Defining Boundaries: How to Enforce Them
Boundary violation is a form of abuse. When someone violates your personal space or your emotional boundaries, it’s called emotional abuse. If they violate your physical boundaries, it’s called physical abuse. These are all forms of violence against you because they’re not consensual actions from the other person.
They don’t respect what you want and need in order to feel safe and secure in yourself.
The best way to protect yourself from these kinds of abusive behaviors is to establish your own personal boundaries. You have the right to say “no” when someone tries to do something that isn’t okay with you. Your boundaries define how much control you’ll give up if someone wants access into certain areas of your life, like money, health care, or sexual intimacy.
Your personal boundaries are the first step towards establishing healthy communication and relationship between two people in any kind of relationship.
What Are Personal Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the rules you set for yourself in order to decide whether or not someone can do something to you. For example, if I’m going out on a date with my boyfriend and he asks me where I’d rather go, I could say “I would prefer to stay at home.” That means that no matter what happens after that point, I won’t let him take me anywhere else.
If he says “Okay,” then he respects my boundary. If he doesn’t respect it, then he’s violated my boundary.
If you don’t establish boundaries, then other people can walk all over you. In fact, some people will try to take advantage of you if you don’t have proper boundaries in place. They may see you as an easy target because they know that you’ll just allow them to do things to you without saying no.
This can be especially true in relationships, whether they’re friendships or romantic. This is why it’s so important to not only have boundaries that protect your emotional and physical well-being, but to make sure that everyone else involved in the relationship has them as well.
Why Do We Need Boundaries?
The purpose of setting boundaries is to allow yourself to feel safe and secure within a relationship. This is especially important in friendships or co-workers. If you don’t have boundaries, then other people may take advantage of your kindness and generosity.
For example, if a friend asks to borrow $100 and promises to pay you back next week, but doesn’t do so. Setting a boundary in this situation would be to say, “I’m not lending you any more money because you haven’t paid me back from the last time you borrowed some.”
Having this boundary in place protects you physically and financially. It’s a safety measure that helps you feel secure in the relationship.
Establishing boundaries is also important within romantic relationships. If you don’t have boundaries, then you allow room for being taken advantage of.
When you’re dating someone, it’s common that one (or both) of you want to take the relationship to the next level. This can involve a variety of activities, such as kissing, intimate touching, moving in together, and having sexual relations.
But just because you engage in these types of behaviors with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ready for the same level of commitment. Maybe you’re comfortable with French kissing, but not ready to go any further than that. Establishing boundaries helps you communicate your desires clearly before you do something you might later regret.
Tips for Establishing Boundaries
You don’t need to blast someone with a verbal tirade when you’re setting a boundary. In fact, it’s best if you explain your boundaries in a calm and rational manner because that shows that you’re serious about what you want.
Here are some guidelines to help you set healthy boundaries with other people:
Make sure your boundaries are important to you. Boundaries that aren’t important to you aren’t worth fighting for. For instance, it wouldn’t be worth fighting with someone over what movie to watch, but it would be worth fighting with them if they’re accusing you of doing something that you didn’t do.
Establish boundaries in a calm manner. If you start yelling and screaming, then the other person may become defensive and insist that they’re right. This is because people rarely like to be confronted about their shortcomings. If you approach the situation in a calm and rational manner then there’s a better chance of the other person listening to you.
Be prepared to back up your words with actions. If you say you won’t be going somewhere or doing something because you have other plans, then it’s important that you stick to your guns. Don’t go just because the other person asks you more than once or throws a fit. Be firm and consistent.
Give the other person time to adjust. If you’ve just told someone you’ve been dating for six months that you don’t want to move in together, they might be disappointed or even angry at first. This is normal. Don’t change your mind just because of their reaction.
If they continue to pressure you after a few days or weeks, then you have every right to set the boundary again and be firmer with them this time.
Boundary problems are often reversed. For instance, if you feel like the other person is always late and it bothers you, then you might have to explain this to them. If, however, they feel like you’re controlling because you get angry when they’re only a few minutes late, then you’d need to explain that as well.
Don’t make your boundaries too many. It’s best to have 3-5 important boundaries in any relationship. More than that and you’re asking for serious problems.
If the other person doesn’t respect your boundaries, then you have a boundary problem. This can lead to bigger problems if it isn’t addressed early on. Here are some common boundary problems and how to address them:
The other person doesn’t view your boundaries as legitimate. Perhaps they feel like you’re being selfish or they feel like you don’t have a right to tell them what to do. They may even get angry with you for having the boundary.
How to Address This: First of all, you need to make sure that your boundaries are important and legitimate. If you’re only setting a boundary because you’re being selfish or it’s something that isn’t that big of a deal to you, then the other person is right not to listen to you. This may also be the case if your boundary is unreasonable or too far in the future to reasonably make. If this isn’t the case, then you’ll need to explain to the other person that your boundaries are important to you and they need to be taken seriously.
Tell them what led you to this boundary and stick by it.
The other person feels like your boundary is a personal attack on them. Perhaps they aren’t used to someone telling them “no” or setting a boundary with them. They may take it personally and get angry with you because of it.
How to Address This: Make sure that the other person understands that you’re not attacking them and that this has nothing to do with them personally. This is about you needing a boundary and you trying to map out your future. Explain how setting this boundary now will help both of you in the future.
The other person seems to agree with your boundary, but then doesn’t follow through or only follows through partially.
Sources & references used in this article:
Defining the boundaries: How sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) balance patient care and law enforcement collaboration by R Campbell, M Greeson… – Journal of forensic …, 2011 – Wiley Online Library
Spatial and social boundaries and the paradox of pastoral land tenure: a case study from postsocialist Mongolia by ME Fernandez-Gimenez – Human ecology, 2002 – Springer
Weak imposition of Dirichlet boundary conditions in fluid mechanics by Y Bazilevs, TJR Hughes – Computers & Fluids, 2007 – Elsevier
The scope of internal marketing: defining the boundary between marketing and human resource management by M Rafiq, PK Ahmed – Journal of marketing management, 1993 – Taylor & Francis
Enforcing non-safety security policies with program monitors by J Ligatti, L Bauer, D Walker – European Symposium on Research in …, 2005 – Springer