Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a group of women on the topic of self-care. Specifically, we focused on how you can self-care over the weekend. For those struggling with any kind of mental health issue, weekends can be troublesome. The ‘TFI Friday’ rhetoric isn’t always the case for those challenged by their own mental health or in recovery. Two days-worth of blank pages waiting to be filled with the usual weekend-y stuff you ‘should’ be doing can feel daunting.
We discussed a wide range of topics, but one that kept making a repeat appearance was the concept of boundaries. Responses varied amongst the group; some felt terrified by the idea of setting boundaries with friends or family, others felt they had mastered the art of setting them and one woman had yet to understand how boundaries would play out in her life. We all, however, agreed that boundaries are simultaneously the most significant and most challenging aspects of recovery and self-development.
Pia Mellody’s, The Intimacy Factor focuses heavily on boundaries as she explores how they impact your intimate relationships.
“Boundary work is the most important tool in developing the kind of emotional communication that leads to intimacy in relationships.”
Let us not mistake boundaries with what Mellody calls a wall - where you have no flexibility with your boundaries.
This has been a mistake of mine previously. I believe it comes from a lack of trust in your ability to make decisions, look after yourself and ultimately listen to your gut instincts. My ‘wall’ previously worked like an internal inventory of rules. Stick obediently to them and you will stay safe. My thinking being that, I created these rules, so it made sense they were in my best interest. However, this way of thinking is disempowering, not to mention exhausting. You become cut off from making real-time judgement calls. You behave like a robot, answering to an internal algorithm, ‘when this person behaves in this way then your reaction should be ___’ – fill in your own blanks. You may find a degree of security, but it will also keep you securely locked away from truthful, intimate relationships. So how do you free yourself up from this?
Mellody wants us to look to our childhood which can be painful and requires a lot of work. And you must be willing to do the work.
This quote from The Intimacy Factor explains;
“When our boundaries are functioning properly, what we express about ourselves respectfully communicates the truth of our emotions and ideas, and what we let into our hearts and our minds is relevant only to the emotions and ideas we hold to be true about ourselves. The requirement for healthy boundaries is self-esteem or inherent worth, the inculcation of which is the central job of parenting.”
The parenting part is key here.
The Intimacy Factor will encourage you to discover any childhood traumas you may have experienced and so it is for this reason, I would say this book might not be for anyone just starting therapy or recovery.
I imagine you would need to have some experience of working through difficult childhood traumas before you can get the most out of this book. Emmy’s blog post on inner child work is a great place to start.
Compared to how I behaved in my twenties, I have a much better grip on my boundaries.
Age is a natural ally of boundaries but that doesn't mean we should be passive in understanding and navigating them.
There are areas Mellody has made me realise I still need to do some serious work.
One that baffled and fascinated me was the ‘internal listening boundary’. It encourages the idea that you only allow statements or ideas that ring true with your sense of self, to affect you. A basic example of this would be, if in conversation a partner or friend labels you as something you know not to be true, you let it go. For example, you are being called selfish by your partner – rather than challenge this accusation, knowing you are not a selfish person, your internal listening boundary protects you, by letting that attack go over your head. I’ll admit, I struggle with this one, yet I can appreciate the tremendous value in it. It’s not about allowing people to treat you badly, but more seeking to understand where the other person is coming from and if their opinion sits true with you. It’s a wonderful quality to aspire to but it seems reserved for those with zen-like energies. Achieving it requires nurturing a steely sense of self, which is worthwhile. I felt enormous relief reading this excerpt from the book;
“It is hard work— even revolutionary— to master the art of talking and listening boundaries. Our attempts to talk and listen to the people with whom we would like to be intimate are characteristically interrupted by signals sent to us from our traumatic past. They tell us that we need to defend ourselves, because if we don’t, people will find out about our inadequacies and we will be embarrassed and humiliated. Most people who consider themselves “normal” live in this anxious condition and see nothing abnormal in the defensive or aggressive precautions they take to remain invulnerable”
Clearly this is not an easy thing to do, but if we can begin to work on these areas in our lives, our intimate relationship’s will improve drastically.
Meet Our Contributor
Tuesday Hope is an actress and writer.
Her first short film Same Mistakes, is about a woman confronting her anxiety issues for the first time, whilst also dealing with the intricacies of modern day booty calls. Tuesday starred in it along with actress Kelby Keenan. The short is currently in post production.
Originally from Yorkshire, Tuesday moved to London after gaining a place at The Arts Educational School of Acting and has been working across commercials and voiceovers since graduating.
Newcastle United supporter, semi-dedicated book club attendee, occasional brow model, currently living in East London contemplating the commitments that come with adopting a house rabbit.