Setting boundaries is essential for healthy relationships, for being able to forgive others, and for being able to come to reconciliation with people who have hurt us, if that is possible and desirable. An inability to forgive can point to where an unhealthy boundary needs attention, and usually the boundary is unhealthy because of a false ingrained belief. A false belief is any belief that puts us into conflict with the way Life really is. (See the essay, Letting Life Come as It Comes for more explanation.) So called negative feelings like anger that continue to be unresolved can point to an unhealthy boundary. Instead of berating ourselves for being unforgiving when we’ve truly been doing the work to resolve our hurt feelings, it may be time to look for boundary violations and see if there is something our discomfort and unforgiveness are pointing to.
As a simple example of how anger points to boundary violations, my husband and I had a petsitter several years ago who watched our cats while we were out of town. She would repeatedly leave our grand piano open, (which the cats loved to play in) even though I asked her to close the lid when she was finished. We came home after a trip to find the piano left open yet again. I was furious. Before my first complaint could come out of my mouth, my husband calmly told me that we would find a new sitter. Immediately my anger disappeared because there was no longer reason to be angry. Now, if I had continued to stew over it at that point, I would have been completely stuck in victim consciousness. It’s important to ask ourselves often if we are playing victim. If we are not, and we are still angry, look to beliefs and boundaries.
One of the most common beliefs I have seen my clients’ deal with is the belief that Family sticks together no matter what. Usually this belief also has a set of expectations along with it, such as we must spend major holidays together, or we will ignore the way things really are to keep up the appearance of having a successful family, or we will work toward Reconciliation at all costs. Unlike a petsitter, we cannot just fire our family and hire a new one. How do we handle setting good boundaries with our family?
One of my clients had been living with the belief, Family sticks together no matter what, for most of his life. Some of his proudest moments had come about because he had followed that belief; he had been there for family when they had needed him. Members of his family had done foolish things and had caused him and others pain, but his suffering was not important. (See the essay, The Giving Persona for more explanation around his personality type.) He had been married to the woman of his dreams for a few years, and he was very happy and looking forward to his own family. However, his wife did not live by the same belief. She came from a family where she had to maintain firm boundaries with certain members of her family in order to honor both herself and them. She had learned the hard lesson that family sticking together no matter what didn’t always work.
My client was pleased that his wife and his sister had formed a close relationship. But then the wife began to notice a tendency in the sister to not take responsibility for herself in emotionally difficult situations. (See the essay, The Importance of Feeling Feelings for why we must deal with emotionally difficult feelings or compromise our health.) For my client, he was able to ignore such incidences because of his family belief system. At one point my client’s sister behaved badly toward his wife and was unwilling to apologize or deal with the bad feelings generated by her behavior. For his sister, her attitude was that she must be forgiven because that was what family did for each other, and it was time to move on. Since this was the way it had always been done, she didn’t see what the problem was. When his wife insisted on dealing with what had happened, the sister refused, telling his wife that she was ruining the family and that the wife had the problem, not her. The sister then continued with the same relationship with the couple, even though both my client and his wife objected. The sister’s belief of family sticks together no matter what was so ingrained that she dismissed their objections until both my client and his wife cut her off completely in order to be taken seriously.
Even though my client felt he had to stop communicating with his sister, his family programming told him that the proper way to act was to forgive his sister unconditionally and move on with the way things had always been. While intellectually he understood that his sister was too emotionally dissociated for his wife to be comfortable around, his belief led him to expect his wife to ignore her feelings and have at least a superficial relationship anyway. (See the essay, Dealing with Emotional Dissociation for more explanation around emotional dissociation and its affects on others.) His wife enacted strong boundaries with him, insisting that she would not compromise her emotional health for anyone, including him. He thought that choosing to have a relationship with his sister while honoring his wife’s choice would end his inner turmoil, but instead, it increased. The belief, family sticks together no matter what, and his Giving Persona were contradicting his basic beliefs around the right and wrong treatment of others, the right of his wife to choose her relationships, and his lost respect for and disappointment in his sister. He alternated amongst being angry at his wife for not smoothing things over, being angry at himself for thinking she should do so, and being angry at his sister for her emotional immaturity. On top of this his Giving Persona made him feel like a failure for not being able to make everyone happy. Because his wife didn’t share his family programming, and they were both committed to a conscious marriage, he had the support to discover that his belief was just a belief, not necessarily a fact. For him, the discomfort pointed to where he had a false belief.
When he did the work of dismantling the belief (we worked with Byron Katie’s material, and did Soul Retrieval, Power Animal Retrieval, Cord Cutting, and removed a Generational Imprint) he was able to make a new decision about his extended family without the old pulls that were causing him and his wife suffering. (His wife had ongoing resentment toward both him and his sister—pointing to a leak in their couple’s boundary with the extended family.) In his case, he chose to have an extremely limited relationship with his sister without feeling previous guilt, while continuing a distant relationship with other relatives. Most importantly his inner conflict and the pulls from his Giving Persona vanished; he was not moved by his sister’s objections and unhappiness with the new relationship rules. As a result, his marriage became even more stable, he claimed he felt like a man for the first time, and his wife’s resentment magically disappeared. For both of them, they were able to move forward with their marriage with new beliefs that served them better than the old. Forgiving the sister became a non-issue; the soul lesson they took away from their experience was around the necessary boundaries and priority that needed to be in place in order to have a container for a happy marriage.
It’s important to note here that forgiving the sister happened naturally for both the husband and the wife once my client accepted what his sister was really like, and accepted that neither his sister nor his wife needed to change. No interaction with the sister was necessary for this shift to occur. In my client’s case, he decided to have no significant relationship with the sister unless it became apparent that she had dealt with her emotional dissociation and could honestly work toward a reconciliation in which all parties could be free of resentments. Although he told his sister how he felt and why the relationship stood the way it did, he did not expect her to change.
Other outcomes, given different personalities and emotional maturity might have been possible. If his wife had been willing and his sister had been able, the three of them could have attempted reconciliation. He could have chosen to completely cut off his sister as he did at first, if that was really necessary to maintain a good boundary. In the end, each couple must rely on their own feelings to help guide them to boundaries that serve them best. It’s important that boundaries honor who each person is. False beliefs always lead to judgments of how relationships should be. Dismantling beliefs lead to acceptance of how each person is, and to healthy boundaries and happy relationships.
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