Do you find that you have a hard time differentiating your own emotions and needs from that of your family or significant others? Do you feel that you are responsible for making sure that other people are happy and end up living a life that others want you to live instead of living the life that makes YOU more fully alive?
In this episode I talk about how I realised that a lack of healthy boundaries was an obstacle to growing into my True Self, and how learning to practice healthy boundaries helped me to heal and become clearer in my identity.
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01:36 - What is your responsibility and what isn't?
05:19 - Distinguishing your own emotions and needs
06:48 - A wake up call
08:24 - Tuned into others instead of self
11:30 - No boundaries
14:26 - Enmeshment
17:10 - Are you enmeshed too?
18:20 - The necessity of healing
21:10 - PRAXIS. Listen. Ponder. Act.
- As you listened to today's episode, what struck you? Does something resonate particularly strongly with you? What emotions or thoughts came up in response as you listened?
- Do you tend to be too distant or too close in your significant relationships? Do you struggle more with becoming emotionally intimate with others or with being too emotionally needy and being unable to differentiate your own needs from others?
- Make a list of the significant relationships in your life. Beside each name or relationship, write down one of these options:
A. Too distant
B. Too close
C. Just right
If you find that you have a recurring pattern of either As or Bs, I invite you to learn more about relational boundaries ...
For full details of this reflection prompt, please see transcript.
That's Not Love, That's Enmeshment
Please Hear What I'm Not Saying
12 Signs You Lack Healthy Boundaries (and Why You Need Them)
Signs that You May Be in an Enmeshed Relationship
13 Signs You Grew Up in an Enmeshed Family
Why Your Family of Origin Impacts Your Life More Than Anything Else
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EP 14 | WHERE DO YOU END AND I BEGIN?
Have you ever struggled with knowing who you are apart from your relationships or the roles that you play?
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.
Hello again, dear listeners. Today's episode is about my experience of boundaries. Or rather my experience of a lack of boundaries and how I gradually discovered that this was a problem if I wanted to become my true, authentic self. If you are wondering what boundaries have to do with becoming authentic and whole, think about it this way.
At the heart of becoming our authentic selves is developing a true and solid sense of identity. Part of this is being able to distinguish who we actually are from who we are expected to be or who others tell us we should be. My last episode, "The Impossible Race To Be Good Enough", talks about what it's like when we try to appear or act in line with an ideal self that is out of sync with who we are or where we really are in our journey.
[00:01:36] WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AND WHAT ISN’T?
This doesn't lead to authenticity. It actually leads us in the opposite direction and gives us an even shakier sense of identity. A different, but often related aspect to this is our ability to distinguish the line between our lives and other people's lives. When this line is blurred or non-existent, we can get confused as to what is actually ours - what is our emotion, our rightful space, our responsibility, et cetera. And what is not ours - what is actually other people's responsibility, other people's emotions and their rightful space.
So this is what is referred to as boundaries. When healthy boundaries are not in place in our lives, we will not be able to make progress in the journey of becoming our true selves. And that is because we don't even have a clear sense of the parameters of selfhood. Say, for example, you begin to realize that you need to make some changes in your life in order to honor your values and dreams and make changes to become more in line with who you're discovering you really are. But a family member becomes very upset at the change that you wish to make, because that is not what they wanted for you.
They insist that they need you to remain the same as before in order for relations to be harmonious. How do you proceed? If you had healthy boundaries, you would probably process this dilemma by discerning what is your responsibility and what is not your responsibility. For example, it IS your responsibility to be a good steward of your own life. It IS your responsibility to accept the consequences of any decision that you make about your life no matter how difficult those consequences may turn out to be. It IS your responsibility to take ownership of the trajectory of your life.
What is not your responsibility? Well, it is NOT your responsibility to make sure that your life choices make other people happy. It is NOT your responsibility to rescue your loved ones whenever they are in difficulty, especially if doing so, prevents them from taking up what is their responsibility for their own lives and choices.
If, as you listen to me say all these things you are thinking, "Well, that's clearly self-apparent. I wonder why she saying what is already so obvious?" Then maybe you don't have such a problem with blurred boundaries, but if you're listening to me and thinking, "Wait, how is that not my responsibility?" Or "Isn't that what family means - to be responsible for one another's happiness and successes?" Then maybe you might have a lack of clarity in boundaries without realizing it.
My personal experience is that until I learned to start practicing healthier boundaries, my ability to make wise and prudent choices about my life was severely hampered by my over-sensitivity and concern for other people's feelings and needs. By constantly being confused about what I should do, because I'm always thinking about other people rather than myself.
Again, if you're thinking, "What's wrong with paying attention to another person's feelings and needs, isn't that a good thing? Isn't that being considerate and caring and loving?" Well, you would be right. There's nothing wrong with paying attention to another person's feelings and needs.
[00:05:19] DISTINGUISHING YOUR OWN EMOTIONS AND NEEDS
But that is, IF you are able to distinguish it from your own feelings and needs, and IF you also knew how to pay attention to them too, that is to your own emotions and needs. If all you are always doing is paying attention to other people's feelings and needs, and you're not able to distinguish between those and your own feelings, your own needs, then that is when it is unhealthy and when it becomes a problem.
But here's the tricky thing. You may not even realize it, that you can't distinguish your feelings or needs from other people. It can sometimes just feel like you have a great deal of empathy for others when in fact you could be having what psychologists term "enmeshment", and that is in my own layman terms, when you can't tell when another person's life ends and yours begin.
I'm not a psychologist or counselor, so I'm not going to go into explaining what terms like enmeshment or codependency mean. Although I will share some links in the show notes later to resources that can get you started on learning more about that if you're interested. What I'm going to do in this episode is share with you some of my life experiences that I have since learned through my own inner work were examples of the issues that I had due to a lack of boundaries.
[00:06:48] A WAKE UP CALL
I remember the day when I had a sudden insight that I didn't really know who I was except through how I was mirrored through my relationships. I was nearly 30 years old and the realization hit me like a Thunderbolt. I remember thinking, "Oh my God, I'm, I'm nearly 30 years old. And I don't really know who I am apart from how another person sees me."
It wasn't that I never had any sense of self or that I never made any decision with my own will I have had plenty of experiences of making choices out of my own will, or at least it felt like it was my choice. But that day, it was as if a veil in the deeper part of me had suddenly been lifted. And I recognized that many of those choices, which I thought I had freely made, had actually been heavily influenced by significant others in my life.
These were choices that someone important to me would have wanted me to make. And I identify so much with them that it felt as if what they wanted was the same as what I wanted. But was it really what I wanted? I was suddenly not so sure anymore, because I had never learned to listen to my own heart. I only knew how to pay attention to another person's feelings and needs because my feeling of wellbeing was so dependent on the people around me being happy.
[00:08:24] TUNED IN TO OTHERS INSTEAD OF SELF
So, I lived my life being very vigilant, perhaps even hypervigilant about the, the emotional climate around me. Those who were close to me, my family members, my parents, or when I was in school, my teachers or professors or close friends, I was constantly scanning how they were feeling emotionally and whether it had anything to do with what I said or did. And I was always very careful to try and say and do things that would make them well, will make them happy because if they weren't happy, I couldn't be happy.
Since I was a teenager, I have also had some kind of a radar for brokenness and need in people. I've always had this desire to reach out to those who are hurting. I know now that a part of that is a gift and a part of my true self, but in my wounded self, this desire to help others took over my identity. And sometimes even my life, I felt so compelled at times to alleviate the pain in another person that I would focus on doing that instead of focusing on what I needed to do in my own life.
And on hindsight, I think it is because I didn't know how to handle my own pain. I felt powerless perhaps in how to get out of what was hurting me. And so I focused on helping others because if I could help them get better, then that would make me feel better. In secondary school, I once asked for permission from my English teacher to share a poem I had come across with the class.
It is a famous poem written in 1966 by American poet, Charles C. Finn. The title was "Please Hear What I Am Not Saying". I will share a link to this poem in the show notes, and I invite you to read it yourself. It's an incredible poem written in the first-person voice, asking to be seen beyond the masks that one wears and admitting silently to putting up walls because of the fear of rejection, when underneath those walls was actually a deep yearning to be loved.
Now, I had asked to share that poem because I felt that it described how some of my classmates could be feeling. And I thought that it would help them identify how they actually felt. But after that class, my teacher asked to speak to me privately and she asked if I had shared that poem because it had expressed my unspoken need.
I remember being genuinely taken aback. And I told her really sincerely that she was mistaken, that I did not feel that way, which showed a complete lack of self-awareness. But I really did not see it at the time. I never thought that a part of me needed to rescue others in pain because I could not stop my own.
[00:11:30] NO BOUNDARIES
In fact, I would so identify with other people's pain that I often felt compelled to help when it was not my responsibility to and when I couldn't help, I would feel so overwhelmed by their suffering that I would experience their pain as if it was my own. I felt like I had to do something to make things right.
Even if it wasn't my responsibility to fight that person's battles. Even if, um, the issue was something much larger than I could control, I, I would feel like I had to do something. It never occurred to me that there was something unhealthy about how absorbed I can become in another person's problems. If I cared enough about you in my younger years, I would hardly think twice about dropping everything and coming to your aid when you needed me.
I always thought that THAT was what love looked like. To always be available, to put your need above mine, to never say no, if you needed me. Right. Well, I did that for others to the best that I could. I would simultaneously feel unloved because I felt that other people were not doing the same thing for me.
I yearned for another person to love me so much that they would immerse their lives in mine, just as I immersed in my life in theirs. You see, I was giving in order to receive, I needed to be needed because it gave me a sense of being valued. But really what I wanted was to be the recipient of the kind of love that I was pouring out.
Nobody had shown me how to direct that love inward to myself. So, I was forever waiting for someone else to offer me that love that would make me feel valued, and it never occurred to me that people should not become so enmeshed with one another's lives. I don't know if what I have said so far already makes it clear that I lacked healthy emotional boundaries.
Now, when I hear myself describe all this, it is so abundantly clear. It is hard for me to imagine now that there was a time when I was completely blind to this thing about myself. In fact, I would have been extremely defensive if anyone had implied that I didn't have good emotional boundaries. Because I always felt that I loved a lot, and that any, any attempt to convince me that I was not loving well was attacking my identity.
It took me quite a few years of inner work for me to recognize that what I always had thought of as love was probably not really the best or most healthy kind of love. So, what I grew up believing was that close relationship was one in which there were no secrets.
So when I'm close to someone, I would tend to overshare and over-confide. To me, sharing and confiding secrets was a mark of intimacy. I thought that the problem was always when there was a lack of communication and poor communication was when people failed to share. I never realized that there was such a thing as unhealthy levels of sharing.
When I love someone, I felt that I had the right to share whatever I wanted or needed to share with you. And conversely, that I had the right to know your intimate secrets. And if I felt that you were withholding information from me about your life or about your feelings, it would make me feel really rejected and abandoned.
In fact, sometimes it would make me feel betrayed because I would feel that I trusted you enough to share all these details about my life. And yet you didn't reciprocate, you didn't trust me enough to share your secrets with me. I was so identified with a relationship that I would feel lost without knowing what was going on in your life.
Quite literally, there was no clear mark of where you ended and where I began. Love for me meant that what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine, by default. There was no real understanding that there needs to be consent that is freely given in exchange. So, if I love someone, I would feel entitled to meddle in their lives. I would not even know that I was overstepping my boundaries because I had no concept of boundaries.
My lack of boundaries made it hard for me to say no to anyone who expressed a need to me. And on the flip side, I expected others to not say no to me either. I was used to experiencing love as rescuing others from pain or telling others what the right thing to do is so that they don't make a mistake and suffer the consequences.
I felt that it was my responsibility to guide and teach other people how to live their lives. That was what I knew. And so that was how I loved and unwittingly, I caused harm to others without ever intending to do anything else but love them.
When I look back at my life now at some of the painful ruptures in relationships that I have had, I see them as blessings. More often than not the ruptures had happened, at least in part, because of my lack of boundaries. The pain of those broken relationships and the pattern that became evident in my life was in large part what led me to reflect and recognize that there was something about the way that I formed attachments that was not really free or truly loving.
[00:17:10] ARE YOU ENMESHED TOO?
So, if any of these following statements reflect something of your own experience, I encourage you to find out more about enmeshment and codependency.
"I am as happy as my least happy, loved one."
"If someone screws up it's on me because I failed to stop it from happening."
"If I love you, I must rescue you."
"I don't know who I am, unless you tell me."
"I need you to complete my life."
"My business is your business. Your business is my business, and this is what love looks like." " I can't live my life because I have to care for everybody else's."
If any of these statements hit home for you, please know that you are not alone. And please also know that these are marks of being emotionally wounded, and that healing is possible. I'm speaking about my experiences now, after about 12 years of intentional and consistent inner work accompanied by spiritual directors and for the last four years or so, a therapist as well.
[00:18:20] THE NECESSITY OF HEALING
Living from the inside out means being willing to repair and reform the parts of ourselves that need healing. This is a non-negotiable aspect of becoming more whole and becoming authentic. Our wounds and our lack of wholeness impact the way we perceive ourselves and the way that we perceive others. It affects our ability to form life-giving, loving relationships with God, with ourselves and with others. Having a clear and healthy sense of boundaries will allow us to offer more of our true selves to others without losing ourselves.
If you truly wish to become yourself, then you will need to be willing to learn at some point of the journey about your history of woundedness and to do what you need to do in order to be restored. Do note that it is not advisable to try and understand our wounds on our own. We need the love and support of people who understand this journey themselves.
And we need not shy away from tapping into the expert support and guidance of spiritual guides or directors, as well as mental health experts and therapists. There is a wealth of resources to support us if we only desire it. There is no shame in seeking help.
Someone who really wanted to get fitter wouldn't be embarrassed about hiring a personal trainer to train him or her in the gym. If we had some fitness goal and we're willing to invest in it, we might even want to pay for the services of a nutritionist. So that is physical health and we're not embarrassed or ashamed to let people know that we are getting all the help that we can to achieve our fitness goals.
I don't see why it should be different for the matter at hand, when what we want is to become more whole more authentic. I mean, that is so much more important than just being physically healthy, because this is about total wellness and it is about increasing our total quality of life because it will affect not just our physical health, but our emotional health, the health of our relationships, and even our spiritual health.
It would, you know, it, it, it would increase our capacity for fullness of life. So really, if there was anything that we could do for ourselves to invest in our lives, why wouldn't we do it? The fact that you're listening to my podcast means that you are interested in finding out more about how you could have a fuller life; become more true to yourself. And I'm hoping that Becoming Me is just a gateway to even more resources that could be bless you.
[00:21:10] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT.
So let's turn now to the praxis prompts for today's episode. One: Listen – as you listened to today's episode, what struck you? Does something resonate particularly strongly with you? Could you identify with any of the experiences I shared today?
Two: Ponder – do you tend to be too distant or too close in your significant relationships? Do you struggle more with becoming emotionally intimate with others or with being too emotionally needy and being unable to differentiate between your own needs and others?
Three: Act – make a list of the significant relationships in your life. This could include family members, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, or anyone that you deem is important to you. And beside each name or relationship, write down one of these three options. A: Too distant. B: Too close. C: Just right.
Choose option A: Too distant, if you feel that there is too little or even no emotional connection. Choose option B: Too close, if you feel that it is difficult for you to differentiate between this person's emotions and needs from your own. Choose option C: Just right, if you feel that there is a healthy level of freedom and individuality in this relationship, and that you're able to experience a loving connection while being able to also keep a clear sense of who you are apart from that person.
If you find that you have a recurring pattern of either As or Bs, I invite you to learn more about relational boundaries and to consider finding help to understand your own relational and familial pattern and how you could heal from it. In the show notes, you will find some links to additional resources about these topics. And that brings us to a close to today's episode.
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction, no matter how small those steps might be. And no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.
The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter, as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, happy becoming!