Let’s Talk About: Creating Boundaries

This blog post is the first of a series of three posts exploring creating, recognizing, and celebrating boundaries for this year’s Sexualized Violence Awareness week

As pandemic restrictions change, you might be feeling some anxiety interacting and sharing physical space with people again: It is okay to feel this way! This is an opportunity to build our personal tool kits and become better at creating, recognizing, and celebrating our boundaries – and will ultimately lead to better, healthier relationships with ourselves and others. 

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are benchmarks or guidelines that let others know how we want to be treated. They add clarity to our lives and outline what we need to feel comfortable or safe. They allow us to recognize and communicate what we are capable of and want to engage in, and what we don’t want or cannot do. 

Understanding the Need for Boundaries

Boundary setting and respecting the boundaries of others are another way of thinking about consent. They can prevent burnout and enable us to show up and support others without sacrificing ourselves. When we care for ourselves, we encourage others to do the same.  A lack of boundaries can create a disconnect with ourselves and prevent us from forming healthy connections with others. 

(Some) Types of Boundaries:

  • Physical: Boundaries you set regarding your body, personal space and privacy. How you want to be touched or not touched, where, when and who may touch you. 
  • Emotional: What you’re comfortable sharing emotionally with others. Can include deciding what and when to share and not share, deciding your capacity for listening to certain topics and supporting others, etc. 
  • Sexual: Include consent, communication, setting rules and safety 
  • Digital: Boundaries you set regarding how or when your information and/or digital images, videos etc. are shared, and the right to decide how you use social media (who you interact with and how often etc). 
  • Time/Energy: Boundaries you set for yourself regarding how you spend your time and energy (e.g. boundaries around completing work tasks on your days off) 
  • Intellectual: Includes our thoughts, ideas, values, opinions and beliefs. 
  • Covid-19 related boundaries: You have the right to express your needs related to COVID safety, and to have such needs respected and valued. (e.g wearing a mask, attendng social gatherings etc)

Although it is important to set boundaries for yourself, practicing boundaries is not always easy and does not mean that others will not try to cross them. Many of us have been taught unhealthy messages about boundaries, and live within a culture that has socialized us to not listen to ourselves or prioritize our well-being. 

Context Matters: Why Boundaries can be so tricky

Setting and holding boundaries don’t happen in a vacuum but in relation to the world around us. We can think of these influences in MACRO and MICRO contexts:

MACRO: society-wide structures that create the conditions in which boundaries are not valued or normalized

  • Ex. Rape culture: The culture in which we live that normalizes and glorifies sexualized violence, creating violence and a sense of entitlement to other people’s physical, emotional, and sexual beings without consent.
  • Systems like white supremacy, colonialism, transantagonism, capitalism, etc. that set up power relations and widespread norms that not only fail to normalize boundaries but also perpetuate ideas about who is allowed to have boundaries and autonomy
  • Ex: white supremacy upholds ideas around whose bodies are allowed to have boundaries and autonomy. 

MICRO: The interpersonal dynamics that influence our ability to set boundaries with the people we are interacting with (these, of course, take place within the macro context discussed above)

  • Norms/expectations – our learned ideas about what particular relationships include (e.g. assuming being someone’s partner/bf/gf means you should expect to receive and give sexual touch without check ins) 

Power, Identity, and Boundaries: 

  • When thinking about boundary setting it is crucial that we consider what interpersonal power dynamics are at play (both implicitly and explicitly).
  • Our identities (and the various intersecting components such as race, gender, sexuality, class etc) significantly influences who gets to set boundaries and how.
  • Power is relational, meaning that in different situations and contexts, you may find yourself holding varying positions of power. 
  • Our ability to set boundaries with someone can be impacted if they:
    • Are in a position of authority or control our means for survival, such as access to shelter and money (ex: a teacher, boss, landlord)
    • Have a different position in society through factors like their education, job, wealth, age, or citizenship which grants them more social power. 
    • Hold social power due to unearned advantages such being white, cisgender, hetersexual etc. 
  • It is important to be mindful of the ways and spaces you hold privilege and to listen when people tell you have crossed a boundary. 

Other Important Reminders:

Boundaries can change due to time, context, new dynamics, etc. We are constantly changing. What used to be a perfectly reasonable boundary for you might not feel appropriate anymore. Make sure that every now and then you take time to reflect and consider if the boundaries you have in place still work for you! This might feel especially relevant in the ways so many of us have been more explicitly navigating our boundaries around COVID considerations. If you’re a person who used to love hugging people, but hugs no longer feel good to you, it’s okay to let people know. Maintaining boundaries is an ongoing process. Checking in with yourself to figure out which boundaries still work for you and which ones need to change are a part of self-care. 

Be Gentle with Yourself: Give yourself permission to set boundaries and the space to take care of yourself. Doing so is not “selfish”, “mean” or “unkind.” Like all skills, this may take time. Work on yourself. Practice setting boundaries and encourage people to set their own! Let’s normalize creating and holding space for boundaries!!! 

Get Support: There is no shame in asking for help. If you feel like you’re struggling to create boundaries and need support, consider reaching out to a loved one or perhaps to a professional. 

Ultimately, your boundaries deserve to be respected! 

 * 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*

Interested in learning more and exploring this topic further? Check out part two which covers what shapes our boundaries, how to recognize when our boundaries are crossed, and how to deal with rejection. Part three covers celebrating boundaries and includes a handy model for setting boundaries. 

And check out our Understanding Consent Culture and Supporting a Survivors workshops which will be run throughout the year. Check out our full schedule for dates and times!

Other Resources: Check out the Equity and Human Rights Office Boundaries pages for more information about creating, recognizing, and celebrating boundaries! 

Need support? The Anti-Violence Project is here for you. Visit our contact page for more information.

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