One topic that seems to pose some of the greatest challenges for the human species is that of personal boundaries. We want to interact with others, we want to be loving and caring, but we also want to honor our personal space and needs. In this essay, we will address how to expand our consciousness on the topic of selfishness and explore its many dimensions, as well as become more effective in our personal boundary setting.
Some people’s boundaries are too tight. Some are too loose. Some are non-existent. When should we say “yes” to others and when should we say “no”? How do we know what decisions to make when it comes to other people’s happiness? These questions and considerations do not have easy answers. Whether you officially consider yourself an empath or not, nearly all of us will deal with the challenge of creating healthy personal boundaries at one time in our life, if not many.
As human beings, we are very social species. And while it would be challenging enough to satisfy everyone within a particular reality, or on a planet that shares a common level of evolution or conscious awareness, doing so on planet Earth is a whole other story. On our planet we have a diverse assortment of beings who span a wide range along the spiritual evolution scale. Often we think we are all talking about the same things, seeing the same things and understanding the same things (at least on a general level), but nothing could be further from the truth. The level of perception and awareness on this planet is as diverse, as the living species it houses. It is no coincidence therefore as to why we have so much conflict on both a micro and macro level.
Whatever our external faults may be, deep down almost every single human being seeks to give and receive the same things: love, respect, kindness and compassion. Even though it can be easy to give that to ourselves and others at the same time, more often than not it is a great challenge. How do we stay true to ourselves and satisfy our personal needs, while we offer the same to another? How can we always be there for others without sacrificing our self in the process? Are we selfish to think of ourselves before others? It seems that the more we explore this topic, the more questions, rather than answers come up. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. As always, it comes down to expanding our consciousness and grasping a bigger picture perspective about a certain topic to understand it most fully and effectively. So let’s dive into expanding our perception and understanding of the concept of selfishness and personal boundaries.
Untangling the Web of Selfishness
Before we move into understanding the topic of personal boundaries and how to have a more effective approach in this area, we need to clarify a few things so that we all have a common understanding of what we are talking about. Depending on the context, we can see our human society today take one of the following two approaches when it comes to personal decision making.
The well-being of the individual is sacrificed for the well-being of the other. This is the idea of helping and thinking of others, ahead of helping and thinking of yourself.
The interests of the self override and trump the interests of the other, or collective group. This is the idea that your personal wants and needs matter first, regardless of how they impact others.
Which do you think is the “right” way to go? Most of you who are reading this will naturally gravitate towards option one as being the no-brainer right? It clearly seems like the kind, noble and right way to live. Well guess what, both of the above approaches can be erroneous and destructive. While the second one can destroy others, the first one can destroy you. Allow me to explain further.
In the general sense of understanding, and if we are talking about applying to the mainstream collective, both of those approaches are most commonly applied to satisfy the Ego (the false self of who we think we are). Neither is kind, noble or right. Surface observation may give the illusion that one is the “right” way and the other is the “wrong” way, but in essence neither is. Here is how they play out daily in practice:
In the first case, we have everyday people like you and I saying “yes” daily to people and things, which go against our better judgement. We deny and sacrifice our own happiness, evolution, needs and desires daily to please others, only to build up resentment, expectations and ill feelings in the short and long run.
In the second case, we have everyday people like you and I, usually making highly unconscious (sometimes conscious) daily choices that further their conscious or unconscious personal agendas, regardless of any repercussions on others, our planet, etc.
Often people think that the second case scenario applies only to those big, so called “evil” corporations or executives out there who only think about their own profit and power. While that may be true to a great degree, the real truth is that we are all guilty of applying and living by both of these methodologies, at least some of the time. The only difference, and what dictates which approach we choose is simply what suits our Ego best in that moment. Every single day billions of people upon this planet make selfish choices that stem from one thing and one thing only — protecting their identity. Whatever roles and appearances you have invested in your identity, the idea of who you think you are, you will aim to protect that at any cost. This is for most people a very subconscious process. Add to this the innate, perpetual seeking of what you perceive as pleasure and avoidance of what you perceive to be pain, and we have the making of a messy brew which greatly explains the state of personal and collective affairs on our planet.
So before we go any further, we have to get one thing straight — we are all on both sides of the coin. The people who most often put their own needs aside to keep helping others may at this point be venting within that surely it cannot be them, but that is just a perfect example of how clever our Ego is. If you have a vested interest and perceived identity as the “nice guy / girl / mother / father / spouse, etc.” then this is exactly how your Ego will play things out. You will live with the illusion that you are so good and so helpful, and you regularly sacrifice your own happiness to make others happy, but that is no indication of real worth and value. It is simply the perception you are capable of seeing from your current point of view.
Until we experience a transformative shift, and step outside of our Ego-based focal point to gain a big (or at least bigger) picture perspective, we are pawns in our own game. Whether you consider it spiritual “maturation” or “awakening” or “evolution”, unless and until we come to the moment where we are able to detach and distance ourselves from the Ego, we are in essence slaves to it. It is therefore essential to create “space” or “distance” between who you think you are and who you really are, to begin to grasp and appreciate the greater aspect of existence.
When we live locked down in the illusion of being our name, our body, our work title, our family titles, etc, etc… we are experiencing a very limited aspect of the self. And can you imagine, this is all most of us are able to know or conceive of during our lifetime?! It isn’t until we come to a spiritual understanding of who we are that we can begin to take control of the mismatched thoughts and actions. It isn’t until we take accountability for our life, as the creators of our personal experience, that we can begin to free ourselves and free others from the bondage of expectations.
When we move into this broader space of being, we are no longer bound by the experience of a single lifetime. We begin to understand our experience within this lifetime as just a stepping stone (one of many) within the continuous journey of our spiritual evolution. When we can begin to understand ourselves as more than just a body, or mind, or job, or age, or whatever the personal identification tool is, we begin to grasp the multidimensional being that we are. We appreciate who we have created ourselves to be in the here and now, BUT know that this is not the REAL us. It is just one set of experiences that is lining our path of evolution to knowing the real essence of our divine potential.
How Selfishness Transforms to Selflessness
When we begin to live from this space, many things drastically change in our life. This is one of the surest ways of knowing that some deeper transformation has occurred and we are no longer part of the illusive status quo, who plays give-and-take games between the Egos.
For starters you understand and acknowledge that anything and everything that you do is done for your benefit. You don’t give your your coworker a ride to work for their benefit, but for your benefit. You don’t send your parent a gift for their pleasure, but for your pleasure. Every thought, word and action is a representation and expression of the self, for the self. You begin to know yourself as the grander aspect of yourself by how you consciously choose to experience yourself—how you interact with the externally perceived reality. From this perspective, selfishness begins to look a whole lot different. Since you will naturally choose the most loving behaviors for the self, you will naturally give those to others.
Every act is an act of self definition.
Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God
Secondly, your level of self-love, self-worth, self-respect and value skyrockets. Your love for you begins to spill over to everything around you. The boundaries between where you begin and end become very fuzzy. This is where people actually begin to apply the idea of we are all one, rather than just say it. From such a state of being whatever you do, you are doing for all. In realizing this you know that when you help others, you help yourself. This compounds the above effect where again, whatever I do for the self, I do for the other, and whatever I do for the other, I do for the self.
However, this doing is NEVER from a state of expectation or obligation. If it doesn’t feel right within, if it somehow compromises your highest self or personal well-being, then it is not done, regardless of how it may look to, or be perceived by the external. This is perhaps the toughest part for many who begin their journey of awakening and who find themselves in this position on our planet today due to the conflicting understandings and perspectives on selfishness. A person who is operating based on their Ego-self will have a very hard time understanding why or how you can choose not to help them. It makes you appear selfish, but only because the other being cannot yet see how their Ego’s selfish needs may be creating the situation to begin with, and you are simply choosing not to participate in the game.
Thirdly, thanks to going within and tapping into your true self, you realize that everything is created from within. The external is just that, the external. It simply is. Through your observation of it, you give it meaning. This is why 10 people can experience the very same thing, and walk away with 10 completely different perspectives. Hence, you begin to live with a clear understanding that you can never give to another, what they cannot give to themselves. Many people in our society seek love, happiness, validation and so on from the outside. Their lives are constant struggles, something is always missing. Maybe it will be in this next job, or in the next relationship, and yet somehow that void cannot seem to be filled. Until and unless we step into the fullness of our own power, as the creators of our own reality, we continue to seek externally. This often puts a huge strain on others. Many spiritually-centered beings struggle with how to help these beings without compromising themselves, while many Ego-centered beings readily step in for these beings as the “helpers / saviors / rescuers / etc.” The latter combination always creating more turmoil within one or both parties, whether in the present or future.
The journey I share above and the changes that prevail are highly liberating and empowering, however, they do not come without their own challenges. We are currently amidst a massive consciousness transformation on our planet. Yes, there have always been people on our planet that thought a little “different”, but today we have what we know to be an unprecedented change (at least as far as we know) in mass human awakening. It is for this very reason that we have what can be seen as a major splitting of worlds. Various metaphysicians and experts describe it in many ways but it all points to the same thing—a splitting of the energies of consciousness on our planet. Many of us have one foot in the old Earth and the other in the New Earth. This can create all sorts of challenges when it comes to honoring our truth, while satisfying the confines of the old world. This experience can be compared to the actual delivery process during childbirth. While in the birth canal, the new being is no longer quite in the womb, and not yet in the open world. However just as that process births a new experience based on liberation, awareness, and personal responsibility, so does our journey. The more we make peace with the process, the easier it becomes. The more we step into the fullness of our being, the more we radiate this to the world. The more we own who we are, the more we reflect this to others and stir within them a memory of their higher self. The more we change our frequency of vibration, the more we stop being in resonance with any old energies that weigh us down or pull us back from proceeding forward.
Spirit-Driven versus Ego-Driven Actions
Now before we proceed any further, allow me to clarify something else. If we have not yet experienced the deeper, more profound spiritual changes I speak about above, it does not mean that we are incapable of helping another, sharing or showing love, or being selfless without the involvement of the Ego. We are often in these very states, and they can give us a glimpse of our true nature. When we do something “nice” or “good” for another, this may be Ego-driven, but it may also be Spirit-driven. Here is what I consider an almost full-proof way to know.
If you are doing ANYTHING for another being out of obligation or expectation, then you are most certainly acting from your Ego-self. You see, the Ego is the only one that feels that they have some vested interest or identity to protect. The Ego for most people has a love affair and need for being liked and accepted by everyone. “They won’t like me” or “They will think I am selfish” or “They won’t accept me” or “They will think I am a bad person” are all common thought patterns of the Ego-mind. Often these go unnoticed within our subconscious mind because they are so habitual for so many. However, with increased mindfulness, awareness, meditation and/or contemplation we can begin to observe and understand the root motivation for anything and everything that we do.
Therefore, if you are doing ANYTHING for the love and joy of being and doing, you are almost always acting from the spirit-self. Unlike the Ego, the spirit-self is free. It has no-thing and it is no-thing, because it encompasses everything. It is and does for the sake of love, nothing more, nothing less. It however does not compromise its own well-being in the process, for that would be the most unloving thing. Remember, we can only give to another, what we can give to the self. And if we cannot give the self the highest state of love, respect and appreciation, how can we give that to another? We can’t. However, we can play out grand illusions to make it seem so in many ways. Regardless it doesn’t change the fact that when the spirit-self acts, it acts from a place of pure, unconditional love. It does not expect anything in return. It does not act nice today because the other was nice today, and cut itself off when the other doesn’t seem so nice. It does not judge who is worthy or deserving of its help or attention.
You can easily begin to observe what state of being you are coming from in any interaction you have with another being. A parent may read a book to their child because they want the joy and bliss of interacting with them, or simply because they feel it is the right thing to do as a parent. A husband may get a bouquet of roses for his wife on Valentine’s Day because he wishes to share their beauty with her, or because the calendar said he should do so. A co-worker may bring a baked good into the office for everyone because they love sharing their creative recipes, or because everyone else in the office already brought something in. A youth may open the door for an elderly person because their heart moved them to do so, or simply because others were watching. At every step, in every decision and interaction we have a choice to act from the Ego-self and protect a false identity or to act from the Spirit-self and experience the joy of being. Of course in many cases because we are multidimensional beings, we may alternate back and forth as the logic of our mind wrestles with the wisdom of our heart. So in no way am I saying that these are all clear cut, black and white case scenarios. I am simply presenting the simplest and most general picture from which we can launch our own exploration and understanding of this topic and our personal motivation for the choices we make.
The Upside and Downside of Selflessness
Throughout this essay you will often find me using the terms “personal well-being”. To have the fullest understanding of this topic, I would like to give some discussion to this term as well so that it is understood in its most accurate way. Like most people, I grew up observing the adults around me keep making choices that compromised their personal health, happiness and well-being. And like most people, this “expected expectation” whether explicitly told or not shaped greatly how I grew up and the choices I made. From a young age in this society, specifically the old Earth, we are not taught to listen to our inner guidance system. On the contrary we are rewarded and punished based on how well we do what is expected of us. Whether in school with tests and grades, at home around our parent’s expectations or as we grow up with the early relationships we get ourselves into with friends and lovers, there is a clear veil of understanding in society that the right thing to do is what makes other people happy. Our happiness normally comes second, because after all if it were to come first we would be selfish, no? We definitely have a twisted way of disguising selfishness as selflessness.
This is the premise that most of us grow up with, and this is the premise most of us carry through life. Spouses trying to make the other happy, instead of focusing on their own happiness, only to build up resentment and challenges along the way. Parents who parent out of obligation, rather than the sheer joy of having a parent-child experience, exhaust themselves along the way. Tasks done at work to get a paycheck or make the company look good, rather than for the joy of practicing and exhibiting one’s creative skills, resulting in poor job satisfaction. The examples are many, I am sure you get the picture. This is why when it comes to talking about healthy boundaries and re-framing the idea of selfishness for people, today I have a huge stake in this matter for I have observed enough on planet Earth to know with certainty that this method isn’t working for anyone. Look at us all or assess your own life, and you will quickly understand what I mean if this wasn’t apparent to you before. The safety tip provided on every airline is core wisdom here: put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help put one on for another. And the same goes for us: get yourself in order first—your joy, inner peace and well-being, before you attempt to help another with theirs.
This is why today I help people wake up and understand the importance of focusing on their own needs and happiness first. Not because I want to teach people how to be selfish, not at all. I simply know first hand and from numerous direct and indirect examples that we become better people for the self, others and this planet when we focus on our own needs and happiness first. Spirit-driven so called selfishness truly does lead to selflessness. People go through lifetimes living for “others”, lacking in true purpose and meaning, rather than focusing on why they came into this physical experience in the first place—to grow and evolve the self. It is one of the Ego’s greatest illusions to make you think that you exist for the purpose of another. When we keep denying what our inner being needs to grow, expand and evolve, we stagnate our evolution and it does not feel good. We can look around and see the multitudes of examples in the human race acting out through alcohol, drugs, or any number of mind-numbing, meaningless and destructive habits. When we stagnate our personal spiritual evolution and go against the wisdom of our inner guidance to please external, we are not a happy or fulfilled bunch, and it shows.
However, having said the above, it would be incomplete not to consider certain “life and death” situations where an individual or group of individuals put aside their personal well-being to help another. These examples are most often seen or heard about in situations where an accident or some destructive event occurred. So just to be clear, this is not at all what I am referring to when I speak about honoring and not sacrificing your personal well-being. These situations almost always make us act from our highest state of being where our personal survival—the Ego’s fears and desires—are put aside completely. In most of these cases, especially when there is no time to think, it is the heart that is guiding us and moving us into heroic acts of bravery. In most, if not all of these cases, unlimited selflessness is the way the go and can present us with a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of ourselves than we ever had before.
Groundhog Helps Teach Boundary Setting
It definitely did not happen overnight, but today I am happy to share that I have established what I consider to be very healthy boundaries when it comes to honoring my highest self and not giving into doing things or being things for my Ego’s enjoyment. However as with most things, life always presents us with new experiences to provide us with opportunities to evolve, expand, grow and continue refining our skills. Such was the case during the summer of 2013 for me.
Whether we are guided by Ego or Spirit, one thing both of these motivators have in common is that if someone is in need of any help, most of us will be hard-pressed not to reach out in some way. But the stakes are even higher when that someone is a close friend or family member. These are most commonly the situations where and when we find ourselves acting the most out of obligation, and going against our inner guiding wisdom. And this is exactly where I found myself at this time.
While the details will differ, the common foundation will be one which most of us will find ourselves in at least once, if not often in our lives. Someone close to us experiences some situation which tends to look like it requires help or intervention on our end. Our inner being will immediately give us hints in the form of feelings and emotions of how to proceed. If the feelings are positive and the situation is providing an experience for you to step in, help out and grow positively in the process, then the solution is simple. If however the feelings are negative, making you feel heavy, burdened, or diminished in any way, it requires a much deeper analysis. And so was the case for me in this example. The situation did not make me feel good and I knew it. But the dynamics of the situation were such that strong past energies of guilt, obligation and expectation were knocking at the door. This of course was a red light for me to look at this situation much deeper. For several weeks I engaged in contemplation to see how I could resolve the situation to be of help without sacrificing my own well-being. It was exactly at this time that something else caught my attention, with divine timing and intervention—a groundhog.
Living amidst wildlife, I love, respect and appreciate each of them tremendously. I am mindful of their space and needs, and fully realize that we are sharing the land we live on. No one owns anything or has more power or right over any other. Well, during this time much of my contemplation took place in my veggie garden and several times I stumbled upon not one, but two of our resident groundhogs in the lightly fenced in area enjoying our summer harvest. I spoke to them lovingly and sent them my intentions about the space, reminding them that I left them lots of yummy food outside of the enclosure. But nothing seemed to work. That was until I had a divine spark of illumination. Just because we love someone, does not mean we allow them to infringe on our needs: health, happiness, well-being. Naturally I had a good chuckle upon this realization for I saw the perfection of the groundhog totem in my life and how the experience unfolded. It is a simple idea that perhaps is common sense, but more often than not its wisdom and application is completely neglected in our daily adult-to-adult interactions. In the garden I took measures to reinforce the area with some effective and “healthy” boundaries. At the same time I applied this same wisdom and effective technique, and set some “healthy” boundaries in my personal relationships with a few people. Making peace with selfishness will be a journey that will take its own unique form for everyone, but ultimately we all have to learn (and often), that sometimes we just have to say no.
There is no doubt that the hardest or most challenging situations surrounding the aspect of being true to ourselves and honoring our personal well-being while helping others, revolve around those closest to us. Sure it may make us think twice whether we help out a stranger, but when it comes to a close friend or family member, normally the reaction tends to be instantaneous. All too often, even when it works against our personal health, happiness or well-being, we feel obligated to step in, but this is all part of learning how to establish healthy boundaries. It is truly never about the individual or group of beings who is providing us with the experience to set boundaries or their particular situation, it is always about how we are going to choose to express and experience ourselves. Are we going to grow because of it, and thereby provide an opportunity of growth for the other, OR are we going to diminish our being, most often creating a cycle of dependency for the other? The question is ours and only ours to answer. There is no right or wrong here. But every time you choose to act from your heart and soul, rather than your Ego, you take a leap on the journey of liberation and out of the limiting space of bondage and obligation. As for the groundhog, well depending on how you experience and understand animal totems and messengers, it may come as no surprise to hear that after I created my new physical and energetic boundaries, the groundhogs both disappeared and didn’t come back for the rest of the season.
Practical Boundary Setting Tips
To conclude I would like to share with you 3 practical tips to help further with this topic. Perhaps they will serve as reminders or points of inspiration for you. Perhaps you will choose to try them out and see how you can apply them in your life. Either way, here are a few tips that have empowered me on my journey and expanded my consciousness to have healthy personal boundaries, and act from love, while not sacrificing my personal evolution and well-being.
1. You are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness or sadness.
When you realize this, you immediately release what is often a huge weight off of your being. People who operate from old Earth thinking of course will not yet be ready to see or know this. That is okay. Give everyone the time they need, and the journey they need to grow, evolve and awaken. The point is you must honor what you know to be true and set the example, lifting others up, rather than being taken down by lower energies.
Of course this tip only works based on the premise that you always act from your highest self—your heart, your soul, your Spirit, and do not consciously cause any harm to another. We can all only do the best we can, and be the best we can be. How others choose to experience our actions is up to them and their responsibility. Create your life consciously from the heart and allow others to do with that what they may be ready for given their journey. Be like a good teacher: instead of giving the students the answers (in this case the externally derived happiness), teach them how to think and find the answers for themselves (in this case the generation of internal happiness).
2. Be a living example of love.
Whether you are directly approached by another, or simply see or sense someone in need, always aim to act from your highest self—your Spirit. Your Ego’s motivations are rooted in fear, shame and pride. Your Spirit’s motivations are rooted in unconditional love, compassion and kindness. With a little practice and mindful observation, it becomes clear which aspect of you will be ruling your decision. However, do not forget that being a living example of love also means being loving to yourself. If you cannot do something, or offer some help, aim to authentically and transparently communicate this with the other party to inspire them to be more loving with themselves and not engage in destructive habits that make their story revolve around the victim archetype. Remember, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to say “no”.
3. Stand in your knowing.
It is a fact of life that no matter how hard you may try or how good your intentions may be, there will still be those who do not experience your actions as positive or as the right way. Allow them their experience. People will disagree with you. People will try to challenge you. Stand in your knowing. If you have given conscious and heart-centered contemplation to an issue and made a choice which you feel is best for you given all variables, own it. Make peace with it and move on. You do not need the whole world to agree, you only need to find your own inner peace in how you choose to live your life.
Follow this topic up with a video where I offer more tips for setting boundaries and learning to say “no”.