Whenever we set a boundary, we are accomplishing two things.
- Declaring value
Function #1: Protecting
This is the well-known function. Boundaries help to defend against threats. Here are a few examples and some comments:
- Locking your door at night to defend against entry without consent
- This is a common boundary that is usually set due to the cost benefit of a small amount of effort (turning a knob or two) paired with large amount of effect (an entire night of a degree of constant physical protection)
- Refusing to spend time with someone to defend against verbal abuse.
- This boundary might be more or less difficult to enforce depending on the source of the abuse. Setting this boundary with a close friend would be quite different from setting it with a historically antagonistic coworker.
- Boundaries can often have the unwelcome effect of blocking additional non-threatening interactions, such as caring for the close friend or resolving conflict with the coworker. Weighing the balance of missed opportunity for gained protection is a common task in boundary management.
- Withholding a thing to defend against resentment over how it is used.
- Money could be one example here. Perhaps a close friend has historically impulsive spending habits. Withholding money when she asks for it could protect me from resenting my close friend. (Note: I might have some issues with being judgmental to work out. Maybe therapy? 😉
- Adjusting expectations to defend against disappointment.
- This one is a more balanced version of the “quit before you can fail” strategy. Adjusting expectations is actually the only part of quitting that helps, and you don’t even need to quit to do it!
Another thing to note on this first function of boundaries is its connection to the past. Boundaries are only ever built as a response to past behavior. Or, put another way, threats are not threats without past behavior.
Now for the point.<–(bahaha!)
Function #2: Declaring value
We cannot set a boundary around something unless we already believe it is valuable.
This tells us quite a lot about people who struggle with boundaries; namely their struggle with self-esteem.
Struggles with self-esteem often go along with the “working to earn love” trap. That is, they learned early in life that, if you are loved, you are loved for what you do and they simply haven’t done enough. They frequently cite their sources, too! “I haven’t made anything of myself”, “I haven’t accomplished enough”, “others have done so much more with so much less”, “I’ve been so difficult” or dramatic or needy or afraid. All of these statements reinforce the idea that there is a reason I’m not getting love and that reason is located in me and what I have done or failed to do.
Any boundary this person tries to build will crumble at the first huff or puff of circumstance – being blown down by the suggestion that all of this happening out here is proof that there’s nothing worth protecting in there.
The solution? It is a subtle one, but far reaching.
The reason we don’t value something is because valuing it has never been effectively modeled for us.
Look back at the last sentence four paragraphs ago. The solution is found in those words “in me”.
If valuing ourselves was modeled for us as a child, we assume we are valued because we are valuable. If valuing ourselves was not modeled for us as children, we assume we are not valued because we are not valuable. Both ideas are wrong.
- We are neither valued nor not valued because of our actual value
Think about it. Do you always value your children accurately? Your spouse? Your boss? Your friend? Of course not. In fact, your valuing or not valuing someone has nothing to do with them! It has to do with you. This brings us to recurring big idea around Raising Consciousness:
The way we are treated says nothing about us, and something about them.
As much as we might like to think so, we do not value or love our children because they deserve it. We love our children because we are loving. You are not ignored because you deserve it, but because they are ignorant.
So, as it turns out, you were not loved or unloved because of your lovability, but because of your parents lovingness. We don’t love or not love ourselves because of our lovability, but because of our lovingness. “But Adam,” you might say, “I love others so much, how could this be true?” First of all, I’m interested in what that thing you call love actually is (could be love, but also could be the working to earn love trap). Second, all humans are born with the innate ability to love. Typically, our model for loving others is challenged and molded by our interactions with the world – we get lots of feedback on that, and we update our model of loving others accordingly. But, our model for loving others is a bit younger than our model for loving ourselves. At birth, infants literally don’t know the difference between self and anything! Everything is self for them! This means that all of the interactions around them become a part of their model for interacting with themselves. Furthermore, our model for how we treat ourselves is mostly invisible. We don’t get a lot of feedback on it, and so we don’t worry about updating it. There are those among us that listen to their instincts as they provide feedback, but for most of us; if our self-concept gets us through the day it’s good enough.
This brings us to two important conclusions…plus one more.
- Our lovability is unrelated to the love we receive.
- The love we recieve is an expression of the lovingness of others and ourselves.
- We can update our model for loving ourselves using our model for loving others. There is just no reason not to. Before you challenge yourself to provide evidence for why you deserve love, remember that you don’t. No one does. Love isn’t a thing to be deserved, but to be received.
I’m Adam Cluchey, and we are Raising Consciousness..
Be sure to check back next week where my friend Alicia Ceynar, LPC will answer questions “Behind the Chair”. This is an inside look into the mind of your counselor! Then be sure to check in the following week for part 2 where Alicia and I will answer questions submitted by you!
You can submit questions for answering at adamcluchey.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t miss this opportunity to get inside your counselor’s head!