A beginner’s guide to honoring yourself

A portrait of the article's author, Casey Joan Kollman. Photo by Adam Fleischer.

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Boundary-setting has been a popular recent topic of conversation across campus and social media. With the separation and threat to safety that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems to me that we as a society might be getting a little bit better at saying “no” to others and standing up for ourselves. Yet, as Nedra Glover Tawwab (Licensed Therapist, Black Woman and New York Times Best-Selling Author) writes, “Before we can teach others to respect our boundaries, we must learn to honor them ourselves.” And so, I ask my fellow students, how do we honor ourselves?

If you’re anything like me, perhaps honoring yourself sounds like something beyond your capability. It may even sound pretentious at first glance. But when you explore more of what Tawwab has to say, the practice of honoring ourselves becomes a necessity. We think that setting boundaries implies instructions on “what others need to do to make things better for us,” as Tawwab says. And while the people in our lives greatly affect us, Tawwab notes that “we make personal choices daily that affect the quality of our lives and who we are. With self-boundaries, we consider how we impact ourselves.” 

Tawwab shares a list for us of areas where we might be able to implement more self-boundaries: 

  • Your finances 
  • Treatment you allow from others
  • Your reactions 
  • Your thoughts, with the added note: “Yes, you can stop talking to yourself in an unkind way, just like you might stop someone else from being mean to you.” 
  • Self-care 
  • Time management 
  • People you allow in your life 

When I read this chapter of her book, I was instantly fascinated. I’ve never thought of a budget as a personal boundary before, and I certainly had never thought of a budget as self-care. Tawwab’s chapter reframes the concept of self-boundaries as one of agency. She tells us that it is up to us to maintain our boundaries, to stick to our goals, to say “yes” and “no” and to become the person that we want to be. Nobody else can adhere to our boundaries when we don’t adhere to our own. We have to set an example for what we allow. 

Tawwab consistently urges her readers to follow through with their boundaries. Setting any boundary can sometimes make us—especially those of us living in the Midwest—feel like we are “being mean” or “asking for too much.” Yet, Tawwab tells us that dealing with the slight uncomfortableness of setting a boundary is more preferable than dealing with a life, a practice or a consequence that we don’t want. She makes it very clear: “If you don’t uphold your boundaries, others won’t either.” 

Oh, and by the way, “having boundaries with yourself is not a restriction.” Tawwab is very clear in reminding us that just because we are consciously setting our own limits that include nuance does not mean we are restricting ourselves. Tawwab wants us to make sure that we are setting realistic boundaries, truly trying, getting out of unhealthy relationships and keeping our promises to ourselves. For, when we don’t, then we are merely falling into the “people-pleasing” realm of self-sabotage and self-betrayal. To counteract this, Tawwab writes: “Confidence in your boundaries is the cure for self-sabotage.” 

I find the concept of setting and sticking to self-boundaries to be near-revolutionary. While the concept of self-discipline is one that is frequently tossed around in the world of higher education, it is often used with the complaints of older students and faculty members in a derogatory way to say that students don’t seem to be capable of setting boundaries with themselves, or at least not in the way that others would like. Although I agree that some of us may be lacking in some self-boundary capabilities, perhaps we simply don’t know how to honor ourselves; and perhaps that is something that we could learn in our higher education classrooms. 

Try something for me: complete this short, five-minute exercise. You can write right on the paper if you’d like. But grab something and answer these questions: 

What type of person do you want to be? Become who you want to be, and introduce that version of yourself to the rest of the world. 

Create a list of boundaries you’d like to implement for yourself. For example, “save more money.” Next to each one, identify one actionable step to help you uphold your boundary. Example: “Start a savings account, and add $30 per month to it.”

Let me know how honoring yourself goes.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nedra Glover Tawwab and her book on boundaries, you can check out her website: nedratawwab.com or her book: “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself.”