I recently read ‘Unf*ck Your Boundaries’ by Faith G. Harper and in its introduction, a sentence hit me hard – ‘Why is the idea of standing up for our space in the world met with derision’?. You see, personal boundaries are the edge of what belongs to us and what belongs to someone else. They are the rules of our engagement with others, and as the books puts it, without them, we are as malleable as play-doh and if we are malleable, we are controllable.
We live in a world where the act of setting boundaries and enforcing it is sometimes perceived as synonymous with being selfish. I think this is more so in Asian cultures where the collective good is prioritized over individual preferences; where age and hierarchy plays a greater role. Knowingly or unknowingly, we actually possess 7 types of personal boundaries.
Let’s jump into it.
1. Physical Boundaries
These are the boundaries pertaining touch (when, where, how, who). Maybe you are not comfortable hugging in public, or standing too close to strangers.
2. Property Boundaries
These are the boundaries pertaining the things we own or things we lay claim to. Maybe you don’t like it when others simply take/touch your things without your consent. Though the book gave a pretty funny example in this respect. Have you ever mentally called dips on something, maybe it’s an outfit or a seat and get kinda upset when someone else takes it? Yup, that’s also property boundaries at play.
3. Sexual Boundaries
This includes both the physical and emotional aspects of sex. They are the acceptable language, ideas and information around sexuality. Ever heard a sexual joke that was either offensive or made you very uncomfortable? That’s a violation of your sexual boundaries. Enforcing both your sexual boundary and respecting others’ involves asking consent and taking No for an answer. Only YES means yes. Nothing else.
4. Emotional-Relational Boundaries
This involves boundaries pertaining what we want to feel or others want to feel, as well as respecting our own personhood and others. This is how we treat and how we allow others to treat our emotions, respecting that we each have our own emotional experiences. At the same time, it’s about not taking responsibility for other people’s emotions.
5. Intellectual Boundaries
This is pertaining our thoughts, our intellectual beliefs, ideas and how they are respected. Maybe you’ve berated someone for a differing opinion, or felt that someone tried to shove their thoughts on you. I think this is one of biggest violation of boundaries on a large scale because we are now more polarised than before.
6. Spiritual Boundaries
This is about our spiritual belief systems, how we practice them and what we choose to share around these beliefs. This differs from intellectual boundaries because this leans more towards religion and our purposeful belonging. When we respect someone else’s faith and religious practices, we are respecting their spiritual boundary.
7. Time Boundaries
This is pertaining how we spend our time. I think this area is especially evident in our work. Or choosing what activity is most worth your time.
Granted, a lot of these boundaries actually overlap. Eg. Someone forcing you to go out to party even though you don’t drink and don’t want to, could be violating both your time and spiritual boundaries.
Also, our boundaries change over time as we accumulate new experiences, changes across situations and within different relationships. Which is why Harper poses that our approach to boundaries could be:
- Flexible – this being ideal of course
Rigid boundaries are best reserved for needs such as safety, but for other issues, being too rigid could cause us to lose out on opportunities of growth and makes us really difficult to others. Being too Permeable on the other hands means we allow everything and anything to get through, making us pushovers. Simply said, we are sacrificing ourselves for others. Flexible boundaries are the ones that comes from listening to our gut that wants to both protect us and wants us to experience growth; it’s where we may compromise on certain things that may lead to the overall betterment of relationships and ourselves.
Often times, we may be flexible for some types of boundaries, but absolutely permeable on some. I myself, upon this new found revelation, realised that I’m more permeable on the emotional-relational front. Sometimes assuming feelings of others, feeling like I need to justify my feelings to others. It’s definitely something I’m actively working on. Awareness is indeed the first step because if we know better, we do better.
Some questions/ food for thought from the book:
- What kinds of boundary violations do you experience the most? Which categories do they belong in?
- What would your ideal boundary balance look like? How close are you now to it?
- Are there certain types of boundary violations you have been guilty of (intentionally or not)?
- How has your boundaries evolved over the years?
So, what’s the TLDR antidote to healthy boundaries ?
Healthy & Effective Communication.
I know a lot of us struggle to advocate our boundaries, it makes us feel uncomfortable and we end up justifying our decisions (this is so me). The book suggest when you communicate your boundaries do it assertively which is in the way that’s true to your values but also respectful of other viewpoints. You can use phrases like “I Feel”, “When you” “What I want is”.
Eg. ‘I feel uncomfortable when you made that joke just now. I know you meant it to be funny and thought I would find it amusing instead of getting upset. But I struggle with jokes about that topic. I would really appreciate it if you didn’t tell jokes like that around me.
When you are in a situation of conflict, a powerful tool is Bill Eddy’s High Conflict Institute’s BIFF Response – Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
- Brief – don’t over explain
- Informative – Don’t focus on incorrect statements, state accurate ones.
- Friendly – Sound civil ( you don’t have to kiss a**)
- Firm – Close it off with a firm closing statement (avoid statements like eg. let me know if you have further questions).
Healthy communication is seriously hard work and will forever be a work-in-progress but it’s a necessary arsenal that we all must have up our sleeves, for the betterment of our lives, and for the our sanity’s sake.
I would recommend reading the book, it provides multiple more examples of how boundary violations look like to help your recognise it in your life and elaborates on how our enforcement of boundaries became so messed up in the first place. She also explains more on types of communication styles and examples on how to utilise the communication tools.
Hope this has helped you in some shape or form 🙂
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