Are You Talking to me Like you Know me? Emotional Boundaries

While waiting for my tires to be installed at Costco last week, I went inside to eat a pretzel. The eating area was packed with people, and filled with the smell of hot dogs and pizza. As I was sitting at one of the many picnic tables a harried father walked by pushing his cart to the exit and yelling at his crying child “You’re not hungry, you can eat later.” She was about four, and clearly upset. I couldn’t say for sure, but since it was lunchtime, I’d be willing to bet the little girl WAS hungry. The father probably meant, “I’m too busy to stop for lunch now” and I wonder how it felt for this child to have her feeling denied.

If we are lucky we have people in our lives that validate our thoughts and feelings. If, on the other hand, we are told what we think and feel, we may be a bit confused.

Emotional boundaries help us determine how we feel about a situation, person, place or thing. If they are supported and substantiated, we know our feelings and can take responsibility for ourselves. It’s impossible to know how to respond to an event if we don’t know how we feel about it. So how do we lose touch with our feelings? One way is to be told that we have no feelings, or that they are wrong. Personally I have been told I wasn’t hungry on many occasions. I was also told I love my Grandmother (actually, her crying scared me), that I didn’t have to go to the bathroom, that I wanted a new baby brother, that I had no reason to be unhappy since there were so many people who had it worse than I did, that I like my teacher Mrs. Anderson, and that I would be happier if my bedroom was clean…. Just to name a few.

When we are told what to think and feel, I think we have a hard time trusting our reality and making healthy decisions based on that reality.

I had a very gifted friend in college who wanted to be an artist. Unfortunately, her domineering father told her that she really wanted to be a teacher; it would provide a more reliable income. So she doodled all through our Education classes and agonized over how she was actually going to stand up in front of a group of children and speak. Her intellectual boundary was violated because she was told not to trust her own thoughts and perceptions.

Hopefully most of us were given adequate opportunities to explore and develop healthy boundaries. However, if you avoid certain people or places because you feel uncomfortable, unplug your telephone because you are afraid someone will call and ask for a favor, drink too much at parties because it is the only way you know to relieve tension, or spend time with people you don’t like because you are afraid to hurt their feelings, you may be struggling with boundary issues. Like many of us, you may be altering your behavior and shrinking your world in an attempt to feel secure, loved and accepted. A closer look at your boundaries and how they were formed might be helpful.

Dag Hammarskjold once said,

“The more carefully we listen to the voice inside of us, the more clearly we will hear what is sounding outside.”

I’m not four any longer, so if someone tells me “You’re not hungry”, I can check inside myself and find the truth. After all, I’m the only one who could possible know.