Boundaries-when to say yes when to say no

November 30,2016 By: Mansi poddar

Maintain boundaries but don’t build walls.

Similar to a building, our lives need certain emotional, psychological and physical boundaries. On a daily basis we will meet many people who violate these boundaries creating havoc in our life. Each person has had experiences with those who suffer from a lack of boundaries and maintaining relationships with them is emotionally draining and chaotic.

What are boundaries?

People often mistake boundaries for walls. Walls, shut others out and make us defensive and aggressive. People who erect walls are often abrasive, pushy, hurtful and appear unemotional and unempathetic. Whereas, boundaries are “guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits.

Even Christianity and the Bhagvad Gita talk about boundaries. Their definition: importance of living life as true self, connected to God and fellow humans. He also taught that while you can accept, love and forgive those around who are not truly God- minded and who can hurt you, you do not have to stay around them and let them mistreat you.

How do you set healthy boundaries?

  • Learn to say no: Most women struggle with this. Socially conditioned to be giving and loving, they are unable to differentiate between their needs and others. Even when we are too exhausted to go for dinner with a friend, we say “yes” when all we really want is to stay home and relax. Situations of this kind tend to build frustration, anxiety and put pressure on relationships. At times, we have no choice, but when we do, don’t say “yes” when you want to say “no”.
  • Find out what is acceptable for you:  We take certain forms of abuse and justify it only to find it gets worse, and we get frustrated eventually. Due to the fear of offending another, we do not speak up for ourselves. Figure out what is acceptable to you and what is not. Does your partner call you names? Do your children throw food when it’s not of their liking? We often accept unacceptable behaviours and then become victims. Any behaviour that is unacceptable needs to be challenged or it will become a regular occurrence since the other person get desired results.
  • Communicate clearly- there are three aspects to clear communication: It is very important for us to learn to communicate about how another person’s behaviour is affecting us without making statements that may make them feel like they are being blamed. There is a simple formula to help us do this.
  • Instead of saying – “When you . . . . .” (describe the behaviour)
  • Say, “I feel . . . . .”( describe your feeling, taking responsibility for them)
    “I want . . . .”( describe what you want. If the behaviour bothers you obviously want something you are not getting)
    “I will……”( if the behaviour is abusive or exploitive, you can explain the consequences of a repeat. E.g. if you hit me again, I’ll contact the police)

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

  • Going against personal values or rights in order to please others.
  • Giving as much as you can for the sake of giving.
  • Taking as much as you can for the sake of taking.
  • Letting others define you.
  • Expecting others to fill your needs automatically.
  • Feeling bad or guilty when you say no.
  • Not speaking up when you are treated poorly.
  • Falling apart so someone can take care of you.
  • Falling “in love” with someone you barely know or who reaches out to you.
  • Accepting advances, touching and sex that you don’t want.
  • Touching a person without asking.

Some examples of boundary violations that people have shared:

  • Repeated calling in no emergency situations.
  • Physical/verbal aggression or abuse.
  • Lack of respect for others time.
  • Interference and asking too many questions.
  • Not asking for permission- showing up to someone’s home, helping yourself to their things etc.
  • Sitting between husband and wife on their bed while watching a movie.
  • Paying for people when they have not asked you too.
  • Going for dinner with friends and when the check comes the person ‘can’t afford it’.
  • Constantly having an emotional crisis so others can bail you out.
  • Insulting a friend when the friend is sharing their emotion.
  • Telling people how fat or ugly they have become( everyone has a mirror, they don’t need you).
  • Going up to strangers and telling them how hideous they look.

And the list can go on, but I think by now you get the drift.

Boundaries are essential for healthy emotional and psychological functioning. Too much of anything is bad and we need a balance. Boundaries provide this balance. Think of people who seem to be enmeshed, how well are they functioning. Healthy boundaries is a collective term for self respect, respect for others, and accurate self assessment of needs and desires.

All of us might struggle with boundary issues since culturally we seem to lack this concept of personal space and privacy. But do tune in with yourself and see if this is something that rings true for you. I am sure all of us can be cognizant about marinating boundaries. They help contain us and reach out effectively. A huge part of psychotherapy is learning to identify, set and maintain boundaries