How are your boundaries? Are you empathetic and do you notice what others want from you but forget yourself? Then it is time for you to learn what the properties of healthy boundaries are so that you can set your boundaries well-informed. Langston Kahn, author of Radical Transformation, will get you started.
People who know compassion ask for what they need. They say ‘no’ when necessary and when they say ‘yes’ they mean it. They have compassion, because their limits prevent them from feeling resentment.
– Brene Brown
Adjusting too much is a problem
When I (Langston Kahn) was growing up, my personal boundaries were very bad. In the beginning I was not aware at all that I had no limits. Partly because I was an inexperienced but gifted empath and partly because of a few unfortunate events I was dealing with all kinds of emotional, spiritual and health problems. This led me to seek help from a shaman.
I saw the shaman use my energy to stay hyper-alert to what was happening in my environment and to adapt myself. This so that I could avoid conflict, instead of forming my own boundaries. Because of my empathetic qualities, I had tuned in to the version of myself that people wanted to see and I had shown a version of myself that they liked the most at that moment. As a result, I ignored the process that arises in the interaction between two people: their healthy boundaries clash and create a certain friction, after which they at some point find a pattern that feels comfortable for both of them (or they choose to not interact with each other).
What are healthy boundaries?
You need boundaries. … Even in the physical world, borders are the most beautiful places, as between the ocean and the coast, or between mountains and the plain, where the rocky gorge and the river meet.
– William Paul Young, The Invitation
Our boundaries mark the division between where our sphere of influence ends and the energy of others begins. The first step towards healthy boundaries is to understand how our boundaries now function and how they should function if they fully support us in the realization of our soul’s purpose.
Properties of healthy boundaries
We all have different requirements when it comes to borders. However, the following properties of healthy boundaries always apply:
Healthy boundaries are intelligent, flexible and pliable, and fit the situation
Boundaries must be able to respond intelligently to what is happening at any given moment. In a crowded subway car, your boundaries probably enclose your body very closely. That is why people in the metro can also stand against each other like pegs in a barrel and at the same time feel completely detached from each other. You always pick tourists out in the metro, because their borders have not yet adapted to those of the average city dweller. Walking in a forest can make your boundaries feel much more open and spacious.
Healthy boundaries give you information
When you enter a room, you can suddenly feel bad. This usually indicates that your boundaries, if you are open to them, give you information about the environment in which you have ended up. A fairly well-known example of this function of boundaries is someone staring at you; before you actually see that person, your boundaries have already picked up on their presence.
Healthy boundaries are permeable
Like the walls of body cells, boundaries must be able to filter the energy you receive and send out. They must be able to guide you to that which nourishes you and let it in, while expelling what lingers inside you, harms you or needs to be drained.
Healthy boundaries surround your whole body
In fact, borders should envelop your entire body like an eggshell. Because of the environment you are in or because of family patterns, your boundaries can be weaker or even missing in some places. A problem area that I often see in clients in this regard is the back, especially the upper back and neck. This can be the result of prolonged concentration on the screen of a smartphone or computer.
Healthy boundaries respond to your needs, not those of others
Your boundaries should have the form and qualities that best support you in the realization of your soul’s purpose and in the daily use of your faculties. In a relationship, it’s normal for you and the other to look for appropriate boundaries, but your boundaries are primarily there to support you in any situation. Only in the second instance do you take into account the needs of others, if necessary.
The power of ‘no’
‘No’ is a complete sentence.
– Anne Lamott
One of the most important tools when it comes to creating healthy boundaries, but perhaps also one of the hardest to use on a regular basis, is saying ‘no’. Often we are mistaken and think that saying ‘no’ is a value judgment, that ‘no’ means failure, rejection, being unwanted or disgusted. This can lead us to make commitments that we later regret.
We ignore our limits if we don’t say “no” for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. We may also not dare to ask for someone’s permission because we are afraid of what we will feel if we are told ‘no’. In other words, our fear of the word “no” and the emotional drama we associate with it can greatly hinder us in maintaining healthy boundaries.
Practice with ‘no’
There are two exercises I find very useful for adding the power of the word “no” to your resources:
• Before answering someone who asks you for something, take three deep breaths. In the space you give yourself with this, imagine that you are doing what the other asks of you. You then see how this feels in your body. Pay special attention to your gut, to your instinctive yes-or-no response. Include what your body tells you about the request in your response.
• Experiment with the principle that you don’t promise anything unless you have 24 hours to think it over. Try this for a week and see how it feels. So you take a whole day to think about a request. This practice can relieve you of the pressure to say “yes” and give you an opportunity to disconnect your “no” from what you are emotionally projecting at the time of the request.