At one level, we are one with everything in this universe, at another level; we are individual expressions of that oneness. We perceive ourselves to be singular and to exercise free will. These seemingly contradictory desires create an endless push and pull within us relative to other people because we think we have to choose between them. However, if we are traumatized at some point in our early lives by relationships, we tend to polarize towards one or the other desire. If we are traumatized by enmeshment or by being controlled, we tend to polarize towards independence to the point where we are terrified of relationships and our boundaries are too strong. On the other hand, if we are traumatized in our lives by disconnection and loneliness, we tend to polarize towards merging to the point where we are terrified of autonomy and our boundaries are too weak. This week, I received a letter in the mail that struck me. It was from a girl who wanted to know why she is so afraid of autonomy. She wanted to know why self-help feels so bad and why it feels wrong or even sad to create healthy boundaries for herself. The spiritual and self-help field is all about helping yourself and it is all about the development of a strong sense of self. Think of it, the self help and spiritual community is littered with ideologies like “fill up your own cup” and “everything you could ever want or need is inside you” and “the only approval you need is your own” and “no one else can make you happy, only you can do that”. These are essentially self-centered ideologies that exalt the idea of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical independence. For some people, these ideologies are entirely liberating. For other people, these ideologies are incredibly painful. And I’m going to explain why.
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. This is why in a world where we operate from an individual perspective, it is important to develop healthy boundaries. But what are boundaries really? Boundaries are not walls between you and the world. In fact boundaries are nothing more than a defined sense of self. If I say I like chocolate ice cream and you say you like vanilla ice cream, those preferences are in fact boundaries we both have. Those boundaries do not conflict with each other. A person may say, “I want to keep my life private” and another may say, “I want to be open about my life and you are part of my life”. Those boundaries are in conflict and it is these conflicting boundaries that cause the conflicts in our relationships. A sense of self (therefore boundary) includes a sense of 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.
How do healthy boundaries develop? They develop as a result of parents allowing you to have a healthy sense of self when you are developing and being socialized. Not many parents are in fact knowledgeable enough about boundaries to accomplish this. Also, most parents are so identified with their children that they forget the child is an actual person who is different to them and thus has his or her own likes and dislikes, wants and needs (boundaries). Parents often violate a child’s boundaries again and again by trying to make the child a mini version of themselves; a reflection of their desires, likes and dislikes. When a child in this kind of environment tries to express a boundary, the parent feels invalidated. And if it is an unconscious parent, the parent then reacts defensively to this invalidation. They react by violating the boundary in an incoming (intrusive) way or an outgoing (distancing) way. When most people think of boundary violation, they only think of intrusive violations, such as someone controlling someone else or calling names or hitting 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 to leave you isolated, which is to cross a boundary away from you.
The child who experiences intrusive boundary violations as a part of the process of socialization, is the one who learns to fear relationships and thus becomes unhealthily independent as an adult and avoidant of intimacy. This child has been educated that it is not ok to have a sense of self or to have boundaries. The subconscious message growing up was “you can’t have you and stay emotionally or even physically safe around me at the same time.”
On the other hand, the child who experiences distancing boundary violations as part of the process of socialization, is the one who learns to cling for dear life to relationships and closeness because they develop such an extreme fear of the starvation and loneliness caused by isolation. This child has been educated that it is not ok to have a sense of self or to have boundaries. To have a sense of self or autonomy was to be isolated. Isolation is a form of torture.
Let’s take a look at how this takes place in a real life scenario. A mother and her 3-year-old daughter are about to go to church. The little girl decides that she wants to wear jeans, cowboy boots and her lucky Star Wars shirt. She asserts this boundary, but her mom wants her to wear a dress because she wants people to see her as an appropriate mother and her daughter’s outfit choice conflicts with this desire. So, instead of explaining the situation to her daughter and coming to a meeting of minds or lovingly enforcing a limitation where neither party has their boundaries violated, this mother chooses to shake her head in disgust and walk away. The message this mother has sent her child is “you can’t have you and have me at the same time.” If you are a person who has found their way to spirituality or self help because you are looking for a way to feel better in life, but spiritual truths like “fill up your own cup” and “everything you could ever want or need is inside you” and “the only approval you need is your own” and “no one else can make you happy, only you can do that” cause you to feel deep grief, it is because these self-centered ideologies (that are liberating to the person who feels trapped by connection with others) are re-triggering the trauma of isolation. They are reinforcing the idea that you are all alone and always will be and that needing connection is not ok. We tend to be people who view our boundaries as bargaining chips that we can use to bid for connection. We will take our boundaries down or abandon them entirely if only it will guarantee that we get to be close to someone and escape the potential of falling into the grips of that demon isolation. The most common forms this takes in females is that we abandon preferences for other people’s preferences, so we can just be with them. We also have loose sexual boundaries because sex becomes our transactional way of guaranteeing we will not be lonely. So, today, I have news for you. It is news for not only you but also for those of you who LOVE those self-help sayings and are terrified of the trapped feeling you feel when you are in relationships… The door to your heart will be unlocked the minute you get that you have adopted a very unconscious and extremely painful limiting belief that you cannot have yourself and have other people at the same time. And guess what? It isn’t true. There doesn’t have to be a conflict between your sense of self and connecting with other people. Right now you don’t have much proof to back this up. But you have to start somewhere. So start here. What if you can have a sense of self and also merge with others? What if you can have boundaries and have connection. What if you can have yourself and have other people at the same time? What if these seemingly contradictory desires are in fact complimentary? To deepen your understanding relative to this topic, I want you to watch two videos I created on YouTube. The first is: “How To Develop Healthy Boundaries”. The second is “And Consciousness, the Modern Day Replacement For The Middle Way”. We can think of a boundary as an imaginary line that uniquely defines your personal happiness, your personal integrity, your personal desires, your personal needs and therefore most importantly, your personal truth relative to the rest of the universe. But none of that means you are all alone. You can have that and have intimate connection and companionship at the exact same time. Sometimes when we are with people who are incompatible to us, there are too many boundary conflicts to stay united in the physical dimension. But if we can live according to our own values, desires, needs and truths, we will not end up all alone. Instead, by living in alignment with our own boundaries, we are no longer abandoning ourselves and so we are a match on a vibrational level to deeply committed, consistent, present relationships with people who are so compatible with us that they will never abandon us and we will never feel alone. You really can have yourself and have other people at the exact same time. You don’t have to choose between one and the other.