"The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is starting to know that we have a right to protect and defend ourselves. That we have not only the right, but the duty to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us."
"Setting boundaries is not a more sophisticated way of manipulation - although some people will say they are setting boundaries, when in fact they are attempting to manipulate. The difference between setting a boundary in a healthy way and manipulating is: when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome."
"It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly. Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves - to protect ourselves when it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to be Loving to ourselves without owning our self - and owning our rights and responsibilities as co-creators of our lives."
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Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility part 3
Setting Personal Boundaries - protecting self
The reason I started there, is because changing our relationship with ourselves and life is vital in order to make any long term changes in our relationships with others. It is vital to learn to respect and honor our selves, so that we can awaken to the need to have boundaries that let other people know that we deserve and demand respect.
What is so powerful and effective about the inner child healing process, as I have learned to apply it, is that it changes our core relationship with ourselves. Once we start having a more Loving relationship with ourselves, everything changes. We start to naturally and normally: set boundaries with others; speak our Truth; own our right to be alive and be treated with respect and dignity.
To start by learning how to set boundaries and assert ourselves, without changing the core relationship with ourselves, will ultimately not work in the relationships we care most about. It is relatively easy to start setting boundaries in relationships that don't mean much to us - it is in the relationships that mean the most to us that it is so difficult. That is because, it is those relationships - family, romantic, etc. - that our inner child wounds are the most powerful. The little child within us does not feel worthy, feels defective and shameful, and is terrified of setting boundaries for fear everyone will leave. The other extreme of this phenomena is those of us who throw up huge walls to try to keep people from getting too close - and sabotage any relationship that starts getting too intimate - to try to protect the wounded child within from being hurt.
With boundaries, as in every area of the healing process, change starts with awareness. I had to hear about boundaries, and start learning the concept before I could even realize that I didn't have any. I had to start getting some glimmer of an idea of what boundaries are, and how to set them, in order to understand how hard they were for me - and how absolutely vital to learning to Love myself.
So, in this third article of this series on emotional honesty and emotional responsibility I am going to be focusing on setting personal boundaries with other people. I am going to attempt to keep the focus on a very basic level for those readers who are new to the concept of boundaries.
"Boundaries define limits, mark off dividing lines. The purpose of a boundary is to make clear separations between different turf, different territory. . . .The process of Recovery teaches us how to take down the walls and protect ourselves in healthy ways - by learning what healthy boundaries are, how to set them, and how to defend them. It teaches us to be discerning in our choices, to ask for what we need, and to be assertive and Loving in meeting our own needs. (Of course many of us have to first get used to the revolutionary idea that it is all right for us to have needs.)
The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is starting to know that we have a right to protect and defend ourselves. That we have not only the right, but the duty, to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us.
We need to start becoming aware of what healthy behavior and acceptable interaction dynamics look like before we can start practicing them ourselves - and demanding the proper treatment from others. We need to start learning how to be emotionally honest with ourselves, how to start owing our feelings, and how to communicate in a direct and honest manner. Setting personal boundaries is vital part of healthy relationships - which are not possible without communication.
The first thing that we need to learn to do is communicate without blaming. That means, stop saying things like: you make me so angry; you hurt me; you make me crazy; how could you do that to me after all I have done for you; etc. These are the very types of messages we got in childhood that has so warped our perspective on our own emotional process.
I grew up believing that I had the power to make my father angry and to break my mother's heart. I thought that I was supposed to be perfect, and that if I was not, I was causing the people I loved great pain. I grew up believing that something was wrong with me because I was human. I grew up believing that I had power over other peoples feelings - and they had power over mine.
In my codependence I learned to be enmeshed with other people - to not have healthy boundaries that told me who "I" was, and that I was a separate person from them. I had to become hyper-vigilant in childhood. I learned to focus on trying to interpret what my parents and other authority figures were feeling in order to try to protect myself. As an adult, I unconsciously tried to manipulate people - by trying to be what they wanted me to be if I wanted them to like me, or trying to be either intimidating or invisible if that seemed the safest course. I had no real concept of being responsible for my own feelings because I had learned that other people were responsible for my feelings - and vice versa. I had to learn to start defining myself emotionally as separate from other people in order to start learning who I was.
I was not able to start seeing myself as separate in a healthy way (I had always felt that I was separate in an unhealthy way - shameful and unworthy) until I started to see that I had been powerless over the behavior patterns I learned in childhood. Since my behavior patterns, my behavioral and emotional defense systems, had developed in reaction to the feeling that there was something wrong with me, I had to learn to start taking power away from the toxic shame that is at the core of this disease. Toxic shame involves thinking that there is something wrong with who we are. Guilt - in my definition - involves behavior, while shame is about our being. Guilt is: I did something wrong; I made a mistake. Shame is: I am a mistake; something is wrong with me.
On an emotional level the dance of Recovery is owning and honoring the emotional wounds so that we can release the grief energy - the pain, rage, terror, and shame that is driving us.
That shame is toxic and is not ours - it never was! We did nothing to be ashamed of - we were just little kids. Just as our parents were little kids when they were wounded and shamed, and their parents before them, etc., etc. This is shame about being human that has been passed down from generation to generation.
There is no blame here, there are no bad guys, only wounded souls and broken hearts and scrambled minds.
In order to stop giving the toxic shame so much power, I had to learn to detach from my own reactive process enough to start being able to see a boundary between being and behavior. I had to stop judging myself and other people based on behavior. I started to learn how to observe behavior without making judgments about myself and others. There is a huge difference between judgment in my definition and observation. It is vital for me to observe other people's behavior in order to protect myself. That does not mean I need to make a value judgment about their being based upon their behavior.
Judgment is saying, "that person is a jerk." Observation is saying, "that person seems to be really full of anger and it would be better for me to not be involved with them."
[When I use the term "judge," I am talking about making judgments about our own or other people's being based on behavior. In other words, I did something bad therefore I am a bad person; I made a mistake therefore I am a mistake. That is what toxic shame is all about: feeling that something is wrong with our being, that we are somehow defective because we have human drives, human weaknesses, human imperfections.
There may be behavior in which we have engaged that we feel ashamed of but that does not make us shameful beings We may need to make judgments about whether our behavior is healthy and appropriate but that does not mean that we have to judge our essential self, our being, because of the behavior. Our behavior has been dictated by our disease, by our childhood wounds; it does not mean that we are bad or defective as beings. It means that we are human, it means that we are wounded.
It is important to start setting a boundary between being and behavior. All humans have equal Divine value as beings - no matter what our behavior. Our behavior is learned (and/or reactive to physical or physiological conditions). Behavior, and the attitudes that dictate behavior, are adopted defenses designed to allow us to survive in the Spiritually hostile, emotionally repressive, dysfunctional environments into which we were born.]
Formula for emotionally honest communication
When you . . . . .The fourth part of this formula is setting the boundary. I will get to that in a moment. The first three parts of the formula are a very important part of taking responsibility for our self - an important step in learning to define ourselves as separate in a healthy way.
When you . . . . .The "When you . . ." statement is a description of behavior. It is very important actually describe the behavior. To say to another person: when you get angry; when you shame me; or such statements - is too general, not specific enough. These types of general statements do not really describe the behavior - they are our interpretations of the behavior. A major facet of codependence is assuming, interpreting, mind reading, and fortune telling - due to our childhood conditioning. We think we know the intentions and motives of others. We assume that they are conscious of their behavior and will know what we are talking about.
It is vital to realize that we do not know how to communicate in a direct and honest manner. We need to stop interpreting and start communicating. It is important to describe the behavior rather than our interpretation and assumptions about what the behavior means.
"When your face gets red and your voice gets louder and your hands clench into fists" - is specific and descriptive. It does not assume - rather it describes the behavior that appears to us to indicate anger.
"When you look at me with a frown on your face and your eye brows slightly raised and give a loud sigh" - is a description of behavior that causes us to react with guilt and shame. Usually the other people have no idea of what their behavior looks like. Our parents tried to control our behavior with fear, guilt, and shame because that is how their parents tried to control their behavior in childhood. We react in the ways we do because of the emotional buttons, the triggers, that our parents behavior toward us installed in our programming.
Usually, when we first confront such behavior in a healthy way, the other people will profess innocence and ignorance of what we are talking about. But, by describing the behavior, we will be planting seeds of consciousness in them that may eventually cause them to get more conscious of the sound of their own voice, or their sighs. Describing behavior is an important step towards making it possible for the other people to get past their toxic shame so that they can start seeing a boundary between being and behavior.
We of course, are powerless over them - over whether they get it, understand what we are doing. But in learning to communicate in a healthy way, without blame and shame, we are maximizing the possibility of communication.
I feel . . . . .This is the part of the formula where we start learning to express our emotions in a healthy and honest way. This is a vital part of the process of owning our emotions. Anyone who is fairly new to this process, and isn't sure what I mean by owning the feelings, would probably benefit from reading two short articles about emotions and emotional defenses. Those articles: The Journey to the Emotional Frontier Within and Further Journeys to the Emotional Frontier Within can be accessed right now by clicking on the link. (The article will appear in a new browser window, so that after reading the articles you can collapse the new window and return to this article.)
It is best to use primary feeling words (described in the articles above) when expressing the "I feel . . . ." part of this formula - but it is also OK to use words that describe the messages we feel are inherent in their behaviors.
When your voice gets louder and your face gets red and you clench your fists,
I feel scared, intimidated, unsafe. I feel like you are going to hit me.When I try to talk to you while you are watching television and I have to say your name 3 or 4 times before you respond,
I feel angry, hurt, discounted, unimportant, insignificant, invisible, like I am being punished. It feels like you do not want to communicate with me.It is important to state our feelings out loud, and to precede the feeling with "I feel." (When we say "I am angry, I'm hurt, etc." we are stating that the feeling is who we are. Emotions do not define us, they are a form of internal communication that help us to understand ourselves. They are a vital part of our being - as a component of the whole.) This is owning the feeling. It is important to do for ourselves. By stating the feeling out loud we are affirming that we have a right to feelings. We are affirming it to ourselves - and taking responsibility for owning ourselves and our reality. Rather the other person can hear us and understand is not as important as hearing ourselves and understanding that we have a right to our feelings. It is vitally important to own our own voice. To own our right to speak up for ourselves.
As we get farther along in the process, and start to get more aware of our inner child wounds, we can start being more discerning in our communications techniques. For instance, if one was hit as a child, then a raised voice is a trigger to the child's fear of being hit. For the little child it was life threatening when a giant adult raged. In your adult relationship, you may feel very confident that your significant other (or boss or whatever) would not hit you - but when we are triggered, we react out of the emotional wounds of the child, out of the child's emotional reality.
So then you might say something like:
When your voice gets louder and your face gets red and you clench your fists . . .
I feel scared and hurt. I react out of the 5 year old in me who got hit when my father raged. I react to a loud voice by feeling like I am going to be hit.(Often someone that comes from a loud expressive family will get involved with someone that comes from an very emotionally repressive family. Then the first person will not think anything of being loud - while the second will be very upset by loudness. The only way to work through the programming from our childhood is to be able to communicate with each other so that we can start becoming conscious of our behaviors and how they affect others.)
I want . . . .I want is pretty self explanatory. But again it is important not to be too general. Saying something like: "I want to know I am important to you. I want to know you love me." is not specific enough. Describe the kind of behaviors that would give you the message that you want from the other person.
"I want you to answer me when I talk to you. I want you to tell me you love me - and show me with funny little gifts and cards and making plans on your own for a special date for just the two of us. I want you to ask me how my day went and really listen to my answer." etc.
When I first encountered the concept of boundaries, I thought of them as lines that I would draw in the sand - and if you stepped across them I would shoot you (figuratively speaking.) (I had this image of some place like the Alamo - from a movie I guess - where a sword was used to draw a line in the sand, and then those that were going to stay and fight to the death stepped across it.) I thought that boundaries had to be rigid and final and somehow kind of fatal.
Some boundaries are rigid - and need to be. Boundaries such as: "It is not OK to hit me, ever." "It is not acceptable to call me certain names." "It is not acceptable to cheat on me."
No one deserves to be treated abusively. No one deserves to be lied to and betrayed.
We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. If we do not respect ourselves, if we do not start awakening to our right to be treated with respect and dignity (and our responsibility in creating that in our lives) - then we will be more comfortable being involved with people who abuse us then with people who treat us in loving ways. Often if we do not respect ourselves, we will end up exhibiting abusive behavior towards people who do not abuse us. On some level in our codependence, we are more comfortable with being abused (because it is what we have always known) than being treated in a loving way.
Learning to set boundaries is vital to learning to love our self, and to communicating to other's that we have worth.
There are basically three parts to a boundary. The first two are setting the boundary - the third is what we will do to defend that boundary.
If you - a description of the behavior we find unacceptable (again being as descriptive as possible.)One very drastic example would be:
If you ever hit me again, I will call the police and press charges. I will leave this relationship. If you continue to threaten me, I will get a restraining order and prepare to defend myself in whatever manner is necessary.It is not always necessary or appropriate to share the third part of this formula with the other person when setting a boundary - the first two steps are the actual setting of the boundary. The third part is something we need to know for ourselves, so that we know what action we can take if the other person violates the boundary. If we set a boundary and expect the other person to abide by it automatically - then we are setting ourselves up to be a victim of our expectation.
It is not enough to set boundaries - it is necessary to be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them. We need to be willing to go to any length, do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. This is something that really upset me when I first started learning how to set boundaries. It took great courage for me to build myself up to a point where I was willing to set a boundary. I thought that the huge thing I had done to set a boundary should be enough. Then to see that some people just ignored the boundaries I had set, seemed terribly unfair to me.
If you verbally abuse me by calling me names like stupid or jerk, I will confront you about your behavior and share my feelings.
If you continue that behavior I will leave the room/house/ask you to leave.Since behavior patterns are quite ingrained in all of us, it is important to allow the other person some wiggle room to make a change in behavior - unless the behavior is really intolerable. To go from one extreme to the other is a reaction to a reaction - and is codependent. There are choices in between which are sometimes hard for us to see if we are reacting. To go from tolerating verbally abusive behavior to leaving a relationship in one step is swinging between extremes. It is helpful to set boundaries that allow for some gradual change.
When I ask you what is wrong and you say "Never mind," and then slam cabinet doors and rattle pots and pans and generally seem to be silently raging about something,The consequences we set down for behavior we find unacceptable should be realistic - in that, the change that we are asking for is something that is within the others power (rather they are willing to take that responsibility is another thing altogether) - and enforceable, something that we are willing to do.
It is also important to set consequences that impact the other person more than us. Often when people are first learning how to set boundaries, they do not think it through far enough. They set boundaries that impact themselves as much or more than the other person. For example, a single parent with a teenager who needs to get consequences for coming home late, or bad grades, or whatever, may be tempted to say something like "If you miss your curfew again, you will be grounded for a month." The reality of grounding a teenager for a month is that it often means the parent is also grounded for a month. If taking away driving privileges means then you will have to drive them to school - maybe you want to choose some other consequence.
Setting a boundary is not an attempt to control the other person (although some of the people who you set boundaries with will certainly accuse you of that - just as some will interpret it as a threat) - it is a part of the process of defining ourselves and what is acceptable to us. It is a major step in taking what control we can of how we allow others to treat us. It is a vital step in taking responsibility for our self and our life.
Setting boundaries is not a more sophisticated way of manipulation - although some people will say they are setting boundaries, when in fact they are attempting to manipulate. The difference between setting a boundary in a healthy way and manipulating is: when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome.
We want the other person to change their behavior. We hope they will. But we need to own all of our choices in order to empower ourselves to take responsibility for our lives and stop setting ourselves up to be a victim. One of our choices is to remove ourselves from relationship with the person. We can leave a marriage. We can end a friendship. We can leave a job. We do not have to have any contact with our family of origin. It is vitally important to own all of our choices.
If we do not own that we have a choice to leave an abusive relationship - then we are not making a choice to stay in the relationship. Any time we do not own our choices, we are empowering victimization. We will then blame the other person, and/or blame ourselves. It is a vital part of the process of learning to love ourselves, and taking responsibility for being a co-creator in our life, to own all of our choices.
It is essential to own that we have choices in order to escape the codependent suffering victim martyr role - or the other extreme, which is being abusive in order to try to make others do it "right" (that is, do what we want them to.) Both, the people who appear to be victims and the people that appear to be abusers, are coming from a victim place in terms of blaming others for their behavior. "I wouldn't have to hit you if you didn't talk to me that way" is a victim statement. Both victim and perpetrator are coming from a victim perspective, blaming their behaviors on others - or on themselves, "I can't help it, that is just how I am."
When we look outside for self-definition and self-worth, we are giving power away and setting ourselves up to be victims. We are trained to be victims. We are taught to give our power away.
As just one small example of how pervasively we are trained to be victims, consider how often you have said, or heard someone say, "I have to go to work tomorrow." When we say "I have to" we are making a victim statement. To say, "I have to get up, and I have to go to work," is a lie. No one forces an adult to get up and go to work. The Truth is "I choose to get up and I choose to go to work today, because I choose to not have the consequences of not working." To say, "I choose," is not only the Truth, it is empowering and acknowledges an act of self-Love. When we "have to" do something we feel like a victim. And because we feel victimized, we will then be angry, and want to punish, whomever we see as forcing us to do something we do not want to do such as our family, or our boss, or society."
"And we always have a choice. If someone sticks a gun in my face and says, "Your money or your life!" I have a choice. I may not like my choice but I have one. In life we often don't like our choices because we don't know what the outcome is going to be and we are terrified of doing it 'wrong.'We always have a choice. The choices may seem to be awful - but in reality, allowing ourselves to buy into the illusion that we are trapped will have worse consequences in the long run. It may seem ridiculous to suggest that a parent can abandon or give a child up for adoption - but owning our choices no matter how outrageous is a step in owning responsibility for being co-creators in our life. If we are blaming and being the victim we will never be happy.
(And this is a good example of when sharing the 3rd part of this formula is not appropriate. It would be abusive to threaten a child with being put up for adoption. This is a choice that we need to own to escape feeling trapped in our relationship with ourselves - it is strictly an internal thing. With children it is vital to not project our own internal struggle onto the child - it doesn't have anything to do with the child, it is all about our relationship with self.)
I was scared of setting boundaries because the little boy in me was afraid of: hurting other people; having other people be angry at me; being abandoned, losing the relationship. Ultimately, it came down to: people will go away if I say no or set a boundary with them.
I had to become willing to take that risk. I had to decide that I had enough worth to stand up for myself even if people did go away. And some people did go away. Some people do still when I set a boundary. But I was also amazed to see that some of the people that I set a boundary with started to treat me with more respect. They were able to hear me and valued me enough to change their behavior.
By becoming willing to take the risk of setting boundaries, I got the wonderful gift of getting what I wanted - some of the time. I had to let go of the outcome and learn to accept the situation however it unfolded. I had to let go of a lot of people that I had considered friends. I came to the realization that the people I had been calling friends, were not really friends at all - because as long as I did not know how to be a friend to myself, I could not truly recognize friendship in others. As long as I was unconsciously reacting out of my old programming, the people I was attracted to were people who would abuse me, shame me, abandon and betray me.
I came to the realization that anyone who is a friend is someone I can communicate with - and be able to negotiate boundaries with. The vast majority of boundaries are in fact a negotiation rather than a rigid line in the sand. Adults need to negotiate boundaries between themselves. This is very true in romantic relationships - and is the standard for all relationships.
What we are striving for is healthy interdependent relationships. We want friends who are allies. With alliances it is necessary to negotiate boundaries. Here is what I am willing to do, and here is what I need from you. We want a romantic relationship with a partner who will share our journey with us. In order to make that possible it is necessary to communicate, share feelings, and negotiate agreements about behavior. By setting boundaries, we are communicating with another person. We are telling them who we are and what we need. It is much more effective to do that directly and honestly than to expect them to read our minds - and then punish them when they cannot.
Often it is little things that seem inconsequential that it is most important to set boundaries about. Irritating little habits or mannerism of another person. The irritating little things will grow into huge monsters unless we learn to communicate and negotiate. When we stuff our feelings we build up resentments. Resentments are victim feelings - the feeling that somebody is doing something to us. If we don't speak up and take the risk of sharing how we feel, we will end up blowing up and/or being passive aggressive - and damaging the relationship.
Learning to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to communicate in a direct and honest manner. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly. Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves - to protect ourselves when it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to be Loving to ourselves without owning our self - and owning our rights and responsibilities as co-creators of our lives.
This is the third article in a series about Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility (first two articles are on Joy2MeU site) that is being written as a follow up to an article about Emotional Abuse. You may also wish to read Codependence vs Interdependence to understand the difference between a healthy relationship and a codependent one.