Elastic boundaries in the midst of turmoil? It has occurred to me in the last week that we all need to make our boundaries more elastic in these turbulent times, or perhaps for all times.
Covid 19, with all its isolation and fear, has left us brain-fogged and reeling. We make mistakes, confuse dates and times, and seemingly ignore temporarily people otherwise important to us. We are sometimes distant, sometimes edgy, and sometimes downright grumpy.
Coping with our own fears and isolation, it is too easy to be miffed by these behaviors in others even when we display them ourselves.
I encountered this recently in a friend with whom I had a date to have drinks, only to find in the afternoon that a talk I had promised to give a business group, one from which I hoped to get business, was not the next week, but the next morning. In my brain-fogged state, I had not only forgotten the date, but had done no preparation. Feeling somewhat frantic, I had to call her and cancel our date in order to prepare.
Only later did I find this was a loyalty test, and I had flunked it. If our positions had been reversed, I would have said, “Go for it! I’ll be rooting for you.”
It turns out that she has rules, first for herself and then for others. Fair enough: do unto others, etc. Her standard was that, once you make a commitment, you must honor it, regardless of the surrounding circumstances. She asserted she always did this: I can’t confirm, because I had honestly never noticed whether she behaved this way or not. I don’t keep track.
During the pandemic, I have had friend after friend cancel at the last minute, forget to show up, go silent for a while and then re-emerge, and yet we have remained friends. We have repeatedly shared our joys, sorrows, and vulnerabilities. In this sharing has been the most uplifting part of the pandemic and its shut-down.
It occurs to me that the kind of boundaries my friend has (I’m sure she has more which she hasn’t stated to me) are the work of the ego, which in turn is the work of the brain. In the brain we tend to develop patterns: this event occurs, and this is my reaction. From then on this is always my reaction, regardless of changing circumstances. The brain loves familiar patterns, and once established, we return to them, even when they don’t serve us well. The brain also loves polarity: this is good, that is bad.
Canceling a date at the last minute, when seen as “a measure of my value to you’’ is an ego-driven belief, not a heart-felt reaction of one human being to another.
Should we then have no boundaries at all? No, it’s important to take care of ourselves, but boundaries can become a prison too. They protect, but keep others out.
How do we know the difference between a protective boundary and a barrier to healthy relationship? A good way is to ask your heart, and not your brain. The heart, with its 40,000 brain cells that can think and then remember, doesn’t store and revert to patterns. It operates in a more intuitive way. Unlike the brain, it is not ego-driven.
When someone surprises you by violating one of the conscious or unconscious rules by which you operate, you can recognize the presence of your ego when you feel defensive rather than thoughtful or curious. Under the dominance of the ego, we often resort to extreme statements to defend ourselves. Healthy outcomes seldom come from this procedure. Relationships do not thrive.
When you are accessing the wisdom of the heart, you are more likely to feel thoughtful or curious rather than hurt or angry. This in turn can lead to reflection and thoughtful questioning of the other person as to what is actually going on in that situation. It might then be possible to avoid conflict in the future.
The HeartMath™ Institute, situated in Northern California, has done over 30 years of research on the heart-brain connection, and has developed simple but elegant techniques to help us to live more thoughtful and intuitive lives.
You can access your heart’s wisdom through Heart-Based Breathing™, as developed by the HeartMath™ Institute.
First, focus on your heart, even touching it so that your attention is directed to your heart.
Second, begin to breathe in and out through the heart slowly: about 5 counts in and 6 counts out.
Continue for a couple of minutes, always focusing on your heart.
Ask your heart, “What am I really reacting to in this situation?”
Be prepared to have your heart reveal to you, gently, truths about yourself, such as a feeling of lack of power or of being unlovable.
Let your heart guide you, gently, to asking questions rather than making statements that are destructive. My friend might well have asked me, “Why do you feel the preparation for this talk is more important than our date?” rather than accusing me of rampant disloyalty. We could have then had a discussion.
When you are focused on your heart, you can recognize when your ego feels defensive, and often resorts to extreme statements to defend itself.
Then ask your heart, “My heart, is this incident enough to make me re-think this relationship? If so, how can I best communicate this?”
It’s as hard to continue a relationship after harsh statements as it is to unring a bell.
Or, as Irving Berlin wrote, “Be careful, it’s my heart. It’s not my watch you’re holding; it’s my heart.”
You can put a watch together after you break it more easily than you can a heart and in these times of pandemic turmoil we need all the healthy hearts we can muster to create a new and better world.
Lynette Crane is an internationally acclaimed speaker, trainer, coach, and author of The Confident Introvert and Quiet Brilliance: Solving Corporate America’s Leadership Crisis with Hiding in Plain Sight Talent.
She was a pioneer in stress management over 40 years ago, having created a college course and corporate training programs, for which she wrote the book. Over the past 40 years she has helped countless people manage their stress successfully.
Now she has amplified the power of her programs with certification as a trainer and coach/mentor from HeartMath Institute™, which has produced over 30 years of research, based on neuropsychology and quantum physics, on the power of the heart-brain connection in helping us manage the stress of our emotional lives effectively.