“She did that on purpose and I don’t associate with manipulative people.”
“I want nothing to do with you and I’ll never forgive you!”
The above phrases, often yelled or whispered, are signs that we’ve erected defensive boundaries—the emotional, physical and mental barriers we erect to protect and remain safe; they often involve running from emotional pain, striking back, or ejecting people we dislike from our lives.
While the understandable erection of defensive boundaries briefly minimizes pain, we still find ourselves constantly thinking about the relationship; expending energy to avoid the person; or pretending we are not hurt.
To be clear, boundaries in relationships are important, yet, our intentions behind those boundaries determine their effectiveness. Instead of running away, striking back, or rejecting, we can choose to heal, learn and grow through enlightened boundaries— standards or limits set with the intention of increasing self-awareness, accepting ‘what is’ (not to be confused with agreement) and maintaining spiritual alignment. Enlightened boundaries may involve distancing similar to that we see with defensive boundaries; however, their impact on us is very different.
As we grow in our ability to accept and gain awareness of our thoughts, emotions and relationship needs, we increase our ability to remain aligned with our Divine Self. Eventually, we reach a place where we can non-judgmentally, maintain spiritual power and perspective while in the same room with those who may be less aware of theirs. For more guidance on maintaining spiritual power in hurtful relationships, read Three Questions to Keep Your Spiritual Streams Flowing in Hurtful Relationships.
Who do you become or how do you show up when you engage in this relationship?
Do you become angry? Do you shut down or minimize yourself?
Do you feel energetically drained or confused after interacting with this person?
2. Make enlightened boundary statements.
You must become aware of and accept your boundaries before you can teach others to honor them. The following statements can grant insight into your specific needs in relationships:
a) I am aware of and accept that for me to be able to fully receive AND fully give in a relationship, [respect] must be present.
b) I am aware of and accept that when I am in a relationship where [respect] is present:
[We wait for each other to finish speaking before we speak.]
[We speak with calm (vs raised) voices.]
c) I am aware of and accept that when I engage in relationships where [respect] is absent I do not function well. I become [bitter, cynical and tense].
d) I am aware of and accept that I have limits in terms of what I will give and what I will accept in relationships that lack [respect].
e) My limits are: [yelling] is not okay and when you [yell], I will leave the room to honor my boundary and allow myself to keep true to my standards (e.g. not yell back).
Complete these statements for each quality (e.g. trust, compassion) you need to be present in your healthy relationships. Fill the [ ] with your own thoughts and feelings.
3. Express and Reclaim.
When we feel hurt, our anger or outrage can ineffectively explode onto those who trigger our pain. However, ignoring the anger may only make it worse. Before engaging the person to express your boundary, write or talk about the anger with a friend. Then reclaim the energy through meditation, going for a walk in nature, writing in a gratefulness journal, and calmly practicing your statements.
4. Reflect and check.
Appropriate boundaries create integrity (Jewish Proverb). When we are operating from defensive boundaries, we often find ourselves saying and doing things that go against our personal truth and standards. As you enforce enlightened boundaries, reflect on your conversation and check your motivations. If you answer, yes, to either question below, you likely slipped into defensive boundary mode:
Were my words motivated by anger or fear?
Did I violate my own standards during this communication?
When you become more self-aware, enlightened boundaries increase your connection to Divine Self by enhancing your integrity; they do not compromise or diminish it.
What gift of self-awareness is my reaction carrying?
What pain point from my past is being triggered?
What do I need to heal?
- Set specific limits to increase the likelihood those limits will be honored. There is a difference between “respect me” (vague) and “do not yell at me” (specific).
- Stay on topic by communicating your limits in a smooth tone without over-explaining and defensive speech. A clear and specific boundary can be communicated in 1-2 sentences.
- If a boundary is crossed, use the broken record technique, restate your phrases calmly until you are heard or need to enact a consequence (e.g. I will leave the room).
- The best way to communicate a boundary is to model it and follow it. If you set a boundary against name calling, do not name call. When you give a consequence, follow through.
- You should not remain in hurtful circumstances. It’s perfectly okay and strongly suggested that you set boundaries. According to Brené Brown, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” You can set limits and respect someone as a divine creation.
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