Boundaries are so much more than statements we make to other people about what we want and don’t want. Boundaries are real, palpable membranes that exist in the subtle, felt-sensed domains of the psyche, body, and spirit.
All humans have boundaries. Boundaries have a natural function to perform in human life: to define and protect us.
Picture a sheet of paper with a circle drawn on it. Imagine that the space inside of the circle represents you. Within the circle is all the consciousness material that belongs to you as an individual being. All that’s yours to feel, think, and experience as a part of your life’s unfolding journey.
What’s outside of the circle is all that’s “not you”.
Boundaries create a skin for our psyches, keeping what’s ours to experience on the inside and what’s not ours on the outside. Like the skin of our physical bodies and the membranes of our living cells, our boundaries are semi-porous, letting some stuff in and out when it’s good for us to do so.
Sometimes we join others to create a new kind of boundary together, as when we fall in love. Then another skin is created, around the two of us together, which holds both of our circles inside of a larger circle.
We can have many of these circles within circles – boundaries that define and protect our families, our tribes, our nations, our species, and so on. But no matter how many shared identities we are part of, we are also our distinct being.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Healthy boundaries create a container that protectively separates and safeguards us. Like a jar that keeps the water of our life from spilling, a treasure box that keeps our precious trinkets in one place, a nest that holds Robin’s eggs.
When our boundaries work well, we contain ourselves, like a mother with a child in her arms. The holding makes us feel loved and connected and keeps us safe from harm.
When we have healthy boundaries, we can be in charge of what we choose to let into our experience, and what we choose to keep out. Like kids in a tree house, we decide who comes in and who’s not allowed.
Boundaries can be flexible and transparent, prickly like a chestnut pod, or soft like a lavender sachet, but whatever they’re like, to work they must hold strong under pressure, keeping the good stuff in and the bad stuff out.
Stop and Reflect:
Take a moment to consider your own interpersonal, and psychological boundaries right now. There are many different kinds of containers in this world, from light to heavy, large to small. What are your boundaries like? Is there an image that comes to you, which helps you understand what your boundaries are like?
Here are some images that have come to others:
My boundaries are like a soap bubble, easily popped
My boundaries are like a tornado bunker, I hide in there and hope for the best
My boundaries are like a big glass house, I wish I had more privacy
My boundaries are like a boat with a hole in the bottom, I can’t get anywhere because I’m always bailing out water
What image comes to mind for your boundaries?
Why Are Healthy Boundaries Important for Mental Health?
Boundaries are a big topic for all of us. For women who suffer from low self-esteem, mental-emotional imbalances, and self-destructive behaviors, it might be the biggest topic of all.
Until we can sense our own being enough to know what we want, and until we can love ourselves enough to be willing to draw lines that protect us from harm, forming some boundaries will always be our main job.
We must have sufficient self-love to know we have a right to exist in our way, just as we are, and that we are allowed to, even supposed to, stand up for ourselves when our lines are crossed.
We must learn how to feel, respect, and defend our boundaries without causing harm to another. Without lashing out, or dumping responsibility for our lives onto someone else. We have to recognize the feelings that indicate a boundary has been crossed (anger, shame, fear), and find a way to restore the boundary.
Mental health requires the love, willingness, and courage to investigate to find out what our boundaries are. For those of us with boundary confusion – a legacy of trauma – this is the most important task we face.
What Are Some Tips for Setting and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries?
1. Explore Your Body Resonances
The body has a very simple language to help us feel what our boundaries are. It is the sensation of body resonance or non-resonance.
We can get good information from the body by asking ourselves, is this a yes or a no for my body? And then see which feeling the body points to, a harmonious yes feeling or a discordant no feeling.
When something is good for the body, we will feel it. Yes-resonance feels good, open, spacious, warm, and pleasant.
Like a string in a piano that hums along with another string, when something is in tune with us, we feel it as a positive humming, buzzing, or other kind of personal signal in the body. This humming, positive yes I like this, this is good for me is a way that the body communicates what is good for life.
Here are some things that my body likes, that give me a “yes I like this”:
-picking up a puppy and holding it to my chest
-stepping onto a warm, clean white beach with bare feet
Cool fresh glass of water with a squeeze of lemon in it
What Do You Feel a Body Yes To?
On the other side, there are things that feel quite distinctly to the body like a “no, yuck, this feels bad”. This feels to the body like notes that don’t sound good together, like colors that clash, like a repellent smell.
Things that give me a Body No are:
-going into a cold, beige room with fluorescent lights with lots of computers droning
-the smell of fumes in a dark, labyrinthine parking garage
-a stranger standing too close to me in a crowded space
What Do You Feel a Body-No To?
If you move towards your Body-Yes and away from your Body-No, this is a good guidance system. Through respecting them, our natural, life-given boundaries will bounce back in place to do their job of safekeeping and protecting you.
What weakens our ability to sense the body boundaries is when we override our Body-No. When we force ourselves to stay close to something bad for us and don’t listen to the natural desire to pull away, we are weakening ourselves.
Begin with just noticing, what does my body say Body-Yes to and Body-No to? Start moving towards Body-Yes and away from Body-No and see how this affects your life. You will probably start to feel more safe and protected, more like you have boundaries and are worthy of having them.
2. Practice Saying No Nicely
For all the women out there, I feel it’s important to emphasize the adage, “‘No’ is a complete sentence”. It’s always ok to simply say no, and that’s it. Sometimes you have to say no and not be nice at all about it. Truly.
However, it’s also ok to work on saying no, nicely.
If you have someone in your life you want to communicate a no nicely to, it helps to articulate what your body would say yes to and share that as transparently as you can.
For example, “Honey, can I have the kitchen to myself for the next hour? I like to have a lot of space around me when I’m cooking, that helps me feel comfy and good and in my flow” is a way to share a boundary, kindly. (Compare that to, “Get out of here, I’m trying to cook!”).
3. Let Go of External Validation of Your Boundaries
Boundaries, by definition, are ours and ours alone to self-validate and self-approve.
People might give us blank stares, push back, or fail to understand. That’s ok. We still need to have and communicate boundaries.
Understand that sometimes in life we have to stand alone in our corner. Boundaries are one of those times. It’s not other people’s job to love it when we tell them no or when we don’t choose to comply with what was in their flow. Don’t expect that, and have your own back.
Villa Kali Ma Can Assist in Setting Mental Health Boundaries
Boundary confusion is the legacy of trauma. If we have struggled with boundaries now – if we can’t say no even when we want to, or we have no idea whether we feel a yes or a no to something – this isn’t a fault of ours, but rather an indication that we have had our boundaries encroached upon, if not shattered, in the past.
Villa Kali Ma is devoted wholeheartedly to helping women heal, in large part by recovering, repairing, and nourishing our right to have and listen to the boundaries that protect and define what’s precious within us.
Come find out for yourself, how much better life can be when we recover our natural right to good, healthy boundaries!