Having a sense of self vs. other is part of participating in this physical dimension. The individual perspective and experience is what is currently serving the expansion of this universe. And so, we perceive a difference between ourselves and the rest of the world. This individual perspective is a kind of boundary that defines us from everything else. We have heard again and again from self help experts and psychologists that it is crucial to our wellbeing to develop healthy boundaries. But what are boundaries really? Boundaries are guidelines for how someone relates the self to the rest of the world. They are rules of conduct built out of a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning. Personal boundaries operate in two directions, affecting both the incoming and outgoing interactions between people. Personal boundaries help to define an individual by outlining likes and dislikes and what is right for them personally or wrong for them personally. Defining these things helps us to know how we will and wont allow ourselves to be treated by others. Here are some signs that you have unhealthy boundaries:
- Saying no when you mean yes or yes when you mean no.
- Feeling guilty when you do say no.
- Acting against your integrity or values in order to please.
- Not speaking up when you have something to say.
- Adopting another person’s beliefs or ideas so you are accepted.
- Not calling out someone who mistreats you.
- Accepting physical touch or sex when you don’t want it.
- Allowing yourself to be interrupted or distracted to accommodate another person’s immediate wants or needs.
- Giving too much just to be perceived as useful.
- Becoming overly involved in someone’s problems or difficulties.
- Allowing people to say things to you or in front of you that make you uncomfortable.
- Not defining and communicating your emotional needs in your relationships.
The biggest issue isn’t that other people violate our boundaries, it’s that we violate our own boundaries. By letting someone violate our boundaries, we violate our own boundaries. This is self-betrayal. If you go against your personal boundaries, you violate yourself, you abandon yourself and you allow self-hate to rule the day. When most people think of boundary violation, they only think of intrusive violations, such as someone raping someone else. But there are also distancing violations as well. These are sometimes the most painful. A distancing boundary violation occurs when you have a connection with someone and they withdraw, which is to cross a boundary away from you. It emotionally wounds you and so it constitutes as an emotional boundary violation as well.
Boundaries could get very complicated if we were defining boundaries according to cerebral concepts of right and wrong or wanted and unwanted or according to the boundaries other people think are or aren’t healthy. After all, there are physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, metal boundaries, spiritual boundaries, and sexual boundaries. So I’m going to simplify the concept of boundaries and make them very easy for you to understand. Your boundaries are defined by your feelings. Your feelings will always tell you whether a boundary of yours has been violated, no matter what kind of boundary it is. For example, if someone said something that hurt you, it means they crossed an emotional boundary and you will feel hurt, which is your indication that your boundaries need to be re assessed. Another example could be, someone asks you to a party and you feel as if you don’t want to go, but you go anyway, you feel bad, which is your indication that you have violated your own boundary. This is why it is so crucial to be in touch with how you feel all day every day.
We can think of a boundary as an imaginary line that uniquely defines and separates your personal happiness, your personal integrity, your personal desires, your personal needs and therefore most importantly, your personal truth from the rest of the universe. He, who does not listen to and respect what he himself feels, violates his own boundaries. He, who does not listen to and respect what others feel, violates other people’s boundaries. It is as simple as that. So practice really listening to and feeling how things feel. Listen to what your feelings are telling you. They are speaking to your personal truth. It is crucial that we not only know who we really are and what we really want but also that we know that we are known for who we are and what we really want by others. When we are ashamed of who we are and what we want, we have poor boundaries and we are shamed for whom we are by others all the time.
Personal truth cannot be defined by anyone other than you because no one can step into your body and feel for you. But this is what so many people try to do. This is what society does. It tries to tell you what your boundaries should and shouldn’t be. In fact, the health or weakness of your boundaries has a great deal to do with the world around you, especially the world you grew up in. We were shamed out of our true sense of self as children. In order to fit into our family and into society, we had to develop an identity that was acceptable to the people around us, a false self. This is a survival strategy. We become the person we think we are supposed to be and shame the person who we really are. Those of us, who had invalidating parents, do not have healthy boundaries. Indeed, we may cross our boundaries all the time or even lack them. Here is a common scenario: A child begins to feel angry because their parent is always working and never has time to be with them. The child expresses that anger and is invalidated, the parent says “I spend more time with you than any other parent that I know spends with their child” and the child is shamed for being ungrateful. The child learns that the way they feel is not true and that they should be ashamed for feeling the way they feel. Anger is not acceptable. So the child creates a false self that is cannot express anger and who says “thank you” all the time. Over time, he or she believes that who they really are is happy and grateful. They have never really admitted to the fact that deep own, they truly feel angry. So how do you know if you have set up a false self? You fear other people thinking negatively of you. Ask yourself these questions: Do I know what I really want? Do I let other people tell me what to think or believe and how to feel? Do I do things I don’t really want to do and say yes when I really want to say no or say no when I really want to say yes? Am I afraid to let people know how I really feel? Am I afraid of people thinking negatively of me?
It’s hard for people to set boundaries because:
- we put others’ needs and feelings first;
- we don’t know themselves;
- we don’t feel as if we have rights;
- we believe setting boundaries jeopardizes the relationship; and
- we never learned to have healthy boundaries.
Most of us were told that how we felt was either not how we felt or was not ok to feel. Most of us were told that what we saw was not what we saw. Most of us were told that what we “thought” we wanted was not what we really wanted, or was not ok to want. We lived lives were our own personal truth was invalidated again and again. This made most of us feel crazy and as if we could not trust ourselves, so we began to go against the way we felt and the things we wanted and in doing so, we did not stay true to ourselves. This internal self-betrayal is what caused us to stop trusting ourselves. Self-trust is all about boundaries. Boundaries are about being there for yourself. Most of us are caught in a habitual pattern of abandoning ourselves . This is the real reason why we don’t trust ourselves. People don’t trust themselves when they feel unsafe with themselves. And we feel unsafe with ourselves when we watch ourselves make decisions that don’t feel good or act in a way that doesn’t represent our true selves. When we ignore the way we really feel, and abandon our personal truth, we become in essence untrustworthy to ourselves. The only way to begin trusting yourself is to learn how to tune back into how you feel and then honor how you truly feel.
Maintaining the false self by denying the truth of who we really are and how we really feel and what we really want, prevents us from having any kind of intimacy in relationships because to have intimacy, we must open up to meet the other person at the very core of ourselves. We cannot do this when we are maintaining a false self because we never let other people past the mask, so they can’t ever really love or see us. What’s worse, we never really let ourselves past the mask. Intimacy is to receive a person for who they truly are and to be received for who you truly are. By this definition, you can see that if we maintain a false self, we have no intimacy with ourselves so we cannot have intimacy with other people.
In relationships, we deeply crave to be with someone who understands how we feel, but we don’t even take the time to understand how we feel. We wind up having a relationship of convenience with ourselves. We only listen to our own personal truth when it doesn’t cause trouble or difficulty. We don’t realize that we are causing the very difficulty we are trying to avoid by not listening to our feelings and personal truth all the time regardless of whether it may cause difficulty or not. The bottom line is it is impossible to know who you are and what you like and what you believe and what you want unless you know how you feel. People with healthy boundaries are able to have relationships without losing themselves. And we must remember that when our boundaries are vague to us, they will be vague to others. So how does this idea of boundaries fit into the idea of a universe that is all one? It would seem that a boundary would defy the truth of the unified nature of the universe. If I am truly accepting of and honest about who I really am an what I really want and feel, I am embracing the unique expression of source that I am rather than seeing myself as separate from others or from source. And so, personal boundaries are not a contradiction to spirituality. We are simply using a word “boundary” which we associate with resistance. In one sense, to have boundaries, you have to differentiate between yourself and the rest of the world. You have to define your individual feelings. But this is already done for you because of the fact that you have come into a physical human brain and body. It was always the plan for you to experience a separate self because this perspective serves the expansion of the universe’s own journey to self-awareness. So we all already do experience a self and that which is other. This perspective creates a good deal of unhappiness until we allow ourselves to go in the direction of individual happiness, which ultimately leads to our discovery that we are all one and that whatever serves our individual happiness, serves all else that is. But here is the thing that really matters. Boundaries are not about resisting what is not wanted. That is an unhealthy boundary that creates pain. It is as unhealthy to have resistance towards violation that could be imposed on you by the world, as it is to have no boundaries and let the world constantly trespass against you. People who build walls against intimacy, are not exhibiting healthy boundaries, they are in resistance to the world. An unhealthy boundary pushes against the world and tells others how they can and can’t behave. Ultimately we have no control over how they behave and what they do and don’t do. We only have control over what we do and don’t do and what we allow ourselves to experience at the hands of others.
Healthy boundaries (unlike most boundaries we are used to such as fences or rules) are non resistant in nature and thus, they are in alignment with oneness. Healthy boundaries are not about controlling what other people. They are entirely about you personally defining and then following your individual sense of happiness and desires and personal truth. It is a state of self-awareness, integrity and self-love. You can’t have any of those things if you are pushing against the world and you can’t have any of those things if you are letting the world define who you are, what you want and how you feel. Having a healthy sense of self serves not only you, but also the universe. And ultimately, your happiness IS everyone else’s happiness as well because we are all one. If you are feeling bad about having said yes to something you don’t really want to o, it is time to re assess your boundaries. If people in your life are making you feel bad in any way, it is time to re assess your boundaries. List the ten things in your life that you are the unhappiest about right now. List ten things you’d like other people to stop doing around you or to you or saying to you. It may even help to list the people in your life one by one and write down how you feel around them. Then, relative to every item on the list, ask yourself “How am I violating my own boundaries and letting them violate my boundaries?” “How do I really feel about this, what do I really want?” An example may be, my spouse watches the television after coming home from work and ignores me. This makes me feel rejected and unloved, like a void of loneliness is welling up inside me. By doing this, he is violating an emotional boundary because I’m not ok with people treating me like this. So I’m going to write him a letter expressing how I feel. Once you discover that a boundary violation has occurred, it is then crucial to make some changes based on how you really feel. Decide on specific action you can take. Self-expression is paramount in this circumstance. For example, you may decide to say no next time someone asks you to do something. Maybe you will make a phone call and back out of a commitment you’ve made. Maybe you will set a boundary by saying something to them the next time they hurt you, such as “Please don’t derail my efforts to give up smoking or remind me about how many times I’ve failed.” Or you might assert a boundary by asserting a positive request, such as “I’d really appreciate your help to succeed this time.”
Remember, as time goes on, your boundaries will require updating. They will not always stay the same. Perhaps the time you can give to others is much more limited after starting a new relationship or having a baby. Redefining your boundaries throughout life is a crucial part of staying true to yourself. And boundaries are all about staying true to yourself throughout the changes you experience in your life. We can all help to rehabilitate each other with regards to boundaries as well. We can do this by giving them permission to feel how they feel and admit to how they feel with us. We unintentionally violate other people’s boundaries all the time without knowing it because so many people have problems asserting themselves around us and expressing their desires and feelings to us. It is very easy to help people develop healthy boundaries, just develop the habit of asking them to tell you how they really truly feel and to be honest about it without fear of loosing your love or being disapproved of. By doing this, you’re giving them permission to be themselves and be true to themselves. You’re saving both them and you a lot of heart ache in the process.
If we want to live happy lives and make the right choices for ourselves personally, we need to know how we feel, admit to how we feel and express how we feel. Developing boundaries is a crucial part of finding our true selves. It is therefore a crucial part of spiritual practice and life success. We do not need to resist others to do it. Instead, we need to fully allow ourselves to express the truth of ourselves at all times.