The Anatomy of Personal Boundaries
A personal boundary is set as a limit in certain areas and topics when interacting with people you deal with on a daily basis. They range long and wide depending on a person’s relationship to you. They also have a minimal or large impact depending on who crosses those boundaries.
We all need healthy personal boundaries to protect ourselves as well as other people for emotional wellness.
This post breaks down what a boundary is, how to create your own, what it looks like when you honor yours and how to communicate your boundaries to the people around you. In addition, it conveys how to honor others’ boundaries even when we disagree with them and when they make us uncomfortable.
A boundary is like a set of rules one creates for themselves as protection of some sort. This protection can be mental, physical, financial or for any social setting. What you define as a boundary may not be the same for someone else. That is why we need to understand them to honor them. Here are a few examples of different boundaries people have from all walks of life relating to confidentiality, personal space, confidence, family, money, common courtesy, and respect:
“Don’t ask me how much I make or how much I’ve paid for my car or house.”
“You can ask me how much I paid for my house, but do not question me about how I spend time with my children.”
“Do not tell me how to raise my child.”
“You may share tips on parenting, but do not get too close to my body when you speak.”
“Stay out of my personal space.”
“You may get close to me without a problem, but only you can come around me when we see one another.”
“I don’t mind being around you and your friends, but never bring other people unannounced to my house”.
“My home is an open door, but that doesn’t mean all the doors in my home are open.”
“Don’t walk in a room when the door is closed without knocking.”
“You may enter my home as you please, but never open my refrigerator without asking.”
“Don’t reach for my food, especially without permission.”
“I will always share my food, but never tell anyone when I don’t.”
“Don’t tell anyone my business no matter how small.”
“Never tell our families about our problems”.
“I don’t care who knows what happened, but do not make it seem like it's about our age difference.”
“Don’t ask me about my age.”
“I am proud to share my age, but never ask me about my weight.”
“Don’t tell me how or what I should eat.”
“I am not ashamed of my weight. Ask me anything, just don’t inquire about my child’s ____”.
“Do not kiss my child.”
“Do not speak about me in front of my child.”
“Do not touch my hair.”
You get the picture. The list can go on for centuries... My boundaries may not be as big of a deal to you, but they are to me. Your boundaries may not be as big as they are to you as they are to me.
Boundaries will change as you grow; they should. An important boundary at 13 may not be the same as 23, 33, 43, ad 53. Set new boundaries. Remove old ones that don’t apply to your growth and lifestyle accordingly.
How to create your own boundaries
It is so important for others to not create boundaries for us. This happens when we don’t speak up for ourselves and we do not remain consistent with what we say. People will decide what you will and will not put up with at their leisure if you do not create boundaries for yourself.
Think about things that have offended you, changed you, and things that you didn’t like in the past. Think about the events or things that have transpired and caused you to feel a certain way. These are the things that you will not allow to happen again. Next, create a set of rules for yourself to make sure people don’t cross those boundaries and that you fully believe is for the betterment of your life. You don’t have to decide how you handle certain situations if you are violated today, but it is very important to think about what’s best for you in the event that lines are crossed.
By creating a “set of rules” to protect your space and energy, you create one of the most consistent ways of living a well-balanced life. Decide what you will and will not allow a person to do based on their relationship to you. These are your boundaries.
When you have clear boundaries, people can sense them, see them and experience them without conflict. They help you remain consistent with your personal life mission and how you want to carry yourself. Having clear boundaries says ‘don’t do, say, or ask this’ or that ‘this’ offend/violate me. When you are aware of your needs and wants regarding the relationships and interactions you have with people, you can enforce any boundary and allow things to happen at best.
What it looks like when you honor your boundaries
Before we dive into honoring your boundaries, let’s make sure you’re doing due diligence to yourself and others around you. Before you enforce your set of rules with others, ensure that you have communicated them. If you never get a chance to, make sure you do before you react 100% negatively (within reason). You can enforce your boundaries when you’ve fairly communicated them.
Assuming that people should know what your particular boundaries are, even if they are widely accepted by society is unreasonable. People are from different parts of the country and world. Even people who are from other parts of the city live differently from you. Not all social norms are the same. That’s why it’s easy to offend others unknowingly because people just don’t know what your particular boundaries are and vice versa.
After you confirm to yourself, “I have communicated what I like/dislike and this person still didn’t/doesn’t care”, you can handle situations as you see fit.
Now, what does honoring your boundaries look like, after you’ve communicated them?
Two things happen when you honor your boundaries:
You earn the respect of others and now have a clear understanding of what can and can’t happen moving forward.
You offend others and/or make them uncomfortable.
Both are okay. When you honor your boundaries, you are consistent with the rules that you have set for yourself. You proudly stand up for you! Honoring your boundaries means acknowledging that you’ve set them in place for your benefit, not to appease anyone else.
Discomfort may happen on your end and/or on the other end of the person you’re enforcing your boundary with. Understanding and accepting that everyone will not like your personal boundaries will help you navigate through life much better. Besides, you’ve set them for you not them.
How to communicate your boundaries to others
Again, it’s unfair to have boundaries and not communicate as needed or beforehand. To take offense is okay, but to assume the other person knew they were crossing a line is unfair. You wouldn’t want someone to react in the worst way over something you have no earthly clue about. This is important especially for your more intimate relationships. Below are two suggestions on how you can communicate your boundaries to others who knowingly or unknowingly violate them:
When someone doesn’t know they’ve crossed a boundary:
It’s very important for people to know what they’ve done and how it makes you think and feel before you cut them off. Simply being brave enough to say “when you said/did XYZ, I was offended/felt violated or hurt.” Or you can say, “I do not like/I prefer not to/it bothers me when ____”. By telling a person the ‘why and how’, you inform them about the effects of their actions and allow them to decide how they will act going forward. This gives them a chance to acknowledge and correct their actions as not all actions are intentional.
When someone knows about your boundaries and violates them anyway:
When this happens, try your very best to remove emotion from the situation. This is extremely hard to do, but it helps make practical decisions. Accept their actions by telling yourself factual information. This person did XYZ, ‘this’ is how I will move forward with the person.
Think: If someone I didn’t know told me that ‘this’ happened to them and I didn’t know any of the parties involved, what would I tell them. You’d give them an unbiased opinion most likely. Treat yourself the same way.
When someone knowingly violates your boundaries, it means the person lacks respect or care for you and your needs. You can either cease all communication or limit interaction and communication.
Note: Dealing with children is much different as most children are impressionable. You have to teach according to the way they learn. Still, communicate. Still, enforce. But, handle them in a way that they learn and you still honor what you stand for.
How you should honor the boundaries of others
It’s simple. Respect others as you’d want them to respect you. When people set boundaries for themselves, even if you don’t understand them, it’s imperative that you respect them or you risk damaging the relationship. Just as you’ve set boundaries for yourself, others do the same for them.
Respect is how you honor the boundaries of others even if you disagree or they make you uncomfortable.
Never feel entitled to their space and thoughts. Many of us do this. We feel self-entitled to believe that we deserve a certain reaction or response from other people who handle their life and situations differently than we do. Expecting others to conform to what we think should happen is self-entitlement. It isn’t fair to the other person.
Personal boundaries are extremely crucial to have a well-balanced life. Do the self-work! Understand what you need in order to feel safe, happy, appreciated and loved. Know that others are doing the same for their life. At some point, boundaries will cross paths. They may not be the most comfortable, but they are fair.
What are some ways you enforce your boundaries with others? Has anyone ever expressed a boundary that you unknowingly violated? How did you work it out? Comment below.