The Art of Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is an art form that many of us did not grow up learning. Perhaps we didn't know what a healthy boundary was until it was crossed, or grew up with a lack of boundaries altogether and had to learn how to put them in place at some point. Boundaries can help to free us from habitual ways of relating and give our relationships structure and depth.
To understand boundaries, we first need to look at the difference between boundaries and barriers. A barrier is a block, a way of rejecting a person or situation to control an outcome. A barrier is impenetrable; although it may be useful for keeping out the negative experience, is also will inevitably block our full ability to heal and grow. I remember after the 2016 election, many friends saying they "cut out" any friends or family who voted for Trump. This is an example of a barrier, avoiding feelings of discomfort and pain in favor of our comfort zone. Most of the time, barriers are a reaction to our fear of pain and suffering. We've been hurt before and we do not want ourselves to be made vulnerable again. It is protection for ourselves, shielding our hearts from feeling. (However, if you feel unsafe in any situation, please remove yourself and seek professional or legal guidance. Sometimes barriers are necessary for our safety!)
A boundary is different. Barriers block us, boundaries allow us to go deeper in a conscious way. Oftentimes, I try to set "compassionate boundaries", meaning the boundary is for everyone's highest good. The reality is, things are always changing; compassionate boundaries are flexible and adaptable to the needs of the present.
Why should we set boundaries in the first place?
I often have students use blocks as boundaries for their bodies in yoga class, even (or especially) if they are very flexible. Using the block as a boundary provides a template for a different way for the body to open up. If the body is very open, the energy will only go to it's habitual places, causing us to open one dimensionally, potentially leading to injury. When we use the boundary, we redirect the energy and we open other parts of the body that we are subconsciously bypassing.
In relationships, this is much more complex. Oftentimes there is an imbalance of one person being very closed off and one person with a lack of boundaries. I find it interesting how these two polarities seem to magnetize, and how this pattern keeps repeating if we are only relating from our wounds. If we don't have boundaries with a certain relationship, then the "openness" (lack of boundary) of that relationship can become overwhelming -- we feel unable to make decisions freely, tense in our bodies, we might feel like we're never getting "enough", or always let down by the other person. Once we learn how to feel from our bodies and not our minds, we can start to understand where boundaries need to be placed. When we understand our personal need for boundaries, we liberate ourselves and our partners from having to figure them out for us and from cycles of grasping and rejecting.
It takes so much self-awareness and self-worthiness to set boundaries, because they are ultimately an extension of self-love. Be compassionate with yourself if you find it difficult to know what your boundaries are. Usually those who violate boundaries have had their boundaries violated at some point (this definitely applied to me, and it might be relevant to you). It is a skill to feel a somatic experience with boundaries, and sometimes it takes some missteps and heartache to know what you truly value. We can help each other grow by intimately knowing and respecting ourselves first and foremost.
Here are some helpful ways to recognize if a healthy boundary is needed in relationship:
- Do you feel anxious in anticipation of spending time with someone? Do you feel drained or depleted in your body after being with them?
- Do you often feel disappointed and let down by your expectations of another?
- Does someone guilt you into feeling like you owe them time, presence, or love?
- Do you feel closed off and tense, with no flow between you and the other person?
- Are you unable to make decisions for yourself without someone else's approval or validation?
- Is your tendency to cut people out if they have disappointed you?
- Is it difficult for you to say no?
It has been my personal journey and challenge to learn how to set boundaries in relationships and I hope to help others on this path. If you would like to explore setting compassionate boundaries, please feel free to reach out or connect with me over a session.