With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching we may have some ambivalence, along with anxiety or resistance, around navigating all those family dynamics. One skill that is invaluable here is the ability to maintain healthy boundaries, yet this is such a loaded term and what do we mean by it anyway? Boundary setting is multi-faceted, working on the emotional, psychological and energetic levels. While boundary setting is a vital skill for our personal wellbeing and relational capacity, it can also be used as a way of bolstering our ego-defenses. How do we find the balance between maintaining healthy boundaries without tipping over into putting up walls in our relationships?
What do we mean by a ‘healthy boundary’?
- On the psychological level, a boundary is simply the capacity to say “No” to harm, abuse or manipulation.
- ON the emotional level, anger is the vital emotion that warns us that a boundary is needed and gives us the courage, the impetus and the physiological strength to put the boundary in place.
- On the energetic level, we all have an ‘energy body’ or field of energy around us which can have a boundary around it. This is like a semi-permeable membrane that allows in benevolent influences but repels unwholesome ones.
One important thing to realize about maintaining healthy boundaries is that they are not just about filtering energies out but also about being well resourced within ourselves.
While we generally think of setting boundaries with other people, it is also really helpful to exercise our capacity to set boundaries with our own mind, to say ‘no’ to the cruel inner narratives born of cultural conditioning and internalized family narratives.
Maintaining healthy boundaries requires:
- An ability to create and maintain vibrant energetic boundaries that make us less porous and susceptible to other’s energies.
- A positive relationship with the emotion of anger (aka ‘frustration’ or ‘irritation’). While anger can be highly toxic, we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in our culture and stigmatized our anger as a ‘negative’ emotion. However anger is a natural function or our organism designed to give us the courage and impetus to say ‘no’ to harm or abuse. Related to this is gaining the skills to use our healthy anger to calmly express a boundary that is proportional and appropriate to the situation.
- A willingness to take responsibility for our own pain and triggered responses and not project them onto others in the form of perceived threat or by taking another’s experience personally.
I find that in our culture we generally have the least awareness of the energetic dimension of boundary setting so that will be our focus in this post. For more on the emotions and skills related to boundary setting you can go to my post on 7 tips to maintain healthy boundaries.
Maintaining vibrant energetic boundaries
This is the area that I find my clients have the least awareness because it is often thought of as ‘woo woo’. Our energy body or field of energy surrounding us is scientifically measurable and plays a vital role in our wellbeing. It requires tending and attention just as our physical body does. Additionally, we are all broadcasting our thoughts and emotional state out into our environment all the time. Which means that we are also receiving everyone else’s broadcasts too.
How do we experience our energy body or energetic field?
Here is a simple process and some questions that can help you to explore your own energy body:
Begin by connecting with your breath and get present in your body. See if you can notice the energetic field that emanates out from your physical body in all directions. Be patient and accepting of your own way of sensing this energy, then begin to explore:
- How far out from your body does this energetic field extend?
- Can you get a sense of where your energetic perimeter is?
- How permeable does it feel to you?
- How able is your energy body to filter the unwholesome influences around you?
- If you find yourself a little too permeable, bring attention to filling your energy body from the inside out. You can fill your space with your own resourced energy. You can also call on any sacred beings or allies to clear and fill your personal energetic field.
- Does this make a difference in how comfortable you might feel in the presence of other people.
- Notice how the state of your energy field can change with your awareness and intention.
- What do you notice about your habitual energy body orientation? Do you tend to let energies in, perhaps too freely, or do you hold them at bay, perhaps a little too strongly? Or does it feel balanced to you?
Our energetic field and its boundary orientation is personal and habitual, based on our life experience. Someone who has experienced significant trauma, with its associated hyper vigilance, will have a very different orientation to boundaries than someone who feels more resilient. While we may have a particular orientation, it can be shifted through awareness and resourcing.
When we feel well-resourced, we find a balance between allowing in benevolent influences while letting unwholesome ones pass us by. You’ve probably noticed that, when you are well rested, healthy, and feeling connected, you tend to have more resilience in navigating challenging interactions. On the other hand, if you are feeling tired, stressed or disconnected, you most likely tend to be more affected by these situations.
There are many ways to feed and sustain our energy body and we each need to find what works best for us. However the two areas that I find are most beneficial for this are:
- Personal practices that quiet the mind and connect to the heart: When we create coherence between heart and brain it automatically nourishes and resources our energetic field. Finding what works for us and doing it consistently will maintain our resilience.
- Relationship with sacred allies. Whether these are elements of the natural world, deities we are in relationship with, ancestors or simply the presence of Love, these relationships are invaluable in asking for support to resource us. We can also invoke their protection and help to maintain our energetic boundaries.
I attend to putting energetic protection in place every day because we are being inundated by the energies around all the time. The people we live with, our neighbors, our colleagues and our community milieu all have their influence upon us. And I pay particular attention to doing that if I am going into any situation that is a little edgy or anxiety producing (like family dynamics or challenging social situations). Here is a simple 4 step process, learned from Daniel Foor, to set vibrant energetic boundaries.
- Get embodied and grounded in whatever way works best for you
- Call in one or more sacred allies (see above) to support you in becoming resourced and protected.
- Ask these allies to help clear your personal energetic space and field
- Ask for their help in setting up an intelligent energetic boundary that allows in benevolent energies and filters out influences that undermine your wellbeing.
When we combine a well-resourced and protected energetic field with a willingness to listen to healthy anger and some skills around how to express a boundary with firmness and compassion, we have the ingredients for nourishing relationships of all kinds.
If you’d like to expand your capacities in any or all of these areas you might like to join my “Healthy Boundaries for Nourishing Relationships” webinar coming up in December.