This summer our 5 year old is venturing out into the ocean but he needs to hold hands for support when the big waves hit. When the big wave approaches I say to him, “stand your ground, buddy” over and over again. My wish is that he remember this as metaphor for the rest of his life. As I say it to him over and over again, I am learning to stand my ground.
Boundaries are something that did not exist in many chaotic households, or they were held inconsistently. And I am finding that many of the people I work with have never experienced healthy, safe, flexible boundaries. As one person put it recently, “I either shut down completely behind my wall or I am wide open with my heart fully exposed”. The first approach is not a boundary but a defense and the second approach is a merging which is unhealthy and leads to co-dependency and loss of self.
Brene Brown has done the most beautiful work around boundaries that I have discovered. It came out of extensive research that she did. She wanted to know what qualities contributed to the most compassionate people. She began by interview clergy and other known types of compassionate people. Her hypothesis was that compassionate people were also spiritual people and that spirituality contributed to compassion. What she found out was very shocking to her and it might be to you too. She found that the most compassionate people are the people who have the best boundaries.
She uses the acronym BIG for her boundary discussion. BIG becomes an amazing question. Here is how it goes:
What Boundaries do I need so that I can be in my Integrity and be most Generous towards you?
As one friend pointed out, we often try and do GIB, and that doesn’t work. We often think we should be generous. Aren’t good people generous? And then we find we have gotten out of alignment with our integrity and wonder what boundaries we might need or should have put in place and didn’t.
As I have worked with this notion of boundaries and generosity with myself and others I find this miraculous thing happens. Let’s say there is a conflict with another person. We are considering having it out with them. Hashing out what is wrong, all our hurt feelings, etc. And then we consider maybe a boundary would help. When we energetically feel a boundary — like a transparent cloth over our hearts or a piece of lucite (letting light in and out but a boundary none the less) — everything changes. We feel the boundary. We are inside and the other is outside. We have a parameter around us, there is a border between us and the other. In this act of protection and self designation, we instantly can feel more generous towards the other person. The grievances or issues seem to vanish as we feel secure and unharmed inside ourselves.
I spoke to a friend about BIG yesterday and as she carefully took in what I was saying she said she felt I was talking about creating order. Boundaries do create order where otherwise there is the potential for chaos.
Try standing your ground first with a simple boundary based on your own integrity and watch your generosity and true compassion grow. It is straightforward and easy and works instantly.