Often we think personal boundaries are just about protecting ourselves but they’re actually much more than that. They’re vital to building and sustaining a succulent relationship.
Personal boundaries have several purposes:
- They ARE tools for protecting our essential Self. It’s where we say ‘No’ in life.
- They help us see ourselves, where we stretch and grow
- They show other people who we are, rather than who we ‘should’ be.
- Our boundaries are the way we teach others how we wish to be treated.
- Setting boundaries helps us feel safe and respected enough to fully engage in relationship rather than pull away from it.
Our personal boundaries, just like everyone else’s, are particularly unique to us, as a result of our individual personality and our life experiences. Because boundaries are so personal we don’t need to justify or defend them to anyone else, as we’re just maintaining your essential Self. Our boundaries are about us, so it is up to us to maintain them, knowing that each time we do so we love ourselves, and those around us.
Getting clear on boundaries is a healthy and normal part of relating.
Reasons why we can have difficulties with boundaries are:
- Not being present or connected to our feeling bodies enough to ‘sense’ our boundaries, or another’s
- a lack of understanding and/or practice
- a lack of role modelling
- having our boundaries regularly crossed at an early age eg. by a smothering, over caring parent, an immature parent who required their emotional needs to be met by the child, children parented in an ambivalent attachment style, being emotionally abandoned or having experienced some form of sexual abuse makes it hard to know we have any.
- People who have difficulty with their own boundaries will unconsciously have difficulty in seeing and respecting the boundaries of others
- We will experience boundary crosses as adults but our childhood experiences remain primary, as our bodies remember and drive our future behaviour, unless we bring it to our awareness.
Identifying a boundary is looking for a contraction or a ‘no’ in our body. Sometimes this ‘no’ can be a little whisper and others it can feel like a freight train roaring through us. We have boundaries in all areas of our lives, from saying no to another committee in order to have more rest during our week to saying no to a particular sexual practice that doesn’t feel right for us.
There are two things boundaries are not:
Boundaries are NOT about trying to control our partner’s behaviour:
They’re not about trying to impose our standards of behaviour onto our partner. Attempting to do this is both a manipulation and an invalidation of who our partners are- as we’re saying we need them to be different from who they are for us to love them, and it’s a very unloving thing to do.
So when you’re setting a boundary ask yourself- is this about me or am I making it about them??
Boundaries are not about avoiding relationship:
When we’re setting a boundary it is not to be used to protect yourself from engaging with your partner in order to avoid being uncomfortable. This is simply avoidance with a manipulative label.
For example you can set a boundary around not having a difficult conversation by requesting a delay:
– until you have more time
– feel more rested
– or clearer in yourself etc
Then set a time when you will be willing to. This is saying ‘no’ to look after yourself, but is not a total rejection of your partners desires. Make sure you follow through with the conversation at a later time, rather than forget about or avoid it altogether, which shows respect for both yourself and your partner.
As you can see, boundaries don’t really work unless we’re willing to identify, state and stand up for them. It is through practice that our boundaries become clear to ourselves and to others.
Our boundaries are about us
Remembering too that they’re our boundaries, and whilst it can be challenging at times for us to remain aware of them, think about how much harder it can be for our partners. Our partners have a totally different set of boundaries to ours and they won’t necessarily automatically understand or remember ours. Or vice versa.
However it is important that you review your own boundaries as they can change from time to time, even moment by moment. Relationship will challenge your boundaries more than anything else. For example if your boundary is never going to a football match with your partner could this change if your best friend’s son is playing in the match? Or if sitting on the couch with your partner after dinner rather than in your armchair feels different tonight because of how close you have become with them lately?
What if I offend my partner by saying ‘No’?
When you boundary is a clear ‘no’ for you, without manipulation or avoidance, it is important to look after yourself first and your partner’s response is their business. They may be hurt or pissed off but if you are genuine they will ultimately feel and respect you for it. If they really want the best for you they will support you in setting it. If not, then you have some bigger questions to ask yourself about your relationship.
Playing Hula Hoop!
One habit that can be particularly relevant from people in relationship is that of crossing boundaries by speaking about ‘we’, when we mean ‘me’, or even worse, living through our partner by talking about them all the time to other’s rather than talking about ourselves. Occasionally is ok of course, but don’t make a habit of it. Otherwise you’re missing out on YOU!. Either of these is a fast track to enmeshment and loss of sense of self.
To avoid this relationship trap, when speaking in, or about your relationship imagine yourself and your partner in two separate hula hoops and only speak about what is in your hula hoop. Leave anything about them strictly in theirs.
How to set a boundary:
Once you’ve identified your boundary how do you go about letting the other person know about it?
If it’s a boundary that is already known to you simply connect with it in yourself, look the person in the eye and state your boundary clearly. It’s helpful if you can say no to the idea but not to the person:
eg. No, I can’t have dinner with you this week, but I’d love to catch up next week, is that possible for you? or
No, I can’t have dinner with you but I appreciate you asking.
If it’s a boundary that you find only after it’s been crossed:
– Ask the person were they aware that they …ie. had raised their voice to you with out your agreement?
If not just let them know you would like them to ask next time.
– If it happens again ask them to stop as it is not ok for you.
– If it happens again tell them to stop
– If they don’t, tell them to stop or…find a consequence that will impact but not punish them
eg. Or I will withdraw from this conversation, and come back to it later.
Boundaries can take some training, it’s up to you, and remember there are gifts in it for you too!
Boundary Riding Activities:
Review one or two of your boundaries and ask yourself:
Is it working? If not, are you maintaining it? Is it really a manipulation?
Is this still a boundary for you, or has it become a wall?
Has anything changed from when you first set this boundary?
Is it there to support you or is it limiting you?
Is it still required or have you outgrown it?
If removing it feels like too big a step is there a smaller step you could take?
If setting boundaries of any kind are difficult for you then start small and practice, practice, practice! The benefits will amaze you.
And remember, the more you can say ‘no’ the more joyous your ‘yes’ will be!
For assistance in your boundary riding contact Annette & Graeme for a Skype session today…