Sanctuary for the Abused
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Understanding personal boundaries is the single most important thing you can do to improve your relationships immediately. This is an explanation and definition of the concept of personal boundaries.
You've heard people say "He's so refined." We think of refined people as having a great deal of "class." What they have if they really are refined is a very refined - a detailed and accurate - understanding of boundaries - or where their rights end and another's begin. Put simply, people who have exceptionally good manners have a much better understanding of personal boundaries than people who don't. They are a pleasure to be around because they have respect for your emotional and physical space. They don't touch you without permission, they don't try to "define" you or make remarks about you or your life or being.
To begin to get a grasp on the concept of boundaries let's start with physical boundaries of each human being.
We can view a human being as having a space around him of about, say, a foot. This is his comfort zone. Step inside this and he is likely to become uncomfortable and step back. This is his physical boundary: his body combined with the space he needs from you to feel comfortable. The size of everyone's physical boundaries are different. Latin Americans have a much smaller comfort zone, they like to talk "in your face."
Stepping inside that comfort zone deliberately, if you know it makes the person feel uncomfortable, is called a boundaries violation, or transgression. You have quite literally "gone over the line."
Most people will get frightened to one degree or another if you violate their physical boundaries. Abuse, by definition, is "boundaries violations." Deliberately stepping inside one's comfort zone, making someone uncomfortable and/or feel threatened, therefore, is defined as physical abuse.
At night, the physical comfort zone of a woman widens considerably, to perhaps yards and yards. If a man walks behind her too closely she will likely feel threatened and may call the police. He has every legal "right" to walk so closely, but "refined" people will understand intuitively that a woman's physical boundaries and her comfort zone are different at night and in unsafe areas, and will respect this and keep a distance, "hang back" just to be respectful.
If you touch a person without permission technically that, too, is a boundaries violation, regardless of how affectionate you intended the gesture to be. Some people don't mind this type of physical boundaries intrusion from a family member but most people feel uncomfortable about it when it comes from anyone else. They may say nothing, but if they do reproach you, know that you are, indeed, at fault. As mother used to say, "Keep your hands to yourself unless invited."
Hugging someone without permission is a boundaries violation, too - a deliberate invasion of that person's personal space. We do it all the time, don't we? It's widely accepted and encouraged. But be warned: many people don't like it, they may avoid you or reproach you and again: it's not your intent that matters, it's the effect the gesture has on the receiver. It technically is a boundaries violation: we have no right to touch another person without their permission.
Obviously, hitting or harming a person's body is a serious boundaries violation and constitutes serious physical abuse.
Becoming aware of people's physical boundaries is an important first step to ending all abusive behavior.
People also have emotional boundaries. This comprises everything about who they are: what they do, what they like, their past, their family and friends, their looks, their personality, where they went to school, the house they live in.
Making remarks about any of these things - anything that has to do with "who a person is" - is an emotional boundaries violation. Intentions don't matter when it comes to trespassing someone's emotional boundaries; only the effect the words had on the person matter.
"Refined" people steer clear of any personal remarks. Even compliments are judgments and judgments and diagnoses (about people's mental health, for example) are serious emotional boundaries violations.
Any remarks that start with "You " are probably trespassing on someone's emotional boundaries. A man in an elevator once said to a stranger, "You should wear short skirts." He may have thought that was nice, he wasn't too "refined". To the woman it felt invasive, personal, like it reduced her personhood to nothing but body parts, it attempted to "define" her by telling her something she "should" be doing with her life and therefore felt controlling. In fact, it was all of these, whether he was consciously aware of it or not. He was, as we say, "out of line."
Language is powerful, words can be destructive. Refining the language you use, is a very important part of learning to respect other people's boundaries.
Boundaries and Family Members
Boundaries tend to be more lax among family members - but, really, should they be? Unless we are asked to comment on something that falls within someone's personal emotional boundaries, we are trespassing on their territory and risk doing emotional damage and causing relationship problems and conflicts when we do. Remember: it doesn't matter what your intention was. If you trespass someone's boundaries they have a right to be upset.
The home is probably the MOST important place to exercise a healthy respect of boundaries. So much of our happiness depends on the smooth functioning of these relationships.
Boundaries and Manipulation and Control
Emotional boundaries violations are verbal and emotional abuse. You can emotionally abuse without OVERTLY trespassing a boundary. In fact, very quiet attempts to manipulate someone are also violations - these are attempts to control someone, someone's emotions or behavior, and therefore constitute "stepping over the line".
"Mind your own business."
"Keep your words to yourself."
"Stay on your side of the road."
"Don't say a word until you've walked in his shoes."
These old sayings are the best things you can do for your relationships.
And respecting the boundaries of others has the added benefit of making you a much more "refined" person. :-)
You may reprint/reproduce any of these provided you include the entire copy, especially this credit.