‘Boundaries’ is a polarising term in self-development and spiritual circles.
On the one hand we have those whom swear by building powerful fortifications. Proclaiming they need these in order to protect themselves from the energy of others lest they be drained or come under psychic attack.
The downside with this approach is that these people often live in fear and are constantly hyper-vigilant and self-protecting. When in this state it’s difficult to fully experience love, vulnerability and curiosity. The constant need to self-protect may in fact result in more fear, loneliness and isolation.
On the other hand we have those who believe we are all one and the same. I am you and you me and if we stare into one another’s eyes long enough we’ll experience oneness the ultimate enlightened state right?
I guess in a very controlled workshop environment this may be a beautiful experience however in everyday life my feeling is, untethered openness is equally problematic. With loose or no boundaries comes an opportunistic energy flow, unfiltered and just as capable of causing emotional and energetic harm.
Lessons from the body
Our bodies are the perfect illustration of what I am going for with a middle ground on boundaries. They have clear outlines with a water resistant covering that lets things through but has enough integrity not to turn into pulp when we take a shower or jump in the ocean.
We have a variety of defence mechanisms that filter out baddies on a daily basis. It’s only when we are in a weakened state that pathogens are able to get past our senses, nasal hairs, taste buds, tonsils, stomach acid and permeable membranes and cause havoc.
Our bodies are all made of the same stuff that’s true but each of us has a unique blueprint, and microbiome (internal living environment). Honouring our individuality means having a system in place to decipher what is helpful for us and what is potentially harmful.
I believe it’s important for our health and our relationships to hold a strong sense or knowing of where we begin and another ends. Occupying our own space and being responsible for ourselves is not only good for us but it’s also great for our relationships.
What is projection
Projection is a psychological term that means transference of someone’s issues onto another as a way to externalise their feelings. This allows the person projecting to avoid taking ownership and responsibility of their issues and also helps them to avoid feeling the pain associated with feelings such as grief, anger, sadness and of course shame.
It can take a while to recognise when someone is projecting their stuff onto you, especially if you identify as sensitive, empathic and genuinely wanting to help others. Team this with a history of low self-worth or putting others needs first and it becomes even harder to spot.
A conversation involving projection will often feel like an attack and most definitely feel one-sided. You may notice accusations, judgments, blaming. A lot of ‘You….’ Statements, with little or no pause to reflect and ask questions or check in with how it’s all landing for you.
Projections happen quickly, like rapid fire that you weren’t ready for. It can feel like something came from left field or that the outburst or conversation has an emotional intensity to it that feels larger than the issue. You may feel as though you’re in the firing line and you’re not even sure why.
These are all indications that it’s their stuff, not yours. That for the person projecting onto you, a raw nerve or deep wound has been triggered by something you’ve said or done but the depth and intensity of their response should alert you that it goes way beyond what you are responsible for.
What to do when you are on the receiving end
It all depends on the situation and your relationship with this person. For example if standing up would put you in real physical danger then you need to seek professional help and put some support structures/ boundaries in place.
Then you can choose your battles. Some things are worth speaking up over and some are best released in silence. Once again it depends on how assertive you feel in a particular situation but the important part is SAYING NO on some level of your being to unwanted emotional and energetic invasions.
I often need to help my clients with this process as murky boundaries can manifest as confusion/ mental fog along with a general lack of energy. It takes work and support to build vitality, clear the mind and communication channels with the body so that this stuff can be recognised more easily. Often it’s become a ‘way of being’ that stems from decisions made long ago.
Why work on your boundaries
Strengthening weak boundaries makes you a stronger, more assertive and more empowered person. But be aware when you do this not everyone likes it. Making changes ruffles feathers. Stepping into a more assertive version of you reflects back to others where they are lacking. Resisting another’s projection mirrors back to them where they may be hurting but avoiding feeling pain.
It can be an uncomfortable process for both but if you seek to change the role within a relationship or change the way you conduct yourself in the world you must lean into that discomfort, feel it and do it anyway.
Just like our bodies, having good emotional and energetic boundaries is vital to health and wellbeing. It allows us to filter information and let in that which serves us, lights us up or strengthens us while keeping harmful and de-energising interactions, situations and activities at bay.
It doesn’t make you selfish or mean and if anyone tells you that, you will know that your new fortifications are pushing some buttons and it’s probably a projection.