Other people may intellectually understand what a boundary is, but find them harder to identify when communicating with others. A smaller few may not understand or care about people’s boundaries.
With that said, We can all agree that when our boundaries have been dismissed or even trampled over, we feel a variety of “negative” emotions ranging from hurt to violated and anything in between.
Boundaries are essential to all of us, and this is especially true when we enter into relationships with others. Below we’ll aim to better understand what boundaries are and specifically how we can respect the boundaries of others and ourselves.
What is The Working Definition of Boundaries?
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines boundaries as:
“a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.”
To get more to the point, boundaries are simply a limit which shows another person what you’re willing to discuss, do, entertain, take responsibility for…etc. It’s not meant to build a fence to keep people out, but rather a way to show people where to meet you and how to interact with you. A boundary can be a stop sign or an invitation.
As boundaries between people are not always physically apparent, it can be hard to navigate the boundaries of others, specifically in a world that can pressure people into not upholding their own boundaries in an authentic manor.
Knowing this, how do we insure we are able to honour and respect the boundaries of others?
Tips For identifying and Respecting People’s Boundaries
Although you may be thinking “Hey – understanding boundaries is easy & common sense”. You’d be surprised to find out you’re probably not as accurate as you think. Since boundaries are not always visible, they can be easy to miss. Here are some tips to use when trying to identify and respect boundaries.
Communication is Key
Clear communication is the key to understanding another person’s boundaries. Suspect that you may have crossed a line? Try directly asking. “Hey, I just want to check something out with you. I feel like something I said crossed a boundary. Have I done something too upset you?. These questions remove the murkiness and allow the other person a chance to be honest about how they’re feeling.
Most of us would be shocked to learn that we’re not always good listeners. Usually when we’re communicating with other people we spend half the time the other person is speaking to mentally construct our response. This is even more likely to happen if you’re feeling defensive or embarrassed.
When taking time to truly listen and receive the other person’s words, we need to commit to putting our own responses or emotions on the shelf. If someone is expressing that their boundaries have been violated, listen, take it in, apologize and correct your behaviour.
This one is hopefully a given. Once we confirm that we’ve crossed a line, we must do our best to respect the boundary of the other person. This can be hard to do, as we don’t usually have bad intentions when we cross boundaries. Instead, we’re trying to be helpful, to provide our advice or to warn someone. Regardless of intention, we should strive to repair broken boundaries and respect the autonomy of others.
Tips For Holding Our Own Authentic Boundaries in Relationships
Understanding our own boundaries can be just as hard, if not harder than understanding the boundaries of others. Our boundaries can be felt as sensations in our bodies, a gut feeling, an innate understanding or a Montra. Boundaries can also be obvious or subtle.
In order to identify your boundaries, ask yourself, “what are my rights, what are my needs, what are my feelings”. Your rights may include the right to be authentic, the right to be safe or the right to feel loved. If you’re in a situation that makes you feel scared or pressured it may feel unsafe. Therefore violating one of your boundaries.
Once you know your own boundaries, you will need to work on upholding them. Here’s some tips on how to hold boundaries with others:
Practice Makes Perfect
The hardest part of practicing upholding your boundaries is holding the line on a daily basis. Boundary setting is a journey, not a destination and your boundaries will be tested often. Each time you’ll have the opportunity to be assertive and clear about your needs.
Saying No Is Important
By being clear on your needs, you will become more aware of your need to say no sometimes. We’re all people pleasers to some extent, but it is important to get comfortable with saying no to the things that are not aligned with our needs.
Being ok with saying no and any judgment that may or may not come with it is an important step in embracing your boundaries, leading to a more fulfilled and authentic life.
Be Sure to Fill Your Cup
Self-care and support is so important. Seeking resources or supporting people to help you set & hold boundaries can make the process easier. Make sure to be kind to yourself and give yourself what you need with no judgment, when upholding your authentic boundaries.
Looking to better understand your own boundaries? Our team of trained therapists and mental health care professionals can help. Contact us today to learn more.