I’ve been reading about boundaries in different forums and I’m afraid there are people who have totally missed the point and are abusing or misusing boundaries. Respecting boundaries is what makes healthy relationships to work. Boundaries are the points at which another person’s behavior starts to infringe on your rights. Knowing your boundaries is important and defending them is healthy, but there are some things boundaries are not. (Information about setting boundaries is available here.)
1. Boundaries are not about controlling other people. The whole point of using boundaries is that you can’t and have no right to control other people. You have a right, even a responsibility, to protect yourself and the people you love. Yes, the people who normally roll right over your boundaries may take notice and start respecting your boundaries once they know where they are, but that is always their choice. If they choose to roll right over your boundaries, you have a plan to get out of their way.
2. Boundaries are not about punishing other people. You have no right to punish another adult. You are not judge, jury and executioner. You are not God. If you have been seriously wronged, you have the right to take your case in front of a judge, but you do not have the right to punish someone yourself. You have the right to defend yourself and not one step beyond that or you are trampling their boundaries.
3. Boundaries are not rules that apply to a specific person. When you say “take your medications or I leave” you are making a rule that applies to one person. When you say “I will not live with a person who behaves badly and won’t do basic self care to get control of their behavior.” you are setting a boundary. Not only is your boundary available for anyone who might come into your life, but you leave it open to allow a variety of treatment programs.
4. Boundaries are not a one-way deal. If you want others to respect your boundaries, you have to respect theirs. Even if a person doesn’t know about boundaries or uses a different term for them, it is important that you allow them to feel safe and comfortable with you.
5. Boundaries are not always communicated. Setting and maintaining boundaries is a very personal thing and some of your boundaries won’t be respected even if you make it clear where they are, so it’s not necessary to share them. When you are too weak to defend a boundary, it is often best not to mention it because if you mention it and are tested, your weakness may be used against you.
6. Boundaries are not immovable. Life happens. Things change. Often in a dysfunctional relationship, the first boundaries are very basic and they can be moved forward as the relationship improves. It is perfectly ok to start with “I can’t allow myself to be hurt physically or verbally” and eventually expand it to include threatening behaviors and dirty looks. Sometimes you have to choose your battles and you can tolerate small improvements as long as you see improvement. Sometimes boundaries are changed as trust grows–I was in a domestic violence situation and it took a while before my husband could make any sudden moves toward me, but that’s no longer a boundary for me.
7. Boundaries are not new, arbitrary, or invented. Boundaries are really discovered. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what makes you uncomfortable or afraid. You may not know you have a boundary if it’s never been tested. You may not recognize a boundary if it’s been violated so often that you’re inured to the pain (as is common in child abuse). Your boundaries exist whether you are aware of them or not. If you learn to defend them as you discover them, you can be more comfortable and confident. You will be more aware of when unexpected boundaries are being crossed, even if you had never considered the situation.