On Boundaries

buckle up baby we're getting boundaries!!!!!!

How To Cure A Ghost is a free (almost) weekly newsletter. If you find value in what I write and read this regularly, please consider financially supporting its creation by becoming a paid subscriber or Venmo or PayPal me. If you find value in what I write but can’t financially support its creation, please share.

tw: abuse (not in-depth, but it is mentioned)

It’s Cancer season and when better to talk about motherfucking boundaries, amirite?

I should, in true Cancer stellium fashion, explain that I am, admittedly, a recent convert to the boundaries department. I used to think they were for pedantic losers (so, me?) and honestly didn’t know much about what it would/could mean to affirm that internal no that we all have.

Some of us lost ours along the way or were taught to disbelieve that voice; if after enough times you’re told how you feel is besides the point, you begin to precisely dismiss your own internal knowing before it ever creeps up as a voice of reason. As a childhood trauma survivor, I know this feeling intimately. It’s easy to lose yourself when so many relationships can travel into the mercurial dimensions of uncertainty and unsafety. When someone doesn’t know who they are, but they present that they do, it can be really confusing for porous or empathic people to trust themselves, especially if they have been forever encouraged to trust others. Herein lies one cycle—not having boundaries means you are forever permeable to somebody else’s whim.

I think recognizing that I was always just reacting to someone else’s needs or life or temperament that when I realized I could just live for myself (WOW?) my own boundaries all of a sudden kicked into place. But it really just took like looking around the room and being like, “Most of these people have no idea who they are… why am I listening to them, over me?” Because I have always preferred to be liked (over being threatening) I just existed in other people’s expectations. It felt safer to have a narrative that I liked giving more than to interrogate whether or not that was true. I forever admitted to anyone that would listen that I liked giving more but then, privately, was always confused when I felt depleted by my life. Something wasn’t adding up.

I blamed it on my Aquarius Venus (hello yes, we out here) and assumed my aloofness was a character trait… not anything like a, I don’t know, trauma response??? Imagine if my aloofness was just a way to safeguard my heart because it’d been broken so many times in the past (Venus in the 8th, Cancer Moon in the 1st). I know, I’m so corny but it’s true. I feel like my life hardened me. When I think back to my childhood it’s hard to think of where that me went, where did that beautiful, liberated child go? See that’s the thing right, when you think back to your life and you can’t account for all the darkness, all those voids you hid in so you wouldn’t have to face yourself. But maybe it’s also so we don’t have to face others—so we don’t have to pay attention to what really runs people.

Many of us learn how to be in relationship through osmosis. Usually, we develop these skills in childhood — and through these interactions, we also learn how to respond to things. These early interactions also determine how confident we feel, how we understand ourselves in group dynamics, how we compute and show love, those important life things, and critical realities you face as you get older. When that early life is violent, ruptured by constant disruption, it then becomes harder to understand what is safe ground. Everything feels bumpy, in fact, the bumpiness, in its own way, feels like safety.

Often in moments of abuse, you are forced to separate from your true self, this splintering, which occurs through disassociation, means that parts of ourselves become irrevocably lost—unless we choose to identify and then retrieve them. What if our lost selves were made up of all the times we compromised ourselves? All the times we didn’t stand up for our needs. Aren’t boundaries just determining your own needs and then defending them for yourself?

It took me getting into my thirties to accept that no one owed me anything… just as I didn’t owe anybody anything, either. I show up with integrity and hope for that in return but I committed myself to my first boundary when I began to understand that I had control over who I let into my periphery, who I let into my precious, sacred life. If people continue to show you that they can’t really hold you — and that’s not a judgment, sometimes people can’t meet you where you’re at, that’s real — it just needs to be acknowledged. If it’s not, two parties are constantly feeling like they’re missing each other like ships in the night, neither feeling totally held or safe in the relationship. Eventually, I had to ask myself: if I was building a sanctuary, who was in my immediate surroundings, and shouldn’t that reflect safety? As well as consistency? Sometimes, children who were raised in violence need to be told that there are possibilities where that kind of pain doesn’t have to exist in their immediate surroundings anymore. With the life I’ve had, my nerve endings raw from the shrill sounds of early childhood violence, I can’t be in relationships that are explosive, or where I am constantly questioning if I’m truly held in a situation. I need vulnerability, I realized very recently. I need someone to show me their heart as much as I show my own because, otherwise, I withdraw as I don’t feel safe.

So, I asked myself, were the closest people I let into my life invested in my peace? Could they see the light, but still hold the darkness? My first boundary was acknowledging that if nobody was going to look after me, I had to learn my own damn needs for my own damn self. And then… I would have to say them out loud to people…

…which is the part that sucks :(

womp womp wommmmmp

I recently finished reading Bethany Webster’s Discovering The Inner Mother which is a fucking wild and incredible book. I interviewed Bethany for Studio Ānanda a couple of months ago (we also have a podcast with her coming out as well…soon! We are relaunching in August after taking some rest to recalibrate but I’m really excited to share what’s coming up!!!) and it just blew my mind to speak to her and to read such a concise book about this deep, pulsating wound that is the mother wound.

And no surprises, she has one entire chapter on boundaries ‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️

(enter intense music)

After examining how her own life took a dark turn when she decided to confront her mother over her own unmet needs, Webster writes, “She seemed unable to take responsibility for the pain she may have caused me and invested considerable effort in trying to convince me how wrong I was.” She later adds, “What was being slowly revealed, however, was that my family’s definition of “love” was not the same as my own. To them, love seemed to mean enduring abuse silently, pushing things under the rug, forgetting your own pain, and putting on a happy face. Love meant denial. Love meant silence. Love meant keeping secrets. And ultimately, love meant abandonment of self.”

Abandonment of self. I didn’t know that’s what not having boundaries was—forgetting myself, not factoring in my emotions, my feelings. Believing everyone, instead, thinking that I was too much and that the only appropriate thing I could offer was diluted versions of myself, fragmented and censored parts of myself, instead of the whole stinking hot thing. I want so badly to be held in it all, to find a shoulder, but these days the reality that that person could just be myself… that in the image of where I do that, wherever I am, wouldn’t it be marvelous to feel so held by my own self because I honor my time, my energy, my love, my heart — and understand how precious it is that I give those things so openly. However, with that comes the price of knowing not everyone can meet you there. Perhaps the second boundary I’ve learned is not letting people betray you more than once.

I can’t express how many times I repeat the old Zora Neale Hurston adage — “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.” My boundary, now, is understanding that I can keep myself safe. If I notice danger, shadiness, shitty behavior, I’m out of there. “If people want to have the privilege of being in your life, that privilege must be earned by treating you with consideration and respect, writes Webster, “As you emerge into greater self-worth and set new boundaries, the people who in the past have felt entitled to a place in your life may protest or object, unconsciously seeking to instill a sense of guilt or obligation in you, perhaps calling you ungrateful or selfish for holding your boundaries firm.”

I hate it when anyone feels entitled to my time. I think I’ve realized it’s a pet peeve. It’s also just wild because anyone who reads this newsletter (and many of you do, hi) should know that I’m tired and that I’m constantly working while having real money constraints and yet people still reach out for free labor all the time. These days I pay attention — I pay attention to who reaches out and when; I notice who asks me for favors but never asks me how I’m doing; when people write in with questions or asking me to post things on IG or wherever, and though I’m sure it’s sincere — it makes me feel dead inside because of how many people assume I’m just a commodity, just another person online with a certain reach. It’s obvious who really listens to you, who really observes and then cares... there are so many people who won’t care, who will always make you feel bad for choosing yourself because you didn’t choose them… even though the fact that you began to even choose yourself is a fucking miracle.

It shows me how far we really have to go to have true community. When people stop engaging with you as a real person and only as someone online, it’s scary. I’m not mad, I’m just taking note. My third boundary is acknowledging what I see when people show themselves without any judgment. I always endeavor to remain open to changing my mind, letting people have off days, months, years — but when it comes to me, my third boundary is about trusting my instinct and enforcing what I need to protect my heart.

A lot of my initial enforcement of boundaries this year wasn’t a conscious decision on my end. At first, it was a ceremony with grandmother ayahuasca that revealed what was really going on, that people’s projections were creating difficult realities for me, namely one where I was forever the person managing others, with no one to tend to my needs. Even then, whenever I seemed to have a need, I was met with other person’s frustration that I even asked… as if I was greedy for even asking. So, because I don’t really enjoy conflict, and am a natural mediator, and because I didn’t really mind if “I gave more” (or so I told myself) I kept feeling like I was giving too much (uh no shit) and then inevitably feeling let down by others and the incapacity of my own needs being met by some of those closest to me. Sometimes it’s a huge act of love to see someone for their shortcomings and to release them from your expectation, and at the same time understand (and remain firm on) what your needs are in any given situation.

A boundary is knowing where you begin and end, it’s knowing what is yours and what is anothers’, it’s understanding your value is not determined by how you manage other’s and their needs, it’s about knowing your needs are equally important, vital, like lifeblood to your soul—so you deserve to prioritize them, you deserve to listen to them.

“Without firm boundaries, we can easily become enmeshed with others, causing us to emotionally caretake,” writes Webster, “be overly responsible, or neglect our own needs. When boundaries are too rigid, we isolate ourselves and push others away. Healthy boundaries are, “selectively permeable.” They are not too rigid or too loose. Rather, they are flexible and can be opened or firm when needed, much like a healthy cell.” I wish someone had told baby Fa, hey you, you don’t need to try so hard to be liked. You have value even when you aren’t giving your entire soul to another person. You deserve to slow down, to give that love to yourself, to funnel that extra love back into yourself and to feel held by yourself, first. You are a generous being, you deserve to feel that generosity as well.

My boundaries kicked into place when I realized I was worth protecting. I was worth savoring. Sometimes it’s OK to say hey I’m too tender for this bullshit. I just want to smoke weed, read books, watch Luca and just call it a goddamn day. I don’t want confusing relationships so I refuse to let them in now. I want all interpersonal relationships to be filled with love, gentleness, accountability, integrity, with a buffer of care that is unconditional.

Where is unconditional love? I know that’s the love I give, and that’s the love I want in return.

I guess my biggest biggest realization, really really, was knowing that my heart is sooooooooooooooooooo big and if people aren’t going to trust it, or they’re going to hurt it to test how far the love expands, or if they’re entitled to any of it without ever expressing the largeness of how much I give, without ever saying, wow baby Fa you came this far? If they can’t see, if they can’t hold, that everything was ripped from me and that all I am doing is trying to land back into the safety of myself, if they can’t see how much that hurts, how painful and lonely it is, and if then they can’t just lend you softness… then that’s OK. I will always be vulnerable, open, tender — I’m no longer hard because I realized hardness is a defense, it’s trauma. Working through ~ moving through ~ pain is coming out on the other end and realizing that sometimes we can only be our truest selves when we can feel safe in ourselves and that safety can be acquired through boundary-making. Through trusting ourselves, our bodies, our own internal psychic mechanisms that have been silenced… we can communicate to these distant parts of ourselves and begin by making contact, by reaching out and telling that interior part of ourselves, I trust you, because I trust myself. Then when it reveals itself, listen to what it shows you…

Boundaries; know what is yours. Let’s begin.

How To Cure A Ghost is a free (almost) weekly newsletter. If you find value in what I write and read this regularly, please consider financially supporting its creation by becoming a paid subscriber or Venmo or PayPal me. If you find value in what I write but can’t financially support its creation, please share.