Ask most people about taking good care of themselves and being healthy, and they can probably tell you how they do that physically (or at least they know how they should do it). Even mentally or spiritually we generally know what we can or should do. But what about emotionally?? How do we do good self-care at a deeper, more fundamental level? I believe there are practical ways to accomplish this.

5 Essential Components to Good Self-Care:

  • Receiving from others. We all have needs, desires, and preferences. Not allowing others to give to you means you run on empty. It also takes away the gift of others giving to you. Be OK with accepting good words, actions, and gifts from others.
  • Attending to your own legitimate needs. Most of us know when we need to rest, play, sleep, and generally do things that revive or refresh us. These are important to our well-being overall and to the next important component of good self-care.
  • Giving to others. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving! The amount of your giving expresses the amount of your love. The true test of love is not feeling, it is action! When we give we get back too. We meet an inherent need for ourselves by giving to others. It’s good for others, it’s good for us!
  • Forgiving others and yourself. Failure to forgive leads to feelings and emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred, fear, and hostility. It only hurts me. (More on this later!)
  • Boundaries are an essential and vital part of healthy life and caring for ourselves.

Let’s talk more about boundaries:

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend are the leading experts on boundaries.

A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. Boundaries define us, they show where “I” end and someone else begins. They define what is me and what is not me.” 

Boundaries are like fences in my life. They keep the good in and the bad out. And we must be the gatekeepers. If something, or someone, hurts me, I need to set boundaries to keep those hurts from getting in. We need to keep things inside the fence that will nurture us and keep things outside the fence that will harm us.

The word “no” is the most basic boundary setting word. People with poor boundaries have trouble saying no to the control, pressure, demands, or real problems of others. Boundaries are the guidelines that outline what we allow into our lives, and what we don’t. And there must be a consequence if our boundaries are broken. Remember, our boundaries are meant to protect us; emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. If we have a person in our lives that has a tendency to speak insensitively, in cutting or cruel ways, we must set the boundary, “please don’t talk to me in that way.” That’s the boundary. If they continue, they break the boundary, and the consequence may be that we hang up the phone or walk away. This protects us from their emotionally damaging words.

The National Institute of Marriage also has some important ideas about using boundaries in ways that care for ourselves without hurting other people. To be effective, boundaries should take care of you and your interests in a way that also accomplishes your personal and relational goals.

Ask the question: What do I want to accomplish with my boundaries?

Most people will answer in one of two ways:

  • I need boundaries to protect myself from people or circumstances. This response typically leads to the building of barriers between you and others. If your motivation is to create distance or isolation, then it is an unhealthy reason for boundaries.

But, if the answer is…

  • I need boundaries to take good care of myself within ongoing relationships. This response strengthens and builds those relationships, leading them toward health.

We have to be careful not to build walls and barriers in relationships that we actually need to be nourishing and maintaining. When boundaries are used to build walls, much harm can be done by the resulting withdrawal, control, and manipulation.

  • Withdrawal and control or manipulation hurt both the relationship and the personal sense of worth.

  • Healthy boundaries are characterized by love, honor, and respect.

  • How can you set boundaries to protect your heart, and move toward rather than away from relationships?

For more on boundaries, check out Boundaries, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries in Dating or Boundaries with Kids, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.