Disclaimer: I am not an expert by any means. Not a therapist, medical or mental health professional. I do not diagnose, treat, or tell people what to do. The main purpose of this website and blog is education and support. If you are unsure how the suggestions and resources here may affect you, please discuss any changes to your existing treatment plan with your medical and mental health providers first.
Boundaries: what are they?
Boundaries are rules and limits people use to keep themselves and the people around them safe in many different ways. They can be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or verbal. Most important, though, boundaries show and tell other people how far they can push themselves and others before they cross lines.
When others cross the boundaries or push too far, the people whose boundaries are crossed have ways of showing people their error. Sometimes the boundary pushers listen; sometimes they don’t. What happens next depends on the type of boundary crossed and how the people involved choose to respond.
The basic version of a verbal boundary is “NO”. A non-verbal boundary can be stepping away from someone who gets too close to personal space. A physical boundary can be physically separating a space with objects. An emotional boundary can be a promise to oneself not to give in to emotional blackmail.
How are they made?
Boundaries are unique to individuals. There are many options, but each one starts with intention. Think about something you dislike or don’t want in your life. A change you want to make. Then reflect on how you can change your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, or something else to keep what you dislike from affecting your life. That is your boundary.
Why are they so hard to maintain? What if someone keeps crossing the boundaries?
Many people struggle with creating, setting, and maintaining boundaries. Many people are praised for “giving in” or “letting others have their way” or “being dependable” and not being able to say no. They put others first always, no matter what is happening in their lives, and don’t make time for themselves. These people have their own reasons for acting the way they do.
And when they want to change and start setting boundaries, the people in their lives may have both positive, neutral, and negative reactions.
Positive being supportive people who encourage these people to make time for themselves, “learn to say no”, and (put your experience here).
Neutral being people who are not openly supportive, but not intentionally against or challenging these people all the time to make them stop with the boundaries.
Negative being people who intentionally cross boundaries, disregard requests to stop, and cause so much trouble through manipulation or other negative behaviors that the boundary setter gives up trying to change. (your experience here) because there are many other ways to not support someone trying to create and maintain healthy boundaries.
How do I know this?
I’m one of those people who used to not have boundaries. I let people walk all over me in certain situations. Never spoke up for myself, but I would for others. Especially with emotional blackmail and physical presence since those were my family’s and other abusers’ specialties. Mostly, I did what people wanted and never said no because I didn’t believe I deserved to be safe and protected in any way.
All that changed when I started mental health counseling after college. Then, more so after I started my first job and met people who liked and respected me for me (or rather what they knew of me at the time). People at work were role models who showed me what healthy boundaries looked like in real life. Mental health counseling gave me the tools, knowledge, and safe place to practice boundaries, reflect on mistakes, and experiment.
And, to be honest, that is how I stumbled onto aromatherapy. One of the other clients in a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group session shared her example of using lavender essential oil to ground herself in the present when she felt emotional distress. Her counselor showed her that example and encouraged her to share in group if it was effective.
How can aromatherapy help with boundaries?
Each essential oil contains a combination of different chemical constituents (i.e. linalool and 1,8 cineole) that work together to create the distinctive scents. Synergy comes into play when essential oils are combined to create a certain effect. Sometimes a combination creates the opposite of synergy or something else; those combinations are not always negative, but they provide a different kind of healing experience.
Blending essential oils with similar therapeutic and emotionally supportive chemical constituents and properties can create a scent that provides emotional and physical support for an individual’s goals. Combine that with a small relaxing ritual, and this individual has another option to help achieve that goal.
The boundary problem
I once had a co-worker who sometimes acted like a friend and other times blew me off and gave me the silent treatment. Never knew what I did or didn’t do that caused the negative reaction. But eventually I learned that she gave me the silent treatment whenever I said or did something she didn’t like, agree with, or approve of. And silent treatment used to be one of my triggers with an automatic response of “oh crap, I did something wrong. Now I have to make it up to her and get back in her good graces.”
That continued until the next time I lost my temper and couldn’t stand being taken advantage of by this person. Then I would fall back into the cycle of feeling ashamed of and angry with myself for my reaction. Blame myself for being a terrible person, etc. Finally, feel guilty for losing my temper and fall into flashbacks. But that changed when I asked for help.
Using aromatherapy to help with boundaries
In counseling, we went over the DBT practices and tried out different examples of how I could stop automatically reacting and start reinforcing my boundaries without being aggressive or negative. Aromatherapy came up again. But since this was at work, and I didn’t know about inhalers, we took a different approach.
I would bring a small bottle of essential oil with me to work. Whenever I started to feel anxious about dealing with this person, I would stop, take a deep breath or two, open the essential oil bottle and inhale the calming fragrance, then close the bottle and put it away while continuing to breathe deep. Later on, I added an affirmation too.
Scent memory and ritual keeps focus
The next few times I encountered this person, I still made some mistakes. But I also made progress. I didn’t always have the bottle or candy around when I encountered this co-worker, but I remembered the scent of peppermint strong enough to use focus on it during stressful situations. When the scent memory didn’t work as well, deep breathing and repeating the affirmation (ritual created around the scent) helped me calm down and focus.
Three Lessons Learned
- scent and fragrance really can help ground me in the present moment and feel more focused. Peppermint and chocolate were my favorites back then. I still like both of them, but also love Lemon Balm (Melissa), Patchouli, Sweet Orange, Lavender, and Pine too.
- once I stopped caring what my co-worker thought about me, I had an easier time separating her from my past triggers and flashbacks. That made coping with her personality and attitude (a difference in values, perceptions, and culture) in safe, positive ways a lot easier to do at work.
- Accepting and respecting people’s boundaries makes them more inclined to respect mine. And accepting and respecting my own boundaries in front of others shows them how to do the same for me.
Reflection question: How do you think aromatherapy blends can help you with boundaries?
Love and Rainbows ~ TJ