In 15 years of helping people learn about their energy body, their boundaries (or lack thereof), and the underlying energetic patterns playing out in their relationship with others, I have witnessed a common coping pattern (which I used to employ, too)…walls masquerading as boundaries.
They are most definitely NOT the same thing.
The biggest distinction is that walls are formed unconsciously. Boundaries are formed consciously.
Awareness of what we are doing is the single greatest factor that determines how effectively we will apply our boundary.
Let’s look at how these walls get created in the first place.
As we develop through our childhood and teen years, nobody evades trauma. No matter what flavor it comes in, we usually have at least one – and more likely several – key events that fractured us and precipitated a whole slew of unconscious decisions in our psyche to be able to make sense of and cope with what occurred.
Here’s the order of events that usually plays out…
- The traumatic event happens (sometimes a single event, sometimes a string of related events over time).
- We unconsciously make a decision about why the thing happened to us (usually in the form of an identity-based belief statement).
- This is accompanied by the formation of a whole series of associated beliefs stemming from our initial conclusion.
- We unconsciously develop strategies, usually organized around proving the initial belief statement wrong or avoiding anything that even smacks of the traumatic event to make sure that the level of pain never happens again.
- We deploy the strategies and over time certain patterns begin to emerge in our behavior. Simultaneously our strategies cause us to develop incredible gifts, skills or talents…and…cause us to make harmful or unfulfilling life choices.
This is a bit simplified as covering the full scope would take an entire book and not an article. But these five elements capture the critical essence of what plays out in our psyches, the implications of which are massive and far-reaching.
Here’s an example of this at work.
- (The event) Your parents’ divorce when you are 8 years old.
- (The identity-based belief) You unconsciously make a decision that you are not enough to keep your parents together and that they split up because they don’t love you. You blame yourself. You decide “I am unlovable.”
- (The accompanying beliefs) In addition, other beliefs are created such as “I deserve to be punished,” I am unworthy of happy relationships,” and “I deserve to be alone.”
- (The strategy) You never want to feel that kind of pain again and so you begin to build walls to keep people out. You choose to never make yourself vulnerable, to not trust people.
a. (Gifts, skills, or talents) You learn to become very independent. This causes you to be resourceful, self-sufficient, and good at making decisions on your own.
b. (Harmful or unfulfilling life choices) You become closed off, skeptical, lonely, and cannot stay in a romantic relationship for more than 4 months.
While our individual coping mechanisms and strategies are going to be widely varied based on the unique combination of events in our life, a common strategy is to put up some kind of wall…
I don’t ever want to be hurt like that again… I will never rely on anyone else to help me…I will never trust a ___ (man, woman, fill-in-the-blank) again… people will only take advantage of you if you let them in…I don’t ever want to experience that kind of embarrassment…the ones you love will always leave.
Remember all of this is happening at the subconscious level. We are not rationally making these decisions nor cognizant of the potential risks or trade-offs.
So what’s your version of the wall?
The second most important factor that distinguishes a wall from a boundary is discrimination. Walls are slammed up indiscriminately. They keep out everything, even though they were erected to defend against something specific. It’s like using a broad-spectrum pesticide. Say you only want to manage your ant problem but you spray a broad-spectrum product that kills a wide variety of organisms, both pest, and non-pest. It’s like using a wrecking ball when a sledge-hammer will do. A bulldozer when you only need a hand spade.
Boundaries, on the other hand, are applied deliberately, with surgical precision.
Here are some comparisons…
Unconscious wall: “I won’t let anyone get close to me, therefore I’ve gone past my comfort zone in this relationship and I’m ending it.” (This is about you, not about the other person.)
Conscious boundary: “I am choosing to end this relationship with you because you lied to me about sleeping with another person.” (This is about the other person’s behavior and what you will and won’t tolerate.)
Unconscious wall: “If I share my feelings with you, you will use them against me. Therefore I will not expose my emotions.” (This is about you, not about the other person.)
Conscious boundary: “Because I care about you, I am choosing to share my feelings with you and let you see my emotions. However, this is very scary for me and if you use this against me in the future, it will be very hard for me to trust you.” (You are asking for what you need and setting a clear line.)
Unconscious wall: “If anyone asks me to do anything I will always say no because I believe everyone is only interested in taking advantage of me.” (Again, about you.)
Conscious boundary: “I will consider each request on its own merit and decide if I feel comfortable doing it or if I don’t have the time, energy or inclination.” (Being discriminating, saying no selectively instead of indiscriminately.)
So how do we move from indiscriminate, unconscious walls to conscious, intentional boundaries?
First, we have to become aware of the unconscious patterns playing out in our life (the five steps listed above are a perfect place to start)! This can take time, but it doesn’t mean you have to wait an agonizingly long period to experience new results. You will, however, have to do some dreaded “inner work.”
Applying a boundary with awareness means getting clear about exactly what you are trying to accomplish. Whatever the boundary…big or small…setting it effectively requires that you take the time to think it through, especially if this is a budding skill for you. What result do you want? How do you want to phrase it? When do you want to bring it up?
You’ll also need to consider this cold hard fact: the other person doesn’t have to comply. So an important part of drawing boundaries (and the mental prep work ahead of time) is giving the other person time to process what you’ve asked or stated, not getting sucked into any drama they might throw at you, and being prepared to enforce consequences (if appropriate) if the other person chooses not to honor your boundary.
The concept is rather simple and straightforward, but the application is where it can get messy because it requires us to show up and be vulnerable – the exact thing our wall is trying to keep us from exposing!
Aside from all of this, let’s bring it down to the most basic level and get real human for just a moment…all we really want is love.
We are social creatures! We need each other. Underneath every fear, every wall, every outburst, every accusation…is a deep desire to be loved. At some point most of us wake up to the old, unconscious patterns that aren’t working for us anymore. We realize our walls are keeping us from having the very thing we desire the most. Love. Companionship. Connection.
So no matter how you go about it, I invite you to dismantle your walls (at your own pace and timing) and start to let in the love you have been seeking. Work with a therapist. See an energy healer. Visit a shaman. Do your inner work. You deserve love.
In the end, you hold the keys to your own lock.