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by Bethany Webster
There is so much to say about boundaries and how foundational they are for our sense of self. In this post, I'll focus mainly on the relationship between our self-worth and our ability to set healthy boundaries effectively.
Without firm boundaries, we can easily become "merged" or enmeshed with others, causing us to emotionally caretake, be overly responsible, or neglect our own needs. When boundaries are too rigid we isolate ourselves and push others away.
Healthy boundaries are "selectively permeable." They are not too rigid nor too loose (not extreme). Rather, they are flexible and can be opened or firm when needed, much like a healthy cell.
Boundaries are related to our early attachment needs as children. They pose the question: 'Where do I end and where do you begin?' All of us started out in life as a "we" when we were infants bonded with our mothers. Being securely attached to our mothers helped us internalize this sense of security and helped us to form our own healthy, separate sense of self. If we were not securely attached to our mothers, we may have developed a background sense of inner insecurity and on a subconscious level, we may still be looking for this security from other people as adults.
On one side of the spectrum, this can cause us to have very weak boundaries, letting in anyone who remotely relates to us with care and affection, being too trusting, or having a very high tolerance for poor treatment from others. Weak boundaries can open us up to being taken advantage of by others and can cause us to be on an emotional roller coaster, because our sense of security is not yet fully anchored within ourselves.
Confidence and Feeling Safe in your own Skin
An important step in developing healthy boundaries is learning that no outer person can provide the inner safety that you need; the time for that is only in early childhood and that time is over. However, as adults we can mourn that lost opportunity and develop inner safety within.
Knowing ourselves as individuals is essential to true intimacy and connection. As we fine-tune our self-awareness, we can know more fully our own needs, desires and preferences. Taking the time and space for your inner work is an important form of self-care and it reinforces a deep sense of integrity.
It's a paradox that the more centered and grounded we are in our own inner sense of self, the better partners and friends we are able to become.
The old paradigm: Compliance with others = Acceptance from others
You are the expert on You. It's OK to be yourself, to have differing needs and preferences than those around you. This may seem obvious, but we're surrounded with the images of desirable females being the most yielding and most willing to be dominated. These messages remain in our subconscious until we actively dismantle them. Have you ever caught yourself having a background thought that surprised you? This happened to me when I ran into some friends I hadn't seen in a while and had gained a few pounds. I noticed an impulse to say something like "I haven't been to the gym in a while. I've been so busy lately." I was disturbed by this impulse to apologize for and provide a narrative for others about changes in my own body. Noticing this impulse was very informative on the power of unconscious messages and how they can emerge into our daily lives even though we don't consciously agree with them.
In what ways am I giving myself away?
What am I taking in that I should be refusing?
In what ways was I rewarded for having weak boundaries as a child?
What are some current opportunities in my life to start setting healthy boundaries?
What do I need to say No to, so that I can more effectively live out my "Yes" to the things I truly desire?
Part of having healthy boundaries is respecting those of others. Are there any ways I am violating the boundaries of others?
© Bethany Webster 2013 - 2018
(Art credit: Aneta Ivanova)
Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below: What has been your experience with setting boundaries?
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