Why Boundaries Don’t Work. Here’s an Alternative.
Boundaries are all the rage these days, including and especially in the area of human relationships.
“I’ve got to get better at setting boundaries” is a common declaration. Written articles about intimate relationships suggest that boundaries are important—that they may in fact save us. We are encouraged to draw lines in the sand as a way of preventing future snags, heartaches, or problems.
Declaring a boundary is a reaction. A reaction is resistance or opposition to a (perceived) force. “I’ll never do that again,” said a friend recovering from a breakup. She hopes that by establishing a full-stop, she’ll be protected from difficult experiences in the coming days.
But here’s the thing.
Two things, actually.
One, boundaries naturally beg to be broken, crossed, or pushed against.
And two, the Universe gives us what we mean, not what we say.
Boundaries house built-in resistance, which sticks the thing we’re resisting right to us, bigger and bolder than ever. What we fight, we get more of. Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
Boundaries are a “no.” You might be familiar with the idea that anything we express pulls more of the same into the picture. Boundaries tend to bring additional boundaries, the crossing of arms, and other stances against.
We see examples everywhere on talk radio, and in politics or government. Push invites push-back. Criticism or attack invites defense. Forcing a rule invites rebellion. (Abortion legislation and covid mandates being two handy examples.) Suppression brings riots in the street.
Saying “Don’t think of pink peonies” brings a full-color visual of them into our mind immediately. Saying “Keep me away from men who cheat” puts our focus on men who cheat.
Our intelligence is wired to find what we’re looking for, what we’re focused on. So even if we say we want a man who is faithful, to find him, our focus is often on “does he cheat?” If our focus is on cheat, we tend to attract someone who will teach us more about that.
The simplest way to illustrate the idea that we get what we mean, not what we say is that if we haven’t worked our way through something, life brings us ways to work on it or clarify it. It’s a good thing. We get what we need to be able to have what we’re asking for.
In the end, boundaries in personal relationships, communities, and countries create feelings and situations we’re not really looking for: separateness, loneliness, and “going it alone.” These experiences make up a new and ever-broadening worldwide epidemic.
Instead of utilizing the unlimited power of connection and love, we often put up a fight. We struggle—alone—in opposition. This is hard. It’s especially exhausting to use our valuable energy to try to block an event that has already gone to the trouble of happening.
What would be different if we linked arms with others and placed our attention on where we prefer to go? What if we turned our gaze toward what we want?
Where is Wisdom?
Maybe we could look to influences larger and wiser than us for help. How about Mother Nature?
Does she stand in the desert with fists to the sky and say to the rain, “Get out! You can’t come here!” No, because she is the rain. And she is the desert. She is all of it.
For her to make demands and declarations would be like ordering herself around. That would be silly.
It’s no different for us. We are all of it, too. We are both sides of every circumstance and every question.
We are the boyfriend who didn’t call. We are the spouse who wandered off, resulting in a divorce. We are our partner in the relationship that didn’t work out the way we had hoped.
We’re the robber and the one who was robbed. We’re the hungry child and the one sitting at the Thanksgiving table overflowing with food. We’re the street rascal and the CEO. We are the dilapidated barn crumbling with age on the family farm, and we are the shiny new skyscraper in the center of a bustling city.
Mother Nature does what she does well. When humans decide to live in a flood plain, she teaches them about water. She makes sunshine and weather and ecosystems and mountains. She gives birth to every imaginable form of life all day every day. She creates balance at every turn.
How can we create balance, too?
Recently, a hickory tree in my yard fell into the arms of a birch.
What did the birch do?
It held the other tree.
Because I am who I am (poetic tendencies and all), this made me wonder if, during their many days as next door neighbors, these two trees had an ongoing intimate relationship. Had they wanted to help one another? Had they thought about leaning toward each other, maybe even touching?
Perhaps they had an understanding, or a wish, that prior to death, they would hold each other at least once.
In any case, when the hickory’s roots gave way, the birch stood ready with open arms.
What if the birch still standing had been the type to set a boundary? What if the birch had proclaimed all these years “there will be no hickories falling on me!” Would that have made a difference to the outcome?
It’s more likely that they both did what was natural, something in the realm of cooperation, love, and acceptance.
In a nutshell, this is what we might remember from observing nature: when it rains, let it rain. After all, the rain went to the trouble of happening. Might as well let it be. Might as well welcome it.
In life, what would more “yeses” do in the grand scheme of things? Would that make us weak?
Am I Weak?
Many people worry that not having boundaries turns us into jello. We worry about becoming wishy-washy or losing our way.
May I suggest that it’s not like that. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Without pushing against circumstances, I worry less. I’m more relaxed. I feel stronger and surer of myself when I pay attention to BEING who I am rather than working against what I don’t want.
Give all of this a whirl to see for yourself. If you’d like to link arms with me, let me know. Let’s talk.
Together, we can do this. Love can give us more than we ever imagined. As always, I invite your comments and reflections.
To Your Natural Brilliance,
Coming Up Next Week! Build Strong, Joyful, Supportive Relationships in 4 Steps.
Session 3: 100 % Responsibility—What It Means and How It Helps.
Day/Time: Tuesday, May 30. 6:30 to 8:30pm.
Cost: Love Offering.
Location: Unity of The Blue Ridge, Community Room, 2041 Old Fanning Bridge Rd, Mills River, NC 28759-28759
Most partnerships and friendships take this common stance: “I’ll take my share of responsibility and you take yours, and that will equal the whole pie.” But this causes us to skate between happy and not, angry or resentful and not, satisfied and not.
At the core, this evening is an exploration about the difference between victim consciousness and freedom. Where do we still hold on to victim consciousness, and how is that working for us? Where do we take 100% responsibility and how does that work?
Putting total responsibility into practice is no small feat. It takes awareness and plenty of rehearsal. It requires focus and commitment. But my prediction is that you won’t mind one bit about the necessary devotion required when the positive results begin to show up.