Is your neighbour in trouble?

by Constanze Bohg

About a month ago I sat down to take notes for my next blog text. Just thinking about this topic made me smile and made me happy. But twenty-four hours later I came down with a high fever and was bedridden for over a week. Thank you, influenza! Shortly after I got sick, both of my kids joined me. After more than two weeks the three of us were finally starting to recover.

One of my first thoughts when I was back on my feet was “My blog text!”. I was eager to start writing. But instead of having time to sit down and write, stuff kept happening. I would sigh at night, realising another day had passed and the page stayed empty.

What I only see now is this: Besides all the “stuff” happening, something else happened. Over the last two weeks, almost on a daily basis, I would run into a friend or be in a phone conversation with someone and every single time we would end up speaking about “it”! 

I kid you not. So here it is:

Self care.

I know, there are plenty of texts out there about self care. But God has been very consistent in reminding me that I should add my text. This will be a mix of several major areas where I was able to heal, discover and grow over the last years. Therefore, this will most likely become a series of blog posts over the next weeks. I am so excited! Stay tuned.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Jesus (Mark 12:30-31)

What I want to share today has radically changed my life. Forever. And I want to challenge you to try it yourself. Maybe you’re really good at it. Maybe. However, when I look back at dozens and dozens of conversations I’ve had, I’ve come to a conclusion. There are still plenty of people out there who could use a little practice and encouragement. Perhaps you’ll be like I was back then and will be hearing this for the first time in your life.

Say What?

When I started my first of several therapies back in 2010, I was a bloody mess. Every coping mechanism in my life that once had functioned, had come to a brutal halt. I still vividly remember one of the first sessions with the therapist. He patiently listened to everything I told him and then said:

Ms. Bohg, what I’m about to tell you may very likely become one of your life mottos in the future. I’m convinced that with a little help you’ll overcome this crisis you’re in right now. So how about we start with this beauty of truth?

NO is a complete sentence.

Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash

I stared at him in disbelief. He smiled. I guess “What?” was written all over my forehead. Some moments went by, then he helped me out by explaining what he meant. So I learned that day that not only is “NO” a complete sentence. Even better, it doesn’t require any justification or explanation. There’s a full stop after these two letters. No. Period.

Now this may sound a bit harsh and may remind the mom readers of their toddlers who just discovered this amazing word. “No!”

But in my opinion, self care starts and is based on this: setting healthy boundaries. One of the books I literally devoured after that particular therapy session was: “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I strongly recommend this book as a starting point. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. 

Healthy boundaries

Self care is not being selfish. And no, self care is not being an egotist. Self care means to make sure that you’re living within your boundaries. And in order for this to happen, there will have to be a good amount of “No” in your life. Let me show you what this means for me on a day to day basis. 

Everyday I will face situations where someone asks me if I could jump in. Or if I could come over. Would I be willing to write a text. Maybe I could … fill in the blanks. And with the above truth of NO being a complete sentence comes another truth:

Every YES to something means a NO to something else.

If I say YES to that late night phone call I’m saying NO to my required nine hours of sleep. If I say YES to scrolling through my insta feed in the afternoon, I’m saying NO to “undivided attention” while playing with the kids. 

Multitasking. Really?

I can’t do two things with undivided attention at the same time. I strongly believe that multitasking is a delusion. And I’m not alone with that. Here’s what David Burkus writes on

“You can’t multi-task. Not really. And neither can anyone else. We know from several really well conducted studies into human psychology and brain science that we don’t actually multitask. Not in the sense that we’re doing two activities at the same time with sufficient focus. Instead, the human brain “task switches” constantly between the two different demands vying for its attention. And it doesn’t switch all that well.”

David Burkus

If you want to dive in deeper, check out the link.

So what does it all boil down to for today? Self care means choosing wisely what to do next. In the next moment. The next hour. Next year. And before choosing wisely, give yourself the grace and liberty to take a deep breath. Don’t let people or schedules push you and rush you into decision making. Step back. Close your eyes for just one breath. And listen. Is it the right thing to do? Or is your day already so full that the answer to “Wanna come to the movies with us tonight?” Simply is “Thanks for the invite. Another time!”

You’re allowed to rest.

It is as easy as that. No justification needed. No guilt allowed. It is simply a polite way of saying: NO.

I promise you one thing. It will immensely increase the quality level of your life and the lives around you.

Even though the world tells us it’s “cool” to be busy all the time, I say NO. I don’t find it cool to be busy and on overload all the time. It annoys me. Then it saps all energy from me. Of course, that makes me cranky. And to make matters worse, I’ll often end up yelling at my poor kids and husband. So, last but not least it makes me fail miserably at doing what Jesus commanded me to do in Mark 12.

Photo by Natalia Figueredo on Unsplash

You’re allowed to rest. And this will only happen if you allow yourself to live within your God-given boundaries. Practice saying NO with people that like you. With people that won’t be offended or bark at you when you first try it.

It takes practice.

Here’s what I did: I shared my newly learned revelation with my husband and lovingly asked him if I could practice this with him. He was all for it! Anything that would help me improve my life quality and keep me from burning out again, he’d readily support it. So I practised with him. And got better with each “No”. And started to see the advantages and how good it feels to be able to guard my heart from being on constant overload.

Then I shared with a close friend that I trust. She was excited and helped me by simply understanding and applauding me for every “No” I was able to voice. It was starting to be fun! 

Mess up and clean up

Today, many years later, I’m still practicing and still improving. And I still fall into the trap of people-pleasing or overriding my boundaries every now and then. When I do and realise it, I come to terms with the fact that I messed up. And then I clean up. 

It may mean calling a friend and letting her know that I won’t be able to make it to that concert next month. Even though I had promised to come. It may mean cancelling that class I signed up for.

Photo by Katee Lue on Unsplash

Because to be honest with myself: In the current season of my life I simply don’t have the energy level to attend a pilates class at 7pm each Thursday. Yes, I love pilates. And it would surely be an awesome hour of stretching and building up my power house. However, I tried it and fell asleep during the first ten minutes of warm up. Twice. True story. Did I lose money? Yes. Will I chose more wisely the next time I’m about to make plans or commitments for evenings out? Absolutely!

You can do this!

Friends, this is not rocket science. It is honesty with yourself and others. Have the courage to be real. To be authentic. It is one of the biggest gifts my burnout brought. Living within my boundaries was nothing that took anything away from me. Nothing. Instead, I have been given the splendid gift of discovering my potential and being able to live it out. It is a treasure. Not a sacrifice.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Or shoot me an email with questions, with your struggles and maybe even with your first successes when friendly but firmly saying NO to something that is outside your boundaries.

You. Can. Do. This.

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