One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn is how to communicate what I want, what I need and what kind of behaviour I will and won’t accept. This, in essence, is what is meant by boundaries. I used to struggle with this, especially in my romantic relationships and with any senior male, authoritarian figure.
It’s a way of silencing and diminishing myself for the benefit of men falling within those categories. It would make me angry and I would often see men in those positions as dominating and frankly, unbearable.
The problem was not the men, nor was it really the circumstances into which I was born. It was my perception and my flimsy boundaries which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was drawn to dominating, emotionally distant men and I joined an industry which is so male dominated, it’s absurd in the year 2019!
I’m not complaining about this. It brought me to a point where I noticed my patterns and needed to do something to stop the same routine of anger, rejection, and unconscious subservience to a certain kind of man. I can change my perceptions with self-awareness, patience and self-compassion and I can examine my values, needs and desires to ensure that my worth is communicated to others in an assertive and appropriate way. This is growth in its truest form.
How Do I Set Boundaries?
The first step to putting in place boundaries is connecting with what you want and need. We often feel anger when our needs are not met and when somebody has ignored what we want. That’s a good place to start when it comes to understanding which behaviour you will accept and those you won’t.
Boundaries also communicate which behaviours you will tolerate from others and that which is not acceptable. Faithfulness might be essential in your romantic relationship. Your partner will know this because you will have told them how you feel about this and that it is a non-negotiable pillar of your union.
They might relate to the type of physical interaction you accept from others, the demands of work commitments, your romantic interests and your spiritual values. They ultimately come down to knowing yourself intimately and connecting with what feels right. More importantly, knowing that clear boundaries indicate to others that you are worthy of respect.
I can always tell when somebody has clear boundaries. Not only are they self-assured and confident about themselves, they say clearly what they want and need. If they ask you not to make offensive comments during a meeting, you know they mean it. You know that if you continue to make those comments, you’ll be told to leave, or worse. The way they communicate that is assertively, precisely and openly.
We often do this in an unskilled way by lashing out and reacting angrily because we know that our needs or desires have been ignored but we don’t know how to say that we will not accept this.
If this resonates with you, it’s time to take a good, honest look at your self-esteem and ask yourself why you are finding this difficult. In my case, it was a conditioned belief that women come second to men. Once I had dealt with that particularly thorny realisation, I was able to focus on expressing myself more clearly even if I still find it uncomfortable.
Boundaries Help To Prevent Conflict
When you are clear on your boundaries, the other person will know the limits of their behaviour towards you. They know what will happen if those boundaries are disrespected and you know what needs to be done to ensure that they are upheld. In the case of an unfaithful partner, you might end the relationship. We don’t always have a habit of stating clearly what we will and won’t accept in all of our relationships but we may choose to clarify them in an appropriate manner when we feel that a particular type of behaviour is not acceptable.
When you don’t have clear boundaries, it can be confusing to others about how they can behave towards you. It’s a non-assertive way of communicating. They may believe they can ignore or neglect your needs and wants because there will be no consequences towards your relationship. They may feel that you don’t care about the relationship enough. I remember feeling angry and frustrated by these kinds of relationships. At first, I would keep my feelings hidden and repressed, fearful that this might make things worse, but eventually, I would explode! Conflict was inevitable! My need to assert myself was transmitted as anger and aggression which didn’t help matters.
The key to this is self-esteem, self-knowledge and empathy towards yourself. Once you have those skills, you can communicate assertively, irrespective of how difficult the other person’s behaviour is. It might also help you to eliminate narcissists from your life.
As always, I’d love to know your thoughts ! Please leave a comment and let me know!