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  • Writer's pictureR Williams

Treasuring your self is the key to forming healthy boundaries

Over the last few years as a private counsellor, I have supported many people who struggle with boundaries in circumstances and relationships that negatively impact them. I have witnessed some profound transformations through the process and so thought I would share thoughts about what I have observed that enables people to create effective boundaries and talk about obstacles that prevent people developing healthy boundaries. The perspective I want to share is written from a combined perspective of Gestalt counselling theory and aspects of Nichiren Buddhism which I have actively practised for 15 years.

What are boundaries from a developmental / energetic perspective?

You could say that a boundary is like an invisible energetic line we form around us and makes us aware of any experiences that might be present and negatively impacting us. When someone says we might need consider our boundaries they are generally referring to our ability to move away from things that are harming us – like people that are close who cause us harm or toxic situations with at work etc. But what creates or fails to create the ability to respond to things harming us immediately?

Our parents support us to preserve our inner sense of being good enough – but they don’t give it to us.

When we are young our boundaries are effectively our parents – it’s a general good instinct that young children should be kept in a stable environment; early caregivers act to prevent us experiencing people and environments that are negative and this preserves and promotes the natural feeling of being good enough that we are actually born with. This is a very important point – when we are born – we are good enough – good enough to have adults taking care of us though we technically give nothing back - good enough to have every sound we make spoken back to us even though it is no comparable value -we are generally valued; we experience our own unique flow of needs, an important aspect of gestalt theory, from when we are born and the more these needs are recognised and responded to arguably, the happier we are. Happiness is not something required from the outside – it happens naturally when our needs that can not attend to, are responded to.

Stable sense of self-worth cannot be based on achievements or productivity

Sometimes it is useful to be reminded that even though we may have developed a belief System as an adult that we need to achieve things or be productive to be worthy of care -that none of us started that way – we all began as helpless beings that received care for doing of objective value and this can be an important place to return to energetically when you are living from a learned belief system that tells you that working extremely hard or over achieving is the way to measure your worth. There was a time where you were treated as worthy for doing nothing except being you - energetically it is in your body and knows the feeling which is one you can also tap in to.

We need to feel there is something inside us worth protecting before we can feel where our boundaries should be.

When we are young, we truly relied on our ‘boundary keepers’ to shield us from internal and external negative experiences. As we get older, in order to register and push away things that aren’t good for us - we first need to feel there is something good inside us that is worth protecting. All that work that parents put in to shield us from having our natural positivity drained away comes to be essential in the natural formation of boundaries later. This is where the basis of the need for counselling and therapy sometimes begins. When the association of being good enough becomes linked to how we are treated by others instead of understanding that we are naturally endowed with the ability to start to feel good enough when given the right environment.

Suppressing your own positive feelings towards yourself blurs the boundary line

If our earlier experiences did not leave us feeling good about ourselves, it is more difficult to decide that who we are is worth protecting – why would you push away behaviour that doesn’t feel good if I you think you deserve it? What if you get so used to it so that it feels familiar? or think maybe everyone experiences it?

If parents do not protect our good feelings, they get depleted – this makes it much more difficult to feel we are worth protecting and the less we feel our ‘goodness’ - the line that separates our good internal self and external environment in question will not be sharp and clear. If the way we are being treated matches the way we feel inside – we can struggle to recognise it as wrong and will not push it away – or at least not very quickly. I believe this is a core basis of why people who have not been protected in their uniqueness or who have been abused, struggle to form boundaries and to some degree maybe applies to the vast majority of people in a variety of different ways.

You don’t need the perceived source of your pain to stop causing you pain to feel good

The great news is and probably the most important point here is that just because you were not protected or even abused by a caregiver when you were young - your capacity for feeling good never actually disappears. Our nervous systems can to learn to expect poor treatment but this can be unlearned in the presence of relationship that are supportive – we may all need support at times to recognised positive things about ourselves but they are always there. I haven’t spoken to anyone yet who arrived insisting there was nothing for them to feel good about either inside them or in their environment and left feeling the same way. Feeling bad about yourself is a learned behaviour and it can be unlearned in the right environment.

Your Capacity to feel happy is innate

The capacity to feel happy is something you WERE actually born with from the Buddhist perspective as implied by the existence of the Buddha Nature. All your caregivers ever did was support you to maintain it – they didn’t give you the good feelings. So if you think you have to wait for someone who has treated or treats you badly to treat you differently before you can feel good, I haven’t found this to be true. In terms of boundaries, it tends to work the opposite way – you usually need support to see your value and then you naturally start to protect yourself and begin to distance yourself from what is hurting you as a result

For anyone reading this who thinks they may never experience feeling good about themselves I want to assure you that you definitely can as a natural part of being alive - you need to spend more time in a supportive environment with people you feel safe with, this can happen at work, at home, in friendships, support groups, counselling, school – pretty much anywhere you can find a connection that feels safe.

For any therapists – you are already that nourishing attentive environment your client needs, sometimes I can’t believe the biggest thing I provide to my clients isn’t about techniques or trying to change how they feel – but by being an environment that really notices and expresses what happens in the present and sticking with it when feelings get tough.

I hope you enjoyed reading - thank you so much if you made it to here!

Deepest respect


Nam MyoHo Renge Kyo

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