A high trending topic these days. But, in my opinion, sometimes misunderstood. Boundaires are not as much about defense, and definitely not hostility. It´s about who we fundamentally are. Preferance, taste, needs, limitations, desires.. Boundaries can be subtle and in the minor things, as much as fierce and loudly and clearly expresses. Let´s jump in to explore this topic!
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The little girl who doesn't want to hug her grandaunt that´s visiting, but her “no” is not heard and the grown ups tell her to hug anyway. The teenage boy who'd rather be reading books and playing guitar at home, but goes to that party (with people he doesn't really get along with) anyway because he feels that might strengthen his social position. The overworked single mum who knows if she’d take on one more commitment she would burst at the seams, but she says yes anyway, cuz “what would people think of her if she says no”? That guy who is on a date with a woman who says she hates jazz music, so he casually pretends like that´s not his favorite genre, and says he loves hip hop just like her.
Let´s dig in!
What does it bring up in you when we talk about boundaries?
Do you feel like you know what it is? Do you have boundaries in your life? Or is it more of an elusive concept?
Take a moment to look back on the first situation that comes to mind, where you had a boundary (meaning a need, a decision, a desire or preference) that you wanted to communicate to someone. Did you choose to express yourself, or did you hold back? If you chose to express, what was it like for you? How did the person respond? Did they receive you, or did they invalidate, criticize or sham
Going back even further, what was it like for you as a child, to express your boundaries? Did you feel safe to say what you wanted, or didn´t want? Were you allowed to do so without negative implications? Or were there painful consequences? Did someone override and bulldoze your boundaries?
So what are boundaries, really?
Boundaries are actually about who we fundamentally are. There is a flawed idea that boundaries are only about keeping someone away, like a fence, or saying no. Boundaries are actually equally as much about where I begin, where I end, and where you start. My physical body defines my boundary. My framework. Boundaries are about my preferences, taste, choices, needs and my ability to hold them, even when you feel or think otherwise. If I change my preferences and taste, in order to fit in with you, or seek your approval, it's a sign of poor boundaries.
We can speak of boundaries in terms of health, financial boundaries, sexual boundaries, relationship boundaries, physical or emotional boundaries, and so on. Boundaries can be about you with yourself (meaning all the decisions you make in and about your life) , and boundaries in
meeting with others.
Coffee or tea?
An example from my own life is such a simple thing as coffee. This might seem minor, but it illustrates how subtle boundaries can be expressed, or overstepped (even by ourselves). I love black, warm coffee in the morning. I have met people along the way (especially yoga teachers, for some reason?) who told me that coffee is not good for health, and therefore they don 't drink it. Which is totally fine, and might even be accurate. Then, they might be saying something a little bit judgy about people who love their caffeine. If I´m feeling insecure at this moment, I might feel like my position in the social group is threatened because of my love for coffee. If my sense of self was weak, and I thought that I wouldn't be approved of by them if my opinion differed, I might respond with “you know what, when I think about it, I actually don't love coffee that much anyway and I prefer tea.”. However, that is not my truth, and this is a very simple and innocent example of what poor boundaries can look like. If I´m strong within myself, I will still hold my truth that I love my morning coffee even though they feel otherwise. I might still want to research coffee and health, and maybe even make a decision to change my coffee intake, but in that case that will be about me being able to change and renew my truth because I´ve learned something. In that case, it's no longer me overstepping or negating my boundaries, but actually being open to make a change if I so wish. I might also choose to keep my morning coffee.
Another example of poor boundaries are obviously when you are struggling with holding your decisions with your kids, you take on too much at work, when you say yes but actually want to say no, or when you negotiate yourself far beyond what you are comfortable with. This is different from being able to find solutions, where your boundaries are still considered and respected.
If you are someone with poor boundaries, you might be familiar with the feeling of resentment, frustration and bitterness, because you keep feeling like people might be exploiting or taking advantage of you, when the truth is that you are actually not honoring or taking care of your own choices, needs, preferences and limits.
Boundaries that are too strong, might come across as very rigid, controlling, and unwilling to change and tends to come more from a place of fear, than a healthy sense of self.
What keeps us from setting and maintaining boundaries?
Find a piece of paper and a pen, or open a document on your computer, and do an introspection on the following questions?
What is it that you are scared to lose, give up, or have happen, if you start choosing to communicate, ask for and express these things in your life? What kind of consequences are you scared of, such as conflict or disapproval? Maybe needing to step into the discomfort it takes to keep and maintain your boundaries?
What does this tell you about your upbringing and how you were allowed to choose, or behave, in childhood? What consequences did it have when you expressed boundaries as a child?
If there were no consequences, opinions, conflict or judgements from yourself or others, what is truly your preferences, tastes, needs and wants for your life? And what do you actually truly want to start saying no to, and truly say yes to?
Is there a subconscious benefit from the boundary not being set? F.ex are you upholding the opportunity to continue indulgence, or not needing to face discomfort by communicating the boundary.
Reflecting on these questions can give you some very valuable insights on which area of your life you need to start taking responsibility for your boundaries. The answers might be that you are scared of reactions, conflict, giving up on pleasure and indulgence, or loose people. That is very valuable information, to further investigate and work on. Your boundaries will be affected by so many of the aspects of inner work, because everything you do to strengthen your sense of self, will strengthen your boundaries. You have to be willing to be unpopular sometimes, you have to be willing to face the risk of disapproval. And mostly, you will see which relationships in your life are authentic, unconditionally loving and safe enough for you to express your boundaries and still feel respected by the other person.
Healthy ways to communicate boundaries
(Disclaimer: the following suggestions are meant for everyday-life situations. Extreme situations that calls for a bigger reaction, such as needing to set up a physical boundary if you for example are being violently or sexually harassed, is a differenct conversation which calls for different measures).
Be clear and "clean": Key words: be clear, informative, if possible, leave the emotional reaction out of the communication. Setting boundaries is not an excuse to attack or blame the other. Being clean in the communcation meaning dropping un-nescessary and potentially damaging words, leaving out any emotional hooks and manipulative strategies.
"I appreciated our meeting yesterday. I have decided to go for a different solution. If you´d like some feedback I´d be happy to offer some. Good luck moving forward with your business".
Authenthic and truthful: Be truthful. If it feels good to add a “I love you”, or something else that shows affection while also communicating the boundary, then do so. Just make sure that it’s authentic, and that it’s not used in a manipulative way to avoid consequence or disapproval. Be sincere, and no need to overdo it with lots of heart-emojis to make it okay. It IS okay for you to state your boundary.
"Hey. Things got a bit heated in our conversation yesterday, and I felt very uncomfortable. If we are going to discuss this topic further, I need you to not yell at me as it´s making me feel very unsafe. Please respect my boundary. Love you, talk soon".
"No" is clear enough answer: No over-explaining yourself. No one is entitled to knowing all the reasons why you say no, why you prefer what you prefer, etc. You can be polite and clear at the same time:
“Thank you for thinking of me! No, I cannot make it this time. Love to see you soon, let's find another day”.
Natural consequences: If someone has been consistently over-stepping or not respecting your boundary, it's time to communicate that there will be a consequence. Not a threat, but a natural consequence. Be consistent in following up the consequences if the behaviour repeats. Such as
“I´ve repeatedly asked you to not bring yell at me during our conversation. If you continue, I´m going to end this talk and leave the room”.
Click here to download my FREE pdf+worksheen on the topic of Boundaries!