an Integral Enneagram of Consciousness; a model of consciousness, including
all aspects, for designing practical
paths of personal development and evolution.
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in the background while you file, exercise, ride to work, etc.
Rule #1: Consistency
Boundaries are often a source of confusion and stress. We know we
need them and yet have a hard time making them, or holding them once we
do. Our difficulties stem from how we perceive the world around us.
For some of us, the world is dangerous. Our brain’s threat model leans
toward hard boundaries at a distance from our hearts. This makes
getting to know one another difficult. Even when we think we’re all
happiness and love, that subconscious threat model creates detachment
and push-back we may not realize is happening. The subconscious says if
you don’t know me, you can’t hurt me.
For others, the world is all about connection, and that brings up issues
around rejection. We don’t want to be rejected or reject others. If we
feel that boundaries will do this, we resist making them. Then we get
hurt or walked on and suddenly make big boundaries out of nowhere. The
inconsistency of this undermines those boundaries, and we’re in trouble.
Ironically, boundaries can be a place of connection when they’re clearly
communicated and reasonable.
The earlier you establish clear boundaries, the less conflict later on.
Another rule of thumb is “Proactive beats Retroactive.” When you’ve
already allowed people in, trying to push them back afterward gets seen
as rejection. After all, they were able to ask you all kinds of personal
questions before. What changed? Setting an initial clear boundary,
people know what to do, but with a shifting, fuzzy one, they need to
keep testing to find the edge.
Analog vs. Digital or the Multiple Rooms Technique
Not to take away from consistency, but life’s complicated, and rules are
a problem when they don’t allow latitude. A technique that’s proven
successful for my clients (and me) has been shifting from the all or
nothing, pull up the drawbridge style boundary to a more gradient one.
We aim for consistency, but boundaries don’t have to be carved in stone.
As long as they’re not constantly in flux, they can be re-set
periodically as needed.
You can let people in to a certain depth or closeness, depending on
their proven trustworthiness. If someone breaks that trust, you don’t
have to cut them off completely, or pull up the drawbridge. You can
just move them out a layer or two away from your heart. It’s like
having guests in your house. If they respect your belongings and don’t
track in mud, you can invite them deeper into your home. If they break
things, you can shift their “security clearance” to a less vulnerable
room. If they prove themselves to be trustworthy, (consistent
congruence of word and deed over time) you can invite them in closer.
Theory’s Great, but “How?”
We need to address early on, when we have the opportunity to do it right
the first time, and later, when we need to fix things. If you need to
do a push-back, a great place to start is a multi-use approach. Rather
than trying to make someone “get” your experience, it’s easier for them
to re-connect with their own. See if you can increase the other
person’s awareness of their own discomfort when they get pushed too far.
Ask questions, and check in with them about this. Once they’re
experiencing their own sense of being infringed upon, see if you can do
some bonding over this shared feeling. Then, with them in a more
understanding state of mind, ask their advice on how they might make a
boundary in a way that won’t come off as rejection.
Sometimes we’re not aware of needing to make a boundary, until it’s too
late. Sometimes the boundary isn’t with another person; it’s with
yourself and time. To increase your awareness, pay attention to the
signals your body sends you about over-extension (emotional or
otherwise). When you’re compromising yourself into a space where your
stomach or back hurts, stop and take note. This is where you need to
make a boundary.
The best case is at the beginning of a new relationship (personal or
professional.) Just be as clear as possible up front about what they can
and cannot expect of you. Let them know you don’t take business calls
after 11PM, or you don’t put up with being yelled at.
A very powerful tactic is what I call the Invitational Boundary. Rather
than telling them what they can’t do, tell them what they can do, right
up to that boundary. Let them know they can call you up to 11PM, or
you’re fine with discussing anything in a civil tone. When
communicated in positive terms, in a positive tone, this invitation
won’t sound like a rejection.
There’s a positive side to making boundaries early on: it lets people
know what to expect from you, and where you draw the line. That
predictability puts them at ease. When they know where the line is, and
how much they can ask of you, it removes all the testing and
uncertainty. They don’t have to figure you out. We’re doing them the
favor of giving them a nice solid wall to push against, which feels more
Whether boundaries are about your time, your emotions, or your physical
space, they help define a path for you and those around you. You need
to know where you stand before you can let others know it, and that’s a
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- Ian J. Blei
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