I am learning the new skill of creating, and maintaining, boundaries in my life. It may seem simple, and a logical skill to possess, yet for most of my life, I have tended to be really extreme in the other directions.
I rarely had boundaries in place at all.
I remember being in my twenties, and I was in therapy at the time. I remember telling my therapist how difficult it was for me to not be affected by the ills of humanity, to the point of being distraught over drought, and famine, and earthquakes in other parts of the world.
It’s not that I am saying that those things should not have weighed on me, but when I tell you the extent to which they did weigh on me, that, for me in hindsight, was an issue about boundaries.
You see, I often thought that because I could literally feel the pain of another human being, and be totally present (or so that I thought) to what they were experiencing, I thought that made me an extra special human. My perspective is much different today about that experience.
Today, I think it was an early example of me not having clear, precise boundaries in place, to know where the other person ends, and I begin. It is a gift to have true empathy and compassion for another human being, other living creatures, and any of their challenging experiences. However, what I would feel went beyond that; it was as if I was going through it, like if a woman was going through labor, and I could also feel the labor pains. (This in particular, never happened to me, but you get the idea).
For me to create a healthy, balanced life, I have to create and stand by clear boundaries for myself, and respect the boundaries of others. I remember when I worked as a mental health technician years ago, with a classroom full of emotionally disturbed youths. Someone told me then that even though children challenge boundaries and structure, they actually crave it, they need it.
They need it to feel safe and secure. They may say they want no rules or boundaries, but they feel very unsafe when they don’t know what the limits are.
I have been spending a lot of time, especially in the last year, really getting to know myself. I want to feel secure in the knowing that as I get better acquainted, I can set up structures that help me to honor myself, but also, to honor the space of others.
Boundaries are not to keep others out; they are to keep me in my heart, connected, present and real. Boundaries, for me, are the only way for me to be an authentic person, with myself and with others. They help me to know who I really am.