How to Manage Sensitivity with Healthy Boundaries
Do you have a hard time with crowds because you can feel the swirling mass of emotions of everyone around you? Do other people’s bad moods bring you down for hours? Do you feel that your sensitivity is a curse, or a superpower that you can’t control?
Being highly sensitive can be a powerful gift, but only when your sensitivity is brought into balance. More sensitivity is not always better, and beyond a certain point it can make your life feel out of control.
Da-ta-daaa! Boundaries to the rescue!
Our boundaries exist to clarify where our sphere of influence ends and another’s sphere of influence begins. Within our sphere we are sovereign, which is why boundary violations feel so intrusive.
Many of us struggle with healthy boundaries - either respecting our own boundaries or those of others (or both) - because our parents didn’t do a good job of helping us develop healthy boundaries. Some of us were even taught in childhood that it wasn’t safe to have boundaries at all, causing us to disable our boundaries altogether.
This is a big problem, because our boundaries define our personal space - and we need to be sovereign there in order to be able to step into our full power and potential. One of the surest signs that our boundaries are being disrespected is whenever we don’t feel sovereign over our body and our personal space (and the things that are rightfully ours).
Another sign of unhealthy (or inadequate) boundaries is absorbing emotions from other people, and picking up ambient emotions in the environment. Now, we all do this to some degree (empathy is an innate human ability), but when we aren’t able to distinguish between our own emotions and the emotions of others - or when we take others’ emotions on as our own instead of merely perceiving them - this points to boundary problems.
Boundaries and sensitivity are directly connected. Diffuse, open boundaries allow in more information (and thus cause greater sensitivity), while thick and dense boundaries limit this sensitivity.
It is common in modern spiritual philosophies to seek ever greater openness and sensitivity, but as with everything in life, health comes through balance - not extremes. People who are insensitive and less empathic might need to increase their sensitivity by becoming more open, but this is the opposite of what someone who is already highly sensitive (and who probably has shaky boundaries) should do.
However, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of sensitivity, boundary cultivation will benefit you because it is all about adjusting your boundaries in whatever way best serves your life. This is truly a practice that is helpful for everyone.
The first step in strengthening boundaries is becoming acquainted with them on an energetic level.
Our boundaries are not just lived in everyday interactions - they are also a fundamental part of our energy body.
We have instinctive sense of them (when they are healthy), and can feel when people push into or cross through our boundaries. This instinctive boundary sense is why birds on a telephone wire all perch a certain distance from each other, and why we notice when someone stands too close (this is usually because they have boundary problems themselves, and thus a poor sense of the boundaries of others).
The current state of our energetic boundary is determined primarily by two things: the way we learned to be, energetically, in response to our childhood experiences (our energetic “habits”, if you will); and our daily choices around setting and maintaining boundaries.
While each of these factors affect each other, our daily boundary choices usually flow from the energetic state of our boundaries, which is why checking in with the latter is the best place to begin if we wish to change our boundary habits.
To do this, simply take a moment to “feel into” your boundary, with all of your intuitive senses. It should be around a half of an arms-length away from your body in all directions.
When you sense into it, what do you find? Is your boundary too thin, or too far away from you? Is it super dense, or uncomfortably close to your body? Are there holes or tears? Is it non-existent behind you? It is even possible for one's boundary to be completely disabled, as a coping mechanism learned in childhood.
Be sure to involve all of your “senses” as you notice what’s there. Does your boundary have a color? What is its texture? Do you sense any emotions held in it? Your intuition will translate the information into your own symbolic language, so be open to whatever you find.
The second step is to visualize repairing and strengthening your energetic boundaries.
Directing energy with visualization always works best if you work with what’s actually there (vs simply focusing on how you want things to be), which is why this is the second step rather than the first. Once you have a sense of whatever repair or reinforcing is needed, you can make those changes simply by visualizing qi entering you from the universe and directing it wherever it needs to go (to fill holes, thicken it, pull the boundary in, etc).
Don’t forget that you can direct this energy with your physical body as well. Many modalities (such as qi gong and tai chi) combine physical movement with intention and visualization, with powerful results.
Your goal should be boundaries that are:
- a comfortable (half-arms length) distance away from your body
- completely encompassing you above, behind, and below (through the floor) with no holes or tears
- and dense enough to feel solid and effective.
You can also add the intention for your boundaries to:
- be adaptable (able to change to reflect the needs of the moment)
- give you information about your environment
- and be selectively permeable (allowing in what is healthy for you and keeping out what isn’t).
Also keep in mind that changing energetic habits takes time, so one visualization won’t be enough to change your boundaries permanently. Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries requires a daily boundary-cultivation practice, although the more you do this the quicker and easier it will be. Eventually a simple 2 minute check-in each morning may be all that you need to keep them in tip-top shape!
Now it’s time to examine your daily choices and how they impact your boundaries.
Cultivating your energetic boundaries is vital, but all the visualization in the world won’t help if your daily choices counteract the changes you’re trying to make. This is why it’s also important to make sure that your choices throughout the day support healthy boundaries.
Many things we do affect our boundaries such as enforcing the boundaries that we’ve set with others, and saying “no” when we’re really feeling no.
In your daily interactions with people at home and at work, begin to notice how well you honor your own boundaries and the boundaries of others. If you’re not sure, ask your friends (and trusted co-workers) to give you honest feedback.
It’s also worth taking a look at some other factors that can affect your boundaries, such as what you eat and drink (some things really open us up energetically, like sugar and alcohol), and how grounded you are (being ungrounded can make it harder to stay centered in our own boundaries).
If you habitually experience difficulty setting healthy boundaries with others, in addition to your daily energetic boundary practice, you can call in qi from the universe to strengthen your boundaries right there in the conversation.
This can help you gain clarity about where your boundaries need to be in that moment, which is essential for you to be able to honor them. Once your boundaries are clearly set within yourself, you may not even need to communicate them, as others will often sense them without even realizing it.
But with that said, having healthy boundaries also requires the willingness to communicate them and enforce them as necessary. If this is something you struggle with, my next blog post will reveal the secret ingredient necessary to do this (hint: it’s an emotion!). Stay tuned!