It can be quite common to find ourselves overwhelmed and under the influence of other people’s wants and needs. We may have a partner, a boss, a child or children, other family members who are deeply important to us and some or lots of friends; all of who seemingly want to have a relationship with us and no doubt have their own understanding of how that could look.
It can be all rather easy to get bogged down in these expectations, that we don’t stop and ask ourselves what we need from these relationships and in turn how we expect to be treated.
‘I just try to be really laid back and not ask for too much, but I know that I am a people pleaser and always seem to put other people first.'
This is a trap we lay out for ourselves. By not asking for much we feel this makes it easier for other people to relate to us, but in reality, it means we communicate unclearly and that can leave a number of opportunities to be misunderstood. In turn, we may find that other people treat us not as we wish, not necessarily because they are bad but instead because they simply don’t understand how we would prefer it.
Communicating boundaries is the attempt to mitigate this and by clearly communicating what is and is not acceptable for us, we offer the individual(s) concerned the opportunity to be informed around how we would like and expect to be treated.
This type of transparency is essential in building and maintaining healthy relationships, as it can help do away with some of the uncertainty that can be present when encountering another person.
Depending upon the circumstance, there are different types of boundaries that may be required to communicate, some of which are:
These can include knowing that you have the right to consent to a sexual encounter, ask for what you need, want and enjoy sexually and request honest communication from your partner about their sexual health and history.
These relate to any aspect of your personal surroundings and physical body. This can mean treating your own body with respect, by eating and drinking nourishing food when you feel it requires it. Exercising as a means to support and care for your body, as opposed to punish it. Knowing you have a right not to be touched unless you consent to it and get to say what you will or will not allow in your own home and personal space.
For example: 'I do not allow illegal substances of any kind in my home.'
‘Please do not touch my private letters.'
'Could you knock when you enter the room please.'
These state how you want to spend your time, to ensure you don’t agree to things that you don’t want to do and find yourself in situations that you are continually dreading.
For example: 'I need to go for a 30 minute walk after work to transition into the evening, this helps me in being a more patient partner.'
'I really don't want to spend an evening at a nightclub, I would rather spend time with my friends in a less crowded and noisy space.'
These are really important to help distinguish you from another person and to recognise that you may feel differently about something than someone else. In that way, you can learn to take responsibility for your own feelings, rather than everyone else's. Due to this responsibility, it can be more likely that emotional sharing feels safe and respectful.
For example: 'When you speak down to me in front of my family, it makes me feel very sad and unsupported.'
'I often find it difficult when you agree to do so much overtime at work; I know the job is very important to you and your hard work is appreciated. However, I want you to know it is important to me, that we spend more quality time together as a family.'
Understanding, creating and then communicating boundaries can be very difficult to do if we have spent most of our lives living without them. However, they are crucial in reconnecting with our autonomy, self-worth and our need to engage with others in a respectful, honest and genuine way.
Therefore it is important that we take the time and space to discover how we may start to implement them into our lives. If this feels challenging to do on our own, working with a therapist can offer the space we may need to understand who we are and what our needs may be. In so doing, we can learn how to communicate these aspects of ourselves to other people, in a constructive, empathic, transparent and boundaried way.