Boundaries, Karma and Living in a Toxic Culture

“No society can understand itself without looking at its shadow side.”

~ Dr. Gabor Mate

There is a lot of discussion about boundaries in the therapeutic community these days, especially for empaths, but what I find lacking from these discussions is the honest discussion of the toxic nature of our civilization and the spiritual law that govern us all.

Culture and societies are tribal and have a strong conformity bias as a result, anyone who exhibits beliefs and behaviors that deviate from the norm is corrected or shunned. Different cultures have different methods of correction and shunning. Few modern cultures have leaned towards acceptance of differences, choosing instead to correct the errant behavior through rejection. 

Norms and Values of the Toxic Western Culture

Hard work, individuality, financial success, rationality, religiosity (the major religions of Christianity and to a lesser degree Judaism), higher education, power over, being “good”, politeness, and ignoring or burying emotions, to name just a few of the more rigid norms. 

Empaths and other neurodivergent people have a few norms and values of their own–community-focused, feelings are centered, intuition is equally weighted to rationality, and money, while important, is a tool and not a goal in itself. 

As a result of these primary differences in thoughts and beliefs, beginning from a very early age empaths are corrected, denied, or shunned–essentially they are made to believe they are the problem in the group, family, or situation. In response to any number of behaviors, an empath will hear “you’re too sensitive,” “be rational,” or “grow up.” 

Empaths as they grow up can become depressed and/or anxious as a result of realizing that in this world, though few people would admit this out loud, we value money and power over people and literally everything over our feelings. They are left believing they need to change, “grow up”, and fix themselves because they are the ones with the problem, making things difficult for everyone including themselves. 

Dr. Gabor Mate talks about the two driving needs of humans–connection and authenticity, and children will forgo authenticity in favor of connection if there is a conflict. Over time this has serious consequences for our collective and individual mental health. 

This conflict programs us to deny our authentic expression. We lose connection with our body’s signals and instead look to see what everyone else thinks we should think, feel, say, and do. We learn to value other people’s opinions above our own. This keeps us from losing our connection with our community but at a very high price, knowing ourselves and expressing our authentic nature.

How Culture Influences Boundaries

Healthy communities requires its members have boundaries. Building boundaries requires us to unlearn what our toxic culture has taught us in our homes as children, at school, and in books, movies, and television.

Most depictions of romantic relationships are in fact tragically unhealthy from A Love Story’s pronouncement that “love means never having to say you’re sorry” to Donna Reed portraying the idyllic housewife in the Donna Reed Show to Heathcliff and Catherine’s obsessive and toxic love affair in Wuthering Heights, and so many more.

Our cultural environment was promoting bad boundaries and we grew up believing normal was healthy. These messages were coming at us fast and furious–be good, make sure everyone is happy and good, and take care of things so they can run smoothly. 

Add to this cultural dynamic, the experience of empaths who can merge with people to decipher what they want and then they do their very best to give that to them. Those who benefit from the empaths’ lack of boundaries aren’t going to help you create them.

So we continue to get rewarded for ignoring our own needs and authenticity so we can stay in connection with friends, family, jobs, and spouses. Until we get sick or just sick of our way of living. Then we seek help.

Our Responsibilities to Ourselves and Our Community

Another way to think about boundaries is the line between things we are responsible for and things we are not responsible for in our lives. Culture makes this confusing with so many messages about responsibility and personal sacrifice. It is hard to own the truth of boundaries if you’ve been programmed to believe it is your responsibility to care for the family, the community, the whole office you work in, etc. 

Our toxic culture tells us, you come last, after everyone and everything else in your life. It feels selfish to choose to focus on yourself, it isn’t. In fact, it is mandatory if you are going to find a healthy lifestyle.  

Remember airline safety and apply it to your life every day. Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, why? Because you can’t help anyone if you are passed out on the floor. This is what I will call the Platinum Rule – Take care of yourself and make sure you are safe and healthy before offering help to others. 

Let’s look at what you are and what you are not responsible for in your life. 

You are responsible for:

  • Your health–body, mind, and Spirit
  • Listening to your needs and desires
  • Your happiness
  • Your words and their intentions- say what you mean and mean what you say
  • Your actions and their consequences
  • Your energy, how you protect it, and how you carry it or throw it around
  • Protecting yourself and others who are not able to protect themselves ie: children, the elderly, the disabled, and those without power or voice in any given situation
  • Healing your pain and trauma

What you are not responsible for:

  • Taking care of other people’s emotions
  • Making sure everyone is happy
  • Fixing, healing, or solving anything for anyone else
  • Earning someone’s affection
  • What anyone else thinks about you
  • Worrying about a problem that hasn’t been acknowledged as a problem (either ask if there is a problem or wait until they tell you there is a problem before worrying or trying to solve it)
  • The actions, words, or beliefs of someone else
  • The behavior or lifestyle of adult children
  • How people interpret your actions or word – Apply the Golden Rule here, Treat others the way you want to be treated.

You are precious. You have infinite and intrinsic value. You aren’t here to convince anyone of your worth. You do not have to spend your time with people who show you they do not value you. I shouldn’t have to tell anyone this, but our culture requires that I do. Our culture will try to convince you that you have to earn connection by abandoning yourself. By conforming to behaviors and norms that are harmful to you.

In this world, your own well-being is your first and most important priority. And unfortunately, it is too often treated like a privilege for those in power and of means. Know the truth and live it whenever you can.

When the culture is healthier, the interplay between self-care and community-care flows back and forth with relatively little cause for concern about abuse. But when the culture is toxic, like we have now, it is a hotbed of abuse as community-care becomes more and more elusive.

Community-care and Karma

When the culture is toxic, in addition to losing connection with your own body and intuition, the culture loses connection with and awareness of the natural laws of the Universe, like Karma also known as the Law of Cause and Effect. 

When we live in flow (or trust) with the world, we are attuned to the ways nature corrects us and points the way forward. That awareness allows us to shift and change the plan midstream for a better outcome.

When we live in fear (or doubt) of the world, we manhandle life and force our will onto the world. We believe the world is separate from us and we are the most intelligent creature upon it.

This belief and behavior mean that if the Universe tries to make a correction or adjustment to our plan because what we are doing is out of alignment, we ignore it or see it as a challenge we must overcome. We dig in and force our will.

The Law of Cause and Effect simply means the energy we put out into the world is what we will get back. If we are loving and kind then that is the energy we get back. If we are angry and hurt, that is the energy we get back. 

Who has noticed that a good day can suddenly explode when someone cuts you off in traffic and nearly causes a crash? When we allow ourselves to feel anger instead of the shock or fear we are actually experiencing, we will perpetuate even more crappy experiences. 

If you can take a moment to process the almost-crash and feel the shock move through you, and allow the fear to be expressed, you may feel some frustration at the situation that will then naturally dissipate and bring you back to the flow state you were in previously. 

How Karma Can Mess with Good Intentions

Now let’s look at the oh-so-common experience of being enmeshed with someone you love and feeling like you have to save them or fix them somehow. It can cause you to want to take over the situation and “help” them get better. Find them a better job, a safer neighborhood, a path towards leaving an abusive relationship, or whatever you perceive the solution to be for their problems. 

Two things about this kind of thing…First, your “help” when you take responsibility for improving their life, negates their power in the situation. You are taking from them an opportunity for growth, learning, strengthening, and more. 

Everyone is their own captain. Their soul came here with a plan, albeit a loose plan, of things they want to experience and explore. When you interfere with their plans, no matter how loving the intention, you are taking away their power. 

And second, when you take control of someone else’s life and insert your ideas and plans, no matter how well-meaning, opens you up to some crazy karma. Because, what if you are wrong about what they need or want? And what if you are successful in making your plans happen? 

If this isn’t something that is meant for them, it won’t last. And it may end very badly–causing pain, costing them money or integrity, or worse an accident where someone gets hurt. You are likely to get caught up in that backlash. So not only will your friend, who you had intended to help, get hurt, you will very likely get hurt too.

Stay in your lane, as they say, and help people through active listening, letting them know you are rooting for them, making suggestions, and following their lead. They are responsible for figuring it out, it is their life. You just get to be their shoulder to cry on and partner to celebrate with.

As members of the toxic culture, it is important to be conscious in our actions to help heal the culture by living according to our values and demonstrating healthy boundaries which will lead to healthier relationships.

Culture is built on the relationships within it. This is the ripple effect–living your life consciously while holding space for other people to live their life with consciousness as well. 

This is how we create healthy communities, this is how we heal ourselves.

You can read more about how empath experience boundaries in The Energy of Boundaries.

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About the Author

Laura Rowe is an Intuitive Strategist & Spiritual Seeker at The Vital Spirit. Living in Portland, Oregon, Laura founded The Vital Spirit in 2013. She has a background in business operations, a master’s degree in organizational management, and she has spent the last 35 years studying spiritual traditions and practices, and the last 12 years training in intuitive energy healing modalities.

Laura helps empaths and sensitives who have struggled their whole life with belonging. Explore How We Can Work Together