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Boundaries and Loving Relationships: Are Boundaries Perceived Like Pheromones?


Hello readers,

I grew up in a family where my mother was an all-powerful, all-encompassing force.  You could say that she was formidable.  In French, “formidable” means wonderful and awesome.  I guess awesome can be overwhelming and frightening too.  My father had willingly relinquished his voice and power to her, and my brother, sister, and I had no choice in the matter.  Only my mother’s needs and desires mattered in our family, even though this program was masked by other agendas…such as my mother’s need for us to understand just how hard she was working for our own good.  We could not appreciate her enough.  Funnily enough, I do have a lot of appreciation for my mother, for she possesses many qualities.  She is extremely intelligent, industrious, and skilled in many areas.  It was not until relatively late in life that I was given the opportunity to understand boundaries and how to define myself relative to other people.

At a young age – perhaps 9 or 10, I decided that I needed to leave home so that I could live my own life and be my own person.  I knew implicitly that the price for my freedom would be the loss of affiliation with my family.  So when the time came, I had to give up belonging in exchange for being myself.  This, unbeknownst to me at the time of my severing with my family (age 19), was to become the theme of my life. 

How to relate to others without losing myself in the process?  Anyone who has been born into and raised within the foggy bloblike non-structure of a co-dependent family will understand exactly what I mean.  No one in such a family has a personal story or identity as such.  In my family, it was clearly the reality because my mother allowed no diversion from her own will.  Her rule was angry and relentless. When I struck out on my own, my sense of self was practically non-existent, but my curiosity and desire to discover life were boundless.  I was full of enthusiasm and idealism.  I was in Paris, and I could do whatever I wanted.  Suddenly, I had slipped through the looking glass.  Everything was possible.

Completely open to all experiences, I was extremely vulnerable.  In hindsight, I suspect there was a secret angel who was protecting me from my fragile, unguarded self.  Too much experience could have killed me, and the Universe was somewhat gentle with my initiation.  Each passing year has brought me tougher experiences, as life has sought to leather my sensitive skin and bring me the insight to create my own boundaries, my own philosophy and understanding of my being in the world.  My family could not teach me these things, and the world can be a tumultuous classroom.  I have experienced many close calls over the years, and I have made many mistakes. 

Despite the loss of many illusions, I remain sensitive, quiet, curious, and, most of the time, loving and nurturing.  My desire to create remains alive, even though my heart and body have been pummeled by life, by rejection.  Life will disappoint all of us.  A refining filter that ages a spirit like a wine or a cheese.  Hopefully for the better; hopefully we don’t ferment to vinegar or harden and get moldy. 

I was always able to use the word “no”, but for whatever reason, I have attracted a long line of people that I call “steamrollers”.  Steamrollers are individuals who do not take “no” for an answer.  No matter how emphatically that powerful one syllable word is expressed, these people do not appear to hear it, or else, they simply do not care. Their own will and desires are simply more powerful and more important than those of anyone else.  Again and again, I have vowed to never again be involved with such negative, narcissistic beings.  The pull of the familiar notwithstanding, I am devoted to somehow achieve “healthy boundaries”.

To be perfectly honest, I am afraid of people.  That is, I am afraid of getting people too close to me.  As long as I can keep someone at arm’s length, I am ok.  For the purposes of intimacy, this can be awkward.  I would like to put my arms down, to relax while simultaneously being reassured that the other humanoid will not be assessing me, posturing, and working to invade me, robbing me of my resources and well-being.

How can my “no” be heard?  I ask myself this question? 

My first response is that I must find people capable of hearing.  That is people who are not afflicted with personality disorders of the narcissistic type.  Empathy is a necessary quality, I have decided.  As is integrity.  Kindness.  A sense of responsibility for self and for the impact one has on others and the world.  And, above all, that person must have a personality with healthy boundaries.

So how do I determine right off if the person I meet is a bulldozer or an empathetic, respectful person?  Will I feel these qualities right away?  I know that we are all dual, somewhat ambiguous beings with shades of dark and light.  But this time I would like to meet someone who spends time with his own shadow and who is comfortable with this aspect of himself.  Self-aware.  That is another necessary quality. 

Lists of criteria and qualifications can have a way of getting in the way of life, but I do want to be cautious.  My instincts have been known to be unreliable; my subconscious tends to draw me close to the worst areas of my own shadow self.  It is good to learn and be aware, but how many levels of hell do I need to experience before I can say that I am a qualified connaisseur of my own personal inferno?

A thought popped into my head this afternoon.  I was remembering what my inner thoughts counselor shared with me last week – that I need not try to convince others of my qualities.  These qualities are apparent and are visible to those who are able to see them.

Perhaps this reality applies to boundaries as well.  As I grow stronger and more affirmed in my own way of being a woman, more confident of my qualities and worth, this becomes luminous and visible to others.  Just as we apparently become aware of the attractiveness of another individual because of the pheromones they emit, perhaps healthy boundaries are also detectable by our neurological systems.  Perhaps working on myself is all I need to do…

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