There is a principle I teach in my workshops which I call Above and Below the Line It is a principle that speaks to boundaries, to avoiding resentment and to respecting ourselves and others equally. When we are above the line, we care for ourselves and we also enjoy serving others whom we care about. We may make sacrifices to serve those we love or even strangers at times. This might look like sacrificing a bit of sleep or comfort to get up and make a spouse or children a healthy breakfast, things we might not feel like doing but they give us pleasure because we know we are making someone else’s life easier or better. These things help or encourage or uplift the other person and we are uplifted in the giving of the service. They are not harmful to either party. My husband for instance goes out in the cold to feed the horses each morning. He insists that he enjoys it and it allows me to stay warm and cozy most mornings. I make him breakfast so that he can save time and get to work earlier. I don’t enjoy cooking but I enjoy knowing he is well fed for his day ahead.
When we are below the line, we often rationalize that we are doing so to help another person. The first indication that we have crossed over that line is that there is often a feeling of resentment rather than pleasure. We may feel taken advantage of somehow. Instead of giving of ourselves there is a sense of giving up ourselves. We may get pleasure in thinking that the other person needs us in some way, but rather than helping or uplifting the other person, being below the line tends to be enabling rather than empowering. For example if we are picking up our children’s clothes every day, or making a teen-agers bed, or I heard an example yesterday of a mother who insisted she pick out clothing for a pre-teen each day and fix her hair. These behaviors are not helpful to the person we are “helping.” These behaviors are taking away stewardship from another person, causing them to be dependent on us and less capable themselves. We may rationalize that we are doing it for them, but we may be serving our own selfish or unhealthy needs instead. Another way we get below the line is by being a “martyr” or “self-sacrificing” to please another’s unhealthy behaviors. This would look like giving up a part of ourselves to accommodate another person. Doing something that does not feel right for you to give someone else something they are demanding. Perhaps feeding a partner’s sex addiction by compromising on what feels right or comfortable, or driving a child to school each day when they miss the bus, or doing things for our children that they should be doing themselves and robbing them of the opportunity to learn responsibility.
I have a drawing of two smiley faces above the line and two very sad faces below the line. Both people are happy when we give of ourselves and both are unhappy when we give up ourselves. I love how our body can be a wonderful biofeedback device if we learn to pay attention to the feelings we get. When we are above the line we might feel a sense of resonance between our heart and our brain. A good feeling in our chest. When we are below the line, something feels uneasy in our gut. There is a bodily sensation that something is not right and we often feel resentment or a feeling of being taken advantage of. Listen to your body and adjust your behaviors accordingly. Boundaries are healthy and necessary for our own well-being and that of those we love and serve.