In the past, my understanding of boundaries was limited, embedded in my naivety; I built them on an unstable foundation made of fear.
They were usually fueled by projected anger, blame, and hatred – the kind of boundary that screams, “if you come any closer, I will tear you apart” – mostly directed towards men. Years ago, I was at some bar with friends when a man I was judging as creepy started walking towards me. Every detail of that moment is still etched into my memory – from the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach to the instant bitchy armor I put up as I automatically altered my state from open to guarded…I was ready to fight to the death. He smiled, which made me hate him more, and before he could finish his sentence, from the depths of my rage and disgust, I venomously spit out, “fuck no!” and turned away. I realized a moment too late that he was asking for directions to the restroom. I felt like an asshole; I had come off as nasty, when in truth I was petrified.
Fear dictated many of my choices and ended up serving as the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy and reinforced the vicious cycle.
I have learned a lot from my past ignorance: one of the most valuable lessons has been recognizing that the content is almost insignificant compared to the underlying force that creates it. More specifically, regardless of what I say or do in a given moment, when it comes from fear, the very thing I am trying to avoid is usually actualized. The effects may not be felt right away, but anything that is fear-based eventually falls apart.
When I first learned this lesson, I identified each painful experience I had gone through, influenced by my fears and limiting beliefs – the boundaries came from a disempowered place serving no purpose other than to perpetuate a victim mentality.
But I am not a victim; it was just the story I was telling myself. Once I saw through my spiraling patterns, I realized the very thing that would set me free.
In choosing to take action from love, I let down the armor and everything began to shift. I began cultivating a deep connection with my heart and the ripple effect extended far beyond. The more I opened my heart, the more I was met by love.
Because there was so much judgment entangled with boundaries based on my past experiences, I wasn’t able to grasp how boundaries and love could coexist. And so I chose to forgo all boundaries, wanting to maintain an open heart.
This is where I have been deluding myself and have also been inauthentic in my self-expression.
As I have immersed myself in more of a New Age mentality compared to my past, I have encountered many people who have taken a firm stance on the futility of boundaries and claiming that when we are coming from love, we are not separate from each other – well, I took this belief and ran with it.
I found myself undermining my intuition, which strongly encouraged me to go left and yet I chose to go right; I abandoned what I knew, deep down, to be true for myself because I chose to honor someone else’s truth instead; I said yes many times when I really wanted to say no; I gave my power away time and time again believing that I was doing it in the name of love.
I thought that by being spacious, leaning into discomfort and putting others first, I was moving from love, when I was actually doing the opposite; neglecting my truth, disowning my wants and disconnecting from my voice was the furthest thing from love.
A beautiful man in my life recently shared his heart with me. In his vulnerability, he expressed his profound love for me and wanted to claim me as his woman. As I stood in front of him, I realized that I had an opportunity to change the trajectory of my life by letting go of an expired pattern.
While we share a deep love and connection, I am not his woman, and have known this to be true from the moment I met him. My intuition has always been there, I just never listened to it. And thus, in this newfound moment, I had a choice.
A: I could continue believing the delusional thought that love negates all boundaries and go into agreement with his want, yielding and giving my power away as I had done before with other men…
B: I could attempt to control his reaction and conjure up some inauthentic response that would give him a sense of hope as a way of avoiding having to break his heart right then and there, which I have also done in the past…
C: I could be completely honest, communicate clearly by owning my truth, and set a boundary without taking responsibility for how he chooses to receive it.
In processing the different options, I realized that love could not come with choosing another at the expense of myself (option A) nor could it be present in my assumption that he wouldn’t be able to handle the truth and that I would break his heart (option B). If anything, those two options felt like the antithesis of love, as they came from a place inside me that was completely devoid of self-worth.
I realized that setting a boundary and saying, “no, I am not your woman!” was the most loving thing I could do because I was honoring myself in that choice. And, in doing so, I was honoring him.
Brene Brown talks about the importance of boundaries in her book, Rising Strong. She refers to the phenomenon as “Living BIG: Boundaries, Integrity, Generosity.” She says that, “setting boundaries means getting clear on what behaviors are okay and what’s not okay. Integrity is the key to this commitment because it’s how we set those boundaries and ultimately hold ourselves and others accountable for respecting them.” And once boundaries are clear, she goes on to say, “[we can] extend the most generous possible interpretations of the intentions, words, and actions of others.”
As options A and B felt more familiar to me, I chose to live BIG in that moment and choose option C. I set the clear boundary, I stayed in integrity in choosing courage over comfort, and I was generous in my interpretation of his loving intentions. In doing so and by saying no, space was created for our dynamic to shift and evolve into something even more beautiful.
The limiting belief around boundaries is that they they close us up and keep people out. While this may be true for some, setting boundaries from a place of love also has the capacity to strengthen our relationships, deepen the love that exists, and cultivate an incredible amount of respect and compassion for ourselves and those in our lives.
Jessica has a B.Sc. in Applied Psychology from New York University, M.Ed., in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard, and a M.A., (in progress) in Spiritual Psychology from University of Santa Monica. Jessica is also a columnist at Elephant Journal and has been featured with Huffington Post.