I often write about ‘boundaries’ and how vital they are to healthy relationships. In my opinion, it is important that our personal boundaries are clearly defined and respected by others, and equally important that we respect their personal boundaries. How do you feel about violating personal boundaries? What about violating our own boundaries? What does that look like and how do we know if we’re doing it?
A boundary can be simply defined as what is and isn’t acceptable behavior for you – and each person defines this for him/herself. No one else can or should tell you what your personal boundaries are or ought to be. It is the decision and responsibility of every person to connect with their own inner world and determine what does and doesn’t feel good to them and establish their boundaries based upon this knowledge. For example, hugs can be a great way to connect and comfort another person, but some people don’t enjoy hugs – especially from strangers. If being hugged is uncomfortable to you, yet you have friends and family who are huggers, it is up to you to speak up and let those people know that you prefer not to be hugged. You’ve now established a personal boundary and you should expect that once you’ve made others aware of this boundary, they will respect it and either stop hugging you or ask in advance if it’s alright to hug you. To which, of course, you respond ‘no’ if you don’t feel like hugging.
A boundary doesn’t have to be about physical touch, it can be connected to any behavior; boundaries can be spiritual, emotional, physical, sexual, etc…If you’re unsure about how to recognize your own personal boundaries focus on your feelings. If someone says or does something that feels ‘bad’, is uncomfortable, or hurts you, that is an area around which a personal boundary may need to be defined. Does it make you uncomfortable when your mom mentions your weight? Then let her know that this is an ‘off limits’ topic of discussion between the two of you. In the future, if she brings up your weight in a discussion, gently remind her that this is off limits and shift the topic to something else. If she continues to try to talk about it, be prepared to end the conversation. Let her know you are ending it because you’ve made it clear that this is a topic you are not going to discuss with her, and if she insists on discussing it, remove yourself from the conversation – either by walking away or by hanging up the phone. This is what setting a boundary and respecting it looks like. If your mom continues to bring up your weight when talking with you, she is ignoring and violating your boundary and it may take repeated episodes of you ending the conversation before she begins to understand that this is a non-negotiable for you.
So what does it mean to violate your own boundaries? To violate your own boundary means to remain silent when a boundary has been crossed. Violating your own boundary means that even though something doesn’t feel good or acceptable to you, you let the behavior continue without speaking up or removing yourself from the situation. Take the hugging scenario that I detailed earlier, if hugging makes you feel uncomfortable yet you ‘suffer’ through hugs so that you don’t ‘offend’ the other person, this is you violating your own boundary. If you tell your mom that your weight is not up for discussion, yet she continues to bring it up and you continue to get dragged into conversations about it, this is violating your own boundary. It is unrealistic to expect others to respect your boundaries if you don’t respect them. You need to set the bar. You need to be the example to others of how to treat you. This is where the fine-line of ‘victimization’ comes in. We often complain that others are not treating us ‘right’, but the truth is, unless we stand up for ourselves and walk away from behavior that is not acceptable to us, it’s not that we are being victimized by someone else; we are victimizing ourselves by remaining in the situation. If you feel that others ‘take advantage’ of you, it’s more likely that you are allowing it by not speaking up about what you will and won’t tolerate and then walking away from the person and/or the relationship if they engage in that behavior.
From my experience, personal boundaries are crucial to self-esteem, self-love, and love for others. If you are not loving yourself, you cannot love someone else, and you cannot expect someone else to love you. And the path to loving yourself is paved with the stones of healthy boundaries, acknowledged and respected.