Boundaries are a set of personal limits that reinforce your sense of identity and autonomy. They can be physical, sexual, emotional and even spiritual. You have the ability to set them in order to protect yourself and demand respect. Boundaries will vary from relationship to relationship and can change over time. Stay connected to your personal boundaries, openly communicate them to others and reinforce them when they are violated, and you will facilitate healthy relationships.
Identify Your Boundaries
Consider your likes and dislikes. Think about what behaviors, attitudes and experiences make you uncomfortable. You may have difficulty tolerating your sibling calling you names, or feel disgusted when strangers touch your pregnant belly. A clear understanding of your personal boundaries will enable you to clearly and firmly set them and recognize when they are being violated.
Communicate Your Boundaries Assertively
When setting boundaries, do so in a clear and direct manner. Identify the boundary issue and, using 'I' statements, own your feelings in regards to it. For example, you might say, "Do not read my journal. I feel violated when my privacy is disrespected," or, "I feel angry and uncomfortable when strangers touch my body without permission." You are not obligated to apologize or explain yourself further.
Plan a Response to Boundary Violations
Prepare a response for potential boundary violations. You might reiterate your boundaries and acknowledge that your limits have not been respected. Inform the offender of the consequences of further disregard. This can mean saying, "I told you that it is not acceptable to read my journal, and you read it anyway. If this happens again, I won't see you again."
Be Prepared to Follow Through
Maintain a firm stance in regards to your boundaries, and plan to follow through with your stated consequences. If your journal is read again, distance yourself from the offender. Failure to follow through sends others the message that they can easily take advantage of you. If others do not respect your boundaries or even take them seriously, you may begin to believe that your feelings, needs and desires are insignificant, unimportant and meaningless.
Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.
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