Love & Limits: An Open Heart Has Edges
[Orginally published at: womens-plaza.com on 3/21/16]
A few years ago I was teaching a dance class at a high-end fitness club. During a break between songs, something caught my eye. I turned to watch as a woman just outside of the window seemed to be running in slow motion. Shirt stained with sweat, her cheeks were flushed a brilliant red. She moved as if traipsing through quicksand. As she labored on I noticed she was harnessed to something just outside my line of sight. Her face contorted and she summoned the strength to propel herself forward - desperately tethered, yet just as fiercely committed. Just as the students in class turned to look, her personal trainer - a young man at the other end of her rope - came into view. He leaned back against her might and looked almost-bored as he literally resisted her call to action.
“Wow. That looks a lot like my last relationship.” The words spilled forth and, before I could process my regret, the room full of women erupted in laughter. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
While a certain degree of tension is to be expected in relationship, there may be times when we find ourselves pulling more than our share of the weight. We get angry. Resentful. We want to blame others for dragging their heels in tandem with our efforts. What’s with them anyway? Why do they have to make everything so damned difficult?!
Yet perhaps a better question to ask is: What’s with you? While it may seem like a loving act to continually pull people where you think they need to go, in reality you’re not doing yourself or anyone any favors. Sacrificing vital energy in any direction that consistently opposes you will invariably breed resentment.
My colleagues at the Women’s Plaza have recently offered some great fodder related to the topic of power expression. Danielle delivered a pragmatic crash course on how to say no. And Glaucia presented a demystifying look at work inequalities at home. Now let’s examine what typically lies at the center of our self-sacrifice.
Most debilitating emotional tethers are a result of poor boundaries. If your back is breaking and your heart rate is up, your exhaustion may be an indicator that you have disowned your limits.
Sovereignty is the ability to honor and effectively express your edges. In our most intimate dealings, we often disown our boundaries for the sake of what we call unconditional love. In our efforts to be unselfish, we over-empathize and stop differentiating. We become unwilling to draw a line - to own or express our truth - because that isn’t what love would do.
Now I assure you, I am a big fan of love. Love is the connective tissue that binds our lives to one another. It is limitless, expansive. It reaches our hearts and minds into an emotional stratosphere that lies far beyond the immaterial.
Yet, like it or not, limits govern in a material world. Bypassing personal limits for the sake of love may be necessary from time to time; however, it is absolutely essential to our well-being that we don’t make a habit of it.
What would love do? Love will love, just as the wind will wind. A better question is: What will you do to honestly express your love AND your limits given the current conditions?
An open heart has edges. We must treat our emotional heart-space as we would any other muscle - allowing it to contract with regularity so it might develop the strength and elasticity to expand to its fullest potential.
Sovereignty takes practice. You can start now:
3 KEYS to SOVEREIGN SELF-EXPRESSION
Do I embody my right to be happy no matter what I am “doing”? Or do I hustle to prove myself, allowing the roles that I play and my performance therein to define my worth?
Embody your significance.
Live the confidence credo = “I matter.”
What’s mine and what isn’t? Do I allow the people I care about to tend to their own emotional experience? Or do I intervene, hoping to FIX it?
Allow others the consequences of their choices.
Habitual martyrdom only serves to disempower the people around you.
Am I comfortable expressing my needs? Or does the idea of setting boundaries scare me? Am I willing to unpack, sort through dysfunctional models, and find a more honest and vulnerable way to draw lines in relationship to others?
Together we can divorce the my-way-or-the-highway models we’ve long been fed and recreate a world where reciprocated vulnerability is a shared cultural value.
Healthy expression of sovereignty has perhaps never been more critical than it is today.
And it starts with you.