So often, what we most appreciate about ourselves is our light. But our darkness is equally valuable. It is the great teacher and the place where all possibility begins. Many ancient cultures, when expressing their Creation myths, agree that life begins in darkness. It is the place of pure potential, the moment before creation, the silence before the speech, the darkness before the coming of the light. This is a great metaphor for our experience. It is also the reality of our experience. We learn the most valuable lessons about ourselves by exploring our darkness. We step into our greatest courage by being willing to see our shadow as well as our light. We step into our greatest power by being willing to embrace the shadow and hold onto ourselves as we move through our transformations. But so often we fear our shadow so much that we never venture into this realm.
What is so frightening about the shadow is that it is the landscape of our rejected parts. These are the parts of ourselves that get shoved into the shadowy realms of the Soul when we experience the negative projections of others, especially of our parents, teachers, and other significant authority figures and systems during our younger years. The irony is, the shadow often holds our greatest gifts. They live there in a state of virtual limbo, or as unconscious motivation that often undermines us, until we are able to shed some light on the rejected parts, see their value, reclaim them, and make them allies rather than enemies. Another way to look at it is, this undermining clues us in to what needs to be seen with compassion rather than with judgment, named, claimed, and made our own. Working with these rejected parts is like planting seeds that will eventually lead to abundant harvest as we continue to grow and nurture this new growth.
The third principle of personal power is Attention to Boundaries
A boundary is the understanding of where you end and another person begins. It has to do with awareness around our own wounds and with being able to recognize the projections of others. With knowing what is yours and what is not. When we are conscious at this level, we are more able to establish and maintain boundaries that lessen the possibility that we will be controlled by something outside of ourselves. This control usually manifests as emotional reaction to something projected onto us by another person, group, or structure OR as a cascade of thoughts that undermine our own sense of Self.
Healthy boundaries are permeable. They are not fixed and isolating. They give us freedom to dance gracefully through life and enable healthy, life-giving relationships. They are respectful to the Self and to the Other. A major threat to our boundaries is projection, our own and that of others.
The simplest way to establish a boundary is to say, "No."
"No, I am not selfish for wanting to nurture myself." "No, I am not deficient simply because I refuse to give myself away." "No, I am not controlling because I exercise agency in my own life." "No, there is nothing wrong with me because I am being my authentic self." "No, I am not a bad person because I am not perfect. Sure, I have some work to do on myself -- and it's okay -- it is part of what it means to be human."
And by saying, "Yes."
"Yes, I will nurture my need for some time by myself even if that disappoints my friend." "Yes, I will give myself a break today and accept that my efforts are not only good enough, but good." "Yes, I will live authentically, even if something about me triggers another person's wound. That is their work to do, not mine." "Yes, I will see the good in myself and be loving toward myself."
Another kind of projection that undermines us and sabotages our relationships is our own projections onto others. The idea is the same as I describe for projections onto us, except that this time we are projecting our rejected parts onto others. This can lead to isolation in relationships as we are rejected by someone with healthy boundaries or as we drain the energy of others whose boundaries are also unhealthy and who leave without knowing why but knowing that they must. Worse, yet, are relationships where both people are not consciously aware of their wounds and do continual mental, spiritual, and emotional violence to each other and never understand why the relationship is failing. Only awareness around our internalized wounds and conscious self-work will enable us to establish respectful, yet permeable, boundaries.
Establishing these kinds of boundaries within the Self and within our relationships opens the way to freedom. It brings limits that actually increase our personal freedom and our personal power, while encouraging authentic intimacy, as we give ourselves permission to be authentic and to require those with whom we are in relationship to respect us and the limits we set within relationships. All relationships are negotiated, and so people who are healthy in their thinking and emotions navigate this challenging process of mutually life-giving boundary setting with the understanding that there is give and take in relationships.
How do we do this in a relationship? We talk to each other, share our thoughts and feelings authentically, listen deeply to ourselves and to others, are willing to give as well as to receive. To show respect as well as to require it. What we are looking for in relationships is creating balance so that we can protect ourselves while letting others in. Core to our ability to establish and maintain effective boundaries is the ability to voice ourselves. This is the fourth principle of personal power, which we will discuss in the next post.