Setting Internal Boundaries in relationship to Romantic, Sexual Relationships
By Robert Burney

"It was vitally important for me to learn how to have internal boundaries so that I could lovingly parent (which, of course, includes setting boundaries for) my inner children, tell the critical parent/disease voice to shut up, and start accessing the emotional energy of Truth, Beauty, Joy, Light, and Love. It was by learning internal boundaries that I could begin to achieve some integration and balance in my life, and transform my experience of life into an adventure that is enjoyable and exciting most of the time."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

In the last article in my Discernment series in relationship to the Serenity Prayer - I talk about the inner child places and archetypal energies within us that it is vitally important to get in touch with so that we can stop reacting out of them and starting owning our choices to respond differently. A key to the inner child healing process that I discovered in my own recovery and developed in teaching other people how to become empowered to change their relationship with themselves into a more Loving one, is learning to set internal boundaries. These boundaries are in relationship to a variety of different levels and facets of the process, but are vitally important in terms of learning how to stop reacting out of the old wounds and old tapes. In that article I specifically mentioned the "Rebel" archetype that is part of our internal landscape as human beings.

"Not only do we have wounded inner child places within us, out of which we react in ways that are self destructive, we also have certain archetypal energies that are vital parts of our psyche. One of those is the rebel. We all have a rebel within us. When we "should" on our self, the rebel in us rebels by going to the opposite extreme - "I'll show you for shaming me, I'll do just the opposite." We act out against the "shoulds" in ways that are harmful us." - Intellectual Discernment - Choices, not "shoulds"

In my article The Maiden and the Horndog - the second in my present series focused on sexuality, gender, and romantic relationships - I talked about the "Maiden" archetype in women and the "Horndog" archetype in men. It is vital for women to learn to have boundaries with the maiden within - and for men to have boundaries with the horndog within.

There are a number of other inner child or archetypal places within us that it is vital to start becoming more aware of so that we can set boundaries within ourselves - so that we can stop reacting and start having more balance in our relationship to romantic relationships.

It is because romantic relationships trigger so many of our old wounds and old tapes that I believe that romantic relationships are the greatest arena for Spiritual and emotional growth available to us. It is in the relationships that involve opening our heart to another person that our codependent defenses are most elaborate and powerful. We of course open our hearts - and can learn a great deal about our own wounding - in relationships other than romantic, but romantic relationship include the levels of physical / sexual intimacy so are the relationships most impacted by the sexual and sexuality abuse (including emotional incest) issues that I address in other articles in this series.

One of those archetypal energies that we all have within us, is the romantic. The romantic within is a part of me that I have worked for years in having some balance with. In an article I wrote almost 5 years ago now, I summarized pretty well what my relationship to the romantic had been for most of my life.

"I got in touch (in a CoDA meeting I think) with the fact that I was totally shut down to the romantic in me. Like all of the inner child places and archetypes within me - I had spent most of my life reacting to the romantic within me by swinging to extremes. I would let my "endless, aching need" to find "her" lead me to casting the "wrong" person in the part of the princess in my romantic fairy tale - and then when I got really hurt by allowing the romantic to be in control - I would shut down to it completely. I would throw the romantic me into an inner dungeon and throw away the key - until some time years later when I would repeat the pattern by letting the romantic take over again.

It made me sad to realize that I had left the romantic locked away for quite awhile again. The romantic within me is one of my favorite parts of me. The idealist and dreamer - creative and spontaneous and very Loving. I decided that I would start opening up to letting the romantic out on parole to see if it was possible to be open to doing a relationship in balance." - An Adventure in Love - Loving and Losing Successfully

(The reason I had Loved and lost successfully is because it was the first time in my life that my self worth had not been at risk in a romantic relationship. This is probably what my next article will focus on.)

In the series on Inner Child Healing that I published here on Suite 101 in 2000 and 2001 (most of these articles are now on our new Inner Child Healing web site and are also available in an e-book), I discussed some examples of the inner child wounds and how to start relating to them in a more Loving way, including: how to set a Loving boundary with the magical thinking child within; and how I learned to set a boundary with the 7 year old within me that wanted to die.

Also in that series, in the article on emotional incest that I included a link to in last months article, I talked about what a powerful block my emotional incest issues had been to opening my heart to a woman in a romantic relationship.

"I discovered that there was a 4 or 5 year old age of my inner child who felt overwhelming shame that I could not protect my mother from my father. I thought that was my job. To make my mother happy.

I thought that I was not worthy of Love because I had been unable to do my job. So, in my adult life I was attracted to emotionally unavailable women who were verbally abusive. To my disease, it was better to be in relationship with someone like my father, than to fail to do my job in a relationship with someone who was available emotionally." - Inner Child Healing - Part 16 Emotional Incest

The number of mult-leveled issues that come into play in a romantic relationship - the complex and complicated interrelationship between the issues and the different levels of those issues - is actually kind of mind boggling. For me, all of the issues in which I have discovered that I have dysfunctional relationships - rather that be with success or money or my body or being a man or whatever - always, when I sift and process through the layers of the wounds, come down to my fear of intimacy. My fear of having my heart broken because I am shameful and unworthy, because of the core programming in my relationship with my self which tells me that I am somehow unlovable and defective.

We all have at least one place within us where we feel desperately needy and lonely. An inner child within us who feels like the person we are romantically involved with is the source of love in our life - and that if we lose them we will die. That desperately needy inner child place - either by itself or in combination with other parts of our interior landscape such as the romantic within, the addict within, the maiden or horndog within, the magical thinking child, the king/queen baby who wants instant gratification, and others - is / are the part(s) within us that drive relationship addiction. It is that part / those parts of us, that causes us to get clingy and needy in relationships - or to go to the opposite extreme and run away (or try to push the other person away) because we are so scared of the neediness we are trying to deny in our self.

This past year I had a wonderful opportunity to get involved in a romantic relationship for the first time in over 4 years - and to get my heart broken for the first time since then. I am very grateful for that experience. I have learned and grieved - and have grown greatly in my capacity to Love because of that opportunity for growth.

In processing about that adventure in a personal journal that I share in a part of my web site I call the Joy2MeU Journal (which is accessible only to subscribers), I got to look at, and focus some healing Light upon, some parts of me that were reacting out of relationship addiction tendencies. Here is a quote from that processing that I shared in my December Update Newsletter which I published last week.

"I have been having to work real hard at certain times - some periods for hours - on my internal boundaries to keep from being in the kind of energy that drives relationship addiction. The feelings of desperation, panic, and terror that the wounded inner children feel about losing a source of love. The feeling of energy out of control in my body so that I am not comfortable in my own skin - so that I feel like I am jumping out of my own skin. The life and death urgency, desperate neediness to be reassured that my love is not going to go away.

I have, of course, recognized these inner child place for what they are, and have continued to talk to them and try to calm them down - reassuring them that everything is going to be okay. That does not mean telling them that she will come back, that she won't go away. It means telling them, that if she does go away it will be what is best for us. That if she goes away it will be part of our Higher Power's plan. That maybe our Higher Power brought her into our life to break through the barriers and learn about Love because there is going be another woman in the future who will be able to be more available and willing to commit to the adventure." - My Unfolding Dance 21" - Joy2MeU Update Newsletter December 2003

This talking to my terrified inner children to calm them down, is an example of setting internal boundaries so that I don't allow the feelings of the wounded child to define my adult experience. I also set boundaries with the critical parent voice that wants to blame me or the other person for my pain. Boundaries within both the emotional and mental allow me to see myself and the situation with more clarity.

It is invaluable to me to have learned how to have some discernment internally so that I can separate the levels of the grief that I feel about losing a specific relationship (about 20% of what I am feeling when I am having a very powerful intense emotional reaction) from the unresolved grief from my past (about 80% of that type of reaction.) To be able to separate my grief about losing the dream / fantasy of what I hoped the relationship would be, from the grief that is actually about losing a specific person - makes it easier for me to let go of that person. (The great majority of the grief we feel at the end of a relationship is about the loss of the dream / illusion we invested in, rather than the actual reality of relating to that person.)

I believe that it is necessary to do our inner child healing work (which is an ongoing relationship not something we do and are done with) to be able to set internal boundaries and learn to have internal discernment. I believe that doing this work is what will help me one day to have the ability to have a healthy, lasting romantic relationship. The old way of allowing the romantic within and the desperately needy child and the magical thinking child and the wounded teenage horndog, etc., to dictate and control my relationships certainly did not work.

The relationship experience I refer to in this article was - as I stated in my August 2004 Joy2MeU Update "was a long distance relationship. . . . - and was about 95% fantasy and 5 % relationship." It was an important preparation for an authentic relationship experience that started at the end of 2003 and continued into 2004, in which I was able to open my heart to another person for the first time in my adult life. (I later realized that the experience in 2004 was about 80% fantasy and 20% reality - progress not perfection.;-) I first discussed this experience in my March 2004 Joy2MeU Update and then in my August Update. In processing in my personal journal in the Joy2MeU Journal this week I got in touch with an inner child wound that was affecting my reactions and causing me to sabotage that relationship. When I say "the complex and complicated interrelationship between the issues and the different levels of those issues - is actually kind of mind boggling" I certainly was not making an understatement. It is an ongoing process of uncovering, discovering, and recovering. - RB October 10, 2004

Links to the Update Newsletters for the website can be found on the bottom of the Joy2MeU site index page.