01.08.2012 Relationships

Relating Without Borders

Stay open to life's possibilities and foster a positive attitude, suggests Dr Charmaine Saunders

Limitation thinking is the root cause of restricted lives and lacklustre relationships. This comes in turn from several sources:

As children, we are 'labelled' by parents, other relatives, teachers, babysitters and all kinds of authority figures. These limit us and box us into a narrow experience of life. After we grow up, we continue to accept the restrictions of these labels, such as 'fat', stupid', 'clumsy', 'uncoordinated', 'shy' and so on. We become one dimensional and stop exploring other aspects of ourselves, thus placing borders around our personalities and our hearts. Labels are always restricting as they close us in emotionally and physically, even the 'nice' ones, for who wants to be sweet, kind, polite and pleasant all the time? We all have a dark side which needs to be exercised in a positive way so it balances out with the nicer parts of ourselves. This ensures a complete life and healthy self acceptance. Boundaries are a different matter. Limits on bad behaviour, imposition on us from others, being taken advantage of, giving to the point of pain, taking on others' issues, saying yes to everything - we should be conscious of all these and feel free to exercise our discretion.

We also need to avoid labelling others by their race, beliefs, clothing, status or disabilities because prejudice and bigotry, racism and ageism are the most toxic kinds of borders and keep people separated from each other, as does anger, conflict and intolerance.

The greatest enemy of living life fully is fear. Fear is an illusion built from past experiences, negative input from others, a faulty belief system, lack of self confidence, and lack of trust. Without faith in God, Self, or Life, existence is intolerable, like living in a void. That's the source of the hopelessness that many people feel, which, in turn, leads to addictions, depression, anxiety and even suicide. There are many real issues in the world today that can engender fear but to focus on them merely fuels the bad feelings, creating more. Good feelings multiply as do scary, black ones. We live in a society that relishes bad news, scoffing at 'feel good' stories. Why? Because we're afraid to believe. Afraid to be let down, to look the fool, to be hurt. Much safer to be cynical and expect the worst. Too many of us stay in jobs we hate, in dead marriages, in miserable silences, in dark despair because we're too afraid to break out, take a chance - and trust! We learn early in life that happiness is not a constant, that ups and downs are to be expected so we're always bracing ourselves for the aftershocks of good times, full of fear instead of enjoying what we have when we have it.

Where do these fears come from? They are often a knee jerk reaction to disappointments and past hurts. We become afraid to expect the best in life. It's safer to cling to outworn, unproductive but familiar, ideas and attitudes. That's why change is often so threatening. Many people have been hurt, disillusioned and let down through trusting but it's not love that fails, just specific situations. Trust takes courage but a life without intimacy is pretty empty. Trusting and loving requires the bringing down of borders.

When it comes to very personal areas like sexuality and relationships, our fears really come to the fore. Family background has a lot to do with whether we are demonstrative and affectionate in our interaction with others and whether we are able to share closeness. Even hugging is fearful for some people. We need to allow other people emotional space but still help them to open up, bit by bit. If we are the ones who are allowing fear to cripple our spontaneity and joy, sabotage our happiness and put up barriers between ourselves and those we love, it's up to us to release these fears. Borders can just as easily be physical as emotional, as when people lock themselves away from life, from risk, from threat, as if staying in a room or even a house can really keep us safe. Safety, like fear, exists in the mind.

Positive thinking creates a positive life. What is the opposite to positivity? Negativity! Our society abounds in this commodity, especially in the current climate of fear, insecurity and uncertainty. It's very hard to stay positive in the light of such a powerful onslaught. It's about living bravely and choosing one's own perspective when faced with life's darker side.

True positive thinking is more than just being optimistic. It's living life in a frame of mind that defies all problems and difficulties. Cliche it may be, but 'the glass half empty or half full' analogy does sum up the philosophy very well. Two people can look at that same object or event and see two totally different situations, depending on perspective.

Before we can consider changing from negative to positive beings, we need to understand the nature of the former. The reason why most people walking around find it preferable to be negative is that it's far more comfortable, safer and less threatening. Negativity is related to fear and the need to control. Positivity is about trust and the belief that life is good. But to trust is to risk. Many are afraid to let go in case life throws them unwanted surprises and the proverbial curve ball. It is positive to be at peace with oneself - ultimately positive, in fact.

Negative thinking is a whole different thing and not at all desirable. When you find yourself falling into that trap, make a conscious effort to catch yourself, change the thought immediately to a positive one or, if you can't do that, neutralise it at least. For example, if you think, "I can't do that", a positive replacement would, of course, be, "Yes, I can" but if you're by nature a negative thinker, start with, "I'm not going to think that". Gradually, you can train yourself right out of negative thinking by never judging yourself but continually neutralising it till it becomes second nature.

Without trust in oneself, many, many doors will forever be closed in life. Lack of self belief leads to limitation thinking, poverty consciousness and a restricted life experience. If we live behind labels that limit us, let negative thinking take over our minds and hand our power over to other people, addictions or unhealthy behaviours, we can't expect to make progress in any of the major areas of life and we will never know the freedom of a life without borders. Self belief doesn't mean arrogance, boasting or vanity, in fact, the opposite. It's actually more about self acceptance, recognising the need for continual growth but also the perfection of imperfection, as in, "I'm already perfect just as I am." That level of self trust is what true empowerment is all about because it liberates us from self doubt, self criticism and self destructiveness.

Belief differs from trust insofar as the former is more definite. A friend once put it most succinctly: she said that trust is hoping, belief is knowing. Some people buy lottery tickets for 40 years without ever really believing they're going to win. What's the point of that? They may as well give the money directly to charity. Quietly to believe without pushing or desperation is the way to achieve goals and dreams. What is trust after all? It's the ability to hold onto a truth without any evidence whatsoever. When something is tangible and proven, there's no need for trust. Yet, with deep seated belief, everything is possible. Somewhere out in the universe is every dream anyone ever dreamed, every wish fulfilled and every prayer answered. For these to come into our concrete reality, we only need to open our eyes, our hearts and our arms to receive.

Borders make us feel we're stuck in untenable situations but once we recognise that, in fact, we have total authority, total choice and total power over our own lives, freedom is automatic. There are necessary rules and, as I said before, some restrictions are inevitable but spiritual and emotional freedom is our right and we can have that as soon as we claim it.

Knowing you have choice creates empowerment. We are not helpless victims of life; we are in charge and can decide what we want, what makes us happy and the people we want to bring in. Choice over our emotions is a surprising area. Most people would vehemently affirm that they cannot choose or control their feelings. But, actually, we can. Choice itself is about stepping out of emotion. We can't make clear, positive decisions when we're drowning in a storm of confusing feelings. A good example is jealousy which is mainly caused by insecurity and lack of trust. Once sufferers realise this, they can actually feel the jealousy rise up then watch it go by. Emotions are only energy; let them rise, recognise them then let go.

Here are a list of common emotions and how we might make good choices about them:

  • Sadness - being sad is fine but we can also decide to feel better
  • Depression - Not counting clinical illness, if we just feel 'blue' sometimes, we can distract ourselves by exercise, spending time in nature or finding a friend.
  • Anger - even if it's 'righteous anger', loss of temper is not acceptable. There are positive outlets for rage, hurt feelings and conflict which should be explored.
  • Fear - definitely can be discarded by choice. A life without fear is free and much more comfortable.
  • Doubt - can eat into a person until there's no way to know what's real and what isn't.
  • Trust is crucial for an abundant life. Choose to trust.
  • Hate - often conditioned and learned, therefore can be released by choice.
  • Grief - it's important to allow it for a natural period of mourning but then we need to choose to grab hold of life again

The key factor here is that unless we practise choice in regard to emotions, we are slaves to them, prisoners of our own making. When negative things happen to us, we have a distinct choice over our reactions.

All of life is open to choice. We are not stuck, powerless or weak. We are strong and infinitely powerful, if only we knew it. With increased knowledge and the desire to live by active choice, we can design our lives as we go, truly creating our own realities.

Here are ten tips to fuller, borderless relationships:

  1. Abandon negativity - consciously use positive thoughts over negative in all life situations
  2. Refuse to worry no matter how dire circumstances appear to be - relax, laugh, enjoy just being alive
  3. Stay in the present which is always manageable
  4. Face your fears about the situation(s) you're currently facing but stay brave and true, believe your challenges can always be faced and fixed
  5. Choose positivity as a way of life and practise it every day
  6. Use affirmations to attract the good things you want to bring into your life
  7. Be grateful for what you already have
  8. Identify then shed old belief patterns that no longer serve a positive purpose in your life.
  9. Accept yourself utterly so that you can be at peace with the physical world and everyone around you
  10. Surround yourself with upbeat people as positivity rubs off; if you have someone negative around you, tune out their beliefs and let them learn by your example that being negative is about fear which can be released

There are many roads to a more abundant life if you simply stay open and foster a truly positive attitude to everything that happens to you. Even the mundane, the tedious, the repetitive, the necessary can be rich in meaning if seen in a positive light. Remember one keyword for each area of abundance you wish to foster. For abundance in general, think of 'desire'. I have always believed in the goodness of life, as a child trusting and in awe of the world's beauty and life's possibilities. Essentially, abundance is just fullness of experience, so if we choose that as a way of life, we can only be extended and stretched, attracting true prosperity which can be a Lottery win or the touch of a child's hand. I read this very simple affirmation recently - "I am abundance" - and I think that is the truest and best thought for me to leave with you. Believe in yourself and the goodness of life.

Dr Charmaine Saunders

Dr Charmaine Saunders was a much loved relationships counsellor and speaker who wrote for NOVA for many years. She died in July 2013.