Healthy Boundaries

Healthy Boundaries

“Our minds may not need boundaries, but our feelings demand them.”

This month’s article is about boundaries, a topic that is often poorly understood or, if understood, difficult to honor in day-to-day life.

In a counseling session with Edward, a big man in his mid thirties, I listened as he described his crisis with his girlfriend of one year, Annie. He had discovered by reading her diary (a boundary violation in itself – but he had become suspicious) that she was having an affair with another man. He immediately confronted her. She cried and told him it was true. He asked her to leave the house, which he owned. In the following days, she called often on the phone, affirming her love for him, and insisting she had stopped seeing the other man. Although Edward was still in shock, and had good reason not to trust that Annie had in fact stopped seeing the other man, he repeatedly met with her, often having sex together.

I asked Edward, “How do you feel about these laisons?”

His answer, “It’s making me crazy. I can’t stand the loneliness, but I feel like I’m punishing myself every time I see her.”

Although Edward initially asserted healthy boundaries, ie asking Annie to leave his house, his loneliness and desire for her caused him to give up on himself and what he knew was right – ignoring his boundaries.

Another example. Although people may call us in true crisis, and we try our hardest to squeeze them in, sometimes people call on a whim, asking for an appointment that day. I want to be of service, to help people in their lives, and my day may be already too full. When I give in to another person’s desires and ignore my own, I am not honoring myself, and therefore do not give all of myself to that person. Without filling my own cup, I cannot really fill another’s cup. I am ignoring my boundaries.

And another example. Roberta, currently in graduate school, is in a relatively new (one and a half years) relationship with Howard. He has done well in his business and enjoys financially supporting her. When he wants sex, she sometimes feels obligated to give it to him, even if she is not in the mood herself. After these times, she doesn’t feel very happy. More boundary ignoring.

I could go on and on. The ways people ignore their boundaries are as numerous as the ways they don’t love or respect themselves. In fact, when you catch yourself ignoring your boundaries, you are not loving yourself in that moment.

So what is the key to healthy boundaries?

First, we need to remember that we are human beings on a spiritual journey as much as we are spiritual beings on a human journey. Many of us pretend to be only spiritual beings on a spiritual journey, ignoring our human natures, our egos, our psychological makeup – and thus, our boundaries. As spiritual beings, our deepest natures, we have no need for boundaries. Our souls live in a universe of Oneness. The soul’s only desire is to merge with other souls and with everything, to experience the ecstacy of union, the lack of boundaries that comprises perfect love. Sometimes our minds grasp onto this soul-awareness, and we act as if we need no boundaries. In one of our books, we wrote about a woman whose husband was having an affair. She was trying to be big enough to love him and accept him (ie living from her mind). When we directed her to her feelings, she roared like a mother bear protecting her cubs. It is in our feelings that we can recognize our human sides, and thus our need for boundaries. If we live only in our minds, and ignore our feelings, we live only partially, and have no happiness or peace. Our minds may not need boundaries, but our feelings demand them. So please listen to your feelings as well as your mind.

Second, pay attention to your limits. We are sometimes afraid to acknowledge our limits, as if to do so is to further limit ourselves. Again, we live in two worlds, the spiritual and the human. Neither can be ignored. In the spiritual world, we are limitless. In the human world, we have limits. Acknowledging our limits in the human realm enhances our limitlessness in the spiritual realm. My saying no to excessive work gives me the time and energy to say yes to my spirituality. And this brings me to the third ingredient for healthy boundaries.

Learn to say NO. Charley Thweatt wrote a whole song about this at our Hawaii retreat. The first line is right to the point, “If I never say no, can I ever mean yes.” We wrote a whole chapter, “The Importance of Saying No,” in Light in the Mirror ( The Heart’s Wisdom ). A “no” sometimes needs to be said powerfully or even with anger, as when we’re protecting ourselves or a loved one. But “no” can also be said softly, even lovingly, like when our partner wants something from us. We can learn to say no to what he or she wants, while we say yes to the person. Take a moment right now to reflect on something in your life to which you are needing to say no.

Learn healthy human boundaries, so your limitless spirit can soar into the heavens.

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