Boundaries: What? Where? When? How? Why?
This began innocently enough, and now, it transpires, this post is one of two... so, before I add any more words to this... let's chat boundaries.
Agh, the B word. It gets bounced around like a basket ball, passing swiftly from one person to the next at the start of an impromtu game, before anyone even asks if you actually want to play??
With the tidal rise of self care, self help and wellbeing information, BOUNDARIES have become a go to buzz word along with “red flags”, “narcacist” and “good vibes”.
“Put up boundaries”
“Know your boundaries”
But despite this well intentioned cultural shifting, you may just be wondering WHAT TF ARE BOUNDARIES???
Well, my sweet, I have good new for you. Today we’re diving right in, learning more about what boundaries are, and in another post - because I realised HOW MUCH THERE IS TO WRITE ABOUT WITH THIS - how to set, manage AND take responsibility.
In my work, boundaries is one of the most common areas of focus. Unsurprising really, considering each one of my clients has this tricky trait in common: they are human beings, raised in a society that does little to teach about emotions, let alone boundaries and how to set or respect them.
So if you’re feeling strung out in your relationships, drained by work or simply at your wits end with your overall wellbeing; this is for you. And I promise, this taking responsibility thing is a lot more refreshing than it sounds.
In fact, taking responsibility for your boundaries can increase your energy levels, confidence AND improve relationships. Sound good? Let’s go…
First off, we’re going to answer our WHAT… What is a boundary?
Emotional boundaries define the separation of your feelings from another's feelings.
Over stepping, violating or breaking an emotional boundary can include; taking responsibility for another’s feelings, allowing other's feelings dictate yours, sacrificing your own needs to please others, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for what is another's.
There are different types of boundaries too; physical, sexual, financial, emotional, professional, relational, intellectual, material, time. A boundary is that space you define for yourself that, in many ways, sets a term or another of what is an important value, standard, desire or belief you have that is separate to another.
So with these in mind, WHERE…
Where do boundaries exist?
Boundaries are everywhere, in everything, it’s almost impossible to think of a situation where they wouldn’t arise…
This is primarily due to your constant interaction with others, and the world around you. You even have boundaries with yourself. Boundaries in situations could look like:
Emotional: “No, I don’t want to”
Relational: “I like sharing these stories and details with you, but please don’t pass them on” or “please don’t speak to me in that tone”
Sexual: “I’m comfortable kissing, but I don’t want to go further yet” or “I’m comfortable with us sleeping together, but not with multiple others”
Professional: Keeping to reasonable working hours or not discussing private client details with others
Financial; “that isn’t within my budget and I don’t feel comfortable spending that amount”
Physical: Being mindful of uninvited physical contact or getting too close
Personal: Switching your phone off at 10pm, setting a time limit for daily social media use or even managing thoughts
Imagine these sewn around you, like the most incredible cocoon of personal agency you’ve ever lived in…
So, WHEN would these come up?
Well, whenever you or another feel you or they would like to assert them…
In a world where we’re taught that being nice is synonymous with obedience (it’s not), and kindness associated with martyrdom at cost to your own happiness or feelings (guess what: not), it’s no wonder that for many people, setting boundaries feels uncomfortable, rude and desperately questionable...
This can leave the action of when to put them in place trembling in it’s boots…
The when of setting boundaries is up to you, in your own journey as you learn about them… when you feel uncomfortable, when you feel pressured, when you sense something isn’t right…
When you feel a boundary is needed, that is when… you do not ever have to justify if it is the right or wrong time to set a boundary…
You are allowed to take up space, to say no, to say yes, to use your voice… you do not, ever, have to wait for someone else to give you permission to set a boundary. Your when is valid.
It's also worth noting that you don't have to wait for others to set boundaries for you to respect theirs; for example, common decency may guide many of them for you, or you could begin by mirroring your own with others, like not telling them what to do or gossiping.
Setting boundaries ask you to “hold your own” on something, especially in the face of someone else own surety of what they want. This requires courage, confidence and a degree of clarity. All of which you may tremble at the thought of.
Fear not, you lovely human, you are deserving and capable of all three.
So, when you’ve summoned the tits to set your boundaries, let’s jump into our HOW?
How can you learn and set boundaries?
You, and everyone, are given a plot of land, and this plot of land borders DIRECTLY onto your neighbours. In this imaginary landscape, there’s absolutely no markings at all, except maybe from some vague space around each person. So, what’s your first step? Well..
Step 1: Figure out what’s your land; to make it extra helpful, no one else has any records of this for you. This is a process of exploration, reflection, learning and exploring. In reality, think about what feels good and what doesn't, try journalling, reading, therapy, coaching, feeling into the space. This is an ongoing process, one you’ll add to and discover in time.
Step 2: Define the boundary; you know those string and stakes in the ground kind of fencing? yeah, well you essentially start there; learning how to say no, expressing yourself and having conversations with others. This could look like:
Step 3: The fencing goes up; over time, as you build confidence with boundaries, they become firmer, more solid and reliable.
Now, instead of letting others walk all over your land, you need to decide where your fencing should go and start skimming off your boarders, you take pride in your land; you water, tend to and nourish it.
At first, as you’re new here, you may tentatively start by gently asking others not to trespass, they’re your land neighbours after all. You want to be nice enough. In life, this can see you starting to say no a little more often, getting comfortable with setting limits or voicing your opinion.
It is VERY common and normal for this to take time, if you’re prone to putting others needs before your own or feeling uncomfortable with the slightest bit of confrontation, you can expect some push/pull to happen. It’s all good, you’re still on the right track.
After a while, you will begin to notice that boundaries and being nice are not always sitting pretty hand in hand. In fact, a lot of boundary setting doesn’t feel nice. It can feel uncomfortable, challenging and nerve wracking. It’s all good, you’re STILL on the right track.
Instead of focusing on nicely asking people who continue to trespass to please “not”, you might like to develop your ability to remind them that dogs live on the other side of this fence.
Now, these metaphorical dogs aren’t simply a bark and a bite of anger, they are consequences, such as removing yourself from the situation, reporting behaviour or spending less time together.
When setting consequences with boundaries, it is important to make them clear. In fact, consequences play an important role in boundaries, by allowing others to know you are serious and you intend to follow through. Without this, your boundaries mean very little, because the person will learn you don’t mean them.
When setting boundaries, you will likely come across a range of responses; there’s those who will respect your boundaries, others who will try to control, another may attempt to manipulate while someone else entirely may ignore them outright.
This, in no uncertain terms, is a ball ache. You’ve summoned the courage to defend your kingdom and here’s that bellend from the next plot over trying to convince you that the apple tree on your plot is HIS, even though you planted it.
So, you may be wondering, if with all this effort, back and forth, up and down you’d even BOTHER with boundaries, let’s anchor you into your WHY...
Because your WHY is rocket fuel when that HOW feels extra shaky...
WHY do you need to set boundaries?
Imma slide in here with this: human beings are boundary pushers, like, we feckin’ love it.
As kids, we learn about the world through constant boundary pushing; you know when kids get a little bit shitty over wanting what they want and throw tantrums? Yep, learning about boundaries.
As adults, we do the same, and it isn’t always malicious - we do it in work, relationships, encouraging a friend to come out for one drink or ten, or coaxing a story out of someone.
It’s essentially part of how we put our little feelers out there in the world and get a sense of what’s going on. This could also be understood on an energetic level, how open you or another is, what is or isn’t okay, how much time you do or don’t want to spend with someone. There is a constant dance, if you think about it.
However, this is all worth being mindful of, of course, because as natural as this boundary pushing is, that doesn’t mean it should go unchecked; you and I are also aware of listening, respecting and understanding these boundaries, so while you may have innocent enough intentions, urging a friend beyond their “omg no I don't want to” may be making someone more uncomfortable than you realise.
This brings us deeply into our WHY, and that is, quite frankly, because you deserve respect, as anyone does. You deserve to be heard, to feel comfortable and validated in your own definition of yourself.
Without boundaries, people may just continue to take, take, take. And not because each single one of them is out to get you, but because without it you have no limit to the "give, give, give"...
Occasionally, people can cross a boundary without realising it... sometimes they're being sneaky sneaky and other times, just a cheeky human... but communication is king, and without setting a boundary, there isn't always a clear stop sign (aside from the obvious) in the same way you have to learn about setting your own boundaries, there's a need for us all to learn about one another's.
That happens with communicating clear boundaries. Boundaries educate others on the behaviours you will and won't accept.
Boundaries allow you to further define yourself, they remind others to recognise and respect you, they support your growth, mental and physical health, and promote a greater sense of wellbeing and agency.
When boundaries are set, you validate yourself as an individual, your needs can be met, you encourage feelings of safety in your body, relationships and choices. Plus, you heap on the amount of time you get to spend doing the things you ACTUALLY want to be doing.
You get to water, tend to and nourish yourself.
Boundaries benefit you.
Now, for some, connecting to this why is difficult. Because you may find that a practise that chooses you is uncomfortable. Maybe you’re struggling with self esteem, or you’re knee deep in a rubbish relationship where you’ve sold out your happiness for “companionship” (on the nose? Yep, been there babe) but I’d like to encourage you to start: Start setting your boundaries, start seeing that those in your life who support healthy connection are also there for the difficult conversations.
Setting boundaries is hard because it can mean confronting why you’re putting up with the “less than” or “compromise” behaviour in the first place. But that’s another subject for another day.
Keep these in your awareness and know they’re normal. Finding it hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, or shouldn’t do it.
Growth is hard, learning is challenging. LET’S NORMALISE THAT before your brain swings in with how you need to abandon all attempts because your “no” came out as “on??”.
Chew this for a bit, lovely and next I will cover how to maintain and take responsibility for your boundaries.
Sending much love, you big weird alien in life,