Boundaries

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.

7 thoughts on “Boundaries”

  1. “How do we decide when to hold firm, and when to flex and change to accommodate another?” Great question!

    I have also had an experience (almost verbatim to your post!) with someone who still accuses me of being manipulative, agressive, and hostile. Like you, I initially apologized, assuming that the accusation had merit. But on further reflection and input from good, honest, loving friends I also decided that the accusations were unfounded. I have since discovered that when that particular accusation is bandied about by the person in question it is an attempt to shut me up by pushing my emotional buttons. This person is seeking to control my behavior and avoid resolving tricky, important issues by offering the accusations of bad behavior instead of simply continuing the conversation. With the help of a fantastic friend and therapist I have realized that his behavior is emotional abuse. Perhaps the same thing is happening to you?

    Brynnth, thank you so much for sharing your experiences as you become stronger, and find your personal boundaries. Many blessings to you as you work through this issue!

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  2. Thanks for your words Keri. Yes, I am coming to a similar conclusion here, that it is a way of not having to deal with the ‘problem’ of me being distressed, by turning me into the problem. I’m glad my sharing is proving useful to others, it’s helping me let go and if I can turn the hard stuff into something useful, that’s a definite plus.

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  3. Sometimes, you randomly come across a post, a book, a movie, something that is so completely relevant to you life, it’s almost hard to believe finding it there in front of you could possibly be, well, random.

    This is something I’ve been struggling with very recently, this accusation of being hurtful and manipulative and selfish. I kept looking at the situation from every angle, trying to see what I’d done wrong, trying to figure out how much I had to give before I had to draw the line and say no more. At what point does giving, and subjugating your own needs become…something else? Something you can’t sustain, and when do you say no?

    I guess that’s boundries, and I had no idea where they were. I learned something from the encounter. Learned about where I had to draw the line, and learned that I too easily step over the line, and that the person in question repeatedly asking me to step over it, after it had been clearly drawn, and they knew where it was, did not have my best interests at heart. I don’t think there was malice involved. Whether I’d call it abuse or their own inability to draw lines for themselves…. I don’t know. Others have told me it was. I don’t know.

    It was a painful lesson, but it has helped me to find a better balance and meke better decisions about who I will allow to have that much control. Good lessons are often hard ones, though, aren’t they?

    This is a very good post, Bryn. Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

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    1. Jamie, what you say about the other person not being able to draw lines is very true, often the root of the problem. In eso-speak it’s a glamour of Ray 2, part of the need to be loved that makes folk poke their noses in where neither wanted nor needed and with the best of intentions. Good intentions without boundaries cause so much hurt. The gods presrve me from them!

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  4. This has to be a case of “great minds think alike” or maybe even telepathy :-). I’ve been dealing with boundaries, admittedly for students, today and shall point them to your post to empasise points.

    I was espcially struck that you also use the phrase “I… a sense of where you stop and the rest of the world begins.”. I use something very similar and also say that it’s true of Life as well as shamanism/magic.

    When one is emotionally distressed all sorts of stuff happens and one is in no state at all to be able to deal with another person’s ego-problems. It behoves us all to recognise distress when we see it and to put our own egos aside so that we can help the distressed person. To be attacked for what one says when distressed shows up the failings in the other person … not your own!

    And it’s important to be able to let go, let it all hang out, when we’re distressed. Bottling it up for the sake of another’s ego is NOT ON. OK, look back after if you like, but your main thing is to reiterate that you were ditressed and not (necessarily) intending to stamp on this person … unless, of course, you were so intending, in which case live with it :-). But I sense this wasn’t how it was in your case.

    For me, I would generally say – in such a case, if I felt hurt – that I felt hurt. NOT that the other person hurt me! There’s a huge difference here and it, too, is about boundaries. Before jumping to the conclusion that the other person was out to get me I’d say how I felt and see what happened. But then, I’m not exceptionally paranoid either LOL. I will accept and acknowledge my own feelings but I won’t inflict the cause of those feelings onto another until I know that’s where they truly belong. Neither will I wear accusations of intending harm when I know I didn’t intend any such thing.

    Other people’s scripts are a nightmare if we try to live by them !!!

    Stay as beautiful as you are, Bryn. I do hope all is coming together for you gradually.

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  5. Jaime, hugs, and I recognise so much of what you are saying.

    Elen, we have to sit under the same tree one of these days. I think you’re absolutly right that if its at all possible to go ‘this hurts’ rather than ‘you are hurting me’ it makes it easier for the other person to respond without getting into cycles of wounding. Where we clash together needs and beleifs, all kinds of messy things can happen.

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