores. I have bought some items new, but I have found most of my success with thrift stores. I’ve even bought a couple items with the tags still on.

Engage in re-embodying activities
With pregnancy, labour, child-birth, and nursing, there is a long period of time where you may feel like your body isn’t fully your own anymore. And, if you have a history of disordered eating and disembodiment, these feelings could be exacerbated. Where possible, engage in pleasurable activities that help you reconnect with your body in positive ways. For me, that was prioritizing walking, getting back to choir rehearsals and singing, and maintaining sexual intimacy with my partner. 

Reject the Diet Mentality
Shortly after giving birth, I completed my Intuitive Eating Counselling Certification. Immersing myself in anti-diet values, principles, and scientific research really helped me to reject the diet mentality and ED thoughts as they arose. 

There is no research to indicate that long-term weight loss is a realistic endeavour.
Speak out against harmful diet culture when you see it. For example, that Instagram post I mentioned— I commented something along the lines of “I’m really happy to see this event on C-sections will be taking place but I am very disappointed you chose to use a promotional image that perpetuates an unrealistic body standard”. Many other commenters followed suit and the account ended up removing that promotional image.
Consume weight-inclusive content, media, and literature that aligns with anti-diet values, fat-liberation, and Health at Every Size. Some of my favourites are:

“Yes, I’m Really Eating That!” (Boundaries Part Two)

Posted by: Lee Thomas

Time to read: 6 minutes

You can read Part One here.

Ok, so let’s get to the actual process of this: what does it LOOK like to set boundaries? When I recently did a webinar on this topic, it was around Thanksgiving specifically and so we talked about the three approaches of “subtle, solid, and spicy”. If you’re thinking that that’s just a rebrand of “passive, assertive, and aggressive” then you are absolutely correct :). But to keep with our driving metaphor here, I’m going to go with “swerve, educate, and honk”. 

Part of the reason that I don’t like to just talk about passive, aggressive, and assertive communication is because I think that “passive” and “aggressive” get a bad rap. Every communication style has its strengths and weaknesses, and I do really feel like there’s a time and a place for almost everything. Communication skills are just tools like everything else — instead of assessing whether a tool is good or bad I think it’s more useful to ask if this tool is well-suited for the outcome you are trying to achieve. Education is great, but there’s times where swerving and/or honking are the more effective tool! Every approach has potential pros and potential cons.

The goal of the “Swerve” approach is to avoid engagement. That’s an okay thing to do! Not every person or every moment deserves your engagement. The key element of nuance here is that while this approach might “keep the peace,” I would argue that it’s not the same thing as being selfless or compassionate. Compassion in our relationships usually looks more like “education,” even though it doesn’t feel as pleasant in the moment.

Best used with: relationships that you don’t think merit engagement (at this moment in time)

In my opinion “Educate” is the most complicated approach, because it asks that you engage really sincerely with the other person. This is a good example of the concept mentioned earlier, about how boundaries are a gift to our relationships. Even though in the short term this approach is not necessarily super comfortable, in the long term it helps the relationship become an environment that both of you can feel good in — and that’s an incredible gift to give to both of you.

Best used with: relationships that you care about and want to deepen.

Let’s go back to the driving metaphor. Honking can serve a handful of different purposes. We usually think of it just as a way of saying “Hey! F*** you!” But it can also be a way of trying to communicate information that you have no other way of communicating. “You’re coming into my lane!” “Pay attention!” “Stop it!” Honking can serve similar purposes in our relationships. I definitely think there’s a time and place for honking, but I think it’s kind to our relationships to try different approaches first. But, like with driving, you need to assess the current situation and respond accordingly.

Best used with: careful consideration, after other approaches have not worked.

I would love to expand on the above approaches, but this piece is already getting kind of long. Brevity is not generally my strong suit. So instead let’s look at what these approaches might look like in practice. As a heads up (or a content/trigger warning), I’ve used some specific examples of diet talk below. I’m hoping these situations are specific enough to be useful, but generic enough to be generalizable to your life. They’re certainly not designed to be triggering, but diet culture is a tricky beast and so if you notice that you’re feeling triggered, feel free to take some space. This blog post isn’t going anywhere babe! You can come back to it a different day!

You can use these responses verbatim if they work for you, but lots of them probably won’t be a perfect fit. Adapt them as much as you need to. And if you see a response that makes you shudder, that’s okay too — take what’s helpful and leave the rest. 

Situation 1: Hungry Eyes

Your family is together for the holidays. At dinner, your cousin glances over at your plate and says “you’re really eating all of that?”

Swerve: Yep, I am! Anyway, how have your kid’s piano lessons been going?

Educate: I’ve been working hard on my relationship with food, so I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my food choices. If you want we can talk more about this later, but for now let’s just keep our eyes on our own plates. Thanks! 

Honk: What I’m eating really isn’t any of your business. 

Situation 2: Your Fitness Pal

You’re on the phone with your friend and he starts talking about this new diet and exercise routine that he’s going to try in order to lose “all this extra weight”. 

Swerve: Well, I like you at any size. Anyway, how have things been at work?

Educate: I’ve been learning a lot about diet culture lately, so I’m not really into the diet talk these days. Do you want to hear a little bit about what I’ve learned?

Honk: I love you but I’m not the right person to talk to about this.

Situation 3: Aunt Misbehavin’

Your aunt is staying at your parents’ house for a few days and you come over to visit. At one point in the conversation she lets out a long sigh and says “You have such a pretty face. You’d look so good if you just lost a few pounds.”

Swerve: Anyway, I should get going. It was good seeing you!

Educate: That comment makes me uncomfortable. I’d prefer if you didn’t say anything about my body right now, positive or negative. Thanks!

Honk: What a weird, gross thing to say.

A final pep talk

Setting boundaries is a skill, and skills require practice! It’s normal to feel nervous when you’re new to driving, or when you’re driving in an unfamiliar place or in adverse weather conditions.

Try to remember that there are no perfect answers. Sometimes driving safely means staying off the road in certain conditions, driving slower than other drivers want you to, taking detours or shortcuts, or keeping pace with the flow of traffic even though it’s a different speed than you’d prefer. Sometimes taking care of yourself looks like “picking a fight” and sometimes it looks like “letting yourself get walked all over”. Ultimately it’s not your job to drive in a way that’s convenient to other drivers, it’s your job to drive in a way that you think is safe. Try to show yourself some grace and compassion. You’re doing the best you can. 

Good luck out there — drive safe!

Boundaries (Part One)

Posted by: Lee Thomas

Time to read: 4 minutes

One metaphor I like to use around boundaries is driving. So let’s talk about highway driving for a second.

A key thing about driving is that you only control your own vehicle. You can do basically nothing about how other people drive; all you can do is choose how you drive, and how you respond to their driving. If your plan for a smooth trip is controlling how other people drive, you’re in for a bad time.

We’ve got these lines painted on the highway. And the thing is, those lines actually do nothing to prevent cars from driving over them. But we’ve all collectively decided that those lines mean something, and the vast majority of the time most of us try really hard to not cross those lines, because we know they keep us safe and other people safe. 

The majority of boundaries we set will hopefully be like these lines. A lot of the time when we start talking about boundaries, our brains immediately jump to “well what if the person doesn’t respect those boundaries???” And I get it, because a lot of the time we’re coming into these conversations with experiences of people not caring about our boundaries. And we’re going to cover that “what if” a little later on.

But let’s be honest: sometimes we’re so sure that people won’t listen to our boundaries that we don’t even really express them. So let’s remember that on this road, we’ve just got these painted lines, but most people try to follow those lines most of the time. (People don’t follow them nearly as well when they’re impatient or not paying attention or don’t know the rules or think that their desires are more important than others. I’d argue that that’s all basically true for boundaries too). Many people, and hopefully most people in your life, want to treat you relatively well, but they need to see the lines in order to be able to do that.

But also, unfortunately, there’s some moments where the line just doesn’t quite cut it. Back to our highway. We don’t have just one painted line and then a huge plummeting cliff, right? We’ve got the line, and then a rumble strip, and then a shoulder, and then a ditch. I think it can be helpful to think of boundaries in a similar way. We can have layers of boundaries and consequences, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach.

The last part of this metaphor is the importance of being proactive. We learn about driving before we get in the car. We do up our seatbelts. We think about the conditions we’re going to be driving in, and we try to set our expectations accordingly. We drive differently in a nighttime winter storm than on a clear sunny day, and that can be true about boundaries too. It’s almost always more effective to set people up for success by communicating needs in advance than it is to set boundaries in the moment… but that’s a blog post for a different day.

This part of the boundaries talk doesn’t translate well into the driving analogy, so I’m just going to say it directly: we don’t live in a very pro-boundary culture. We’re usually taught (implicitly or explicitly) that setting a boundary is harmful to our relationships, that boundaries are something we do as a punishment, and that a healthy relationship should never need conversations about boundaries because the other person should just know how you feel without you ever having to express it. 

But that isn’t true. Boundaries are a gift to our relationships. Setting boundaries sometimes sucks, but that’s actually part of what makes them such a gift. We don’t do things that suck for relationships we don’t care about. And often the more that it sucks and feels awkward and messy, the more of an act of caring it is. It’s way easier to avoid an awkward situation and just cut someone out of your life lol.

Setting boundaries is part of the messy business of learning to care for other people and for ourselves. I feel like this idea is summed up beautifully by this quote from Prentis Hemphill: “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”

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