When I began the sketch on the left, I saw a powerful image of love and protection. There was something about the way the adult hands were gently sheltering the baby’s that spoke to me.
As I continued to sketch, I began to see the adult hands in different ways. Could they squeeze too tightly? Would they let go? As the child grew up, would she/he still sense those protective hands? Do we each need to develop our own adult hands later, to protect that core part of ourselves that is vulnerable? Do we squeeze too tightly or embrace ourselves with love?
As children, we are dependent on our caregivers to protect us and keep us safe. When they do, we learn that we can trust. The first time we are hurt, we learn that not everyone can be trusted. As we continue to rack up experiences we begin to see the need to protect ourselves from being hurt. We each develop walls of varying degrees.
Some walls are just high enough to keep others out until we know they are trustworthy. Others are towering and impenetrable. Some walls have doors that are left wide open so anyone (trustworthy or not) can come in. Other walls have doors that open when trust is earned. Others doors are locked, barred and rarely – if ever – opened.
Much has been written about the need to have healthy boundaries. How do we know if our boundaries have become impenetrable walls? Do our walls help or hinder us? When we are feeling vulnerable or raw, do our walls go up too high or just enough to protect us while we find our footing again? Do our walls keep us safe or keep us from the closeness and attachment we desire?
“Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” — Gerard Manley Hopkins
I know someone whose attitude is Everyone is trustworthy, unless they prove otherwise. Will she trust the wrong person and get hurt? Or will she experience more because she is open to the world and sees the good? My approach is When you prove that you are trustworthy, I will let you in. Will I get hurt less, or will I just experience less?
What can start out as a healthy way of keeping ourselves safe, can become muddled over time. Past hurts, grievances, betrayals and disappointments can have us throwing up walls that have nothing to do with what is happening in the present.
A friend said these powerful words the other day: “What we fear, we create.” I was reflecting on what she said while I was sketching. I realized that the more vulnerable I feel, the more I protect myself and squeeze tighter and tighter until those little hands in the middle begin to not trust me anymore. In my desire to protect myself from hurt, I end up hurting myself more.
For years, I thought self-awareness was the key. I thought that by knowing what triggered me from the past, I would be able to stop patterns by making conscious choices to do things differently. But this has only taken me so far.
To be able to choose to do something different, I have to be solidly in the present moment. Far too often, I catch myself after the fact, missing the opportunity because I was disconnected, on autopilot. The more I practice mindfulness, use my breath to ground myself, quiet my mind, and listen, the better able I become to alter my course. I still have a long way to go in my mindfulness practice, but I can see the shift.
I am learning how to hold my hands gently and lovingly, instead of letting fear cause me to clench and squeeze the life out of myself. The more present I am, the more able I am to ask myself, “What exactly is happening right now? Am I getting ahead of myself and jumping into the future? Am I dragging myself down by carrying something from the past?
We all experience fear. We come wired with an early warning detection system that alerts us to danger. The walls go up to protect us, but they need not imprison us.
The more connected we are to the present moment, the more we are able to distinguish whether the threat is real or only perceived. Real is in the present moment. Perceived is the past or future. By knowing the difference, we can ask ourselves, “Do I want to continue to squeeze tightly to protect myself from something that may not happen? Or can I trust enough to open my hands and let myself soar and be free?”
“The biggest embrace of love you’ll ever make is to embrace yourself completely. Then you’ll realize you’ve just embraced the whole universe, and everything and everybody in it” — Adyashanti
If you are interested in doing further reading about boundaries, here are a few resources:
- Tiny Buddha has an article called How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 3 Crucial First Steps by Britt Bonick, that is a mix of personal experience and information.
- Positively Positive has an article entitled How To Create Healthy Boundaries by Terri Cole.
- Carl Benedict, LCPC has an article on his website called Setting Healthy Boundaries: Allowing the True Self to Emerge that includes tips modified from the book Boundaries Where You End And I Begin (by Anne Katherine)
- PsychCentral has an article by Margarita Tartakovsky M.S called 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries.