In the world of inner work and personal healing, boundaries are an inevitable aspect that is visited time and time again. We are first introduced to boundaries as toddlers during the early years of childhood development. Our experience of boundaries shape our ongoing relationship with ourselves and others from this point in life onwards.
The degree to which we become aware of and form a conscious consideration of boundaries, both personally and of others, is most observable in relationships. From a developmental perspective, as children we internalise the modelling we received from our primary caregivers, our parent(s), and subsequently learn the associated example of boundaries that were modelled for us.
If there was little to no consideration of boundaries specifically around care, compassion and relating with respect to one another the mutual dynamic between love and boundaries becomes skewed. There is great variance and other factors that go into the forming of healthy loving relationships. Yet this can show up in our adult life in all kinds of learned patterns of behaviour that range from healthy to unhealthy boundaries and the way we relate to, express, give and receive love.
Neurobiology plays a significant role in forming empathy, relatability as well as the socialised aspects demonstrated to us growing up from our primary caregivers. Whilst there is much to consider in the dynamic between love and boundaries, our relationships are one of the most vital aspects of well-being in life. Therefore, finding balance and harmony in relationships often connects to one’s sense and experience of love and boundaries.
The following article explores the mutual dynamic of love and boundaries in relationships; specifically through the lens of personal and intimate relationships.
What is the mutual dynamic between love and boundaries?
As infants we rely on our primary caregivers, our parent(s), to fulfil our needs; one of which is unconditional love. Empathy is an expression of love; it is the capacity to relate on a feeling level to another’s emotional experience. In order to feel safe a baby needs to feel secure and as early on as eye gazing, skin on skin touch and facial expressions are communicative cues that an infant is picking up on that reassures their security through the presence of the adult.
Neurobiology has found empathy to be a culmination of brain processes that relate to feeling states experienced by humans; intuitively, biologically, we feel what others feel. Empathy is nurtured over time and the primary years of childhood development are crucial for children developing empathy. The degree to which an individual feels empathy for others has a correlation to the expression of love.
During the early years parents are children’s role models too, which is how as children we learn from what was modelled to us. This includes the learned behaviours, emotional responses, habit patterns, beliefs about ourselves and the world, society, culture too. The role of a parent includes introducing and demonstrating healthy boundaries.
The mutual dynamic between love and boundaries is born through reciprocity; safety is key in the existence, expression and shared reciprocity between parent and child. The experience of feeling safe, through the continual feedback in relation to our environment, our internalisation of these experiences and the relationships we form in our external world contributes directly to our own sense of safety, security and well-being.
Self esteem reflects to some degree the love, care and kindness to oneself as well as the relatability to give and receive love in relationships too.
Feeling safe and secure in relationships
Patterns observed in adult attachment styles have shown that non-secure attachments formed during early infancy had lower life satisfaction, lower self love and high levels of fear relating to self compassion. The significance of which demonstrates that safe and secure attachments are vital for higher connections to love, self compassion and a fulfilling life.
However, if secure attachments were not the experience of an individual there are a multitude of modalities that seek to support, heal and transform individual needs for safe and secure attachments. Particularly for adults that recognise and desire to rewire previous childhood experiences into forming healthy relationships through a safe and secure attachment with themselves.
Neuroplasticity has lent support in research and healing practices with practical tools and techniques in rewiring learned thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. Early childhood experiences can be healed; including forming a new, secure attachment to the adult self, fulfilling the void, or non-secure attachment, that may have formed. Our brains are malleable and can be rewired to form new beliefs, habit patterns and awareness that support self compassion to integrate security within oneself too.
One such modality is parenting oneself and forming a safe, secure attachment with one’s inner child; the primary part of self that develops during childhood and later informs our adult life in ways beyond what we first may imagine. Bringing awareness to the importance of the role of love, self compassion and healthy boundaries in relationships is supported by parenting oneself and provides the opportunity for a new dynamic and relationship with the self to form.
In order to form love and boundaries in relationships one needs to feel safe and secure within themselves to enable healthy, secure, love and boundaries.
Bringing more love into relationships
Once a feeling of safety within has been created an observable shift occurs in outer relationships, particularly with those who we spend most time with; loved ones, family, partners, spouses, children. Inner child healing and learning to parent oneself by forming a secure internal attachment is paving the way to return to a sense of wholeness in regards to reforming healthy attachments as well as higher levels of love, self compassion and bringing greater satisfaction to life.
Boundaries are an integral part of this healing journey too. A mutual dynamic between love and boundaries begins to form once a secure attachment is experienced in oneself; they both need the other to form a trusted bond within. Lack of boundaries in relationships, often learned from what was modelled to us by our parents, results in our adult relationships repeating the same patterns and family dynamics that show up in our personal relationships.
Relationships are themselves dynamic; they evolve over time and if not they can stagnate. Issues arise which either repeat the same dysfunction over and over again (repeated arguments, predictable reactions), or one (or both) persons in the relationship work out the disconnect and return to a place of connection together once again. A healthy focus here is on the often overlooked power of repair.
Healthy relationships experience conflict and what keeps a relationship healthy and evolving is the way in which couples, partners and families repair the conflict. This involves an honouring of both love and boundaries for all parties involved.
Establishing healthy boundaries in relationships
The following are examples of boundaries in relationships to consider for healthy, functional relationships that honour both people mutually. These considerations are by no means the extensive list of all boundaries, however the intention is to highlight significant ones that may resonate to inspire and perhaps consider for your own relationships.
- Consent: asking permission to discuss something in particular that might be hard, challenging or expressing a need
- Communication: being open to express one’s true feelings and committing to showing up with honesty and integrity
- Empathising: recognising, acknowledging and creating space for one another’s feelings
- Safety: creating a space to be seen, heard and witnessed without judgement of self and the other
- Space: honouring both person’s need for autonomy and freedom within the relationship
- Respect: creating mutual space for values, perspectives, feelings and opinions that may differ
- Responsibility: owning actions by taking responsibility for things that have been agreed between both people to support each other in the relationship
- Gratitude: a mutual honouring and expressing love to each other by giving thanks; to yourself, your partner/spouse/person and may include a higher power (the Universe, God, Source, Spirit)
Enhance your well-being in relationships
Forming healthy, happy relationships that satisfy and meet one’s needs play a vital role in our well-being. The mutual dynamic between love and boundaries in relationships is weighted somewhat on the extent to which these were healthily modelled to us as children growing up. However, there are holistic healing modalities where healing and personal development can take place to rewrite what was learned into a narrative that better serves and is fit for the purpose of your current life circumstances and needs.
Elements of cognitive behaviours, belief systems formed can be rewired with intentional focus and raising awareness to bring about change. There are many modalities available that support these practices such as cognitive behavioural therapy, inner child healing, learning to reparent oneself, talk-based therapies. In addition, holistic healing approaches all aspects of the self; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
As children and adults we need to feel safe; security, inner and outer, are very real parts of our daily human experience. Understanding that we may have underdeveloped parts of us that do not feel safe and can show up in our lives as poor or lack of love and boundaries both on personal and interpersonal levels. There is a complex multitude of expressions of non-secure attachment styles of behaviours which can result in low self esteem, lack of love and self compassion and overall a poor sense of well-being.
Becoming a parent to oneself utilises a framework to form a secure inner attachment and sense of safety in order to form healthier, functional relationships where love and co-exist and be given and received harmoniously. The power of repair is a key component of resolving conflict in relationships; which is also supportive of healthy boundaries.
Creating harmony and balance within oneself is the first step to creating the same for our relationships. The formation of a mutual dynamic between love and boundaries in relationships fully supports both personal and interpersonal relationships which leads to elevated levels of well-being.