Protecting your boundaries, whether they be emotional or physical, is an important part of maintaining your mental wellness. In setting these lines for yourself, and communicating them to others, you guard your body and mind from being disturbed, violated, and disregarded.
In this article we’ll outline three ways to not only determine your own personal boundaries, but protect them in your day to day life.
One of the first things we need to do in order to set and protect our boundaries is to know what they are in the first place. This requires us to set an intention everyday to become aware of what disturbs us, what makes us feel angry, insulted, disrespected, or unconsidered. We all know that feeling when out of nowhere, someone says something or does something that immediately sparks a feeling of annoyance, anger, or frustration in us.
Yet here’s the thing; sometimes those triggers are on the list of universally accepted offenses and sometimes they’re not. Lying, stealing, calling someone a crude name, insulting someone’s physical appearance or intelligence—these are behaviors that most people around the world would regard as insulting. In these cases it’s easy to detect and understand those actions as a transgression of your boundaries.
Yet, in other cases, we can take offense to something that is very personal to us. One of my mentors used to call this a ‘hook’. She explained that we all have hooks in us that we’ve acquired over our lives based on our life experience. An example of a personal hook may be that you get very anxious when someone raises their voice, all because when you were younger you were constantly screamed at by a parent. So when someone does it as an adult, it immediately brings you back to being reprimanded and feeling oppressed. Or more seriously, if you were physically violated as a child, you may be very sensitive about even the most innocent of touches as an adult. That nice pat on the back or touch on your arm from your boss feels like a trigger for the gruesome ordeal you faced as a child.
Take a moment to think about what your personal hooks are. What’s one thing that sets you off because of a past experience you had in your life?
Now think about how you react when someone bumps into that hook. How does it feel? What’s your usual reaction?
Perhaps the most important part of setting our boundaries is becoming aware of them and this we can do by practicing meditation and becoming more mindful throughout each day of what sets us off. The next time someone annoys or frustrates you, try to consider whether or not they have done so intentionally or whether they’ve run headfirst into one of your hidden hooks. It may be that they’ve done something or said something that to them is not insulting or disrespectful, but to you is uncomfortable.
The next step we can take once we’ve become more aware of our boundaries is to communicate those boundaries with assertive compassion.
Have you ever heard the phrase “you teach people how to treat you”? It’s an important step and perhaps the hardest in protecting your personal boundaries. Why? Because most of us are uncomfortable with confrontation or the idea of upsetting someone else.
Yet there is a way to express your boundaries while still preserving goodwill and peace. The problem is that most of us suppress our feelings, and then at some point with the slightest provocation blow up and assert our feelings in a passive aggressive or just full out aggressive way. This, in my opinion, gives assertiveness a bad reputation.
As the same mentor once told me, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean about it.” This was a huge lightbulb moment for me.
By talking with others about what I considered to be violations of my personal boundaries, I could give them almost a roadmap to interacting with me. It’s like handing out your very own Lonely Planet Book: The ‘You’ Edition.
When someone would cross a boundary, I then found it easier to talk about what experiences I had in my life that made whatever they did feel especially sensitive or hurtful to me. At first it was very hard to have these conversations, yet over time I saw how grateful my colleagues and peers were to know these things about me. It also encouraged them to share certain aspects about themselves that I wasn’t aware of. For example, one colleague I had continued to call “cute” all of the time (because she really was), let me know that from her life experience the word “cute” was somewhat belittling as it was used for small, naive children. I had no idea! And just like that, I stopped calling her that. This, of course, is a simple example but it demonstrates how much we do and say without ever knowing that it bothers others. It also reinforces the notion that most people are actually very well-intentioned but simply do not have enough information about your preferences to not run headfirst into one of your hooks.
One of the best ways you can help yourself on this journey towards self-awareness and setting boundaries is to seek out feedback from those who know you best. Make a list of friends, colleagues, and family members who you trust to talk about your triggers, hooks, and boundaries. These may also be people whose behavior and demeanor in the face of tension or conflict you admire. When certain situations come up and you’re not sure how to kindly voice your boundaries and feelings, ask them how they would handle it. After some practice, you’ll begin to intuitively know how they would approach certain situations and apply those same habits to your own actions.
We’d love to hear more from you on how you set healthy boundaries for yourself; what’s worked, what hasn’t? What hooks do you have that you can now communicate to those around you?