What Are Boundaries?

Updated: Jan 20, 2020

In the simplest description boundaries are what you like and dislike in life. When we feel a boundary has been crossed, it can feel as though we have been attacked, violated, disrespected and misunderstood.

There are different types of boundaries:

Emotional boundaries – Such as gaslighting, feeling guilt and shame

Physical boundaries – Touch that is unwanted

Material boundaries – People using and taking your things without your permission

Time and energy boundaries – feeling as though people are taking advantage of your energy and time

How do we know when someone has crossed a boundary or when we have not been clear about communicating that boundary?

I have noticed when people are annoyed with someone, they seem to not communicate that and expect the other person to just know what the problem is. I have heard people say, I should not need to explain that… couldn’t they just figure it out… can’t they just see I’m upset. The thing is, humans are not always attuned with you, they don’t have the same values as you and they don’t always know what you want or need unless you communicate that to them. Without communicating what we like or dislike people around you will guess and assume going off past experiences with you.

If we break this up into two sections

1- Someone crosses a boundary you have. I believe there are times when we have people violate our boundaries when we have said no or voiced our dislike to a situation. This can have a feeling of powerlessness to it. It can be from someone you trusted, and they did not take your best interests at heart or someone you don’t know. This is when you did not see it coming. For example, when your boss yells at you, when a stranger attacks you, when you voice a dislike and the person continues to do the thing you asked them not to do.

Regaining a sense of control is important in this situation. That can be in the way you react once this has happened. For example, removing yourself from a situation and distancing yourself from that person and asking for help. This situation can come with a lot of trauma and feeling of helplessness and it’s important that you reach out for help after it happens.

2- Crossing your own boundaries and blaming it on someone else. This is when you have the freedom of choice and no one is forcing you to do anything, but you feel guilty if you don’t do what someone says. For example, when a work colleague asks you to work back late and you don’t want to, but you feel guilty, so you do. When you’re overloaded with tasks at work and you don’t ask for help but blame the person who gave you all these tasks to do. When we are asked to do something and don’t want to do it but do it anyway, so we don’t seem like we’re difficult. When you’re told you’re too emotionally sensitive and dramatic (form of gaslighting) so you ignore how you feel and change your personality to suit your environment but deep down you feel all the things.

This is where we want to take 100% responsibility for this situation. This can be hard when we have been emotionally manipulated growing up (for example gaslighting, guilt) so we need to move through the emotions attached to setting these boundaries. Conditioning is at the core of why it feels difficult to set boundaries with people. As kids our decisions are controlled by our parents and we learn what is acceptable and what is unacceptable (according to their rules and values). As we get older, we subconsciously hold onto these beliefs and they drive our decisions and behaviour.

Recently I was at the snow skiing with my partner. At the start of the day we got on the ski lift and I was about to ski down my first run. I wanted to warm up and ski down an easy run. My partner had already warmed up after skiing down a few runs and suggested we ski down a harder run. I said I didn’t want to because I hadn’t warmed up and he looked disappointed, so I said, “okay I’ll go down. It will be fine”. Halfway down I am regretting that choice and blaming my partner. I’m falling over and cursing him at the same time. I was frustrated that he didn’t listen to me. I was annoyed that I voiced my opinion and he ignore it. Would I have felt this way if I was carving it up like a professional? Probably not, it’s funny how we blame others when our lives are not going to plan. It was only when things went wrong that the default programming of blaming him came into my awareness. I was able to pull myself out of that quick smart and through the self-awareness work I do; I was able to see how I had crossed my own boundaries. Let’s unpack this for a moment.

Here is where I had a choice. The moment he looked annoyed that I didn’t want to go down a harder track, I had a choice to honour my boundaries or please him. When I made the choice to please him, I was not listening to myself and crossed my own boundaries. Which means I didn’t listen to me, I ignored myself and the way I felt to please him. As a result, I was falling over because my body and mind was not ready to go down that track yet.

So, who crossed my boundaries in this situation? I did. Now I feel more empowered when I know I had a choice in that moment. I felt angry and resentful when I felt my partner made that choice for me.

The thing is setting boundaries with people is not comfortable. We can feel guilty and stressed that we’re not pleasing the other person. The discomfort weakens as we honour our boundaries more.

How does this relate to discovering your drive and who you are? This is at the core of why we do things in our lives that we don’t really want to do and why we blame, feel resentful and angry towards people in our lives. When we blame, we are giving our power over to them. We are not taking full responsibility of our lives and as a result we’re not following our dreams and desires.

Understand how you cross your own boundaries. Self- awareness and understanding builds self-trust and as a result we build trust with others. As you practice this more in your life you will build a better relationship with yourself and others as it will be clear what your boundaries are. People will either like that about you or dislike it. The ones that stick around will be the ones that you will be happy to have in your life.

Where in your life do you blame others for the way you feel (e.g. feeling stressed and guilty)?

Where in your life are you not honouring your own boundaries because you feel an expectation and obligation to do it?

Where in your life are you making decisions based on feeling guilty?

What results or patterns occur when you make decisions from a place of feeling guilty?

Start with caring for yourself first, this will have a flow on effect in your life. Become conscious of this and next time someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do you can decide whether you want to please them and say yes or whether you want to honour your own boundaries. Remember, it’s a practice and it will get easier.

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