Personal boundaries are a frequent topic of conversation in my office. This concept is so often misunderstood and misused. As a child, depending on your family of origin, you may have lacked experience with boundaries because your family did not view each other as separate entities within a common group, but rather extensions of each other and the space between was non-existent. This may have even erupted in abusive practices psychologically, emotionally, physically, or sexually. Or you may have grown up with people who were so disconnected or unavailable that you lived outside of each other’s experience and either went into your own world or sat outside longing for a deeper connection.
These experiences are on the outside edges of the spectrum of personal interaction and there is much in the middle. However, they illustrate both the complete lack of boundaries and the opposite effect of solid boundaries or “walls” as we commonly call it. If you have lived without any boundaries for yourself, you may have compensated by putting up walls so that others could not reach you emotionally. The downside of this coping style is that nothing gets in, good or bad. When you have no boundaries, you are completely vulnerable and sacrifice yourself for connection without any consideration for your Self. This way, everything gets in. Either way, healthy connections aren’t possible. So we must develop something in between.
A New Concept: Permeable Boundaries
Today we are going to spend some time on what it would be like to let down the walls, without swinging over to the other end of the spectrum. Here’s a new concept: permeable boundaries. These are like little windows in your personal space that you can open or close to let in truth and love and keep out projections, hurt, and harm. Permeable boundaries require a strong voice, self-love and respect, and the understanding that you are 100% responsible for what you create in your life.
What do walls do?
- Walls create an illusion of safety, yet in reality they reduce trust and prevent intimacy, conversely reinforcing a belief that relationships are dangerous.
- Walls create a prison that prevents freedom in your relationships.
- Walls allow you to hide, so that others will never truly know you.
- Walls prevent connection by keeping others at bay.
- Walls keep you isolated even when you want to connect because they do not allow for you to receive the love that is there for you.
What do you have to do? Deconstruct them.
When you let your walls down and experience your partner from a place of vulnerability, it actually feels more safe, less defensive, and more loving. Walls are less necessary because you are existing on a strong foundation of self-love and value that gives you the ability to advocate and protect yourself while engaging with another. The path from the decision to deconstruct to living without walls can seem daunting at first, but once you begin the journey you will wonder why you spent so long in that lonely, desolate space. So how do you deconstruct the walls? Here are a few steps to help you begin:
- Reclaim your personal power: Step out of the “victim triangle” roles of victim, rescuer, or persecutor. If you find yourself saying “poor me/why me,” taking responsibility for your partner’s well-being, or constantly blaming or berating your partner for being themselves, you are in the victim triangle. This is a clue that you have surrendered your power and it needs to be reclaimed.
- Find your own voice: Allow your truth to come out and be shared. Say what is on your mind, stop doubting yourself and let go of the fear that someone else is unable to handle you. The more you speak, the more opportunity your partner has to know you and the more you are able to come to know and trust yourself.
- Recognize and own your ability to choose: Behind your walls, you are a prisoner. Without walls, you are free to choose who, how, what, and when for yourself. You always have choices, even though sometimes those choices may be difficult or scary, they exist nonetheless and you never have to stay stuck. The realization that staying stuck is actually a choice you are making can be quite empowering.
- Engage life and relationships: Stop hiding! Release your shame, spend some time in self-inventory, and learn to accept yourself in your entirety. Then share yourself with someone else. Start with friends and then branch into deeper connections. This opens you to the laboratory of relationships where you can experiment with new patterns, new ways of being, and feel what its like to get a different response.
- Learn from your mistakes: Treat every experience as a learning experience. When this is the case, nothing is wrong, just an opportunity to grow in one form or another. Your only job is to actually take in the lesson and allow it to inform your steps forward.
- Learn to receive: In the spirit of your new openness, take in all the love, nurturing, help, support, and truth that is available to you. Allow it to fill your heart and create more love for you to give and share. Hence the cycle of a balanced, love-filled relationship is born.
- Accept responsibility for your part in a situation: Note that part of the permeable boundaries I mentioned above is letting in truth. What this means is that oftentimes your partner may seem to be criticizing you but is actually challenging you to see something in yourself that you have yet to see or claim. Maybe its something you haven’t wanted to accept. Allow their challenge to open you to deeper self-acceptance and claim full personal responsibility for your part in a given situation.
- Trust your instincts and act on them: Your own confidence shines through when you realize that you have the personal power to choose what you create in your life. Listen to your inner voice that often times begins as a whisper but eventually screams out in one form or another. Learn to listen to that intuitive higher-self who always has your best interest at heart. And take it one step further, put those instincts into action through words, behavior, or a change in perspective.
What will you receive in return? True intimacy.
When you are able to be vulnerable enough to share yourself with another and receive love in return, you are well on your way to a truly intimate relationship. This opens you to love in a healthy way without judgement, conditions, possessiveness, control, blame, or drama. Sound good? It doesn’t mean it will always be easy or smooth sailing, but the opportunity to accept another for who they are and be accepted for your full self makes it all completely worth it. Have fun and enjoy the freedom that comes with the delicious responsibility of loving and caring for your most precious commodity: beautiful, wonderful, unique, YOU!
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