Boundaries again

Posted by on January 8, 2013

Two days ago I went to a small house party with some new age performance acquaintances I have. These were people I’ve met a few times before at parties and done fun things with but didn’t know well.  Hadn’t seen them in close to a year; I’d been to India and had all sorts of different experiences in that time. It was one of those events where there was an unspoken attitude of “let go of fear, just drop all boundaries and surrender to love” with an emphasis on no boundaries and no resistance.

Immediately upon entering, one guy led an exercise where we wrote a couple words about the beginning of a relationship and again about the ending of a relationship. Everyone then paired with one or two people and used those words to speak about both of those experiences, one time “from the mind” with one time “from the heart”, with the not so subtle connotation that being from the heart was better. I was paired with a guy I didn’t know and the exercise leader.

As I spoke, I realized I was both feeling angry and defensive as well as splitting off a bit from myself, Why? In retrospect, this is forced intimacy. There was a sizable amount of peer pressure to behave as if you have built trust, even if you haven’t.  Instead of a space where it’s ok to open up, instead the atmosphere starts with “you must open up” without being obvious about.

I’ve seen this in other exercises before, such as where you stare into another person’s eyes for a long time. In the abstract can seem ok, but if I’m aware of myself, I notice that forcing myself to do this feels bad. And that’s the key word – force.  I hate being forced; it feels violent.  I’m more in the “sensitive” category, so what works for me is taking care on who I open up to. This means discernment about who I am revealing to in words, who I show vulnerability to in my eyes, and who I let inside my personal space and allow more familiar touch to. To me, this is self-care and is an expression of self worth. A parent wouldn’t hand their child to just anyone – why would I hand my soul (or body, or uncertain parts of me) to others?  So this is a fundamental disagreement I have with some personal development workshops and styles.

I then spoke up about this publicly, and the exercise leader tried to use me of an example of resistance to “coming from the heart” by inaccurately rephrasing what I said.  To be honest, it strongly reminded me of the Patrick Swayze character in Donnie Darko – “choose love, not fear!”. Love that movie.  A nice way of trying to keep control.  I left feeling incredibly triggered.

As I am wont to do, it made me think more about boundaries. I wrote about this before, but I’ve lived more, and when I get this body reaction, including minor shakes and convulsions, I think more about what they are and how I didn’t respect myself. So I’ll now list different types of boundaries.


Boundary Types

Physical boundaries are the easiest to identify, because a camera can catch them clearly. It’s the acknowledgement and respect of each other’s space.

There’s no precise measure of personal space, yet everyone understands it. Experiments of timelapse photography of people arriving on a beach in a sunny day shows how a plot of sand chosen follows a general algorithm of desiring space and respecting that of others. The area called “personal space” decreased as the area got more crowded, but became even more important.

When personal space is respected, there’s a tiny negotiation when that invisible line is crossed. This can be via eye contact, a little physical hesitation, or asking if it’s ok. After trust has been developed there is an assumption that it is ok, but part of that trust is the understanding that at any time, the asking of physical space will be respected.

Intellectual boundaries are essentially about the space to have different thoughts. More than that, a good intellectual atmosphere is when different thoughts are appreciated. There’s an interest in what you really think.

Our education system, based on memorization, is often subtly (or not so subtly) about imitating the teacher’s mindset. You know how essay grading can be – if you rephrase the teacher’s arguments in class, you’re at least going to get a decent mark. If you go out on your own path, especially if you’re thoughts are still developing, nothing is certain.

High powered workshops or big sales events can at times be a great observation about lack of intellectual boundaries. Brainwashing techniques are essentially meant to break through these, bringing a fleeting high of closeness from everyone seemingly being on the same page. It’s called groupthink. But because it’s forced, there’s a counter reaction and it never lasts. People either leave the group in disillusionment or want more, trying to that next “hit” of a time when everyone seems together in union. Workshop junkies, anyone?

Emotional boundaries are harder to define, but just as important. This is the space to have your own distinct feelings and identity. Being able to respect this space in others takes maturity and listening skills. Most people simply aren’t aware of the full range of different emotions another can have, and so jump to “oh, I understand, you’re feeling ____ (projection) and here’s my advice”.

Reactivity is essentially an expression of not allowing another space. For instance, in my childhood my mother got incredibly upset whenever I would show anger. Love that British culture! To her the world was ending, and her body would tense and she would do whatever it took to “work it out”, which meant that I had to stop feeling it. There was no space for me to have my own feelings, and I ended up feeling worthless the moment I felt anger. It’s been a lifelong lesson for me to learn that this energy has value and is essentially self-protection and self care.

Internal boundaries are also essential. Can you let yourself have an emotion or thought and give it space? Can you let it be there without immediately trying to change it? That is in essence, the basis of meditation. It’s also a great way to practice listening to yourself so you can listen to others better.

Psychologically, one word used for good boundaries is differentiation. I’ve written on that topic before as well. In a Freudian sense, it’s when you fully and deeply know just how different other woman are from your mother, and how different other men are from your father. But mostly it’s about good internal and external boundaries.

Respect of boundaries is so essential because it essentially says “hey, I know you’re a person with the same rights as me”.  To me, there cannot be any real love between people without good boundaries, because you can only love someone for who they actually and truly are. The moment there’s any sort of pressure to conform or not be, think or feel something, then in that moment, there’s non-acceptance. Most boundary crossing is essentially a desire to love by making another (or one’s self) into something easier, in this moment, to love. You find someone else’s “negativity” hard to love, so you try to get in there to affect them in some way that’s easier for you to appreciate and trust, that triggers less reactions.  This inevitably turns into conflict and confusion, because it’s all about control, and the human psyche inevitably wants to be in a free state.

Do you know when you cross boundaries?  Most people don’t seem to.  We get into arguments easily when there’s a lack of respect for intellectual boundaries, such as dismissals.  Relationships end up with fused personas, leaving people wondering where it all went wrong.  And in the dating scene the physical boundaries can be an issue, commonly talked about regarding men not respecting women, but it also occurs from women to men too.  Did that night to me!

Too often we want to jump steps because we want to feel good. It’s amazing how much “just choose LOVE!” philosophy is about non-acceptance. Jumping into “love”, meaning something other than who we are, can never be loving, because it’s not respectful to the present moment. That’s where appreciation comes from – just being ok with what’s going on now.

That wasn’t the end of the evening, but it’s all I want to write about.  It’s taken me a couple days to get centered again, and I’m not totally there yet. I’m still learning that my internal reactions that say “no!” in a strong way are really and truly valuable, no matter what the reactions of other people are. It’s all part of the journey of being true.


Filed Under: boundaries, triggering

Comments (2)


  1. Christopher says:

    I really enjoyed that article.

    I have similar experiences in my spiritual practice, where I am constantly told to 'just choose the Love', though I can't.

    good luck on your journey

    • Thank you!  When I get something like that, I always wonder what is meant by love.  Does it just mean “feeling good”?  Because if love is supposed to mean unconditional acceptance, then I usually don't feel accepted for what's actually going on.  What's going on includes the feeling when something doesn't work.

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