Updated: Oct 7, 2021
We are told that feeling the emotions of anger and resentment signal us that our boundaries have been crossed. We look around- who did it to me? What should I do about it?
When we hear the word boundaries, we generally think about things like body autonomy, how we allow ourselves to be spoken to, or responsibilities we will or will not take on. And these are boundaries- outer boundaries.
What if the most important boundaries are internal?
The boundaries we place on our own actions, our own thoughts, and on how we manage our feelings. The way we treat ourselves, and what freedoms we allow our spirits.
This is much more subtle then someone cutting your place in line, being rude to you, or making assumptions about your preferences.
These inner transgressions are small injustices we do to ourselves.
When we say, “Oh, I’ll do that,” when we really don’t want to.
Keeping your hair a certain way so that someone else likes how you look.
Wearing shoes or clothing that are uncomfortable.
Not offering yourself a soft bed.
Not washing and caring for your body.
And even more subtle-
allowing yourself to think about past choices, wondering what would have happened if you had made a different one.
Going over and over an unpleasant interaction you had with someone else in your mind.
Blaming yourself for things that are out of your control.
These are the important boundaries.
The boundary of not treating yourself like crap.
The boundary of not giving in to the "what if's" both past and future.
The boundary of not obsessing about negative world events until you feel crazy.
And a boundary that I feel is very important:
How much do you let other people's words and opinions affect your inner state?
The answer is it depends.
If the person in question knows and loves you, and has demonstrated to you in the past that they have your best interests at heart, their opinion is worth your consideration when making decisions.
However, if the person is a stranger to you, or has demonstrated complaining, blaming, and not taking personal responsibility in the past, their words and feelings should not be taken into consideration.
I know that that can be difficult when words are delivered with emotion or from someone that has a large role in your life. We take things more seriously when they're said to us in anger or blame because it sends our nervous systems into red alert. If we can learn to filter where that message is coming from before we allow it to land in our hearts, we would be much better off. It’s a subtle discernment, and very useful. Remember to consider the source before you let opinions impact you.
You may be thinking, “I’ve done all those things, had all those thoughts.”
We all have. It’s part of the normal human experience.
We all get swept into unconscious reactivity sometimes.
It’s when you find yourself preoccupied with thoughts and feelings that cause emotional pain, or unable to move on from an event that it’s time to make some changes.
Because long term stress > chemical imbalance > less pleasant life.
Some of the eastern philosophies and western personal growth movements have some words for this idea. We have the big Me and the little me. The ego and the id. The Shadow Self. The illusion of self.
All of these point to the same concept- that there are aspects of our minds (usually unconscious at first and them conscious) that seem to be at odds with our personal greater good. What I find really interesting is that most of these inner behaviors that we label as negative were originally installed for an altruistic purpose, usually protection. They are simply outdated at this point in time, and have become limiting.
These thoughts and feelings are easy to detect sometimes, meaning we are able to tell when they're happening. We tend to notice when we can’t sleep because our minds are full of negative thoughts we can’t seem to shake. Others are more subtle and may not even have language. For example I have an impulse, completely nonverbal, to always just get up and do whatever needs done, even if I’m really sick or tired. That’s not very nice to myself. Especially since there are usually other people around that love me and want to help me and take responsibility with me for the household. Yet- the “I’ll do it” urge is strong.
How do we change?
The first step is to simply notice. You might be able to catch it as it’s happening, but usually we notice after the fact.
Begin to practice simply looking at the situation, without trying to change it.
It often goes something like this:
“I feel bad.”
“Hmm. What happened?”
“Oh, I’m upset because of interaction/ the self talk I am currently doing/ something I read or watched/ I made a mistake.”
> This is a key place to not judge yourself <
“Ok, that happened. What do I want to do next?”
> Then go on with your day by taking the next right action <
The next right action means literally doing something physical. Get out of the thought/feeling zone and into the practical.
(Disclaimer: The right next thing is a moving target, it’s different for each of us, and even for an individual may change several times a day. It’s really doing the right next thing in any given moment. For more on that, read this.)
The above practice is the beginning of what I call Finding the Magic of the Pause. It’s the ability to stop, drop into your body, contact the individual deep intelligence that is you, and act in the world from that place. It took me years of internal bushwhacking to get there, and I am hopeful that I can be of some guidance so it doesn’t take you as long.
Last but not least, I want to reassure you that having negative thoughts and doing actions that you know do not serve you is so normal. We all do it and always will, sometimes. You can’t heal or fix your shadow self. It is part of you. What you can learn to do if you want to is how to consciously choose what guides your path. How to make choices that serve you well in the long run. How to have a more pleasant everyday life.
Small action steps to get you going:
Give yourself something that is both comforting and health promoting.
A warm cup of tea.
A soup for dinner.
A new soft blanket.
A feel-good book or movie.
Ask for a hug from someone you feel nourished by (if you see me soon, I’ll give you one!).
Greet a dog.
Buy some flowers for your home.
Walk outside and look up at the sky.
Small sweet actions add up to feeling good more often.
And watch for the moments when you might need to pause.