I received a request to write about boundaries – specifically the concepts of accepting others and letting each person be their own way in the world and see the world through their own lens, but also finding space for one’s own boundaries, one’s own voice and asking for what one needs and wants.
It’s an excellent topic and one I hope I can do justice to.
The very first thing is to establish a foundational philosophy that creates the right conditions for all of the above.
What I mean is that most of us do relationship largely by ourselves, like a tennis match where we focus on the ball and hitting it strategically to another person. And we do this quite unconsciously. It’s like an invisible operating agreement we have in society.
If we, instead, set up the parameters of relationship being more of a tag-team dynamic where we get together and co-create and brainstorm and negotiate and explore, we are creating a much more spacious way to connect.
The way each of us does our own life is based on very specific, and limited, experiences. (Limited in the context of the possible variety of experiences a human can have – even the most adventurous of us are still getting a tiny portion of what’s possible) But because the way we do life more or less works for us, it is easy to imagine it is the right way to do life in general, for everyone. So when someone else makes different choices, it can be like nails on a chalkboard.
The second thing we need to be spacious, dynamic, co-creative people is to adopt the view that the urges in our hearts are there for a reason – so trust yourself. And know that life is a very complex ball of becoming that we all play a part in, we just can’t see the part we play very clearly or very often.
So faith is required. Faith that the love in us has a purpose, even if that purpose is nothing more than growth.
The third thing we need to do is to make room for being human. No one is born with a user manual and most of the things we do happen on a learning curve. So we will be clumsy and not graceful and potentially mortifyingly awkward. So, well, you gotta get over yourself and let go of the shame and view yourself as a love athlete or something that will allow you to not know and to learn as you go.
So we have:
- Talk with whomever you are connecting with about a framework that is a tag-team, co-created exploration that has the intention to lovingly connect given we are all very different people with very different needs in any given moment
- Trust the urges in your own heart and be curious about what they reveal or what gifts they hold and follow where it leads
- Make room for your own learning curve and for the learning curve of another, that means allowing for mistakes, clumsiness, and awkward times
Essentially we need to expand our view of relationship beyond the moment something happens.
If we look to a moment in time, say a particular conversation, and we view this moment as some kind of finality that determines the overall reality of our connection, we will always live in control and anxiety because it means that every moment is really crucial to the life or death of our connection.
If we love a person and they love us, we agree and factor in to our Step #1 conversation that the love is there and we will each work toward that love being the truth and the awkward bumps that happen along the way, say a particular conversation, are just part of the process or dynamic of a relationship.
When we pull back and enlarge our view, we can see a relationship unfolding over time so the larger body of the relationship has more significance than any particular moment. We really need this larger context.
And now let’s talk about setting boundaries and asking for what we want and need.
Many times when we ask for what we want and need, we are not making a request, we are demanding. In other words, we aren’t making space for someone to say “no”. If you don’t have space for someone’s “no” (or their “yes” in some cases) then you are making a demand. So don’t be covert. Just say “I demand _________” and be honest about it.
Otherwise, prepare yourself to give another person room to deny your request and have a back-up plan.
The scary part about boundaries and revealing our wants and needs is that we are giving ourselves a chance to be really seen, to be really known. And most of us don’t have positive experiences filling our cup in this regard. So being seen can feel like jumping off a cliff.
This is largely due to the culture of shame we live in. The very nature of shame is to hide. So if you are hiding what you really want and really need, there is likely shame energy motivating that behavior and feeding fear.
Part of the thing that sucks about setting boundaries is we are telling someone “This is what I need to be in connection with you.” And if that person doesn’t respect the boundary, we need to have a consequence, which is removing ourselves in some way from the connection.
Since we are wired for connection we can feel like if we hold our boundary rather than compromise it we risk losing the person or losing the kind of connection we want. This is no fun but it’s part of wearing the big girl/big boy pants.
The way that we can make space for other people to see life through their own lens and live on their own terms while still asking for what we want and need and setting healthy boundaries is that we do not make them responsible for our happiness. We have to have our own way of taking care of ourselves and getting our needs met in other ways, often with other people.
Human beings all have limits as to what they can and can’t do. And those limits can change according to the bonds that we have, the amount of stress we are under, how conscious we are, how open our hearts are, and how mature we are.
I think so many of us have been taking care of ourselves for so long that when we finally do let ourselves need someone we are forced to confront how much we have been going it alone and how hard that has been. When this happens the wounded little kid in us can suddenly rise up and we encounter the child’s fantasy of being taken care of or having our needs met without limit or any number of very young wishes.
And this makes us feel vulnerable and things can get very complicated. And that’s when we are glad to have condition #3: “make room for being human” in our foundational agreement with others.
Being seen is a direct result of being honest. And being honest is a requirement for healthy, truly connected relationship. So we have to be honest, which reveals who we really are, and trust another person with the access we are giving them to our interior. That is some sacred and often delicate territory. And we need to treat it as such.
So let’s add #4 to the list: Discernment.
We need to cultivate the ability to accurately discern another person’s ability to show-up in a mature and honoring fashion with us to determine what we share and how we engage.
There is a saying “Don’t cast your pearls amongst swine” This isn’t to demean others, it simply means to recognize that a pearl is meaningless to a pig, or means something very different to a pig so why give something precious to someone that can’t share it’s meaning with you?
It is a tricky balance to navigate the territory of boundaries and honoring others and ourselves. It requires conscious communication about the mostly invisible assumptions we make and it requires that we care for ourselves in a mature and respectful way so that we engage others with the same integrity.
A final thing I’ll say that I’ve touched on a little but could use expansion: when you do set a boundary or ask for what you want and need, it is super important to give another person the time and space they need to respond. Very few people can respond well in the moment. Sometimes a person needs time to process and grow into what we ask of them. If we don’t make space for this we can then get into a persecutor/victim mentality, which isn’t fun for anyone.
But this takes discernment. Some people simply aren’t capable of connecting in a way we need or desire. So it falls to each of us to make good self-care decisions about what we expect and how we connect with each person in our lives.
There is an art to managing expectations. And that, like the rest of being human, takes a lot of practice.
Bottom line? Dive in, do your best, and then see what happens. Some people you will know right away to modify the connection and others you won’t know for a while what/how to do relationship with them. But your heart will tell you who to work harder with and who to let go of, or back away from.
So Let’s add #5: cultivate the ability to tell the difference between the voice of the heart, the wounded self, and the ego. You can feel it in your body. The heart will be one place, wounds another, and ego another. Just finding the heart-feeling is sufficient. Then cultivate living from that place.
It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. And it is effort very well spent.