Beneath the increasing conversations about personal boundaries is the erroneous belief that other people should adjust their behaviors in response to your setting of boundaries. While this may be a bitter pill to swallow, maintaining our boundaries should always be a persistent commitment to meet our own needs.
What are boundaries?
A boundary is an invisible, flexible, and constantly changing limit between you and the other individual. According to the Personal Space Theory (Scott, 2009), we set boundaries to create a sense of personal space and to mark the optimal distance for our interactions with others. To put it simply, they are the guidelines that help determine where you end and where the other person begins. Boundaries help indicate which actions and emotions you will and will not hold yourself responsible for, while also determining the interactions you are willing to accept from others (GoodTherapy, 2017). Maintaining healthy boundaries can therefore help people develop healthier relationships, define their individuality, and establish their own identities.
Shifting our current perception of boundaries
Boundaries can vary in different relationships but it is crucial to emphasize that they are not products of negotiation; they are decisions we make without the cooperation of the other party (Samsel, n.d.). Many of us assume that a boundary is a massive, impenetrable wall we create to separate ourselves from others—and when people cross the line, we tell them to move back and we try to rebolden this border. For instance, when you feel uncomfortable with how a person talks to you, you might tell them to not talk to you that way. However, boundaries are not enforced to change another person’s behavior; they are established to ensure that your need of being respected is met. Changing other people cannot be your motivation as this transforms your boundary setting into a request. If the other party adapts in response to your boundary, we then perceive this as a healthy relationship. However, if they don’t change in the way we hope they do, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your boundary setting was unsuccessful. Telling yourself that you will no longer tolerate disrespectful conversations is the act of establishing your boundary. The motivation here is not to change the other person’s behavior, but to have your need of being respected met.
Having a boundary entails the understanding that when people treat you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you confront them—and when they continue to do it, you find other ways to meet your needs. This is where the hardest decisions are made, and you either try to limit or remove yourself from the other party’s presence.
Boundaries are not about saying how close others can come to us since we cannot control their actions. By recalibrating our definition of boundaries, we come to realize that boundaries are all about how far we will go as our actions are always within our control. We then find ways how we can be authentic selves in every situation, and we get to feel empowered no matter what the outcome is.
GoodTherapy. (2017, June 27). Boundaries. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/boundaries
Samcel, M. (n.d.) Boundaries. Abuse and Relationships. https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Survivors/boundaries.html
Scott, A. L. (2009). A beginning theory of personal space boundaries. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 29(2), 12–21. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.1993.tb00407.x