In magic, and in the rest of life, being able to hold your own boundaries is essential. It requires self knowledge, a sense of where you stop and the rest of the world begins. Holding boundaries also means knowing what you will accept, and expect from others. People who have suffered abuse – be it mental or physical – often lose that sense of where lines should be drawn. It’s not however just an issue for folks who have had a particularly rough time of it. Anything that erodes sense of self, and self worth, compromises those all important boundaries.
We need to be able to hear criticism and perceive shortcomings if we are to learn and grow. To experience it is necessary to be open and flexible. However, it is also important to hold firm against attacks and the predations of people who mean only harm, who offer lies and drip poison for their own reasons. We need to hear the flaws in our plans, but we don’t need to be ground down by the continual disbelief and negativity of others. This is a fine line to tread. How do we tell what is genuine and useful insight, and what is an attack from someone whose purposes are not benevolent? How do we decide when to hold firm, and when to flex and change to accommodate another?
Where physical boundaries are concerned, it’s often easier to tell. If someone touches, or strikes without consent, we know. But those physical boundaries can be eroded if we are told that really, we did want it, we deserved it or somehow invited it. Damage to mental and emotional parts of the self make it easier to perpetrate physical harm. Bullies and abusers will often take the line of defence that the victim sought what happened, invited it, or deserved it.
I’ve been accused (repeatedly by the same person) of being aggressive and attacking people. This pertains to times when I was emotionally distressed, weeping, and trying to convey need. I offer this as an example. How do I decide if my behaviour, whilst distressed, was inappropriate? My personal belief is that I’m not aggressive (acknowledging that I can get spiky when upset). I have to begin by asking if I am the one at fault, if I have lashed out when I should not. I offer apology. It’s my first response to being told I have caused offence. How much do I need to internalise and change?
The first job is to go over what I remember, and try and see if I can find anything that could be interpreted that way. I come up with nothing. The second, is to consider whether others have responded to me being upset in the same way. At this stage I identify that no one else has accused me of being aggressive in this kind of circumstance. The third stage, is to approach a few close people who I trust, and ask them how they asses this. Those I trust are shocked by the accusation and tell me to ignore it. On reflection, I go with their judgement, because this is what friends are for, in part. If a true friend thinks you are out of order, they will find a way to convey it that doesn’t tear you to shreds.
There are times when we are caught between what we want to believe, and what we fear may be true. I think the answer, enabling a person to hold a flexible boundary that won’t constrict them or leave them vulnerable to assault, is to find, if you can, one or two people who are worthy of trust, and in times of doubt, consult with them. Having someone else say ‘no, this is not ok’ or ‘yes, you are fine, this is not you’ makes worlds of difference. If that isn’t available to you, try imagining how the situation would look were you seeing it happen to someone else.