“I just think that boundaries are the most amazing, wonderful and difficult things to implement. They are beautiful tools that we need to use in our life to create intimacy, not to block it. A boundary doesn’t keep people out of our lives. A boundary just keeps people from violating important spaces in our lives; and when we have boundaries, the intimacy is increased, not decreased.” — Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School
There are many people in the spiritual world who romanticize the idea of dissolving or shedding personal boundaries . . . of being One with all beings, or most titillating, with an intimate partner. This is a wonderful ideal, but unfortunately, since many of us have an unclear understanding of boundaries in the first place, we end up mistaking unhealthy connectedness with others (fusion) for true communion with them.
Oneness and individuality
Confusion about the spiritual notion of Oneness most often manifests in our relationships with other humans. Most of you reading this are people who highly value peace and calm in your lives, and uphold the virtue of compassion. Some of you might believe that if we are all One, we should understand the pain of others and not judge them, even when they cross our boundaries. You may believe that being kind to others means flowing like water around them. You may believe that we ALONE must take responsibility for all of the difficulty in our lives and deal with it by ourselves, because it’s ultimately saying something about us, not others.
NO. NO. NO. (And yes, sometimes.)
This is the paradox of spirituality. While the above statements indeed have deep truth to them, they often times cannot, and should not, be applied without discrimination to our lives as humans on Earth.This is where the Buddhist notion of TWO TRUTHS or Two Realities (ultimate reality and relative reality) can be useful. Both realities co-exist, and it is part of the human journey to learn how to skillfully dance between them. Yes, from the perspective of Source we are One (or as Buddhists might put it, we all share the ultimate nature of Emptiness), but we are also unique individuals who have our own needs, preferences, and desires. We have our own complex emotional world, which it is our personal responsibility to take care of, so that we can be happy and healthy.
“Boundaries allow differences to play their essential role by preserving our autonomy and making healthy interrelatedness possible — a fact clearly illustrated in mature relationships, in which there is deep communion without any dilution of one’s sense of self. In such relationships, we don’t discard our boundaries to make meaningful connections; we expand our boundaries to include the other without short-changing ourselves.” — Robert Augustus Masters, author of Spiritual Bypassing
What are boundaries for?
When other people come into our personal space and violate it, physically or emotionally, it is appropriate to set a boundary in order to take care of ourselves. (Remember, people don’t know where our boundaries are unless we clearly make them known.)
Boundaries are not about controlling others, or blaming them for how we feel. They are about taking full responsibility of our own safety, well-being, and happiness.
A boundary is a request you make along with a clear consequence regarding what you will do if the request is not respected.
For example, “If you don’t stop with the name-calling, I will leave the room.” Or “If you keep coming home drunk, I will move out and not consider returning until you are in a rehab program.” Or, “If you keep bringing up my ex, I will stop engaging in our conversation.”
Some of us tend to go a little wild when we first start to take boundaries seriously. But remember, a boundary should only be made when there has been a violation of your physical or emotional space (like your boss raising his voice at you or someone smoking in your home). It’s not a tool to be used when you simply don’t like someone’s words or behavior but they are not actually doing anything to or toward you. It’s not a tool for controlling other people. For example, it’s not a boundary if you try to use it to get your husband to take out the garbage or get your girlfriend to call you more often. That’s called manipulation!
Following through on boundaries
One of the most important but difficult things about setting boundaries is actually following through on the consequences you have stated. Sometimes we try to use aboundary as a threat, with no intention of actually following through. We’re afraid of others getting angry or feeling hurt, or we just find it very difficult to assert ourselves. So instead, we set a boundary with the sole desire of forcing the other person to change. Again, this is manipulation. If you want your boundary to be taken seriously (and if you want to take yourself seriously a.k.a. trust yourself), you have to do what you say you will do.
“When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility.” — Henry Cloud, author of Boundaries
Boundaries ultimately come from a place of compassion and respect for yourself. You may be frustrated and angry with others, but the reason why you’re experiencing this is often because you don’t have proper boundaries and you haven’t been SPEAKING YOUR TRUTH. Once you take full responsibility for your happiness, you can set boundaries with others from a place of calm, empowerment, and love – not anger or resentment toward them.
It can be helpful to explain to the person you’re setting the boundary with that this isn’t about them or about them doing something wrong, it’s about you, your truth, and your needs. If they choose to be offended by your truth, that’s their choice. When setting boundaries, you have to be willing to accept the response of the other party. You’re not demanding that they change; they are free individuals. It’s just that if they don’t change, you’ll follow through on the consequence you described.
Mastery takes practice
Boundary work takes a ton of practice, so no worries if you don’t get it right on the first few (hundred) tries.
I think part of the reason boundaries are such a difficult thing to apply to our life is because it highlights the spiritual paradox I mentioned earlier: We’re all born of same Source (and thus have this beautiful “urge to merge”), and yet we’re also unique, distinct streams of consciousness having our own experience of life on earth.
It’s a challenge to fulfill both our spiritual desire to connect with each other AND our human drive to express and experience the fruits of our unique needs and preferences.
Learning to do this is a sign of true mastery.
Keep on keepin’ on, friends!