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The Covert Boundary Pattern

Boundaries are nothing more than a defined sense of self. They are like an imaginary line that defines your feelings, your thoughts, your preferences, your aversions, your beliefs, your needs, and your desires etc. from the rest of the world. Healthy boundaries develop as a result of parents allowing you to have a healthy sense of self when you are developing and being socialized. A sense of self (therefore boundary) includes a sense of how someone relates their ‘self’ to the rest of the world. They include rules of conduct built out of a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning. Personal boundaries help to define an individual by outlining likes and dislikes and what is right for them personally vs. wrong for them personally. Defining these things helps you to make the right choices for yourself and choose the right life for yourself. If you want to understand more about boundaries, you can watch my video titled: Personal Boundaries vs. Oneness (How To Develop Healthy Boundaries).

In an ideal world, we would communicate and hold our bounadaries in a direct way as well as choose the right life for ourselves and get ourselves into compatible social arrangements based off of our personal truth. But some of us learned early in our childhood that we could not have a personal truth (ie. Boundaries) that were different from anyone else’s personal truth. Or worse, that conflicted with their personal truth. When this was the case, there were such massive consequences for our being in touch with our truth and living according to it and overtly asserting our “sense of self” (and therefore asserting our boundaries) that we suppressed our personal truth deep within our subconscious. We stopped living according to it. And instead of overtly asserting our boundaries, we started to assert them manipulatively and covertly. We slipped into the covert boundary pattern.  

Don’t think that manipulation is an inherently ill-intentioned and malicious thing. Manipulation is simply what a person does when they feel they can’t get a need met overtly and directly. They find indirect and covert ways to get that need met. When a person has to manipulate so as to enforce a personal truth (ie. Boundary), it is very painful for them, as well as for others. It leads to all of the pains that come with inauthenticity. And it leads to constant conflict because people will feel manipulated. They will feel like they are suddenly in a situation they didn’t agree to.

So that you can understand the covert boundary pattern, I have three examples for you. Thea was raised by a single mother who believed that the only acceptable thing was for a woman to be strong and self-sufficient and independent. She wanted Thea to be the boss.  Whenever Thea was sensitive or passive or oriented towards supporting others rather than personal achievement, she would be scoffed at and forced to do things like practice hours of piano and perform in concerts and get straight A’s or be forced to take after school classes. Because of having to adapt to her mother’s truth, Thea developed the skill of precision, execution of tasks and self-discipline. In her twenties, this made Thea quite the business commodity. 

Thea took a job working for a company and at first, she loved it because the support and contribution she offered was valued. Then, she got a promotion. Instead of this being a good thing, it was a disaster. She suddenly found herself in the position of being a boss. She had more pressure and more responsibility. She had to self- lead and tell other people what to do. Thea’s truth and therefore boundary was that she did not want to be a boss. She didn’t want to lead and she had a threshold for pressure. Her truth was that she loves supporting and contributing and being led and given tasks to complete. She felt so ashamed of this boundary, that she spiraled into self-hate. She was also afraid that asserting it meant that she would be dismissed by the company because she had failed. So, her subconscious mind took over. And instead of directly asserting this boundary, she covertly did it. On her first project in her new job, she acted completely incompetent. She made all kinds of mistakes. Her demeanor and manner of speaking was drastically more meek than usual, to the degree that her team felt anxious and looked to her boss for leadership instead. And she became incredibly passive. Totally taken aback by this sudden shift in personality, Thea’s boss confronted her about it. But despite the confrontation, Thea’s behavior did not change. Thea did not understand why she was behaving like that. It wasn’t something she was consciously doing. Her behavior did not change because that way of behaving covertly asserted her boundary regarding the position she really wanted to be in and it manipulated her Boss to once again lead her and take responsibility for her team and take the pressure off of her and put her back in the position she really wanted to be in.

Matthew was always obsessed with money, success and personal achievement. He said he wanted to be a millionaire when he was 5 years old. He had an aggressive personality and reveled in winning at any sport or game he played. Matthew’s parents (who both came from wealthy families) blamed the ‘money mentality’ for their pain growing up in their families. As a result, they had completely different values. They sought to reform Matthew’s personality. They sent him to a Waldorf school because that was the school that aligned with their values. Both at home and at school Matthew learned that the only acceptable thing to be was supportive of others and the only acceptable thing to feel was happy with what you have and the only acceptable thing to do was to be of service to the world. At home, he was forced into the position of support relative to his parents and his siblings and his community. His personal successes were not celebrated. In fact, at the biggest deal soccer match of his life, his team won. All the other kids had parents that were celebrating the win. But he was alone, with no one in the stands. He ended up walking himself home after the match. His family valued equality and believed competition to be a direct contradiction to that. Matthew suppressed his true personality and his true motivations because he feels like his true personality and true motivations will mean that he is a bad person and will end up all alone.

In his adult life, Matthew covertly lived in alignment with his truth. He chose coaching professional soccer as his profession. He told himself that he could be the best and succeed the most and make the most money by making his team the best. But he lost interest in coaching any player that he believed wouldn’t take him to the top and occasionally prioritized his own financial gain over what was in the best interest of the players. He justified this by telling himself that money was in their best interests. 

Matthew’s wife is a successful CEO. He came into the marriage offering to be a supportive husband who would prioritize her success. But in the relationship, he forgets to make dinner arrangements, so she has to and he has emotional meltdowns, so she has to spend time emotionally supporting him. He forgets to arrange for things to be fixed around the house, so she has to take responsibility for the household and he breaks his word relative to attending parent teacher conferences and other kid-related tasks.

Matthew’s truth and therefore boundary never actually changed since he was five years old. His truth is, he wants his own personal success and achievement and he wants to be a financial tycoon. He wont acknowledge this truth. It makes him feel like he is an ass hole and is doomed to be all alone. But he is covertly forcing his soccer team to re-direct themselves towards his success. His career is not something he is doing because he loves coaching. It is a “so that” where he uses it as a means he is not passionate about so as to get to the ends he actually desires. And he is covertly forcing his wife into the role of a supportive housewife because that is what he really wants from a spouse… for her to support his personal success and take responsibility for the household and kids. He denies this is the case of course. He knows he would lose her if he were honest. Afterall, a woman who is a CEO will never agree to also being the housewife. But he is in the covert boundary pattern. And she is furious. She feels like she is doing everything. And it will be miserable for everyone until he admits to his truth and starts to live by it directly instead of indirectly. 

Elaine was the victim of incest as a kid. She was victimized by her father and her uncles. Her truth is that she wants to feel safe with men. But she feels that she can’t enforce the boundary that they don’t have sex with her when she doesn’t want to have sex, directly. Her belief is that she can’t stay safe around men unless she is physically unattractive to them. So, she subconsciously decides to enforce that boundary in a covert way. She lets her looks go completely. She does not exercise. She gains tons of weight. She won’t wear makeup. She wears baggy, black clothes. She does nothing with her hair. She eats junk food. And she uses being ugly as her way to covertly assert the boundary she has with men. It has been very successful in her adult life. Men have no interest in her whatsoever. But it also makes her feel like crap about herself. Occasionally, she commits to getting healthy and exercising and putting effort into the way she looks. But she can never seem to follow through for more than a day or two, because it feels like in doing so, she is opposing her own boundary. Taking care of the way she looks, feels like self-betrayal to her.

When someone is in this pattern, maybe it’s you, it will seem like they can’t change a behavior no matter how hard they work on it and try to change it and they can’t make something happen no matter how hard they try (as if they have some limitation or defect). For example, using our previous example, Thea will be unable to change her meek demeanor and the fact that she keeps making mistakes and her passive behavior, no matter how hard she tries to change it. No matter how much shadow work she does or how many seminars she attends or techniques she tries, she will be unable to behave like a strong leader. The reason you will notice this, is because the behavior is actually serving the person. It is serving them because it is a way of enforcing a personal truth. Most likely a personal truth they don’t want to admit to. It is also serving them because it is manipulating others to act in alignment with their personal truth. Essentially, they get compliance without having to actually get other people’s compliance, because down deep, they think (rightly or not) that other people would never agree to their boundary. 

If something doesn’t change, or you can’t make something happen no matter how hard you try, it means you are up against resistance. And that resistance is there for a very important reason. In fact, you’re up against two layers of resistance. 1. Your resistance to making the change/doing a certain thing or being a certain way because it opposes your personal truth (boundaries). 2. Your resistance to seeing the truth about yourself/ being honest with yourself and others about that truth you don’t want to see. Because this is the case, you must deal with this resistance and work to resolve it. 

Because this pattern involves resistance, including resistance involving a part of you that you will be seeing as a self-saboteur, you would benefit by watching three of my videos. The first titled: Urgent, Deal with Your Resistance Before You Do Anything Else. The second titled: Resistance is Not Always a Bad Thing. And the third titled: There is No Such Thing as Self-Sabotage.

There are some questions that you would benefit by asking yourself: What does my behavior (intentional or not) force other people to do or to not do? And what does that mean about what I truly want? Have I been trying to hide something from myself? Is there something I feel ashamed to admit to? If I could do or be anything at all right now with the snap of my fingers and people would not only be happy about it, but also consider me good for it, what would it be? If I could trade places with anyone else’s life with the snap of my fingers and people would not only be happy about it, but also consider me good for it, whose life would I want? What might be so bad about seeing what I don’t want to see about myself? What do people who have been experiencing my behavior keep reflecting to me regarding what it seems to them like I want? If I didn’t want to see something about myself and about why I am doing what I am doing, what would it be? 

As an alternative practice, after you work directly with whatever part(s) of you are resisting seeing your personal truth, you can work directly with the part of you that is setting a boundary covertly through whatever specific behavior you are seeing in yourself. To learn how to do this, you can watch my video titled: Parts Work (What is Parts Work and How to Do It)

There is no way to enforce a boundary or live out a personal truth in a covert way without causing yourself extreme levels of pain. There is also no way to enforce a boundary or to live out a personal truth in a covert way without causing other people extreme levels of pain and ending up in constant conflict. The life you really want to live and the way you really want to feel in that life will come to exist only when you are brave enough to see the truth about yourself that you are trying to assert in covert ways. And when you start asserting that personal truth in direct and overt ways instead.


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