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Relationships aren’t always easy—especially if you disagree on important topics such as spirituality. However, these disagreements don’t have to be unpleasant as long as they’re approached with the right spiritual and psychological tools.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore what eighteenth-century scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg learned during his mystical explorations of the afterlife. Join in as they take concepts from his spiritual writings and combine them with principles of modern-day psychology to come up with loving solutions to relationship problems.
Regular boundaries are clearly communicated and obvious when they’re crossed. An example might be the Ten Commandments: “you shall not kill” is not only a commandment but the law of the land, and it’s obvious when someone has crossed the line. Micro-boundaries, on the other hand, have to do with our interpersonal relationships, and those can be damaged almost imperceptibly. Therapist Mark Carlson introduced this topic based on his studies of Swedenborg’s work and the case of one particular couple.
In his observations of their arguments and obvious love for each other, he realized there was a clear pattern in their interactions. It popped up anytime one partner commented on another’s internal state, which, as described by Swedenborg, refers to a person’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs—all the things that relate to their spiritual self.
It is our spirit that thinks and intends. (Divine Providence §101)
So what did Mark discover? Simply, making assumptions about someone else’s internal state always brings up anger, or zelotypia. This term is used in modern psychology to refer to abnormal zeal or jealousy, but Swedenborg also uses the term in his writings to refer to a passionate sense of protectiveness. Latin consultant Chara Daum explains zelotypia.
Anger does not exist in heaven, among the angels. Instead they have zeal. Anger differs from zeal in that anger contains evil, while zeal contains good. People who are angry intend evil to the target of their anger, but people who are zealous intend good to the target of their zeal. People with zeal, then, can instantly turn kindhearted, and in what they actually do they can be good to others; but people with anger cannot. Although zeal looks the same as anger on the outside, it is completely different inside. (Secrets of Heaven §4164)
As Mark explains, zealous anger comes from a desire to protect yourself from something toxic, like the idea of someone else judging or predicting your inner thoughts. Swedenborg also has a lot to say about this topic, especially the importance of not judging others.
But as for inward qualities, regarding the life of faith and the like, they are not to be judged. Only the Lord knows them. A thousand can appear alike outwardly, in fact speak alike, and yet be wholly unalike as to those qualities. The motives of everyone as to those qualities can never be known. To judge about them on the basis of deeds, is to be deceived . . . From much experience it has become known to me that people whom the world had judged as evil as to their inward qualities, are among the blessed, and conversely, people whom they had judged well, are among the unhappy. (Spiritual Experiences §4426)
Nobody can know or judge what is going on in the heart and mind of somebody else. We can condemn their actions if they do something wrong, but that’s different from assuming we know what they are truly like inside. That’s where boundaries become incredibly important.
Mark uses the hand to symbolize seven key micro-boundaries that should not be crossed: feelings; intentions/desires/motivations; thoughts; opinions; beliefs; your experience of your family of origin; and your experience of your body. In Swedenborgian terminology, feelings, intentions, desires, and motivations relate to the part of the mind called the will; thoughts, opinions, and beliefs relate to the part of the mind called the understanding.
Often, he found that people who got angry about these crossed micro-boundaries didn’t even know why they were mad. In many cases, the internal states that we see in others are actually just reflections of our own state of mind. This means we could be missing the other person entirely and instead just seeing ourselves.
We’ll see more about how to apply this to other relationships in the next section, but first, watch a fan video featuring a reading from Swedenborg with thoughts on achieving a heavenly state of mind.
Any relationship has a conflict between our love for freedom and our need for intimacy. Swedenborg writes about this often in the context of our relationship with God.
Divine love by its very nature wants to give what it has to others, which means to us on earth and to angels. All spiritual love is like this; divine love most of all. (Divine Providence §43)
On the path to spiritual growth, God gives us the freedom to choose whether to do right or wrong, but his goal is for us to always be more closely united with him so that we can experience heaven inside ourselves.
It follows that the goal is for us to have a clearer sense of our identity and yet to be more clearly aware that we belong to the Lord . . . (Divine Providence §45)
Both intimacy and freedom are necessary in a relationship, whether it’s spiritual or interpersonal. But as we grow closer to someone else, our free will becomes threatened. The function of this zealous anger is self-protection—the need for free will is in our spiritual DNA.
OK, we just said a lot about the fact that we can’t truly know someone else’s inner self. But what if someone crosses a micro-boundary—and they’re right? Mark points out that we’ll even react negatively if someone guesses our internal state correctly. Telling us how to feel pushes a button, because it feels like they’re controlling us.
What is inside us resists compulsion from the outside so definitely that it turns the other way. This is because our inner nature wants to be in freedom and loves its freedom. As I have already explained . . . freedom is a matter of our love or our life; so when something free feels that it is being controlled, it withdraws into itself, so to speak, and turns in the opposite direction. It looks at the compulsion as an enemy. The love that is the substance of our life is irritated, which makes us think that we are not in control of ourselves and that we are therefore not living our own life. (Divine Providence §136:3)
The power struggle over internal states changes any conversation away from its topic. It’s so important that we maintain control over our internal states; any threat to that control earns a visceral reaction.
So how can we be sensitive to spiritual boundaries? The best way to stop someone from judging your internal state or judging someone else’s is to speak about it openly with each other—and respect what they say.
- Can we give true unbiased correction to someone if we see error in their ways? Or can we even see error in others without self-projecting?
- Can there also then be “collective boundaries” such as a boundary of a tribe or country?
- What did Swedenborg say about making good spiritual judgments? Such as assuming the best in people and believing they must have good intentions and feelings.
- Isn’t love of self evil?
- Do spirits have similar relationship issues as what was discussed here?
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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