Sensing the energetic boundaries between you and your child
“I don't seem to have strong enough boundaries with my teenager. I state them over and over but, when they're so opinionated and convincing, I doubt myself and let them have their way.”
“When I try to have firm boundaries, I come across like army sergeant or a robot.”
“When they ignore my boundaries, I feel so hurt. But instead of expressing my feelings and facing their reproaches, I end up being kind of passive-aggressive.”
“I’ve caught myself expecting my kids to just know what I need and then blowing up when they don’t do the right thing.”
As the parent of a teen or young adult, you’re regularly facing new territories that require you to feel inward to identify what you want and where your limits lie.
You find yourself plunged into new circumstances and you might have to learn something new about regulating your flight, fight, freeze or fawn reaction so you can listen to your body’s wisdom. Or perhaps, in the presence of your kid’s opinions or sensitivities of the week, you have trouble getting access to your own needs and expressing them specifically. How can you open your heart and mind to conversation and negotiation and, at the same time, be true to yourself and stand by your yes or no?
It's an ongoing, intricate, sometimes heart-wrenching process of coming into deeper relationship with yourself - an honest, respectful relationship that has you knowing what experiences and feelings you want to allow within yourself and speaking up and asking for what you genuinely want, regardless of how others might respond.
For many of us, learning to set boundaries that really work for us is a deeper process of coming face to face with the boundary blueprints from our childhood experiences.
Perhaps, as a child, you were expected to tend to a parent's or caregiver's emotional or physical needs. If so, you naturally learned to set your needs aside, even lose touch with the fact that you have any needs, becoming self-sufficient to the extreme or someone who can’t help trying to ‘fix’ others.
If little you had to be constantly wary of physical and emotional boundary violations, you might have an underlying belief that boundaries are meaningless – either that you don’t deserve to have any or that it’s ok to cross others’ boundaries.
If you were ignored, harmed or shamed for having needs and feelings – we don’t do sadness in this house, you can’t ask for privacy - it makes sense that you developed a habit of ignoring your own heart and gut. You abandon yourself because you don’t even know what you feel or want.
And what if you were bullied or forced to do things against your will or instincts? Or you were the “good child” and always did what others wanted? How could you grow up fully trusting your instincts and asserting your limits and preferences?
Whatever boundary-setting habits you unwittingly adopted, they were probably rewarded in your family of origin. And they were intelligent adaptations to your family’s way of operating - remember that.
And now that you’re an independent adult and such imprinted patterns no longer serve your personal development, you can choose to develop your ability to create boundaries that support both your autonomy and your relationships. When you have no fear of losing yourself or being controlled by another, you can allow yourself to feel deeply connected, while also standing strong in your own sense of self. In your relationship with your young adult child, and in all your relationships.
My favorite definition of boundaries is "the distance at which I can love both myself and the other person". What has become interesting in my coaching practice is working with my clients’ energetic boundaries – their felt sense of the perfect subtle distance between themselves and their child.
Olivia was a single mom. Her 22-year-old, still living at home, would sometimes insist on his way of doing things with such strength and conviction that she found it difficult to withstand his force. She felt so exposed, like a tidal wave was coming toward her, so she would retreat under a turtle shell (her description) that protected her from the intensity. The problem was that the shell also held a distance between their hearts. So, we explored the underpinnings of the kind of boundary that only had two settings, wide-open or shut tightly, and it eventually shook loose something in the root of her, an old story about being unacceptable in the world.
We began working with her intuition, somatic wisdom and spirit guides to see what other kinds of boundaries might be available to her now. What came to her was the image of a curtain. For weeks and weeks, she explored ways of opening and closing this curtain and letting it be partially open. She practiced every day at work, in the grocery store, on her walks, with her neighbors and with her son, discovering how it worked for her. There were insights and setbacks and, when she got the feeling of being able to adjust this boundary for herself in a way that she could stay both connected and protected, it opened up a whole new way of being for her - being in choice in her interactions with others.
Whitney was aware of a rigid boundary between herself and her kids. Now that they were in their teens and no longer needed her to find food or get rides, they were hardly interacting with her at all. She wondered how she had become so unapproachable.
After a few guided visualizations, Whitney saw her boundary as thick glass that kept her separate from her kids. She also saw a little girl whose feelings were unwanted to be known or heard by her parents and who had bottled them up (literally) all these years.
What Whitney discovered was that she was longing for a boundary that was more like skin. She wanted a wrapping that held her sense of herself intact. She wanted to be able to keep at bay what wasn’t meant for her, like water rolls off the skin, but still be receptive to their energy and love.
What she’s practicing these days is visualizing herself breathing through her skin. "It's like learning a new language,” according to Whitney. "The progress feels like a sweetness in the center of my heart.”
Bev, whom I recently started working with, has a different issue. As she puts it, she’s a pushover with her kids. She’s often overly invested in their problems and takes on their feelings, a pattern which puts her on an emotional roller coaster while always trying to fix things to make the ride smoother. “I just take it all in, like a sponge, everything. There's no filter. Whatever has energy for my kids, I take it in, … And then I sulk because I feel like I’m carrying their stuff instead of them.”
There’s more ground for her to cover in her coaching program and I’m curious to see what new form of boundary she will develop - something that will allow her to filter what’s hers from what’s theirs and feel solid in her love for herself while also being deeply connected to her kids.
~ To me, boundaries lie in the in-between zones, somewhere in the violets and mauves swirling between my blue and your red. Or the part of the beach that is both land and sea. Space where the energies of two people can meet and mingle in good ways. In the end, drawing boundaries is one of the highest expressions of self-love: self-love as an action, a way of life, not just a nebulous concept. Learning how to adjust your boundaries takes you through the doorway to honoring your heart's desires and truths, amplifying your inner light and creating an authentic, empowered, fulfilled life. Healthy boundaries point the way to a clear, honest, respectful relationship with yourself. May you walk that path with grace and courage and may your self-love inspire every other relationship in your life.
REFLECTIONS In what area with your young adult kid do you recognize an unhealthy boundary pattern? How do you know it’s unhealthy? What are the energetic qualities of that boundary? Describe it or give it a metaphor if you like. When you look closely, what childhood imprint do see in this pattern? Describe the kind of boundary you’d like instead. What are its energetic qualities? How will you know that it’s healthy? What will you practice to cultivate that?