When I was young, I was a world-class day dreamer. I would often be surprised in the middle of an elaborate fantasy to hear one of my parents yelling my name. Apparently they had been talking to me, but no one was home, so to speak.
This was a rather brilliant survival strategy on my part (if I do say so myself). I had a hard childhood. You could say it was traumatic. So, I left. Not physically (that didn’t start happening until I was a teenager), but my consciousness would travel all over the damn place. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was.
As an aside, I think this is partially why I am such a good energy worker (if I do say so myself) – I have A LOT of practice traveling through different dimensions and walking between worlds. My survival strategy has become one of my gifts.
But it has also become a curse.
Because I was so darn good at checking out as a kid, I am now, as an adult, still extremely good at checking out. That can be useful in some ways, as I mentioned, but also super not-useful in lots of other ways, as I’m sure you can deduce.
The thing with checking out, or dissociating, or whatever you want to call it, is that if you’re checked out then you then have no idea what’s going on with your body, your mind or your emotions. I mean, that’s kind of the point if you’re using it as a survival strategy, but when you’re no longer in survival mode, then it’s kind of a problem; being so dissociated meant that, for much of my adult life, it was next to impossible for me to know what I wanted and what I didn’t, and what worked for me and what didn’t.
A.K.A. it was next to impossible to have any boundaries.
Boundaries, as I’m sure you know, are the energetic lines that we draw in the sand. They give structure, order and even meaning to our lives. They allow us to say ‘no’ to certain things and ‘yes’ to others. If we don’t have healthy boundaries, it can be really, really hard to move forward in a meaningful way in life.
When people talk about boundaries, they often talk about letting other people’s energy get to them. This is certainly a part of working with our boundaries. When I have good boundaries in place, I don’t take on other people’s stuff – their needs, their struggles, their expectations, their opinions, etc. Even though I am loving and compassionate towards others, other people’s stuff is just not my issue.
This can be incredibly freeing. Worrying about what other people will think, trying to solve people’s problems for them, obsessively worrying about other people’s lives and choices, all of this takes a tremendous amount of energy. If we can relinquish this, it frees up an enormous amount of energy for things that are more productive.
I should mention, that of course when we “don’t take on other people’s stuff” that doesn’t mean that we are not loving or compassionate towards others or that we don’t act in loving and compassionate ways. It’s actually quite the opposite; when we don’t take on other peoples stuff, it actually frees us up to be more loving and compassionate. (I think many of you already know this, but I thought I would say it anyway, just in case.)
So like I said, not “taking on other people’s stuff” is a part of boundaries, for sure. However, it’s not the whole picture. Leaving it there misses a few key things and it doesn’t give us any information about what it is that actually enables us to have healthy boundaries in the first place.
You see, good boundaries are intrinsically linked to our ability to be present with, to know and to accept ourselves. Another way to say this is to say that our boundaries and our relationship with ourselves are linked; Poor boundaries are often a reflection of a poor relationship with oneself.
Yikes! Thats’ kind of hard to hear (even though I’m the one saying it!). However, those of us that struggle should remember that it’s not our fault. Many of us (myself included) were driven away from ourselves as a survival mechanism. There are lots of ways to leave yourself; you might dissociate, like I did as a kid, or get really focused on other people (I also did that), or get really focused on anything that is not you, or abuse substances. When it feels like crap to be in our own skin for any reason, we want to get away. So we get good at leaving.
Over time, leaving becomes really easy. Coming back can be the hard part.
Sometimes, when we try to come back, it’s not the funnest. There can be all kinds of stuff in there – the stuff we didn’t want to feel in the first place gets stored in our bodies and minds, just waiting for us to come back so we can process it. Ugh.
Sometimes, it’s so intense when we try to come back that we feel like we just can’t do it. Or we might feel like we need help to do it. If this is the case I highly recommend taking it slow, getting help, and taking breaks. Little by little is the name of the game.
Personally, I have been practicing just being with myself, for at least a few minutes a day for awhile now. This is separate from any other meditation or energy work practices that I may or may not do that day, and I have to say that it’s been incredibly powerful for me. I relax and feel my body, feel my breath, notice my mind, notice my feelings, notice my body again, notice my breath again, and on it goes…
The key with this practice is that whatever I am experiencing, it is allowed and welcomed into my awareness. There is nothing to change, fix or push away. It’s just about hanging out with myself, and all the parts of me have to be welcome, without exception.
As I stay present with myself during this practice, I often notice a feeling of settling into my own being. Sometimes there are very crappy feelings present and sometimes not, but the settling in feels really good, regardless. It feels like I’m saying to myself “I’m HERE, I’m really here, I’m not going anywhere, I am committed to myself. I am committed to showing up for my own experiences. I am committed to this body, this mind, this heart, this life.”
To me, that commitment feels like love.
I don’t have kids, but I would imagine that this is kind of like having one; they have to go the ER at 3am, or they pee their pants, or they spill their juice or they have a tantrum and it sucks, but you’re THERE. You fully show up for them in each moment as well as you can. Why? Because you love them, and that love denotes a commitment, and that commitment means that you show up for all of it, no matter what.
As we practice cultivating this same kind of presence with and commitment to ourselves, we begin to re-parent ourselves and in doing so we open many doors to greater wellness in our lives.
This kind of presence and commitment is what leads to true self care. Not just the taking bubble baths and eating chocolate cake kind of self care (okay, sometimes taking bubble baths and eating chocolate cake), but the kind of self care that comes from real presence with and deep commitment to oneself.
This also happen to be how we develop healthy boundaries. Boundaries and self care are really just two different ways of talking about the same thing.
If we can be present enough with ourselves to know what’s going on inside our own skin, then we can say yes to what is really right for us and to what we really want, and no to what we don’t really want or to what isn’t really right for us. These yes’s and no’s, wether they are to people, experiences, foods, practices, substances, or what have you, create a kind of scaffolding, or structural matrix, that gives our souls the support that they need in order to flourish.
Of course, as we become more and more present in our own skin, and start to become aware of our true yes’s and no’s, we are also asked to show up as a representative of our inner selves to the external world. It is one thing to know that I can’t digest corn but it is another thing to say that out loud to my dinner host. There is a deep connection between our boundaries and our voice.
Think about the kid example again; if your kid was sick at the doctor and not getting the kind of care that they really needed, it’s very likely that you would speak up. Why? Because of love, because of commitment, because your kid’s health is more important than what the doctor thinks of you.
In the same way, we must, from time to time, speak our truth out loud if we want our boundaries to actually be enforced. Speaking our truth is a form of self care.
The actions that we take (and don’t take) are also a way of “speaking our truth”. (They say that actions speak louder then words, don’t they?) When I take any action that is based on my truth, I am also enacting my boundaries. This could be a small, personal action, like going to bed earlier because I know (from being present with myself) that I feel better when I get more sleep, or a large public action, or anything in between.
Of course it’s a process. This is not a “set it and forget it” kind of situation. You might take action to go running every day because it really feels like the right thing, but then it turns out it that running makes your knees hurt, so it’s back to drawing board (i.e. back to yourself) to find something else that feels right.
Now this whole “feels right” thing can be tricky, for sure. We have so much coming at us from the media, our friends, our families and the world at large about what’s right, about what’s okay and what’s not okay, about what we should want and what we shouldn’t. Furthermore, we get taught that the answers are ‘out there’, which makes it almost a foreign concept to be looking within for the truth.
I’m not saying that we should never source information from our external environment. Rather, the practice is to change the locus of control, so that we understand that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, so to speak. As The Buddha famously said; “Be a light unto thyself.”
It’s worth mentioning that even when we do begin to turn inward to look for what feels right, it can be confusing. The part of us that wants to dissociate may want to go watch YouTube for 12 hours. Maybe at first this “feels right”. However, with practice we can begin to discern; watching YouTube for that long won’t actually make us feel good. It’s not really what we want. We have to learn to listen more deeply. It takes time to develop this ability. So I guess patience is a part of boundaries too.
In the end, I think this is worth all the hard work, all of the patience and all of the practicing. It’s worth the 3am-in-the-ER, peed-your-pants kind of moments. It’s worth it because having boundaries means that we get to be who we are; we get to express what we came here to express and we get be who we came here to be. In the end boundaries are our best tools for self-actualization. They are our means to a much greater end.
“Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.”
― Eckhart Tolle