Heart Opening and Boundaries

Any time energy centers develop blocks, it’s always for a good reason. The arrangement and flow of the energy body is ideally suited to meet one’s environmental conditions and is adaptive in nature, but sometimes we retain certain patterns of movement even as our conditions change. The energetic blueprint of the body works just like energy in any other context: it follows the path of least resistance. I also think of the physics principle that an object in motion stays in motion, or what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Without question— energetic stagnancy, overactive patterns and lack of opportunity for release and recalibration can create problems for us.

When the energetic space of the heart is stagnant, closed/overly boundaried, or unpredictable it can cause a lot of difficulty, especially in our relationships. It becomes hard to receive love, hard to give love, hard to grieve, and hard to play. The answer isn’t simply to focus on opening, but to ask ourselves why the heart space “closed off,” what needs to happen or change to allow softening and flow, and contemplate which boundaries still have a purpose to serve (and how you will know when those boundaries are needed) and which are ready to be transformed into something new.

No amount of protection is worth walking around with a totally closed heart.
 In my opinion the cost of that self-protection is too high, and yet it’s not great to walk around with an open wound either. The healing that is needed may take time. Opening happens as a natural extension of healing and can’t be forced. Probably at some point after working to soften these old wounds you’ll get burned badly and remember that sometimes hard boundaries, even shielding, are necessary. In fact the more sensitive and open you are, the more important it becomes to be able to quickly pivot and protect your energy when it’s impinged upon.

The term “psychic attack” as described by Dion Fortune is common parlance in the new age speak. Some of what she speaks to really is more “paranormal” in nature, but this manifestation is (fortunately!) not terribly common. What IS common is ordinary impingement of boundaries by people who are unaware of their energy, and driven by ego needs. In psychology we might describe these effects as projection and introjection, as well as splitting and triangulation.

Internal conflicts, or energy that is not flowing in an optimal way, prompts us to seek release. Psychic energy, in both a psychological and mystical sense, needs an outlet when it becomes pressurized or stagnant. If we don’t have conscious awareness, we seek that outlet unconsciously. (What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?) And usually it happens in a way that allows it to be observed as occurring outside of the self, because this brings temporary relief — “oh good, that’s not me it’s you.” In a relational sense this is an origin point of challenging habits such as gossiping behavior, “stirring the pot” and causing conflicts between two other people, accusing other people of feeling how you actually feel, or behaving in a way which produces that feeling you’re trying to get rid of IN the other person. To give a few examples. These methods of discharging inner conflict into other people and situations move the intolerable feeling outside of the body and can become so routine they almost seem to be a personality.

On the energetic level a similar dynamic plays out, and can continue even if you’re not in close enough contact for those “physical manifestations” to occur.
When you approach the world with an open heart, you are sending a lot of your energy out around you, and at least temporarily people who are in a state of conflict (inner and outer) will be attracted to this coherence. It’s important to be aware that your energy, your love, your caring awareness is a gift to others. And when we are abundant in it we can and should give it freely. But we also need to be prepared to shield ourselves when we become the recipient of someone else’s energetic release, negative preoccupations, rejections and insecurities. We can be both open, and have boundaries as the same time. Our ability to be open requires developing tolerance of those times of impingement (not overreacting). Our ability to safely keep the heart open in situations that are potentially hazardous requires excellent boundaries (not under-reacting).

There’s so much pain in the world, so much unbearable injustice and violence, it’s unwise cultivate an open heart without finding ways to protect yourself from those who will not treat it tenderly. Frankly, it’s seems an impossible task sometimes. These last few weeks have brought so many reminders that with heart opening comes heart breaking. But cultivating flow and vibrancy in our own energy is one of the only places where we do exercise quite a bit of control. We can’t control what will happen outside of us but we can decide how to react to those moments. We can notice when our instinct is to shut down and ask ourselves how to soften, if we are willing to soften. Our ability to soften allows us to receive love when we need it most.  We can also be aware of when we may be projecting our own conflicts onto those around us and shield others from our inner discord.

I also want to say that “soft” is not the opposite of tough. You can have an open heart and be strong as hell. You can cultivate a deep tenderness and compassion for others and also know when to not take shit. Sometimes that love requires telling hard truths, and sometimes it asks us to mind our business.
I think anyone reading who’s had a serious intimate relationship, romantic or platonic, knows that when things get deep they also can get gritty and painful. Risking pain is the cost of admission in intimate relationships; when people matter to you and you matter to them either of you can get really hurt.
Self-love is no less gritty or painful at times.
 Knowing when to surrender (ie accept what you cannot change) and when to gather your strength and keep struggling forward can be a painful inquiry. This relationship to yourself, your core spirit essence, your ego mind, your expression of personality, and your constellation of experiences requires learning to hold all of those same difficult feelings we have with external relationships: disappointment, betrayal, fear of abandonment, heartache, loneliness, fear, annoyance, shame, and TRUST.
And yet it is the only relationship in our lives where we have the power to influence ALL sides.

Talking about self-love can be a bit cringe-y for some. In general these things are cringe-y if you don’t feel it in your body. I’m not saying that’s you, but it was definitely me. For most of my life I thought I had self-love but it was actually a highly conditional type of love. That’s pretty common when you have an extremely narcissistic parent, you learn that your ability to receive love (or at least approval) is based on your ability to make other people feel good about themselves. You also learn that this “love” is fleeting and requires constant maintenance in the form of: achievement, emotional caretaking, mastery of suppressing unwanted emotions, and keeping any messiness or insecurity deep inside. I learned early on that anxiety especially needed to held in. Becoming a relentless critic of myself, always striving but never really getting there was a profound and effective form of self-protection. If I never felt proud of myself or good enough then no one could strike me down because I was already on the ground. But I also created a mask that projected total confidence, and took actions like a person who believed they could do anything. Like many masks, after a while I forgot it wasn’t the real thing.
I loved myself the same way I had received it, sparingly and with little fanfare.

Entering my adulthood I thought that was all you could expect to get in life. When I received attention or care that looked different that what I had previously experienced I was suspicious, feeling manipulated rather than adored. While I did have other supportive significant others before my current partnership, I also hid much of myself. So even as I did experience deep tenderness that lurking feeling “but what if they knew everything about me?” meant that it was only skin deep.

Like a lot of people who go to graduate school for therapy, it really pulled the rug out from underneath me. Too much revealed all at once, a gaping open wound. I worked primarily with severely traumatized and mistreated children, and while I know I displayed a preternatural talent for connecting with the kids hardest to reach (it takes one to know one), on an unconscious level it was more of a search and rescue mission. Except that as much meaningful change as I facilitated for those children and sometimes families it didn’t heal my broken heart.
Therapy helped a lot, for sure. It took the better part of a decade to untangle all the gaslighting and learn set healthy boundaries. But for whatever reason that piece about the internal relationship never really moved into focus, my tendency to be overboundaried was validated rather than challenged. I suspect I had gotten so good at presenting myself a certain way that even in therapy it was sort of a secret, one that became harder and harder to admit. When you’re an accomplished person, generally likeable and seemingly open, it can be hard to come clean with people. Maybe you can relate? It’s hard when you’ve been working on recovering from certain adversities and trauma for a long time to acknowledge that it still really hurts. It’s hard to know that after all that intellectual processing and awareness that self-love is more of an inside job that needs to be navigated through your body.

My first experience with Breathwork laid this bare for me— that I had been seriously kidding myself if I thought that I just loved myself unconditionally. In fact I had a lot of conditions and metrics I evaluated myself by and if I didn’t meet those expectations the self-rejection was swift and brutal. What were all these emotions and shame in my body?? Many of you know that Breathwork can sure bring on the tears, and it was intense enough to break through all those walls. It was years of regular practice before the intensity started to slow. That experience of building tension, releasing, and settling into a sense of connectedness created a map for what that unconditional love could feel like, that it was possible.

I’m not talking entirely past tense here! While I’m here as some living proof that you can learn to love yourself differently (unconditionally and ruthlessly), that energetic loop of perfectionism is still there and it lashes out fairly often. Much a like a marriage, progress seems more about being able to realize when you’ve overreacted/lashed out at yourself and initiate a repair, rather than never making mistakes. That’s a piece of combatting perfection too; not holding your own healing or growth as a person as a process that should move ever upward in a straight line. Those tides have ebbs and flows, such as emotions do when you don’t suppress them.

Thank you for listening to my share.

Heart opening looks different for each person, but it hold similarities. I’ve come to believe that a core foundation must be this relationship with yourself. It creates an anchor that is in your sphere of influence, even as it takes willingness to cultivate this love and connection. For all the wellness talk about how if you have negativity in your life you may be attracting it with your own unresolved issues— I’m here to tell you that vibrancy “attracts” the negative element just as much. Which is to say negativity, unhealthy people and relationships, and obstacles are OUT THERE and there’s nothing wrong with you that attracts them or doesn’t. Sure, people are attracted to what they see as emotionally compatible traits. But you can’t “heal so good” that you are protected from life.

What you can do is learn to trust yourself, and to love yourself enough to make the best decisions you can even when they are hard. Again, just like in relationships with others, conflicts allow intimacy and trust to grow. Finding this inner anchor allows us to be able to take great risks (to find great rewards) in our intimacy with others. Tolerating moments of missattunement or rejection, is easier when it doesn’t shake you all the way to the core. Knowing that you’re worthy of love makes it easier to admit when we’ve made mistakes and work to correct them. Navigating life with a more open heart becomes easier when we can see our experiences as forms of learning, making adjustments as we continue to grow, allowing that growth to take the time that it takes.

In what ways do you love yourself conditionally and unconditionally?

What does that love feel like?

Reflect on your closest relationships, in times of conflict or crisis to you tend towards being over-boundaried or under-boundaried?

Has that changed during your life?

What could change about your life if you cared for yourself more unconditionally?

What could change in your life if you opened your heart more to others?

One response to “Heart Opening and Boundaries”

  1. […] for AND accept all those versions, including those who are troublesome or hard to understand. Unconditional self-love is the antidote to shame. Self-love is not in opposition with accountability; loving […]


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