Let’s talk about boundaries, friends!
Spoiler alert: I have SO MANY feelings about boundaries. Like, SO MANY.
I am a full-on boundaries nerd, and I can and will talk about them for-basically-ever. Therefore, I will be doing a series of posts about boundaries, and try and keep each post to one central thought on the topic. And the first thought, the most important thought, the alpha-and-omega of boundaries, is this:
You always have a right to your boundaries.
Boundaries are what define how we allow the outside world to interact with us. They determine how much access people get to have – whether and where they can touch us, how and in what ways they can talk to us, in what situations and to what extent we allow them to see us as we are.
Your boundaries are your own. You get to decide where they are, and for whom. Only you.
Let’s take a physical example – hugging – and run it through a few scenarios.
Maybe you have a friend who is like, a really big hugger. You know the type. It’s just how they are! They’re friendly! It’s kind of sweet that they’re so huggy. But actually, you don’t like to be hugged. Maybe you used to – maybe you have hugged this friend in the past. But today you are feeling fragile, or you are feeling nauseous, or you have just decided COMPLETELY ARBITRARILY that you do not want to be hugged. You then have a right to NOT BE HUGGED.
The fact that you have hugged someone in greeting for a year, or a day, or your entire life does not obligate you to continue hugging them if you stop being comfortable with that.
The fact that someone is your friend, or your relative, or your romantic partner does not mean that you are obligated to hug them if you are not comfortable with that.
The fact that everyone else and their grandmother is okay with hugging this person, and thinks you are a strange little duckling for not doing so, does not mean you are obligated to hug this person if you are not comfortable with that.
People will often well-meaningly pressure you to disregard a boundary like this. They will say “Aw, c’mon, just hug! Everyone else is doing it?” They may say, “What’s the big deal?” They may say, “You’re hurting his feelings?” They are wrong to do this. Full stop.
No-one has the right to pressure you into disregarding your own boundaries. I don’t care how minor it seems. I don’t care who they are in your life. Your boundaries are your own, and only you get to decide where they are and how to enforce them.
If someone expresses a boundary to you, there are ways to clarify what they mean by it without pressuring them to disregard that boundary. In our hugging scenario, a way to do that would be to say “Okay, thanks for letting me know you don’t want to hug. Would you prefer a handshake? Would you prefer handshakes in the future as well?” This gives the person an opportunity to articulate where they are, because they have the assurance that you will respect their boundaries regardless.
I’m using hugs as an example here, but there are so many other ways to have boundaries in your life! You might have boundaries around what subjects you feel discussing with your boss, i.e. work stuff = okay, romantic life = off-limits. You might have boundaries around what you want to talk about with your parents: work stress = okay, your personal appearance or weight = off-limits. You might have boundaries around when friends can call you: 8am – 9am = okay, after your bedtime = off-limits. You might have boundaries around how sexual you will be on a first date: kissing = okay, touching below the neck = off-limits.
It can be hard to tell, sometimes, when a boundary you have is being violated. It can be hard to tell where your boundaries even are, especially if you have been taught your whole life that certain boundaries are “not okay” to have. Many people struggle to have boundaries with family members, for instance. Or people whose personal-space boundaries don’t fit within their societal norm may feel like those boundaries aren’t okay. But: Your boundaries are always okay. And you always deserve to have them respected.
That’s all for this week! Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to keep an eye out in your daily life for times when you feel uncomfortable, anxious, irritated, ashamed, pushed-upon, or invaded. These feelings might be subtle. You might be very used to ignoring them, or to arranging your life so that you just don’t talk to the people who make you feel that way. But those feelings are often signposts for a boundary violation. They can help you figure out where your boundaries are, not just where people tell you they should be. And they will come in handy for the next post, where I’ll be talking about different strategies for articulating and enforcing your boundaries in daily life. Are you excited? Because I AM.