The Indian Navratri festival this year is seeing Goddess Durga riding the #MeToo storm. The timing for the movement to shake India seems almost cosmically choreographed to be in sync with Navratri period or the nine days of war the Warrior Goddess waged against the asura king, Mahishasura.
On the final day (the tenth day) called Dussehra, the war concluded when the Goddess vanquished and killed Mahishasura.
As the Eastern part of the country is celebrating the victory of the Mother Goddess, the northern part of the country in addition to celebrating the victory of Goddess Durga is celebrating another war victory of ancient times by burning the effigies of Ravana, the asura king from the epic Ramayana. The burning is a symbolic way of celebrating Ravana’s defeat at the hands of Rama, and the rescue of Sita, Rama’s wife, from Ravana’s captivity.
What is striking here is the almost eerie way the present is mirroring the past. The cries of #MeToo in the backdrop of Dussehra is in a ‘déjà vuic’ sense if I may say so, echoing Durga’s loud war cries and Sita’s cries of rage from the days of yore.
It is as if the #MeToo cries have suddenly lifted the veil and revealed the true, formidable Durga ready to strike out in rage due to the violation of Her personal space.
What makes this plot even more fascinating is the meaning of the name Durga itself.
Durga means that which is ‘impassable’, ‘impenetrable’, and ‘invincible’. It is that which is difficult to transgress into or crossover.Durga thus is the ultimate feminine archetypal protector of personal boundaries.
And the celebration of Dussehra is about reclaiming violated personal boundaries, especially for women.
Both the mythological tales (that of Durga and Rama) celebrated during this period depict a series of events which are the results of clear transgressions of personal boundaries by the Asura kings Mahishasura and Ravana.
Therefore, in essence, the wars in both the stories were waged to reclaim personal boundaries.
- Transgressions of Personal Boundaries in the Mythological Tales:
- So, What Then Are Personal Boundaries?
- The #MeToo Outcry – A Result of Personal Boundary Violations:
- What Constitutes Personal Boundary Violations?
- What Are the Signs of Not Having Healthy Boundaries?
- What Are the Signs of Boundary Violations?
- Why Do People Have Poor Personal Boundaries?
- Creating Healthy Boundaries in Personal & Professional Life:
- Why We Need Durga in This #MeToo Era:
Transgressions of Personal Boundaries in the Mythological Tales:
In the tale of Durga, Mahishasura refuses to follow any decorum and wreaks havoc among people and Gods. He even thinks of the Devi or Goddess Durga as a mere woman who needs to controlled and forcibly taken to be his consort. He then repeatedly crossed the boundaries of civility by sending different messengers to force Her to marry him and even to forcibly imprison Her and bring Her to him. He did not take Her “No” seriously because according to him She was a ‘mere woman’ albeit an unconventional one, but a “mere” woman nevertheless. The Devi challenged him which was already her intention from the outset and vanquished him.
In the Ramayana, as both the brothers Rama and Lakshmana prepared to go hunting, Lakshmana repeatedly warned his sister-in-law Sita not to come out of the hut and receive any strangers. As he feared, Ravana, the Asura king approached their hut disguised as a beggar knowing fully well that Sita was alone in the house. He coaxed her to come out. Sita had the gut feeling something was wrong and refused at first. Ravana persisted and she hesitatingly stepped out to give alms to the unwelcome visitor and was immediately kidnapped.
Unlike Durga, Sita did not stick to a firm “No”. Her inability to say “No” resulted in Ravana trespassing and violating her personal boundary by kidnapping her.
A fact to be noted here is that Sita was very young when she was married to Rama.
As a naive girl who was brought up in a very protective environment within a palace it is but natural for her to quickly give the benefit of doubt to someone who appeared to be a beggar and let him into the boundary.
And yet, once she realized she was duped, Sita found her courage and stuck to her guns by saying “No” while she was held as a captive. Ravana could not cross that boundary to have his way with her.
Goddess Durga, though right at the outset knew how to safeguard Her own boundary by communicating Her ‘No’ clearly and refusing to change Her stand. Therefore, in protecting Herself, She could also protect others.
So, What Then Are Personal Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the “No Entry” zones defining your:
boundaries whenever you interact with strangers, your colleagues, family, friends, and even intimate partners.
Boundaries offer a safety net or a filter by putting in place a set of rules and guidelines that show the permissible ways people can behave with you.
Personal boundaries take shape based on your:
- value systems
- mental conditioning
Personal boundaries have a two-fold purpose. They keep certain things in and certain things out.
They can enhance the quality of your relationships due to the simple fact that having boundaries in the first place clearly conveys what you want or don’t want in your life. And this, in turn, shows you understand yourself pretty well, and therefore there is a pretty good chance you understand others well too. This very fact ensures that there is clear communication in your relationships and therefore there is very less chance of relationship disputes occurring.
In fact, a bonus of having clear personal boundaries is that only the type of people you seek in your life will be there in your life. The rest will automatically get filtered away by your boundaries.
The #MeToo Outcry – A Result of Personal Boundary Violations:
It was Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist, who initiated the #MeToo movement in 2006 to raise awareness about sexual abuse. This movement was later given momentum by Alyssa Milano in October 2017, when a number of people across all walks of life joined in sharing their sordid abuse stories on public forums and soon heads began to roll. Some of the most prominently affected people were Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, actors Morgan Freeman, Jamie Fox, Aziz Ansari and quite a few more.
Now, exactly a year later #MeToo’s onslaught has reached the shores of India, a country already notorious for its rape and sexual harassment incidents. The last three weeks have seen a number of women, mostly, media and entertainment professionals, including prominent names such as Tanushree Dutta, Priya Ramani, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte, and many more come forward citing their own experiences of sexual abuse by prominent men such as, MJ Akbar, Nana Patekar, Alok Nath, Chetan Bhagat, Kailash Kher, etc.
The #MeToo movement is taking on epidemic proportions and the ripples are spreading across the globe. But then, going by the number of women coming forward and sharing their stories, it is evident that even sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions on earth. This is the ultimate violation of personal boundaries which usually has severe mental, emotional, and psychological repercussions for the survivor.
The effects are long term. In cases of personal boundary violations, the old adage “Time heals all,” does not hold true.
Time passes but the wound of being violated remains and even festers until the survivor works on releasing the associated emotions. It is then that transformation occurs.
What Constitutes Personal Boundary Violations?
You may experience boundary violations in different areas of your life such as:
- Material boundaries:
- Forcibly getting into someone’s physical space, maybe into a room, or even taking a seat in the office without permission, despite being told not to
- Repeatedly asking money from someone with no intention of returning it back
- Not returning borrowed items
- Physical boundaries:
- Sexual abuse
- Any form of physical abuse including domestic violence
- Inappropriate touch
- Pursuing another person persistently when he/she has explicitly said “No”
- Emotional Boundaries:
- Verbally abusing someone
- Insulting, making fun of, or putting someone down repeatedly in front of others
- Reading someone’s personal letters or dairy
- Mental Boundaries:
- Providing unwanted advice
- Assuming what another feels or wants
- Asking personal, intrusive questions where the relationship does not call for it, such as, “What is your age?”, “Are you married?”, “What is your salary?”
What Are the Signs of Not Having Healthy Boundaries?
Some tell-tale signs that show you do not have healthy boundaries are:
- You do not stand up for yourself: When someone mistreats or manipulates you and you fail to speak up for yourself it is a sign of poor personal boundaries. By not speaking up for yourself you invite others to step all over you and treat you like a doormat.
- You agree with people a lot: You have the habit of agreeing with people even when you want to disagree with them just so that they like you and think you are nice. It matters a lot to you what others think of you. That is a sign of not having healthy boundaries. You are letting other’s thoughts run the show in your life.
- You overshare your life’s details: You share too much personal information with people and later feel uncomfortable about it. Even the person you share with may feel uncomfortable, but you share anyway. That is a sign of not knowing how to keep proper boundaries.
- Feeling excessively guilty: When you feel excessively guilty about giving yourself some exclusive ‘me time’, or about other people feeling miserable even when you are not to blame in any way, it is a sure shot sign of poor personal boundaries. People can take advantage of your feelings at any time.
- You are treated like a doormat: People do not bother about your feelings and simply treat you any way they want. They do not respect you. That is a sign of you having loose boundaries and letting people trespass into your space.
What Are the Signs of Boundary Violations?
Here are a few red flags pointing out boundary violations:
- Gut feeling that something is off: Your gut always warns you through subtle signals that something isn’t right, or something is not adding up when a boundary violation is about to occur. Many women after facing harassment often state that they felt something “was off”. That is their internal system warning them. And the gut is always right. Unfortunately, few people listen to it.
- Saying yes and resenting it: Notice when someone asks you to do something and you say yes and then hate yourself for it. As time passes, the feeling of resentment towards yourself and the person you said “yes” to keeps growing. That right there is a sign that you allowed someone to violate your boundary.
- You’re feeling used, manipulated, victimized, exploited, taken for granted controlled, bullied, forced: Any or all of these emotions point towards serious boundary violations. If you are facing any of these feelings, you need to question yourself whether you want to allow the person to continue with that form of behaviour towards you or if you even want to stay in that environment anymore.
Why Do People Have Poor Personal Boundaries?
It is always a difficult childhood that sets the stage for poor personal boundaries in a person. Children do not have personal boundaries since they are innocent, trusting, and unconditionally loving. Hence, it becomes very easy to abuse children since they are easy and gullible targets. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that child abuse is rampant throughout the world in different forms.
Very often a child who experiences:
- emotional neglect
- constant shaming
- emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- constant rebukes from overly strict parents
- a dysfunctional relationship between the parents and other family members
is not able to develop self-esteem, self-appreciation, assertiveness, courage, and self-confidence which are the cornerstones of healthy boundaries.
The child’s beliefs and mental conditioning about people and the environment stem from the difficult childhood experiences. These beliefs solidify with age, influence the creation or even the complete absence of boundaries, which in turn influences his/her experiences with people later in life.
Creating Healthy Boundaries in Personal & Professional Life:
The first step to creating healthy boundaries is to take back your power and stop blaming your difficult childhood experiences and the people responsible for them. Forgive them if you can, but most importantly forgive yourself for the past boundary violations that you permitted or were helpless to prevent.
As a child, the circumstances and people were beyond your control. As an adult though, steering your life in the direction you want is entirely in your control and solely your choice.
You can change your faulty beliefs and mental conditionings by understanding that:
- First and Foremost, you have the right to create personal boundaries, respect them yourself and make sure people respect them as well. By respecting your own personal boundaries (by listening to your own emotions and feelings), you are sending out the subtle message that you respect yourself. People will automatically copy that and those who cannot accept it will move away from you.
- Your feelings and emotions are equally important as are the feelings of people around you. Pay attention to what you feel. Your feelings are a constant guidance meter to the world around you. Your feelings will divulge what you truly need and will aid your self-discovery and self-understanding process. This is vital to building healthy boundaries. Practices such as mindfulness and journaling can work wonders for you in this process.
- Giving yourself some “me time” every day can be an investment in personal development. Women, especially in this country, are taught to sacrifice and put other’s needs first. However, even while travelling by flight the safety instructions that are given by the crew states that in an emergency first put on the mask yourself and then help others. You cannot be of service to others when you are yourself not well physically and emotionally. So, take care of yourself first to be able to take care of others. This is the lesson taught by Goddess Durga Herself, in that, She protected Her own boundaries by assertively sticking to her “No” and making Her intention clear and staying focused on it. This enabled Her to slay the Asura king and thereby protect others as well, who were affected by his onslaughts.
Once you ready yourself to set up healthy boundaries you can start by:
- Learning to Say No: Learning to say “No” is laying the foundation stone to creating boundaries. Always listen to your gut and say “No” when it does not feel right. Your body never lies. In fact, saying “no” may even save your life.
Saying “no” to others is, in essence, saying “yes” to yourself and respecting your own time and needs.
You need not be rude while saying “no” and you can end by saying “maybe next time” if you want or simply say, “I’m sorry but I will not be able to. Please consider making other arrangements.”
- Being aware when people cross your boundary: You can do this easily by observing the feelings in your body, especially your gut. Are you experiencing a sinking feeling in your gut or even fluttering? You can become assertive immediately or remove yourself from the situation. This will also help you to learn to trust yourself and that can work wonders for your self-confidence.
- Let go of toxic people: When learning to create healthy boundaries be aware that certain people will not like it. And the simple reason they will not like it is because now they are not able to benefit by trespassing into your boundaries anymore. You need to let them go.
Keep in mind that you, in fact, could be helping the boundary trespassers by letting them go so that they learn to become independent themselves and stop violating other’s boundaries to feel powerful.
Most of the time people who are not healthy for your own emotional growth will walk away from you. This will, in turn, create the space for newer and healthier friendships to grow.
- Speak up immediately about a boundary violation: Usually when a boundary is violated people keep ruminating about it for days on end and feel frustrated. Instead, if you feel a boundary is violated, especially in your workplace, speak up immediately and let the person know that you do not appreciate what is happening.
- Keep your communication clear: Keep your communication personal or professional clear and precise. This will automatically happen when you listen to your feelings. Listening to your feelings will aid with self-understanding and will make your intentions behind any feelings or wishes clear.
Clear intents create healthy boundaries, which generate clear communications and finally right actions.
Why We Need Durga in This #MeToo Era:
The collective #MeToo outcry during this Dussehra is a clarion call to protect and respect each other’s personal boundaries. But just as charity begins at home, respecting personal boundaries starts with respecting yourself first. So, when you catch yourself trying your best to tolerate someone’s company, to be polite, or you’re about to say “yes” when all you want to say is “no” simply tell yourself, “I choose me.”
Durga Puja, Navratri, or Dusshera is a reminder to reclaim your personal power. It is about breaking conventions and embracing the unconventional. It is about stepping up and summoning the power that is Durga within to protect your personal boundaries fiercely when the occasion so demands.
(The views expressed in this article by the writer are her own and are not in any way connected to Medlife whatsoever.)