By Aneesha Perkins, MA, LPC
In honoring Sexual Assault Awareness month this April, InnoPsych thought it would be beneficial to discuss ways to honor each other’s boundaries - physical, emotional, financial, and time centered. Grab a pen and your journal, and let’s reflect.
We all have boundaries. Some people are excellent at communicating and holding their boundaries, and others are not. We may have trouble communicating our boundaries due to a need to please others or a fear of being rejected. When people establish and hold their boundaries, we may have negative reactions.
Regardless of which side you fall on, here are a few tips to help you communicate and respect boundaries in your relationships:
1. Understand your boundary story – It can be beneficial to understand your boundaries, dating back to your childhood, as they may influence how you react when others place boundaries within your relationship. Oftentimes, our issues with others reveal similar problems that we struggle(d) with. What’s your story regarding your very own boundaries? Has there been a time when your boundaries were violated? Exploring your own boundary story can provide insight into how you navigate through creating or accepting others’ boundaries. If your boundaries were violated, it could be helpful to sort out your thoughts safely with a professional therapist. Find one here.
Prompt: Take 15 minutes and begin reflecting on your boundary story. Reflect on your parent’s or caregivers’ boundaries; were they healthy, rigid, or porous? What are your boundaries with your siblings, friends, and family members?
2. Communicate your boundary - What’s the best way to set boundaries? By communicating those boundaries with those around us in a clear, considerate, and concise way. Discuss your comfort levels in advance, creating clarity in your relationships. We all have different levels of comfort and you may find that your boundaries differ from others, and that’s ok. If we discuss them, we can help create healthier bonds with the people in our lives. Boundaries create a guide for others on the best ways to interact with you, in a way that feels safe and comfortable.
Prompt: Create a list of 2-3 people whom you have a hard time communicating your boundaries with and list a few ways that boundaries could improve your relationship.
3. Explore your reactions to others’ boundaries – When someone tells you no, respect it. Their “no” is a way to protect and honor their personal time, energy, and resources. If you struggle with hearing the word “no” or being given limitations, dig deep to understand why. When someone tells you no, what inner feelings surface? What tends to be your reaction? Some common reactions may include feelings of anger, frustration, rejection, or a lack of control. While someone else’s boundaries are indeed about their comfort zone, you may experience various emotions that are critical to understanding. Without understanding your feelings and reactions, you risk damaging valuable friendships or relationships.
Prompt: Take 15 minutes to journal about the last time someone created a boundary with you and answer this prompt- during that moment; I felt these three feelings or emotions and in what ways has my reaction impacted our relationship?
4. Exercise acceptance rather than guilt-tripping – When someone lets you know that you’ve crossed a boundary, accept it. You can accept it without understanding “why” or even making sense of their response. Remember, their boundary has been put in place to keep you around and in their life, yet in a way that feels most comfortable for them. Boundaries are not personal to you; they are healthy for the other person. Guilt-tripping doesn’t honor that individual’s decision and can ultimately lead to resentment and distance.
5. Reestablish your boundary – If you create a boundary and don’t hold on to it, it’s ok - reestablish it again. For instance, if you’ve been lending a family member money and recently decided to stop lending them money - talk to them. For example, you can say, “in the past, I’ve loaned you money; however, moving forward, I am no longer in a position to loan you money.” Incorporating new and healthy boundaries within your relationships can be challenging and take time, so be gentle with yourself as you learn and grow comfortable with your new way of engaging with others.
Prompt: Create 2-3 statements that you could use to reestablish your boundaries, that you are also comfortable using in your next conversation with them.
Whether among your friendships, family-ships, or colleagues, boundaries are vital in every type of relationship. When we accept and respect others’ level of comfort, we create the opportunity to develop more meaningful relationships. On the other hand, our boundaries also help us remove unhealthy relationships that cause discomfort. The key is to look within to understand better how you can work through those challenges.