Boundaries are tricky.
They’re supposed to be these kickass expressions of our free will, and yet they are easily misused to protect our small egos. To use their force well, we’ve got to take a close look at their dark side, and learn how to use them for good.
Here’s how victim boundaries play out.
Typically, one person starts by making statements like, “I can’t allow you to do that to me,” “You can’t treat me like that,” or “I need you to respect me!” That person then describes the terms and conditions of the relationship they want. They politely “request” that the other person meet those terms and conditions, while making it clear that the other person is a jerk if they say no. These terms and conditions are also known as “hidden expectations.”
If the other person refuses, then the boundary-setter now claims that they have “no choice” but to adjust their own behavior, which usually involves withdrawing from the relationship in a fairly passive-aggressive manner. They usually throw in little moral superiority on the way out.
Energetically, these faux-boundaries feel like brick walls built of hurt and resentment rather than spacious choices that allow for mutual freedom. Like the dark side of the Force, they feed off of negative emotions.
If you resort to these dark forces in a moment of weakness, you may be left feeling weak and shivery, with a general feeling of wrongness. That is because they are not real boundaries; they are thwarted attempts at control.
So how do we set a true boundary that enhances our power and freedom? Here are four easy steps.
1. Enthusiastically honor the other person’s free will.
To set a true boundary, you have to give up the desire to control the other person. To do this right, you want to go beyond a half-ass acknowledgement of the other person’s right to make crappy decisions. You want to genuinely and enthusiastically honor their free will.
The reason this is so important is that power and control are inversely linked. The more you try to control someone else, the less power you have. You are spending your time in their business.
The more enthusiastically you honor their right to choose, the more wholeheartedly and viscerally you remember that you are also free. You come back into your body—your only seat of power—and the only place from which you can actually exercise choice.
A simple way to remember this is “give freedom to get freedom.”
One of the times I felt most free was when I enthusiastically honored someone’s right to call me deceptive and manipulative. I didn’t have to change anything.
2. Agree to feel pain.
To enthusiastically accept other people’s free will, you have also got to take full ownership for your feelings. This means being willing to experience pain without dodging it through blame or shame. Otherwise, your acceptance is just a mental act, and below the neck you’re still denying the whole experience.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling pain. Amazing, strong, powerful people experience hurt and disappointment and rejection. The fact that you are feeling these feelings doesn’t mean that you are a loser who hasn’t figured out life; it means that you are a living, breathing, non-spiritually-stuck-up person.
Something surprising happens when you stop running from pain. Right at the moment when you think you are going to die, you discover that it’s not going to kill you after all. To the contrary, when you say yes to it, pain opens and softens your heart. Pain is actually part of the sharp sweetness of life.
You also discover a wholeness and well-being that does not require protection. You are strong and noble and relatable. That’s why people owning their pain can be so beautiful. I love the moment in coaching calls when people admit how they are actually feeling. It’s like everything breaks open and we can all breath again.
3. Stay connected and available.
Before you cue the Hollywood-theme music, make sure you don’t let your pain turn you into a tragic hero. Just like you don’t want to deny your emotions, you also don’t want to exaggerate them and dramatically withdraw from the relationship because you are so “hurt.” That form of passive punishment is actually a sneaky form of control.
Stay energetically connected and available. If you don’t want an active relationship with the other person that’s fine. You don’t have to talk to them or go for brunch. You can choose to exit the relationship while keeping your heart open. The important part is to not turn into a five-year-old kid taking your toys home.
If you are struggling, you can always name it directly: “Hey, I am working through some feelings, but I want you to know that I respect your decision to [insert behavior you wish you could control] here.” That’s actually a very impressive move.
4. Decide what you want to do, without being resentful and without asking anyone’s permission.
Now you are dead center inside the seat of your own power. You’ve fully honored the other person’s free will, you are keeping you heart open, and you are energetically available.
From this place, boundaries become a creative expression of your free will, rather than a fearful attempt to control someone else or make them wrong. You can make open and honest requests, and make your own independent decisions.
What do you want to do? Would you like to make a request of the other person, which they can say no to? Would you like to end the relationship? Or maybe you discover you don’t need to do anything. Whatever you decide, you start with the blank slate of open choice, not from an angry closed place of resentment and subtle control.
Let’s finish with an awesome example of boundaries when the Force is used for good.
Someone I recently coached was hurt because his ex-girlfriend was hooking up with another guy in the same social circle as him. His first move was to resentfully demand she to stop doing that out of “respect.” His second move was to angrily withdraw because he was hurt. Both moves made him feel weak, because they were really disguised efforts at control.
After re-discovering his power, he stopped trying to control her, and instead told her that while he was hurt, he respected her decision. They reconnected as friends. He then decided that he wanted some solo time, and chose to go travel in Southeast Asia for a month.
While he was still honoring his need for space, it came from a powerful, free, and whole place. Now that is a good use of the Force.
Author: Nicole Aimee
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Image: Via the author