Are you an Octopus?

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It is a funny question and I promise it’s not meant just to grab your attention. Especially as we wrap up the busy holiday season and venture into 2019, it is a perfect time to reflect on what we want, not on what we don’t want. A time to consider how we can co-create balance in our lives. Its an illusive state,yet worth pursuing.

 In the last 8 weeks I discovered many people, women specifically, really relate to the idea of being an “octopus”. Originally, it seemed like an accurate, simple metaphor for feeling overwhelmed and pulled in many different directions. We ALL can relate to that. Young working women focused on a career and pursuing their passions can relate,  moms can relate, whether they are working outside of the home or not, college students can relate…I mean is there ANYONE who would not relate to that ? As I looked deeper into the exact definition of an octopus, I read the following, any octopod having eight “muscular arms” and no “internal shell”. Let’s look at the most obvious. Have you ever felt like maybe you have eight unique arms that are all being pulled on at the same time? You start being tugged in one direction, only to feel a yank in the opposite direction? Maybe you are even being pulled forward by your own magnificent vision, it feels proactive and deliberate… and then something from your past rears its head and you feel dragged, or even worse jerked backwards? Or maybe your work, or child, or spouse, or parent needs something that ONLY YOU can provide and you feel drawn in so many different directions that you literally stay stuck in the same spot due to the opposing forces? That is feeling like an octopus. I had a good friend recently email me after the discussion and the octopus has become an adjective…”Things have been very octopussy aound here.”  We have all been there, and the overwhelm can feel exhausting and a little like we are drowning.

The second part of the description is what took a little deeper reflection.  How can you and I relate to the “lack of an internal shell” part of the definition? At first, I thought it wasn’t relevant. After all, we are “tough cookies” who can handle it all and somehow stay sweet, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Upon further consideration the lack of an internal shell has nothing to do with being able to do it all or being “tough”. It has to do with what we choose to do and when we choose to do it. Many of us have a difficulty in saying the word “No.” The internal shell concept could serve as a boundary, and would be in place as a protective barrier to the dangers lurking in the sea, or in our case the world.

The protective barrier in our emotional world is often referred to as a boundary. If it doesn’t exist organically or on its own, we can and really must create boundaries. If someone gets physically really, REALLY close to us when they are talking, we may feel bit uncomfortable as our personal space, the invisible boundary that most people have is compromised. We are very aware when someone crosses that boundary and we physically feel awkward or even like our space has been violated.

It isn’t always as easy to notice when we have allowed our internal boundaries to be blurred or even crossed. It often times is a very slow moving of the line, and we find ourselves giving and giving, and doing and doing for others at the expense of preserving our self.

The reality is that creating boundaries for our self can begin by saying “No.” Many of us, and I include myself in that group of women, who tend to say “Yes! Sure! I can do that.”  Whether it comes from a natural self confidence that believes we can “do anything” once we put our mind to it, or from years of being a “people pleaser”, or from simply being “nice” … whatever the case may be, we say “Yes”.  And the only thing we may say “No” to is when someone offers to help! “No, thanks though, I can do it.”

Boundaries in their simplest form exist as the primary way to set a limit. It is where one thing ends, and another begins. In relationships, boundaries are crucial for maintaining identity.  This is where I end, and you begin. Yes, you can have a union and partnership, but one that is made up of two individuals AS WELL as the union. When boundaries blur, are weak or are non-existent, it can lead to resentment, anger and feeling burned out. Creating boundaries in work and relationships are the keys to not feeling like an octopus.

I used to answer text messages from people even if they arrived at 10 pm. I was sending a message that said, “I am always available.” I had no boundaries because I felt I had to make myself available.  Until I set a boundary and It sent a clear message, “This is where my work life stays at work, and my personal life stays private and intimate. “

So if you are feeling a bit like an octopus, ask yourself this, “Do I need to set a boundary for myself, so that I can be at my best ?” Then make a list of all the forces that may be pulling you in those opposing directions, and prioritize them. Trust me, I know everything feels like a priority. But if you were forced to arrange the different categories or energies that pull you, I know it is possible to give them an order of importance. Just make sure you are on the list.

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