“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”Prentis Hemphill
This blog post is the third and final post of three posts exploring creating, recognizing and celebrating boundaries for this year's Sexualized Violence Awareness week. Our first blog exploring CREATING boundaries can be found here! Our second post exploring RECOGNIZING boundaries can be found here!
Setting and Maintaining Boundaries
We’ve talked a lot this week about the challenges that may come with learning to invite boundaries into our lives. We live in a world that devalues our autonomy and consent, which means we weren’t socialized to incorporate boundary setting into our daily lives. We wanted to invite in another perspective; that boundaries are not only vitally important, but they’re something to be celebrated.
Communicating your boundaries is not just part of caring for yourself; doing so can give the people in our lives an opportunity to name their own! When someone tells us no, it can be a way of showing that they trust you enough to tell you how they really feel.
This can be easier said than done. Remember: Be gentle with yourself. If someone crosses your boundaries It’s not your fault, nor is it a reflection on how you choose to care for yourself. If you’re a person who used to love hugging people, but hugs without consent no longer feel good to you, it’s okay to let people know. It can be as simple as, “Hey, I would appreciate you asking me next time before you hug me.”
There are lots of ways to set boundaries. Here is one model that can be used to respond to a request and communicate your boundaries. It’s called the “Gentle Refusal Model” which involves reflection, refusal and an offer.
The Gentle Refusal Model
Reflection has two purposes. The first is to make sure both you and the other person are clear on what they are asking of you. If you are misunderstanding them, this is a chance to clarify and may change the boundary you thought you had to set. The second purpose, if you are understanding them correctly, is that you are letting their needs be heard by reflecting their request. You are making it clear you understand what is being asked of you and what you are refusing. For example, you may say something like: “It sounds as though you’re really worried about this project”, or you might ask a question: “It sounds like you’re asking for a ride – is that correct?”
By not having clear boundaries or not saying “No” to situations/things we don’t like or want, it can be difficult to navigate consent and let others know how we want to be treated. Letting others know where your boundaries lie also gives them permission and space to state how they would like to be treated.
Saying “No” can be hard. Some ways that you can practice is by using statements such as “I can’t/won’t/don’t want to do X because Y.” By giving an explanation you can help make the refusal about you, not the other person. Whereas, sometimes just saying “No” can lead to defensiveness, misunderstanding, or an unwillingness to respect your boundaries. However, you don’t have to give an explanation if you don’t want to, and you don’t “owe” anyone an explanation of your boundaries.
This part is somewhat optional (with certain requests, no offer can or should be made) and can look like a lot of different things. Making an offer can be useful for a couple of reasons: one, it ends the conversation on a positive note and two, it makes the other person feel like you care and are willing to do what you can for them. Sometimes the offer can be as simple as wishing someone good luck or letting them know you care about them. Say clearly to the requester what you can and/or are willing to do.
“What we can do is ….” “However, why don’t we…”
“ I will help you with this by… “I‘d be glad to do…”
“I hope you have fun!” “I’ll be thinking about you.”
Some Tips for Setting Boundaries with People in Your Life
- When you set a limit with someone do it clearly, and preferably, in a way that involves compassion. You don’t have to apologize, justify, or rationalize.
- If you feel upset or angry, these are clues that someone has overstepped your comfort level and you might want to set a boundary.
- Understand your own limits. Often, the key to setting boundaries isn’t convincing other people that you have limits – it’s convincing yourself. Once you know what your boundaries are, it won’t be as difficult to convince others.
- A support system can be helpful as you learn how to establish and enforce boundaries. People who respect and love you will encourage you to articulate what you need.
- Some people may get angry when you set a boundary – that’s ok. You cannot set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings at the same time. Boundaries are about taking care of your own feelings. People who have been overstepping your limits might get upset when you first stop them – but you deserve respect. It’s ok to say “No,” “I don’t want to,” or “That makes me feel uncomfortable.”
- Be prepared to follow through – your boundaries need to match your behavior. Boundaries are set to take care of yourself.
- Know that people may not react well when you set a new boundary or a boundary where one did not exist before. If this boundary feels right for you, stick to it!
Occasionally, people may make requests of you that you think are unreasonable, or that you are unable to fulfill. It is possible to say “No” without negative consequences, even if it feels difficult or impossible. You might have a greater understanding of when and why saying “No” is difficult for you by reflecting on the truth of the following sentences:
- You often go home at the end of the day wondering what happened to your plans for the day.
- Constant interruptions and requests from others keep you from getting to projects you had intended to do.
- You notice yourself participating in activities that you don’t enjoy.
- You feel a sense of imbalance in your relationships, where you provide more than is reciprocated.
- You want people to like you and think they won’t if you say no.
- You believe you have to earn the respect and/or goodwill of others by doing what they ask.
- You feel it’s your obligation to do whatever you are asked to do and you feel guilty saying no.
- You try to say no, but people try to convince you and you often wind up saying yes.
- You find it so hard to see someone’s negative reaction when you say no that it’s just easier to say yes.
- You typically underestimate how much time it will take you to help others.
- You fear that you will get into big trouble if you say no.
Once you understand WHY you usually don’t say no, several principles can help you break the habit of always saying yes.
- Make a date – Pick a day to say “No” and start practicing your skill. You can take this a step further and pick the number of times you would like to say “No”.
- Plan ahead – Know that it may feel a little awkward at first, but with practice it will become easier and more natural
- Practice makes perfect – find different ways of saying no. For example, “That doesn’t work for me” or “I can’t do this, but I could do that”
- Pause – Know that you don’t have to answer right away. You can tell the person you will get back to them, or you will need to look at your schedule before committing.
Celebrating our Boundaries!
Boundaries bring order and safety into our lives. As we learn to strengthen our boundaries, we gain a clearer sense of ourselves and our relationships with others. Boundaries empower us to determine how we’re treated by others and enable us to support others without sacrificing ourselves. With good boundaries, we can have the assurance that comes from knowing we can and will protect ourselves from ignorance, meanness, or thoughtlessness that can sometimes come from others. Although there may be people who don’t respect your boundaries, by making your limits known you give yourself the space to choose who and what you want and allow in your life.
And that’s something to celebrate!
This material has been adapted from AVP’s Practising Boundaries Workshop, a new workshop that will be open to students and members of the community in the new year. Follow our social media for future announcements.