How to have good boundaries: the third energy

In the energy of being grounded, you learned that you have a space, a position on this planet. You fully connected your energy with the earth’s energy and felt the strength and power of that.

Then you learned about being centered in your own energy, further strengthening your felt sense of yourself.

Having boundaries involves knowing where you end and not-you begins, and knowing when and how to protect and defend that space and give others their space. This is the third energy.

Have you ever experienced someone’s bad boundaries? Perhaps they stood too close when they were talking to you. Perhaps they got in your face or stepped on your toes. Or someone touched you inappropriately, or worse. Connect that to how you felt in your body. Uncomfortable, crowded, resistant, fearful, violated, powerless, worthless, what else might someone feel whose boundaries have been crossed?

We’re often not really aware of our boundaries until someone violates them. This can distort our boundaries. Think of all the incest, physical abuse, emotional abuse, rape, molestation, sexual abuse, child abuse, and more-power taking advantage of less-power stories that you’ve heard, seen on TV, or read about. There’s a lot of suffering in this world because of this type of behavior.

When someone’s boundaries have been violated, their sense of their own boundaries can easily become distorted, or maybe it wasn’t that strong to begin with. Part of recovery is restoring those boundaries and strengthening them by learning how to better protect and defend your space. Without doing this, people can suffer for years, by being distant and isolated, by violating others’ boundaries, or both. Having a good sense of boundaries has a positive impact on social and intimate relationships and your trustworthiness in general.

This energy is important for feeling like you can be yourself in the world and be safe, for trusting life. This is a huge component of well-being, and most of us have no real training in it.

Here’s how you begin to experience your boundaries:

The first boundary is your skin. Everything inside is you; everything outside is not you. Stand up and get centered and grounded. With your hands, pat yourself from head to toe and back up again. Feel your skin with your hands, your hands with your skin. Take your time and really notice. Appreciate your skin.

Did your skin notice the rhythm of your hands patting? Did you notice changes in sensation as you patted different areas of your body? What does your skin do for you?

Close your eyes and imagine the distance where you feel comfortable when talking to another person. Imagine them walking up to you. How far away do you want them to stop? (Or if you’re with someone, talk to them and notice the distance.) Notice if the distance is different with different people. Imagine your mother, your best friend, a lover, a stranger.

Next: If a growling wild animal were to slowly walk toward you, and you couldn’t run, how would you set a boundary? Think of the length of your leg. You could kick the animal if you had to. (But hopefully you can avoid hurting any animal.) So the length of your legs creates a boundary.

The length of your arms forms another boundary. You can use your arms to push someone out of your space. If they got even closer, you could bite them to get them out of your space.

This next experiment requires a partner. Stand several feet apart, grounded and centered.  Extend your arms and notice that boundary. You may feel that arm’s-length space as a column that extends from the ground to over your head. This is an important boundary.

Now face your partner and slowly walk toward them, arms extended. Stop with your palms against your partner’s. Notice how you feel. Determine who is Partner A and who is B.

With palms still together, A steps into B’s space and tries to get closer. B pushes A back to the comfort zone. A: Really push! B: Tell A “This is my space. Get out of my space!” as you push them back. Feel the effort.

This is going to feel uncomfortable at first. It’s not so hard for children, so pretend you’re on the playground if that makes it easier. I hope you’re breathless from the effort and laughing when you’ve each done it!

Boundaries are a lot more complex than centering and grounding because they’re relational and situational. Maintaining good boundaries requires your attention, especially in new relationships, when someone’s behavior changes toward you (or yours toward them), in new situations, when meeting people from other cultures.

Being able to say “no” without alienating someone is also part of the art of setting good boundaries. Have you ever been roped into doing something you didn’t want to do? That could be a whole blog post or maybe even a book!

Quickly, here’s how I like to do it: I appreciate the other person’s intent, and then tell them no. I may tell them why, but I don’t have to.

Other person: MaryAnn, we’d love to have you on that committee.

MaryAnn: I appreciate you thinking of me, but I cannot take that on at this time. I have too much on my plate already, and I doubt I could do the job as well as someone with more time. Have you thought of asking Lucy?

You get the idea! That’s the nice way. If someone is persistent, don’t hesitate to get tougher. “Absolutely not!”

Good luck with sensing your boundaries and making them real. Thanks to Brian D. Mahan, SEP, for inspiring me!

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About MaryAnn Reynolds

Blogging about body, mind, heart, spirit, and well-being at The Well: bodymindheartspirit. Offering bodywork and changework, specializing in Ashiatsu barefoot massage and craniosacral therapy. Also a former Truth Be Told board member now serving as a volunteer editor for the Truth Be Told Community blog, serving women behind and beyond bars.
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