Do you know what a personal boundary is?
You might think of it as a way to cope with other people; a way to keep space between yourself and them. That would be right.
You might see it as a set of rules for dealing with a person. That would also be right.
We usually know all about the personal space we might want to have around us like an aura between ourselves and strangers in a queue or a crowd, so they don’t touch or bump into us for example. But, we also need personal ‘inner’ boundaries to deal with absolutely everyone – family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues and managers, and lovers. Those are the boundaries that can protect us from being mistreated or taken advantage of by others. Or they might just be a way of internally knowing that you are only going to let another person or organisation, for example, do certain things that involve you. They are there to protect your wellbeing, and to ensure you can cope.
Sometimes we have them in place, subconsciously, but we can also manage them in our conscious thoughts too. Putting them in place can be extremely important and can save a lot of heartache or anger in the future.
OK, so some examples from my point of view… I have found myself going out to see a family member regularly, and not really wanting to go. This happened a few times before I decided to think why this was. After some soul searching, I came to the conclusion that it was because the person was quite manipulative in getting me to do things, and mixed with my thing of saying ‘yes’ before thinking about it, (being a people pleaser) I was just saying yes when I meant no. I put some defences in place and learnt to say no sometimes. It didn’t actually take that long to recognise that when I did say yes, and meant it, I looked forward to going, rather than feeling it was more of a task.
Another time, a person was making me feel anxious, frustrated, angry and sad, both when I was with them and after I left their company and the negative feelings stayed with me for far too long to be good. I couldn’t work out why I felt those things or what I could do about it. The person appeared to be caring and wanting to know all about me, therefore I felt listened to, so what was it all about? After some soul searching I came to the conclusion that, although they were a good listener, and questioner, they also had a very strong sense of ‘I know best’ and what I felt were debates, actually ended up being like an inquisition and invalidation of what I thought and felt. Furthermore, if I did something they didn’t think was right, I would be pulled apart for it. This was a really tough one to unravel, and it is hard to explain, but the main thing is that I needed to take a break from this person to work out what to do about it. Being positive, and looking for positives, I had only seen the good things in this person and not how they were affecting me negatively. After a break, not only did the person know why I had needed the break and wasn’t willing to go back to how things had been, but I had ‘boundaries’ in place to ensure they wouldn’t get back into those habits with me. If it began again, I would shut them off. I felt more in control of myself and what I was willing to accept.
Having boundaries not only helps you to feel individual and in control of yourself, but they can help others to change negative behaviours.
The more you challenge yourself and self-analyse as to why you feel negative with, or after being with, certain people, or during certain things, you can then work on finding out why you feel that way, if it is something in you that is making you feel that way, whether it is something they are doing to make you feel that way, or if it is a mixture of those things.
Boundaries are necessary for everyone, whether in the school playground, as a child, parent, adult or elderly person. Sometimes we have to learn to say no.; or even goodbye if the relationship is just not going to work because the other person cannot cope with your boundaries. Sometimes we have to talk about the boundaries we are going to set, and sometimes we can quietly put them in action and just let them work.
Boundaries could be there to stop domestic violence, bullying, being taken for granted at work, so we can avoid getting sucked into something we don’t want to get sucked into, or because we are not going to be treated like that by our partners. Whatever, or whoever it is, if you are feeling negative when being around those things or people, try to think about what it is that is negative for you, and try to put boundaries in place to protect yourself.
It might be that the other person/organisation do not know they are doing it, or they are innocently trying to help; boundaries can be soft reminders or a great protection.
Do you have any?