I have experienced things in the past 16 years of life that I never anticipated growing up in my very protected Midwestern home. Those aspects of my life, who I am, what I have endured, I have accepted. Little me would not recognize old me’s identity and liberty.
But what the heck does that have to do with boundaries? Well, on the surface not much. But I only began changing my perception of myself 11 or so years ago. So, 25 solid years established really deep brain paths, but 11 years is a good start on new ones.
I used to think that to be a good Christian was to give people what ever they needed emotionally. No matter the cost to myself. Do you need to talk? Do you need a hug? Someone to just sit with you? Do you need me to do the talking? Do you need me to open up about something? And those are not bad things. I do not regret giving of myself like that and will continue to for whoever needs it, whenever they need it.
But that original understanding wasn’t complete. Because I too am a person deserving of a safe space. Or we could write that truth as this: Because I too am a person. You are a person.
Now, I don’t really strive to be a “good Christian,” I love Jesus… but that label and all it misrepresents more often than not leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t care if your are white or black, straight or part of the beautiful LGTBQIA community. In a committed relationship with one or you are more fluid and are with many. I see your color, your community, your situation, I see your joy, pain, grief, and I hold it close to my heart. Or maybe that is what it means to be a “good Christian.”
What I have realized this month is that my boundaries come into play when I ask for space in turn, for someone to care for me and that request is denied or belittled over and over again. It is usually like a giant red flag is thrown and I see it for the first time along with seven others flags already in the field. My boundaries help me to communicate, usually to myself, that I need to step back no matter if it is because of myself, someone else, or the situation requires it. This gives me the space to evaluate and reevaluate (probably multiple times) what is going on inside of me.
So here is my philosophy on empathy, compassion and the practice of holding space for people. We as people create an area for ourselves in our thoughts and the deepest parts of our soul where we ponder… cherish… protect those things that effect us the most whether positive or negative. We guard them, place boundaries around them. When we are overflowing with the bubbly feel goods, we naturally bring people into the joy to celebrate with us. When our being is crumbling because of trauma or sorrow or mental desperation, we ask people into the space to hold the line for us. Usually, I think, we are both scenarios at the same time to some extent. In that place we are simply ourselves and it is holy. Authentic. Unmasked.
Simplified down, my understanding of compassion is that at its core, it is genuine, about you, concern; empathy is compassion in gentle action. Now add that to the concept of the sacred self in you and that of the sacred in others. And here, what we have now created, is the space we hold for each other. It is hard because it requires vulnerability and openness. It is hard because it isn’t always accepted. It is hard to be the one asking if people want to come in and it is hard to be willing to come.
What is the point of humanity if not to find those people with whom we can simply be? What is the point if we can’t be that person for others? Nothing quite hurts like a expressing a need for someone to catch you in your brokenness and you hit concert. But there is also no place that is more reassuring than to be caught when you need it most. We can examine the reverse of that as well. There is nothing like trying to support someone and miss the mark, having them walk away from you and know they are more hurt than before. But there is no greater assurance of purpose than to be that safe shoulder for another.
During the last month specifically, I have come to realize that my space is as sacred as others. But I have also realized that I do not voice my boundaries very well, mainly because I have ignored all the other red flags on the field until I am overwhelmed. I now understand that I rarely use boundaries to keep people out, rather I use them to give myself the time to figure out what isn’t working in me and why. Once I understand though, I attempt to open the gates again.
Is it a perfect? Psssh. Please. Heck no, but damn it, I am proud of the trying.
A quick note. The concept of boundaries and safety need to be clearly understood. At no time, while working through my understanding of my boundaries was I physically in danger or emotionally beyond carelessness and unintentional neglect. If you or someone is experiencing physical abuse or emotional manipulation/abuse of any kind, you need to find professional help in maintaining your boundaries. Because you are a person.