In honor of my mother’s visit (there’s a conference on commodity stocks in town she’s interested in) and in self-preparation here’s some thoughts on boundaries. I’m always learning about this when she’s in town!
To start off with, probably the best analogy is that of a cell in our own bodies.
(Note: does anyone else see a similarity to a brain in that?)
The membrane in a cell does an essential function. It controls, among other things, what goes out and what goes in. This is essential, because analogous to us, what is food to one cell can be poison to another. Without a good boundary, health decays as the composition becomes a cesspool, good for little in the long term. Boundaries allow for choice, which is always a good thing.
Boundaries are also essential for clear perception. Without them, it is impossible to tell causal factors, such “what brought up this feeling?” Emotions and psyches are so enmeshed that eruptions occur without rhyme or reason. In a relationship, this most often shows up as drama. Strong emotion occurs, and because of the lack of clear boundaries, it is impossible to determine where it comes from. Thus there is a huge tendency for projection and condemnation.
This occurs even when positive intention is set. Our psyche and energy systems have their “waste products”, much like the cells in our bodies mentioned above. Hence the term “shit”! But this isn’t a bad thing either; as above, what is excrement to one can be food to another, even on an energetic level. However, in a close relationship it is likely the people are similar enough that this wouldn’t be the case; hence the need for boundaries and awareness of actions.
Looking at two people are in a relationship and healthy boundaries aren’t there (which is fairly common, as we as a society are learning about boundaries), I see two general patterns as coping mechanism.
i. Distance/withdrawal. In this case, at least one person withdraws to keep the relationship peaceful and not too rocky. There is a spectrum of this, from conscious choice, to unconscious internal actions. An example of the latter is the overfunctioning/underfunctioning dynamic, where one person relinquishes self in a dance of withdrawal or inability to cope to the other person, who acts like they’re the one who “has it all together”. The former might include two people being “together” but living very separate lives; some societies have very rigid splits between men and women that help keep this distance to avoid drama and having issues come up.
ii. Conflict and drama. Instead of distance keeping the peace, two people jump even closer together. This can be for a variety of reasons, from wanting to “figure out the relationship”, to “resolving issues”, to wanting the other person to “just get it”, to a passionate pronouncement of love without awareness of self. Sometimes this results in conflict between the two parties, but it can also involve triangulation, where two people get close, but see all the froth of the chaos as being “caused” by a third party, which could be a person or even a political/social ill. This coping mechanism is more about constantly “diving in”, because if new issues constantly arise you never have to see more fundamental, pervasive choices.
It’s important to note that there may be underlying issues in all these behaviors, but a major factor is proper boundaries. Or to put it in other terms : knowledge of self. To have proper boundaries goes hand in hand with self-knowledge, and the perception of how complete you are as an individual.
Now, that’s all background. So the question is, how are good, healthy boundaries achieved? Many people get the idea that establishing good boundaries is a constant war zone, where an uneasy truce is arrived at after warning shots. While that can be a boundary, it is not a healthy one, as it can all too easily escalate into an entrenched war zone.
Boundaries are a form of Love.
Although most people wouldn’t see it as this, they do what they are meant to do: provide safety and protection, which is in itself a form of love.
Nothing is lost by setting a boundary. Rather, it is a declaration of the person, yourself, that you are creating in the moment.
Because boundaries are a form of Love, they already exist naturally. You don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is allow them. Boundaries are not cultivated from mammoth efforts. Rather, they are cultivated by allowing the complete expression of your full being, including self-protective elements. This may include elements unacceptable to the culture you live in, but so what? Your self is truly far too large to be contained in any culture.
Take a look at a cat being stroked. At some point, it will have had enough. If restrained or irritated by touch it doesn’t like, it will set boundaries. For those of you not close to cats, this isn’t done with any malice, nor attack. It is the allowing of a message from within that says : what I need in this moment has changed from previous moments. Please listen.
Apart from simply allowing the process, another essential factor is play. It’s very hard to learn anything without playing! You try something out of a sense of discovery and fun, and watch the results. You then try something differently. There’s no right or wrong, only a continual process of learning about Self. This is how children learn for so many years, until we educate it out of them. It’s no accident that most learning in life occurs while this sense of play is unrestrained. Even though playing with boundaries can provoke irritation and ire, that’s no reason to be too serious about it!
People may ask “but people often use setting boundaries as a form of control.” That’s true. If someone is triggered easily, they can be invasive on what’s not alright with them. This IS based in protection and self-love, trying to take care of one’s self – but if a large amount of pain exists then the area of protection desired may be so large it crosses into other people’s lives. This is what control is. In which case, these people need help. And the best help is ALWAYS a good example – a living example of what a loving boundary looks like. It’s by living examples we change the world; merely speaking words doesn’t actually do that much, comparably. And yes, that gives me some humility!