Boundary-setting is a critical human skill…one that far too few of us learned to do well early on. Being an empath, I frankly sucked at establishing and enforcing good boundaries for the first 30+ years of my life. ”Sure, come on in to my sovereign space. I don’t even know where my edges are and I’m happy to suppress my true self in favor of who you think I should be” was pretty much the message I unwittingly transmitted for three decades.
Through an excruciating amount of deep inner work, I reclaimed my sovereignty and figured out where my edges are. I learned to say no and ask for what I need – both essential skills in maintaining healthy boundaries. And I started unraveling the mystery of what actually happens at an energetic level when we establish a boundary to help me navigate the process with more grace.
So what does happen at an energetic level when you draw boundaries? Let’s first start with a few concrete illustrations of boundary-drawing to set the stage.
For example, a simple boundary could be saying, “Thank you for continuing to ask me if I want to serve on the HOA board, but my answer is no.” Or, “I no longer have the time to babysit for you, but I’m happy to do it for one more month while you find a new sitter.” Probably not a huge repercussion there.
Something a little riskier might sound like, “For the last year I have used my personal vehicle to run company errands. I am no longer willing to subject my car to wear and tear without compensation and am asking for a car allowance. If I don’t receive one, I will no longer be available to perform this additional duty.” Probably a little bit of trepidation with that one.
Challenging boundaries could be telling your spouse, “If you don’t get sober in the next three months, I’m leaving this relationship” or telling your child, “You’re 25 years old, if you don’t have a job in the next four weeks, I’m changing the locks and putting all of your belongings into storage.” These declarations take some cahones. Especially if you’re not practiced at it.
You have probably noticed that the “bigger” the boundary, the “bigger” the potential reaction (usually negative) from the other party. There’s a reason for this.
In my upcoming book, The Evolutionary Empath, I state: “When you change your behavior, shift a belief, make a new decision, or resolve yourself to a particular action, your energetic signature changes. Your personal vibration shifts to a measurable degree. Measurable by whom? By the people you interact with and especially the person or people the changes are directed at. You are showing up differently, and this will most definitely show up in your energy field, which will subsequently register in their energy field.”
It is human nature to desire predictability, to crave consistency, to want to know what to expect. These things all create a sense of security and safety.
In any kind of relationship, as the connection gets established, we create a box for the other person. In this box, you know how they will react to certain prompts, you know their beliefs and values, you know their likes and dislikes. Correspondingly you then know what to say or not say, what to ask or not ask, what pushes their buttons and what makes them happy. As long as they stay inside the box you created for them, you can reasonably know what they will do.
When you draw a new boundary (especially a tough or significant one), you just left your box! Now the other person isn’t sure what to expect. You’ve become “unpredictable,” as in you didn’t do what their box predicted of you. This shows up tangibly in the other person’s energy field, which then often translates into their actions – or more accurately reactions – towards you. The bigger the boundary, the bigger the potential reaction.
From my book: “These reactions often include resistance in some form (often anger), which will then immediately lead to some kind of manipulative strategy to get you to renege: accusations, projections, tantrums, guilt, withdrawal, and more. Think of disciplining or enforcing boundaries with a child. They want to stay up and watch thirty more minutes of TV and you say no, it’s time for bed. That is a clear boundary. The child doesn’t like the boundary and will give you resistance. This could be in the form of whining, pleading, screaming, crying, or stomping their feet up the stairs. But when you are prepared for their reaction, you don’t get sucked into countering with your own reaction. You don’t get angry, and you don’t plead and beg. You simply stay neutral, hold your ground, and weather the short-lived tantrum.”
When you draw a boundary, especially one where there’s a probability of blowback, it is crucial that you mentally prepare yourself for the other person’s potential reaction so you don’t waffle or concede.
Just like in the above example with the child, if you know the reaction is coming, you can let it roll off and not affect the solidity of your boundary. It is human nature to be suspicious of or resistant to change, so do your best not to take the other person’s reaction personally. (I know how hard this can be!) Allow them the space and time to process what you’ve stated.
Everything in this world is energy. When you draw a boundary, you are changing your energetic signature and things in your immediate world will often need a period of adjustment. Things that were in harmony with your previous frequency might now be in disharmony. What was resonant before might be sharply dissonant now. It can take time for things to shake out into their new configuration, especially if your new boundary is a bombshell. Understanding what is happening at a subtle energetic level can help you navigate the boundary-setting minefield with more ease, confidence, and resilience.