One of the biggest contradictions that we experience as humans is the need to establish an identity and belong at the same time. It is in the spaces, groups, or events where our identity is respected and welcomed that we feel that we belong.
But even in these spaces, mutual respect is required to experience harmony and such feelings of belonging.
How do we actually establish respect?
Respect (in this context), defined in the dictionary, is due regard for someone’s feelings, wishes and rights.
There is a pre-requisite that you know what someone’s feelings, wishes and rights. It is after knowing this that you then make a decision to respect it or not.
In essence, it is then important that if we want to be respected that we inform others of how we feel, what we want and our rights (if applicable in a situation) along with what we expect in return.
Respect in itself is representative of an action that is aligned with someone’s feelings, wishes and rights. And the only way that will be aligned is if we inform others what actions represent a gesture of respect for us.
This is where the topic of establishing boundaries comes in.
Physically, we establish boundaries through fences, walls, demarcation lines, etc.
Fences shows you this is my land, that is yours. If I don’t allow you to enter my land, then you’re trespassing. If you would like to enter my land, you have to ask for permission and you need to respect what my answer is because this is my land. You respect it by following it and not going against it.
In our day-to-day world, we also establish boundaries using time. For example, 9am to 5pm is time for work, 7pm to 8pm is family dinner time.
In the physical world, boundaries provide stability and order because we know where we can physically move in.
But our physical world is only one part of our human experience.
Our key experiences in life are marked by how we feel emotionally.
If we were not taught how to establish our emotional boundaries when we were growing up, we will disregard our feelings when we’re adults, stuff them down, think we’re wrong for feeling them and simply causing trouble for others.
Truth is, you’re not being “emotional” for having these feelings. Everyone has them! What’s different is just the way each of us deals with it, depending on how we’ve learned to.
Growing up, it was our caretaker’s responsibility to help us navigate our emotions. It was probably mostly through them that we learned which emotions are welcomed and which are not. And if we will be heard or not in voicing out how we feel.
How do we establish emotional boundaries?
First, we need to hold true to the fact that no one can make us feel a certain way (and vice versa) and that we are solely responsible for our emotions.
We need to share this agreement with those that we constantly relate to, especially our partners and close family members.
Others can incite us to feeling a certain way because of what they’ve learned about us. But they are only triggers to our own learned emotions.
For example, if you have an emotional wound around rejection, you will feel like you’re being stabbed if your partner threatens to leave you during a big argument. But if you have good emotional boundaries, you will understand that the threat is because your partner is most likely really hurting inside that they want to make you feel the same hurt that they’re feeling.
Hurt people hurt people.
Second, we need to become aware at all times if what we’re experiencing emotionally is actually in the present moment or we’ve been “transported” back to an unresolved past event.
For example, one Sunday morning at Obedience School with our young puppy, I was told that I’m confusing my furry son with the way I’m giving the orders. I immediately felt hurt at that moment and started feeling like such a bad mum. I knew then that the story in my head was due to certain experiences in my parenting journey with my daughters and did not have anything to do at all with Obedience School.
Third, we need to communicate to others what is happening within us, take ownership of it and ask for what we need in that moment.
Just because we’re taking responsibility for our emotions doesn’t mean that others can get away with how they relate to us.
It’s also our responsibility to inform the people around us how their words and actions affect us.
For example, if you have an emotional wound around abandonment, it might get triggered when your partner goes overseas for work. The emotional wound is your responsibility as well as requesting your partner to check in with you at a frequency that works for both of us so you still feel connected to him/her and not abandoned.
Some say that boundaries sound like these:
“It is okay if others get angry.”
“It is my job to make me happy.”
“I have a right to feel my own feelings.”
Sometimes, when I see memes that have these, it can make boundary-setting sound so harsh and make you so much of a lonewolf.
I feel that it needs to be qualified a lot better.
Maybe instead, we say it like this…
“I do not have to take on other people’s emotions or make it about me or take it personally. The extent that it does is a mirror to where I need to heal.”
“I do what brings me joy, even if it looks different to others’ or my priorities are different to others’.”
“Emotions are a part of life. I feel them fully to know what they’re telling me and so I don’t get sick from numbing, ignoring or stuffing them down.”
Of course, the presupposition behind all this is your ability to become aware of what you’re feeling at any given moment in that space immediately after receiving a stimuli.
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