What are boundaries?
Boundaries are rules we make for ourselves about what we need from other people to feel respected and be safe. Boundaries can be anything we want them to be: physical boundaries like who we’re comfortable sharing personal space with, emotional boundaries around experiences we don’t want to talk about, or personal identity boundaries like the names and pronouns we use.
Boundaries are unique to each person and can change over time or in different situations! For example, many people have different boundaries with a best friend than with a parent, or chatting online versus in person. Nobody ever needs to justify or explain their boundaries for them to be respected.
Sometimes people ignore our boundaries. Often, this happens because someone doesn’t value boundaries that are different from their own, or because they have power which means they don’t expect there to be consequences for not respecting someone else with less privilege. Whenever someone is starting an activity or making a request, it’s important for them to check in about everyone else’s boundaries, and it’s especially important when they hold power that might make it more uncomfortable for others to say no.
What can you do if your boundaries aren’t being respected?
If someone doesn’t respect your boundary, it’s never your fault.
Sometimes, boundaries get crossed by accident. If it’s someone you trust and feel safe with, talking about what happened can give them a chance to apologize and take responsibility. When someone is knowingly or repeatedly crossing your boundaries, you may want to turn to others in your community for support, which might look like a counselor, a family member or a trusted elder. Some relationships end because they aren’t healthy if boundaries aren’t being respected. Take a look here for some helpful next steps for any relationship.
Respecting other people’s boundaries can look like this:
- Ask! You don’t need to understand why someone has a boundary, but it’s important to ask what it is so you can follow it.
- Respect the boundary. Don’t guilt someone for having a boundary or pressure them to change it, even if it’s different from your own.
- Check in. Boundaries shift over time, so make sure you’re checking in case something has changed.
Take responsibility when you make a mistake. Apologize for crossing their boundary and make sure you don’t do it again.