I think that if there’s any one thing that has the potential to change your life and your well-being as a sensitive person, it’s really the act of confidently holding and asserting boundaries. However, I have also learned through trial and error that it’s not necessarily a linear and straightforward process.
The reason is if we were not raised to respect our own boundaries, and/or had it constantly be pushed against or disregarded, it’s hard to know how it feels like in the body to possess strong boundaries. And when one starts to insist on and assert boundaries, it can feel weird, foreign, or uncomfortable, and thus seemingly wrong. This is when doubts and fears may arise. This is a classic example of when you should not act based on how you feel – but rather, take these feelings as just another form of information.
Like the process of adopting any new habit, there’s a period of discomfort as one goes through the changes. Not only that, people around you will start to react or respond to your changes, so that’s a whole process as well – getting used to what happens when one starts developing strong boundaries. This is especially so if the act of asserting boundaries overturns some unconscious dynamics that have been going on.
The ripple effects can be enormous, and it’s not an easy undertaking because it requires one to be present to the changes. And as you know, being a sensitive being, changes can impact us more than the average person, especially on our nervous systems.
The contexts we exist within matter as well; they inform us about our right to hold and maintain boundaries. (Even though the spiritual truth is that as sovereign beings we are ALL entitled to have boundaries, simply because we exist.) There are a myriad of factors that influence how comfortable we are holding and asserting boundaries, or even our belief in whether or not we deserve to have those boundaries:
- Being female in a patriarchal society
- Growing up in a hierarchical family and occupying a relatively powerless position
- Race/ethnicity and the relative power your ethnic group holds in society
- Socioeconomic class
The point is that our starting points – where we begin to ‘awaken’ and learn to value our true selves – may not be the same. Some of us have more to work through because of the contexts we grew up in, and factors beyond our control. Each person’s journey is individual, unique, and should be treated that way. A lot of the information online is necessarily generalized and distilled to convey core truths – and so if something isn’t working for you, then it’s most likely a matter of finding the right mirror to reflect your own unique truth!
When I first started writing about boundaries I really was beginning to intellectually process and accept the concept of boundaries. For example:
My feelings are my own.
Their feelings are not my responsibility.
In reality, it took me quite a bit of time to really embody these truths.
Understanding and embodying the truth that I am *only* responsible for my own emotions took a while, especially since I grew up within emotionally enmeshed family dynamics. This process proved to be more complicated than initially anticipated, because I had a lot to unlearn.
One of the most challenging aspects was how I had to first experience in my body the discomfort of holding my own feelings without attempting to blame or shame myself or anyone else for ‘making’ me feel that way (which is usually the painful sensation of overstimulation). I had to learn that I have the power to change my thoughts and behaviors around my feelings, and disrupting that the usual flow of events that occur, or actions I tend to take when painful feelings are triggered.
I also had to de-program my core belief that it was weakness to be overstimulated by anyone else, which often causes me to want to get ahead of myself and pretend that I am ‘already okay’. Being a classic overachiever, I started to blame myself for being ‘not trained enough’. Empaths, if we are not careful, can use anything to make ourselves feel shittier and smaller.
Over time, I realized that what works is patience and self-compassion, and having the willingness to be present with yourself every step of the journey. For me, this worked:
- Note how it feels in your body when you feel overwhelmed as a result of porous boundaries (you’re taking on someone else’s feelings; you’re trying to fix something or someone that’s not yours to fix; you’ve entered into a drama etc.)
- Practice boundaried BEHAVIOR and THOUGHTS first, and then note how it feels like in your body (do you feel uncomfortable? Do you feel guilty or are you experiencing doubts? Then you’re most likely on the right track!)
- Keep practicing and holding discomfort until it becomes a new habit, and the sensation of discomfort will naturally lessen
It’s okay if it still doesn’t feel natural the first 10 times or 100 times of saying ‘No’ or standing firm; it can be very uncomfortable and overstimulating to be up against someone who may be intent on getting their way or having their needs met at the expense of yours – especially if that had been the dynamic for years and years. If it was easy, we would all be masters at it in no time, and where’s the fun in that?!
It’s all about unraveling the layers and becoming stronger and more self-assured in the process. I have begun to see and truly feel now that we are here to lead lives of joy and fullness, peace and creativity. It takes time and effort to birth this life into being, while rising from ashes of the lives we were leading before. Trust in yourself and your journey, you’re uniquely equipped for the challenges of your life.