Text: Ophelia Wu
In the coming issues, I want to explore boundaries- with yourself, with friends, with family and in dating and relationship settings.
According to the Oxford Dictionaries, a boundary is 'a real or imagined line that marks the limits or edges of something and separates it from other things or places; a dividing line'.
When I was younger, I did not know the need to draw a boundary, let alone understand its importance. Fast forward many years of lessons and healing work, and now I'm guarding my boundaries with life and unapologetically putting it out there without any guilt. It is the healthiest and most liberating thing I've done for myself.
Starting with yourself
Many relate boundaries to a strict, non-permeable wall of rules and regulations, a take-it-or-leave-it condition that comes with punishment if violated. But, in fact, it is a safe space that you draw to let people in healthily, not keeping people away in an uptight manner. Don't know where and how to start? Here are some of the tips I've learnt from my experiences.
First and foremost, set a personal boundary with yourself. It goes a long way in many aspects of life. For example, how often do you say 'yes' to something when you just want to say a simple 'no' without explaining? That's where we need the personal boundary- be clear and assertive with what you accept and agree to.
By saying that, I mean: know what you want and don't want, understand the why behind all those, why they are essential to you, how they affect you and your emotional well-being, what you can accept, tolerate and need etc. All these are good guidelines to start drawing your boundary and creating this safe space around you. So take all the time you need to think it through, write it down, gain some clarity and take it from there.
Now you might wonder, does it mean one needs to be selfish and ruthless to set a boundary? No, there is a very thin fine line between being selfish and setting a boundary. Being selfish and manipulative is disregarding others' feelings and circumstances and coming from a place of control, fear, or feeling threatened while having a boundary is coming from a place of secure, compassion for yourself and others, yet being assertive, kind and respectful to yourself and others. The biggest difference perhaps lies in how we feel and respond to when our boundaries have been crossed – the former could result in giving cold-shoulder, silent treatment, any form of emotional punishment, withdrawing attention or love; the latter is staying calm and neutral but honouring, respecting and accepting the fact that you have the power and decision to walk away, say no to anything that doesn't serve your best purpose.
"You might wonder, does it mean one needs to be selfish and ruthless to set a boundary?"
Respecting yourself is not selfish
You can't decide or control how the person on the receiving end feels about your 'no', but you have every power to respect your own boundary. For example, if you're tired from work and want a quiet night for yourself, your friend calls and tries every means to persuade you to go for a night out. You can either say yes, reluctantly, and then feel depleted and even angry at yourself for saying yes when all you want is to say no and stay in. You don't have to feel guilty about saying no without explaining yourself. If that's your boundary, you honour it, respect it, stick with it, and kindly and assertively tell your friend, 'Thanks for the invite, but I want to have a quiet night to myself - perhaps I'll join you next time.' That is not selfish; you are not punishing your friend for not enjoying their definition of fun. On the contrary, it is healthy to voice your needs kindly.
It might feel guilty at first to do that, but as you get more precise and firmer on your boundaries, you become more assertive about what you accept and not. This is also a perfect screening process for people around you- who take no for an answer gracefully and gives you a hard time punishing you, guilt-tripping you. Take note of that, and you'll soon see yourself surrounded by people who truly respect you and your boundaries, but YOU have to be the first to respect yourself and honour that before anyone else can see and follow. Respect yourself enough to honour your safe space that allows deeper connections to form and grow. Your boundaries serve a 2-way purpose: keeping your emotional well-being healthy and allowing people with your best interests into your close circle saves much of your energy.