One of the most important things you can do from an emotional and spiritual perspective to begin healing autoimmune and other diseases is to establish good boundaries. Yet many of us find ourselves shackled to the opinions and expectations of others, hindered by a deeply ingrained fear of invoking anger. Life is a journey of self-discovery, and to navigate it wisely, we must set boundaries that honor the integrity of our souls. This article aims to guide you toward the empowering practice of setting boundaries without being held captive by the fear of other people’s reactions.
The Sacred Space of Self
Boundaries are not just invisible lines; they are the sacred spaces where your spirit breathes freely, nurtured by the values and principles that define you. Setting a boundary is an act of self-love, a statement to the Universe that says, “I am deserving of respect, and I honor the Divine in me by respecting myself.”
Understanding the Energetics of Anger
Anger is an energy, a vibration that can either consume us or teach us. When we step back to look at anger from a higher perspective, we recognize its dual nature—it can act as a barrier, but it can also serve as a catalyst for change and growth. While the anger of others may seem frightening, our own anger—stemming from feelings of being marginalized, trampled upon, or victimized—can ignite a transformative journey of change and self-compassion.
The Fear That Holds Us Back
Why does the potential to provoke someone’s anger paralyze our ability to set healthy boundaries? The answer often lies in old scripts, stories we’ve been told or that we tell ourselves about the dire consequences of displeasing others. If others’ anger was a terrifying experience in your younger years, it’s time to rewrite those scripts and replace fear with the courage to fully express ourselves.
The Cost of Living Without Boundaries
When we fail to set boundaries, we pay a high price. We not only betray our true selves, but also compromise our emotional, mental, and even physical health. This neglect drains our life force, much like a river losing its vitality as its banks erode. Remember, you can rebuild those banks; you have the power to direct the course of your life.
Embrace the Divine Courage Within You
Overcoming the fear of setting boundaries is not a one-time event; it’s a journey. It involves continuously aligning your life with the values that uplift your soul. Wisdom traditions teach us that courage is not the absence of fear, but the recognition that something else is more important than fear. That ‘something’ is finding and expressing your authentic self.
Practical Steps for Spiritual Empowerment
- Begin Small: Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Start by setting smaller, manageable boundaries and build from there.
- Speak Your Truth: Clearly articulate your needs and limits. Use “I am” statements to affirm your own experiences and perspectives.
- Respond to Others with Love and Firmness: It’s inevitable that some people will react unfavorably to your boundaries. When this happens, it’s crucial to stay rooted in your own truth, responding with a firm yet loving demeanor. Understand that their reactions are more about them than about you; hold onto your inner peace.
Your life is a sacred journey, and setting boundaries is an integral part of that journey. The fears and obstacles you face are not barriers; they are lessons that must be learned to live in harmony with your true self. You have the power to turn fear into freedom and transform your life into an empowering affirmation of who you really are. I believe in you. Now, it’s time for you to believe in yourself.
When I first started the study of energy healing, I took a course on the Chinese 5-element theory. The 5 elements represent a cyclic, spiral growth cycle that you can see everywhere around you, from the cells in your body to the creation of new galaxies. Each of the elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) has different qualities attached to it and one of those qualities is that each has a unique emotion.
Fire —> Joy
Earth —> Contentment
Metal —> Grief
Water —> Fear
Wood —> Anger
After we learned about this cycle, my teacher, Ka’imi, asked us, “What do you think is the most spiritual emotion?”
As dutiful students of spiritual growth, we all answered, “Joy!” or “Contentment!” for these are what we are often (mistakenly) told are the signposts of a highly evolved life.
Our teacher paused and said, “I disagree. The most spiritual emotion is anger.”
We were all confused. Anger? How can that be spiritual? Wars are started by angry men. Our society is divided by people who are angry with “the other side.” How can anger be the most spiritual of all the emotions?
He went on to explain, “Our job here as spiritual beings having a human experience is to grow. We are here to experience change over the course of a lifetime, to continue through this cycle over and over again. Anger is what we feel when something gets in our way, or blocks our path forward, and therefore it causes us to take big action. Anger has the most forward motion of any of the emotions in this cycle. Anger is what generates the most growth in the shortest amount of time.”
I think he was right. If we take a look at how the 5-element emotional cycle works, we can get a more clear view of how this works.
We’ll start with contentment. Let’s say you’re in a good place, and nothing in your life is really going wrong at the moment. You have a place to live, food to eat, good people in your life and a way of making money that isn’t making you feel terrible all the time.
But then, something changes and with change, there’s always grief and loss. Maybe your best friend moves to a new town. Or you hurt your knee and can’t do your favorite activity anymore. Or maybe you get a new boss at work who starts to micromanage you. You feel the sadness of losing something that had brought you joy. Things have changed and there’s a part of you that misses the way they were before.
In the depth of this grief, you start to feel fear. What if I never find a friend with who I can have the same type of close relationship? What if I’m stuck in this job I don’t like anymore because I need the paycheck? What if I can never do long hikes again because of my knee? We become afraid of never feeling happy again and we worry that we’ll be stuck here in this unhappy new reality forever.
This is where a lot of people get stuck, bouncing back and forth between sadness and worry. We feel the loss of what we once had, and then get stuck in the fear of never having it again, or that things will get even worse from here and we’ll never get back to contentment again.
But if you can harness that fear and sadness, if you can look at the parts of yourself with which you’re discontent and say, “That’s it! I’m not going to take this anymore! I don’t know how, but I’m going to make some changes so that I can get back to feeling joy!” then you, my friend, have accessed sacred anger.
For many of us, it was unsafe to express anger in our families of origin and so we check ourselves when that starts to bubble up, and revert back to fear and sadness. For others, we learned how to access the surge of energy and emotion that comes from anger but we don’t know how to do the deep shadow work to move from anger to joy, so we stay stuck bouncing between anger and fear.
So here’s how to do the hard part, friends. Here’s how to move from fear and anger to joy.
Most of the elements of this cycle happen without our input — we’re coasting along (contentment) things change (loss), and then we worry that we’ll never feel safe and happy again (fear), then we feel disgruntled at this new unhappy reality (beginning of anger). Those all happen without much energy or planning on our part.
When you find yourself stuck in worry, fear or discontentment, you need to do 2 things:
- Look at where you’re feeling the loss. What emotional nutrient are we lacking that’s making us sad? It may be something we had and lost, or something we never had in the first place but have always longed for. Some examples may be love, care, safety, inspiration, joy, unconditional positive regard, or zen.
- Give yourself permission to feel worthy of this emotional nutrient. This is where shadow work and reparenting can be particularly effective. (I teach a whole class on this If you need more strategies here!)
Here’s a little science secret about your nervous system — you don’t actually get the most happiness from having what you want (contentment). You feel the most happiness when you are working to reach that goal (joy). This is why in the 5 element theory joy is the “fire” element— it’s the period where we’re using that inner fire to create better circumstances, develop better relationships, and allow ourselves to know through our own actions that we’re worthy of this type of abundance.
Once we have identified the loss and given ourselves unconditional permission to have an abundance of whatever we deeply need, then we can tap into anger and joy. The anger is that unwillingness to stay in fear or sadness and the joy is the fire we use to make the changes we need to get back to place of contentment.
Okay, confession time — I really should have said there were three things you should do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment. But this is where the fire metaphor becomes complicated.
Yes, we need fire to grow. Fire is a key component of life. But fire also destroys. And the hardest thing we must do in moving from anger to joy is realize that to get to a new level of joy, we might have to burn it all down.
The third thing you need to do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment is to embrace Kali energy.
Kali is a hindu goddess, often called “the goddess of destruction and creation.” The idea here is that nothing new can be created until the old has been destroyed to create space for the new. Just as the new leaves on a tree cannot grow in spring until the old ones have died and decomposed in autumn and winter, we cannot invite in new joy until we have destroyed the old patterns that no longer serve us. This is exactly why anger must precede joy — we have to become SO ANGRY at how things are, that we’re willing to burn it all down to find a new way of being. But burning it all down is terrifying (I mean, just look at the depictions of Kali. Yikes!) and we can’t harness that amount of courage from a place of fear, we must harness it through anger. We have to use the fire of anger to move forward, to a new more advanced way of being and accept the destruction of anything that no longer serves us in the process.
Many of us take that anger and try to move backwards, to the last time we were content. But growth doesn’t happen backwards, and true courage isn’t about fighting for what feels familiar, it’s about fighting for what you need for your next level of evolution.
Remember, the Phoenix only rose from the ashes after the fire had killed it. Kali only destroys things so that new paradigms and new ideas can grow in that place. Anger only works if we are willing to dive into the unknown, the darkness, and trust that our next level of joy will come from what we find after we’ve totally transformed our way of being, destroying what no longer serves us in the process.
Remember, “everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear,” and anger is the sacred fuel to get you there.
So, what’s so important to you that you’re willing to go into the shadow to get it? What circumstance, belief system, or way of being is having you become so sick that you’re willing to burn the whole thing down so you can find out what will grow there instead? What artifice of safety, security or familiarity are you willing to let go of so you can find your true self, your eternal self, in the place beyond?
You know what? Sometimes I’m the a-hole.
I’ve been the one driving along, thinking of the things I need to get done, and I almost miss my exit. I realize this about two seconds before the exit has passed, so I look to my right and too quickly swerve into the tiny space between two cars. If it’s a good day, maybe I had time to use my turn signal.
Yup. I’m the a-hole. I just cut someone off. I’m sure the person in the car behind me is yelling a multitude of profanities my way (I would know for sure if I weren’t doing everything in my power to avoid making eye contact with them in my rear view mirror) and I probably deserve it.
We all make mistakes. I like to think of them as lessons. Or maybe “teachable moments.” In Cherie Scott’s Ten Rules for Being Human, she states that, “You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called “life”. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or hate them, but you have designed them as part of your curriculum. Growth is a process of experimentation, a series of trials, errors, and occasional victories. The failed experiments are as much as a part of the process as the experiments that work.”
What’s the lesson in being an a-hole? It’s empathy. The next time someone cuts me off and almost causes an accident, my first reaction will be visceral and I’ll be scared and angry. But after a moment, I’ll remember that time a few weeks earlier when I was stressed, late, almost missed my exit, and I was the one who swerved into the exit lane at the last minute.
This is true for any situation where someone has made me angry. If I think back, there was most likely a time where I did something similar to someone else. It might have been because I was stressed, I wasn’t thinking of how my actions might adversely affect someone else, or because I was acting from a place of fear or self-doubt.
There have been many times when I’ve inadvertently made someone upset. At these times, I need to practice self-compassion and forgive myself for making a mistake. There have also been a few times when out of my own hurt or anger, I’ve done it on purpose. I’m not proud of that, but it’s mine and I own it. For those times, I forgive myself, too. In those moments, it’s harder to practice self-compassion, but it’s even more important. I’m human, I have feelings, and they’re not always puppies and moonbeams.
I try to learn from the times that I’m the a-hole. Rather than get angry the next time someone does something thoughtless or mean, I try to put myself in his or her shoes. Maybe they just got fired. Or dumped. Maybe they don’t have anyone on their life that can show them how to be kind and loving and so they just don’t know how. Maybe they are just human, doing the best they can, and we stepped into a sticky moment of one of their life lessons. Whatever the reason, I do my best to forgive them. Because there will be a time when I’m the a-hole and when I am, I want you to forgive me, too.
What experiences in your life have given you greater empathy? I’d love to know and share them here! Post your story in the comments below.
In every relationship, you are going to make each other angry. Through thoughtlessness, naiveté, and ignorance, we are all going to flub it up with our partners every now and again.
How do you know if you should bring it up? If you mention every little thing that irritates you, it will quickly devolve the relationship into a paranoid bickering match. But if you bottle things up, they will eventually come out in a messy, gargantuan tirade and may spell the end of the relationship.
Fortunately, I’ve found a middle ground.
When my sweetie does something that irritates me, I check in with myself using the five-year rule. I ask myself, “Will I remember this incident in five years?” If the answer is yes, then it’s something I want to address with him. If the answer is no, then I let myself be angry (on my own) for as long as I need to get it through my system and then I forget it. If it’s not something that I will even remember happened in five years, how important can it be?
The odd occasion when the dishes are left in the sink? I won’t remember that in five years. That weird, nerdy thing he said to my friend at a dinner party last week? I won’t remember that in five years. The mud tracked in when he was working in the yard? Nope, I won’t remember that in five years either.
When he said that I’m not as good about exercising as he is? Ouch. Um, yeah, I’ll remember that in five years so it’s time for a talk, buddy.
It may be that as a mental exercise, you’ll need to start with a ten-year rule or an eight-year rule. Make it however much time would have to pass before you’d look back on the incident and either laugh at it or not even remember it happened. Then test it out. How does it feel to let things go? Do they simmer for weeks inside you or do you move on faster than you would have thought?
Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried this and how it works for you! Remember as Buddha wisely said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping at a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at somebody else; you are the one who gets burned.”