Before I had any children, I would often hear parents telling their children to greet their friends. Casually, the friend would reach out to the child in an attempt to say “hi”. But, the poor child would shrug away.
Despite all attempts to entice the child with whatever glitter they had—a piece of candy, colouring book, toy, all in an attempt to win the child’s affection. The child would still leave without extending their hand.
Countless times I saw this happen but l missed something in this interaction. In fact, I never thought much about this until I had my own children.
I noticed my daughter do it often, she would shrug away when greeted by people. And one day it clicked as l watched her shrug away. It was clear in her mind, l don’t know you like that, and you are trying to be friendly and nice with me, but it’s scaring me. She was setting boundaries.
Boundaries, we all need them in order to function as a healthy society. Boundaries are everywhere, visible and invisible.
Boundaries Are a Natural Part of Life
You might be familiar with fences and walls that we use to mark property lines and keep away intruders. The Wi-Fi you have in your home has built-in boundaries that have been reinforced with a password accessible only to friends and family. Signs for male and female accessibility are common in society. And sometimes we simply call boundaries, personal space.
God set it this way from the beginning when He separated the light from darkness, day from night, land from the sea (Genesis 1). Our relationships too, thrive when there are clear boundaries. God set it this way!
If you remove boundaries or blur the lines, dysfunction is inevitable.
Reversing the Way We Think About Ourselves
Boundaries are really a reflection of how we view ourselves. If we think we don't deserve to be respected, and loved we undermine ourselves by letting people into our lives in unhealthy ways. This kind of thinking needs to be identified and reversed. Boundaries need to be clear with everyone whose in our life. Some of the unhealthy ways we enable unhealthy boundaries are;
1. The consequence of not confronting issues is greater than dismissing them.
People have come to embrace the thinking that I’m uncomfortable now, but it will be fine later.
There is the delusion that time is a healer. When we give time to any issue, it will settle itself out. This is an erroneous thought that arises from the confusion between time and timing.
Everything must have the right timing in order to address it adequately. But no issue will be resolved by letting time lapse. The scars won’t heal; they just develop scar tissue that makes it difficult to heal later. Don’t allow time to fool you into thinking it will fix things.
2. You will pay a price to belong if you are not upfront with your boundaries.
Losing yourself is not an acceptable price to pay for connection. Once you make your values negotiable, you will continue to pay the price of having your opinions and desires being heard. This will all be at the cost of keeping something that looks like a connection, but instead, it is a toxic relationship.
Don’t violate your boundaries to belong in any relationship.
You don’t have to give up your voice, and your safety in order to feel accepted and loved.
3. Ignoring something you didn’t like is not low key dismissing the issue.
The derogatory comments that you have ignored for the sake of keeping the peace are unhealthy boundaries. The awkward moments that you’ve allowed to continue because you didn’t want to offend anyone are unhealthy boundaries.
Ignoring things that you don’t like creates a pathway for people to repeat them again because you have not declared your position on the issue.
4. Ignorance is not excusable
Just because someone didn’t know, it doesn’t make it “ok” for them to go beyond their limitations. There is a tendency to absolve people of their guilt because they had no idea you didn’t like it. Respect is respect even if they didn’t know.
Once you make people respecting your boundaries a moving target, you will lose your identity. Anything and everything imposed on you will become your identity.
How Do You Set Healthy Boundaries?
When you decide you want to set boundaries, you will receive a lot of pushback.
People might feel like you’ve been deceitful and dishonest. In any case who changes the rules of the game in the relationship mid-way?
And quite frankly, you might feel like you’ve betrayed people’s trust. But that’s to be expected.
It can be quite daunting to tell your best friend that “l don’t want that anymore”. Your boss may think you are not a team player. Maybe your relationship might see some rough times, just because you decided to get real.
It won’t be unusual for you to have your boundaries questioned. In some cases, you might experience guilt-or-shame-statements. Guilt and shame are just invitations to let go of your boundaries.
So, here’s the question, how do you learn to set boundaries?
First, pay attention to your five senses.
Begin with the simplest and the most powerful of things—your five senses. Your five senses tend to be an accurate indicator of what you like and don’t like. When you look at something you don’t like, you cringe. If there’s a strong nasty smell, your face will show disgust, and if it’s a sweet smell, your face will show delight. Boundary setting starts by taking your senses seriously.
Second, the development of self-awareness.
Whenever you begin to feel any discomfort, resentment, and guilt it might be an indicator that some boundaries are missing. Pay attention to these indicators, they might be a cue that something needs to be addressed, otherwise, you are in a relationship that might soon become dysfunctional.
Discomfort, resentment, and guilt are three key indicators that you need to set some boundaries.
The journey to developing healthy boundaries begins with self-awareness. Rediscover yourself. What do you like? As you grow in knowing yourself, you will exercise the “power of choice” muscle easier.
A person with clear, healthy boundaries communicates to others what is and is not permissible, saying, in effect, “This is my jurisdiction, my space, and you have no right to interfere.”
If I do let you in, you can only come this far.