by Elena Greco
Typical reading time: 4 minutes
When you honor someone’s boundaries, you’re giving them the highest respect that you can give to another person. You’re letting them know, overtly as well as subtly, that you value them and that you do not intend harm to them. This is crucial to healing and to communication.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are sacrosanct limits that we put around ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, to protect ourselves from harm. We surround ourselves with a house that has a lock on the door so that our lives and our possessions will be safe from harm and we can feel safe. When someone breaks into our home without knocking, we feel violated, harmed and afraid. This is what boundaries are: they are the “house” that we put around ourselves to protect us and allow us to feel safe. You cannot feel safe with someone who breaks into your house.
Boundaries can exist as an energetic field, as words or thoughts, or as actions. We all have them, and we can all perceive them if we try.
People often ask me if the average person would be able to perceive another’s energetic boundaries. They absolutely can perceive them. We all have this potential, but with many people it is not conscious or developed. I see it as being similar to any other kind of talent or ability—musical talent, for example. On the one extreme, we have someone like Mozart, a child prodigy, a genius with extraordinary talent. In the other extreme, there are a very few people who are tone-deaf and rhythm-deaf. The majority of us fall in between. However, almost everyone can improve their musical ability once they become aware of it and devote themselves to practicing or listening to music. It’s the same with perceiving boundaries: almost everyone can learn to do this; it just takes a little practice, and having the intention to do this will improve your ability.
How boundaries are violated
When we say a family is dysfunctional, we really mean that the family members continuously violate each other’s boundaries. It’s obvious that when we criticize someone, speak while they are speaking, strike them, shout at them or gossip about them, we are violating their boundaries. However, there are other things we do to violate the boundaries of others that are perhaps not so obvious at first glance, but are just as insidious or harmful.
- When we attempt to “help” someone by “fixing” what we believe to be “wrong” with them, offering advice or trying to influence their actions—particularly if they have not requested this—we are violating their boundaries.
- Something as seemingly innocuous as saying, “I know how you feel” can be a boundary violation; you don’t know how they feel, and to indicate that you do lets the person know that you are interpreting what they say, rather than truly listening to them or trying to understand their experience. You’re imposing your own feelings on them, when in fact, no one can truly experience what another experiences. Remember a time when someone said to you, “I know how you feel.” Did they? It is best to simply and fully listen to another when they share their feelings with us. Sharing our pain with someone who truly hears us and simply listens to us can be incredibly healing. True listening is one of the highest forms of healing, and, unfortunately, is rare. You don’t have to do anything when someone is suffering; listening is enough.
- When we dump our anger or spew our negativity on those around us, even non-physically and non-verbally, without regard for the effect our angry energy is having on them, we are violating their boundaries. While it’s very important not to suppress or deny anger, appropriate and healthy expression of anger means we do not allow it to harm others.
- When we have a judgment about someone, it has a negative effect on them energetically and emotionally. Although you might not believe it, people do feel our thoughts about them. While we are all entitled to our opinions, judgment is a step beyond opinion. It has a negative energy attached to it that is directed toward the other person with a harmful intention, whether that intention is conscious or not. It says, in essence, “You’re not good enough, and you should feel bad about that.” This can be felt very clearly when your perception is developed; it causes energetic changes in the person upon whom it is directed, just as the unseen radio waves from our mobile phones can cause physical harm to us.
- Any time we are not truly listening to someone on all levels, relating to them as an object and simply meeting our own needs without regard for them, we are violating their boundaries.
Some people have stronger or more rigid boundaries than others. People who live in Alaska need more protection from the elements than people who live in Hawaii, so their house will be different. People who live in a war zone need to live in a very strong structure, and people who live alone on an island might only need a tent. You don’t know what kind of boundaries people need because you don’t know what they have experienced in their life or how sensitive they are, so it is inappropriate to judge those who might have stronger or different boundaries.
Results of boundary violation
A boundary violation can later translate to physical changes in the body, particularly if this happens repeatedly and if the violatee absorbs the corresponding negative feeling or message without challenging it consciously. Only if the person whose boundaries are being violated is aware of what is happening to them energetically can they prevent harm to themselves. When our boundaries are violated, we must protect ourselves in that situation and later repair the damage that has been caused. This is simply homeostasis.
Once someone violates our boundaries, this results in a lack of openness to the violator, and communication is no longer possible, unless the violatee is aware of what is happening and verbalizes it clearly to the violator—something that seldom happens at present. Only when we feel whole and safe can true communication take place. This has global implications, as well.
In our daily lives, we encounter many types of people. Some individuals tend to be judgmental and constantly direct their judgmental thoughts towards others, verbally and non-verbally. There are some people who radiate a very aggressive or angry energy, not only when they’re momentarily angry—they just are this way. These are violations of others’ boundaries on the energetic or subtle level. Then there are people who constantly violate others’ boundaries verbally with negative or hateful language. On the other hand, there are people who radiate a very sweet, non-invasive energy or compassion. Most people find it pleasant to be around them, although they might not know why. We are clearly affected by the proximity of those around us, so it is good to choose our company carefully.
For a time, I had to deal with two very unpleasant people on a daily basis at a job. These individuals directed hostile energy toward me every time I walked by them or was required to speak with them to handle a business transaction. While it was, of course, unpleasant, I was able to keep this from harming me physically and energetically only because I was aware of what they were doing on all levels and so was able to protect myself. It didn’t require much sensitivity to feel and see the hatred spewing from these people, but even so, it required me to watch my own emotional, physical and energetic responses very carefully, as well as staying to conscious about what they were doing. If I hadn’t done so, I could have suffered harm, which, unfortunately, was their intention. It is sad that people might want to cause others to suffer, but as long as they do, we should make absolutely certain that they don’t succeed. Our health depends on it.
When you’ve trained your senses to alert you to exactly what is going on, and when you’ve done your own healing, you can choose more effective ways of dealing with people, rather than simply reacting. There is a downside to becoming sensitized in this way, which is that you begin to see how much boundary violation and blind, negative behavior actually goes on; it is mind-boggling. However, the truth will definitely set you free in this instance; when you know what’s really happening, you can support your own health effectively.
This excerpt is taken from HEALING: WHAT IT IS AND HOW TO FIND IT, a book available on Kindle.