Q&A - Michelle Elman - The Mind Map
By Tess Leigh-Phillips

Q&A – Michelle Elman

What are boundaries? And how can you implement them?

Published 12/02/2021
From colleagues to lovers, personal boundaries are vital in order for us to enjoy healthy relationships.

In her latest book – The Joy of Being Selfish: Why You Need Boundaries and How to Set Them, Michelle Elman looks at the practical side of self love, exploring how to reclaim selfishness as a force for good.

Many of us feel guilty for putting ourselves first. But overlooking our own needs means eventually we’ll have nothing left to give.

Maybe selfishness isn’t all that bad? We caught up with Michelle to find out more.

How has the pandemic affected your mental health?

Having been alone for both the first and current lockdown, my mental health has definitely been impacted.

In the first lockdown, I very much went into ‘life coach’ mode.

I had the experience of living through the SARS pandemic in Hong Kong when I was 10 years old.

I was very confident that this, like then, would be over in a few months so we just needed to enjoy it and hold onto that moment when we were all back to normal!

Telling stories of how much fun it was when the world started turning again.

After it became apparent that these two lockdowns were not the same, a lot of my own trauma came up.

I used to have PTSD from medical trauma and confinement to the house.

The constant medical conversations were reminiscent of memories I would rather forget.

This time though I had my own life coaching tools, and I knew that once we came out of the lockdown, I would have time to process it.

I buckled down and very much focused on writing my book since I had a looming deadline.

It gave me something to focus on and something to distract me.

The rest of the year and into this year, I’ve generally found that emotions run higher than normal, it’s harder to have control over it.

Because I’ve been alone for so much of it, I find I’m simply missing human company and especially hugs.

All I know is that I’m thankful I got good with being alone before the pandemic hit.

Are you doing anything differently to look after your mental health during this period?

It’s not that I’m doing anything different but I am more conscious about my thoughts.

Trying to catch thoughts before I spiral.

I guess the main difference is I have the time to do all the things I know helps my mental health.

Sometimes that’s simply a day on the sofa not moving.

The most important things I have found are being kind to myself and being flexible.

If it’s a bad day, it’s just a bad day and do whatever you can to survive it.

Unlike in normal situations, if I was having a bad day, I’d have a million options to make it better, or at least try to shift the mood.

However, in a pandemic, I’ve found that fighting it just makes it worse, and it usually accumulates.

I’m letting myself feel everything I need to feel.

Reminding myself that no matter how I react to a pandemic is healthy and OK.

What are you looking forward to doing once things improve?

Seeing my friends and getting lots of hugs.

I’m looking forward to going out and actually being tired when I get home.

Also, gyms opening, and not having the constant worries you have now when you leave the house.

Most of all, I’d love to return back to avoiding the news.

What new TV, films, music or books have you discovered during lockdown that you’d recommend?

In terms of books, I have loved The Pisces, Pretending and Untamed.

In terms of TV shows, I loved Bridgerton, Flack and Normal People.

I also just finished rewatching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning – all 17 seasons.

What advice would you give to 16 year old you?

I would tell her that you aren’t meant to know all the answers right now.

That the environment and people around her are not allowing her to be the best version of herself!

But that’s OK because one day she will find the right people!

And when that happens, she will realise that she was far smarter than she gave herself credit for.

All the things that were painted as negatives – being stubborn, being hyper, are actually beautiful unique parts of a personality.

It just hasn’t been given room to grow.

I would say find people who celebrate you and don’t just tolerate you!

If you had to draw a pie chart for what keeps you mentally well – what would it look like (ie 20% good sleep, 20% connection, 20% medication, 40% medication)

5% Movement, 5% Reading, 10% Meditation, 30% Kind Self Talk, 50% Boundaries

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about psychology, how people work and what makes people tick.

Specifically right now, the power of boundaries.

How life-changing it can be when you start standing up for yourself, knowing you deserve better and asking for more.

Tell us something not many people know about you.

Despite being an influencer, I am actually happiest when I am not on my phone.

I have always done prolonged digital detoxes, and regularly turn my phone off for a whole weekend.

I turn it off every evening and have only been turning it back on at 11 am.

The longest was when I went to Norway for a week and didn’t even bring my phone with me.

It wouldn’t have worked anyway! I was in a cabin with no electricity or water.

I find it so liberating and it really helps your mind quieten down.

What do good boundaries mean for you?

Good boundaries means knowing how you deserve to be treated.

Having the ability to speak up for yourself when the way you are being treated is unacceptable.

It is understanding the line between me and you as individuals.

Allowing each party to take responsibility for their own actions, feelings and behaviours.

Are there any moments in your own life that taught you the importance of boundaries?

The friends I have now are constant reminders of how loving and supportive people can be, when you have people who respect your boundaries in your life.

There was a time in my life when it was the norm for my friends to gossip and bitch about each other.

They would only be there when I needed fixing, but were absent when everything was going well and I wanted to celebrate.

When you set boundaries, people who treat you like that tend to disappear, as they can’t take advantage of your lack of boundaries anymore.

Do you have any tips for our readers on how to set good boundaries?

1) Set the boundary scared.

Being scared is not a reason to not set a boundary.

You don’t have to rid yourself of the fear of being disliked, or any fear, that is an obstacle to boundary setting.

Sit in the fear and set the boundary anyway.

2) The person you are most scared of setting a boundary with, is the person you need to set a boundary with the most.

3) Start with the word ‘no’. It is the simplest boundary and the first boundary we learn.

If you can say no when you mean no, and yes when you mean yes, that’s the first place to start.

4) Boundaries should be set in an emotionally-neutral way.

If you are angry, take a step away from the situation and return to the conversation when you can separate yourself from your emotions.

5) Remember that cutting people out is an option.

Always communicate the end of a relationship (i.e. don’t ghost!)

If a relationship is not working anymore, then it’s better to have quality relationships than old relationships.

Long relationships are really praised in society. But as you grow and change, sometimes the people in your life need to change too.