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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

Compassionate Boundaries

Opening your heart to your partner or spouse is not the same as becoming an unboundaried receptacle for the unloading of another’s unlived life. It is the degree to which you are attuned to our own grief, sadness, shame, and rage that will determine how you skillfully navigate within the we-space of the relational field.

Most of us are not well-trained in the art of embodied attunement, meaning we can’t really tell how we feel or what we need. We tend to be in auto-projection mode much of the time, unable to hold our unmet trauma and instead dumping our unresolved material on our partners. The capacity to hold unfolding emotional experiences was not encoded into our tender developing nervous systems when we were young, and we live in an increasingly disembodied world where off-loading our pain via blame or shame is becoming a visible, commodifiable form of entertainment. But despite early relational trauma, inconsistent empathic mirroring, transgenerational narratives of dysregulation and insecurity, and social reinforcement of this dysfunction, we can still practice and learn to embody attunement now. It’s never too late to experience reunion with the disavowed inner aspects of self.

Notice whether or not you appear “compassionate” on the outside, while being an emotional doormat on the inside. If you learned that devaluing yourself was the most reliable route to getting your needs met, fitting in, receiving attention and affection, and maintaining a precarious tie to an unavailable attachment figure, then this “doormat” activity was not neurotic, but was lifesaving, creative, and intelligent from the perspective of a little one wired to connect. But these same neural pathways are aching for reorganization by way of the slower circuitries of empathy and curiosity. Look carefully and notice the ways you may habitually place your partner’s needs over your own – not out of true compassion for them, but as a re-enactment of early interactional fields of shame and unworthiness. Inside, something is stirring, a longing to return home is being awakened; the desire for new circuitry to encode, for a new pathway to light up and come alive. Slowly, one moment at a time. Safe. Connected. Open. Listen . . . attend to that "need to please."

Raw. Tender. Sensitive. Embodied. . . Observe the ways your body might distort your breath might stop. There is no urgency on the path of love. Take all the time you need to re-orient to what is true and honest, to locate your own sense of need.

Easy, easy . . . listen carefully, deeply . . . go easy.

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