• Valentina Poletti

How do we set boundaries?

We've all heard it from psychologists and spiritual gurus, you need to set your boundaries, especially if you are in unhealthy relationships or you suffer from codependency or related. The problem with this teaching is that the word that is used to describe this concept suggests a meaning which is the exact opposite of the intended idea. When we think of boundaries we think of limits and divisions. We think of a space which one person occupies and the space of another and we imagine the limit between these two spaces, a kind of fence that does not allow the two to transpass each other. This incites a sort of defensive mechanism to keep the boundary erect. Yet defense mechanisms are the exact opposite of boundaries enforcers. When we create a defense mechanism, by virtue of the law of attraction, we also create something we need to defend ourselves from. In other words, due to the resistance inherent in a defense, we increase what we are resisting, because whenever we resist something we focus our attention on it and therefore increase it, thus we increase the threat of our boundary being crossed. Rather unintuitively, a boundary is actually an action of allowance. It is not an action of allowance in the sense of letting anything happen and not acting on it. But it is an action of allowance in the sense that there is no resistance in it. What are boundaries really, and where do they stem from? As human beings we all have inherent needs, wants and desires. It is not possible to not need what we need, or to not want what we want or to not desire what we desire, so expecting to do so is simply a repression of the need/want/desire which, again due to the law of attraction will simply make it bigger. Anything we resist persists as it takes energy and focus directed towards something in order to resist it, and anything we focus our energy on increases. Instead by addressing those needs, wants and desires, we resolve them and we are happy. As humans, we have a very wide range of needs, watns and desires. They stem from physical (the most basic food, water, oxygen, sleep, sex as well as the more sophisticated ones ), mental (challenge, stimulation, learning, etcetera), and emotional (affection, validation, recognition, acceptance, inclusion, connection, intimacy, expression, meaning, to name a few). Meeting all those needs can only happen in a social and healthy environment where we have support and resources. Some of these needs we can meet ourselves, but most of them we have to meet through other people. Human needs are quite complex, so to ensure we meet them on a satisfactory basis we have a guidance system. We have emotions, feelings and states that tell us what we are missing and what we already have. Hunger is one such obvious and blunt feeling (although in modern societies it is barely, if ever, perceived) to indicate the need for food. Loneliness is a feeling that indicates the need for connection. Tiredness indicates the need for sleep, and so forth. Whenever our boundary is violated, we are simply ignoring one of those feelings, indicating that we need something. For instance, the loud noises our neighbor is making might violate our need for quiet. The emotional distance of our partner might violate our need for intimacy. The unavailability of healthy foods in our area might violate our need for health. And so forth. How then do we enforce our boundaries? Very simply, by meeting those needs. If we need human connection, we go and find it. If we need sex we find ways to do it. If we need recognition, we create achievements that grant it to us, etcetera. Inherently therefore boundary violations should not even be a problem. Yet they are a problem with many people who are stuck in unhealthy relationships or in dysfunctional emotional states, and who do not seem to be able to meet those needs, particularly the emotional ones. This however, is not because the person can't actually go and meet them, but because their belief system prevents them from doing so. An example of this is a codependent person who is stuck with a physically abusive partner, yet does not leave the relationship or take action with regards to the abuse, because she believes she 'deserves it', or that 'there isn't anything better'. A more subtle example is a boy that is unable to express his desires in terms of his career objectives to his parents, because he believes that their opinion counts more than his own. Yet another example is a girl who does not take action regarding school bullying because she believes there is something wrong with her. An even trickier situation happens when a person believes there is something wrong with a need in itself, for instance when someone believes it is wrong to express their opinion or to want to earn money. In summary the problem is not boundary violations, those are simply a symptom of the problem. The problem is a belief system that does not allow the person to meet their needs, and thus enforce their boundaries. In order to do so one must dwell into the scars of their past and find ways to heal them, in order to deactivate such dysfunctional behaviors that come, almost always, from a less than loving childhood.

Inspired by Teal Swan.

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