Setting boundaries is one of the most essential teachings, and nobody talks about it.
What are boundaries?
Personal boundaries are mental, psychological, emotional, and physical lines we draw to protect ourselves, and if we fail to protect ourselves, we feel used, violated, manipulated, and exploited.
It all starts at home.
I remember in my home, privacy was not a concept that existed. When I became a teenager, I was not allowed to close the door or keep it locked. If we wanted privacy, we (my siblings and I) were doubted—our parents thought we were doing something wrong. We eventually did everything that we wanted by finding hidden ways to do them.
And that’s not how I want to do things as a parent today. This way, we only teach our kids how to manipulate, cheat, and lie.
While growing up, specifically when I was a teenager, I often wondered why my parents didn’t trust me to do the right thing. Why did they have to constantly supervise me?
I heard, many times, parents talking among themselves about how kids don’t know what is right or good for them, so they needed to keep an eye on them. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t now as a parent myself.
When we understand that there is nothing bad about making mistakes and learning from them, maybe parents will be more trusting of their kids. After I became a parent, I, too, was concerned about the big, bad world outside and how it could impact my son. But eventually, I came to terms with trusting my parenting—filled with unconditional love, helping my son develop the wisdom to differentiate right and wrong, and letting him choose to do the right thing for himself and others—and I didn’t need to be worried.
It’s important that we tell our kids the consequences of choosing something good and bad. So in case our children choose something wrong, they understand the effects of it and learn to take responsibility for their actions.
“Boundaries” is a word that is not properly understood in my culture.
We have been taught that saying “no” to something is considered rude or arrogant, selfish or non-adjusting.
For example: if a relative, friend, or neighbour offers you some food or drink, and you don’t want to have it, and you say no, it’s considered rude and arrogant. People will eat, drink, or do many other things to ensure the other person is not offended, which causes self-damage.
It’s confusing for young children to differentiate between when to raise an alarm for danger and when to pretend to be well-mannered. By the time they realize (if they realize), ignoring their intuition has already become a habit.
“No Means No” is a punchline in a Bollywood movie, which has become quite popular for its message—about setting boundaries.
If a girl says no, it means no. And this is true no matter when she feels she wants to put a stop to whatever is happening. But the guy misunderstands it. He feels that if the girl has gone this far, then no doesn’t mean no, and it’s okay for him to forcefully impose himself on her. He gets confused—or intentionally overrules the no—and acts in self-centered and mean ways. I am sure if the meaning of boundaries were taught to the guy, he would understand that no always means no, even if it is right in the middle of consensual sex.
Boundaries are not just for the physical—they’re also for psychological, mental, and emotional well-being.
Here is another example: if you are shopping and someone is trying to sell you something and you say no, how do you feel when he continues to try forcibly to sell to you, acting as if he is deaf to your no?
Many times, people buy just to end the torture because they’re not good at saying no. Later, they feel bad about giving in to the salesperson and buying something they didn’t want. I’ve often observed myself strategizing on how to avoid a section of a store where I have previously felt pressured by salespeople to sell me something. They don’t realize that rather than attracting customers, they’re repulsing them. There would have been a better chance for me to buy something if I didn’t feel forced.
One of my neighbours had a habit of asking for favours. And I was bad at setting boundaries. She used to come to my house at random times and ask for things she liked or needed from my house.
When I would say no to her, she’d continue to ask again and again for the same thing until I started to feel embarrassed. Eventually, I would give her what she wanted, even though many of those things were close to my heart. This would lead me to resent her, and I used to feel bad about myself for not being strong enough to say no when she insisted.
After feeling used by her many times, I finally decided to give priority to my needs, and I put a full stop to it forever.
Another example: some people continue to call you constantly, even though you’re clearly not available to take their call. Sometimes, I have answered the call anyway, thinking that there may be an emergency, but to my surprise, it’s just that they wanted to say hi.
And, how many times have you experienced saying no to offers of food from a family member or friend, and they insist you have one more piece for their happiness? You end up overeating, which sometimes result in gas, acidity, or feeling nauseous. I have definitely decided, many times, not to visit people who often try to overfeed.
People sometimes feel they have right to your belongings, body, time, and space when they cross boundaries, especially in close relationships like a husband and wife, kids and parents, siblings, or even friends. The closer the relationship, the more your boundaries are violated.
The point in all of these examples is that these people are crossing boundaries, and they are largely unaware of it.
As long as I was ignorant to other cultures, where personal boundaries are respected, I continued to suffer with having no concept of personal space and boundaries. There are many people still who are unaware of this concept and also continue to suffer.
I now consider setting boundaries to be a survival skill in this world—and not having them is normalizing toxic behaviour.
There are many organizations that have started teaching women self-defense to help them stay safe from rape. But this is too extreme for regular, everyday situations. Why is there no training on how to respect other people’s physical or emotional boundaries outside of something horrendous, like rape?
Parents feel that they have rights to their kids. They continue to invade their space and normalize the disrespecting of their privacy. They feel that their kids are “up to something” if they want privacy.
The questions here are:
Why do you feel that way? Why is it that you don’t trust your child? Why do you think your child will do something wrong when you have given them the education to differentiate between right and wrong and to choose what’s best? Why do you not accept mistakes made by your children? Why don’t you encourage your children to learn from mistakes?
So, these kids grow up and become the same parents to their own children, and it’s a never-changing cycle.
I don’t believe I can single-handedly change society, to teach everyone to respect boundaries, but what I can do is teach my children the importance of setting boundaries and respecting others through my behaviour.
In order to expect others to respect your boundaries, first you need to understand if you lack those boundaries.
Here are some signs that you lack personal boundaries:
>> If you are mistreated by anyone, you do not stand up for yourself and fail to express your true feelings.
>> You give away too much of your time entertaining others in some meaningless gossip and you regret doing that.
>> You don’t disagree with something just to be included in a group or be accepted by someone.
>> You often feel others take you as granted.
>> You are too concerned about other’s opinions about you and fear being judged.
>> You share too much detail about your life with others.
>> You feel like a victim constantly.
>> You often feel surrounded by dominating and controlling people.
>> You suffer in many different types of relationships and often feel used.
>> You feel responsible for others unhappiness.
>> You are a people-pleaser.
>> You are constantly looking for approval from others.
Having personal boundaries can help you create a healthy self-image—full of self-respect, self-worth, and feeling strong and confident.
A lack of personal boundaries can make you see yourself as a loser with low self-esteem, and not good enough in your own eyes.
There are ways to learn how to create personal boundaries. A good therapist can help you in your journey toward creating personal boundaries, which can help with achieving improved mental health.