Power, Control, and Understanding Boundaries
A personal boundary is the line between your energy and someone else’s energy. We set boundaries every day in many situations. We have personal space boundaries. We have personal emotional boundaries. We have personal energetic boundaries. We have philosophical boundaries and moral boundaries. All of these things can be tied together, or looked at individually.
When you have healthy boundaries, you’ve got plenty of space within your little circle, and so does the other person. This is personal power and neither party is abusing it. Neither party is giving up their personal power, either. This is good, healthy, and creates a balanced and harmonious environment.
When one of the parties has unhealthy boundaries, things get lopsided. This becomes control. There is a personal power struggle. One party is asserting their personal power and dominance over the other party. Things are no longer harmonious and balanced. One person’s energy is intruding on the other person’s energy.
This type of thing tends to happen between two people when one of them oversteps their boundaries.
We have a lot of people in our society who have no respect for healthy boundaries. Those who chronically disrespect boundaries are labeled abusers. And because so many of us have experienced abuse at an early age, we’ve never learned how to implement strong boundaries and then we end up in situations with abusers where we aren’t comfortable standing up for ourselves.
People exhibit weak boundaries for all sorts of reasons, many of which have to do with a history of having their boundaries violated in interpersonal relationships, through abuse from parents, and even abuse from society itself. Anyone who has experienced physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse as a child has never learned what healthy boundaries look like, and therefore, are pre-primed to be taken advantage of by abusers in the future.
Anyone who has experienced physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse or assault at any point throughout their adult lives has had their concept of healthy boundaries eroded or shattered.
Society and culture also play a huge part in how we perceive boundaries.
We live in a patriarchal society that signals to women that they must be agreeable and pleasing, and that saying no makes them a frigid bitch, whereas men are validated by sexual conquest. This sets up a dynamic where men are encouraged to disrespect a woman’s boundaries as a way to be viewed as acceptably masculine, and a woman is encouraged not to have them as a way to be viewed as acceptably feminine. And this is why we live in a society where one in every five women has been sexually assaulted, and women who already have a history of childhood sexual abuse–or abuse of any kind–are statistically more likely to be sexually assaulted in the future, because their history of boundary violations has normalized aggressive behavior and they can’t recognize when someone is violating their boundaries, thereby making them more likely to end up in and stay in dangerous situations with people who violate their boundaries.
This erosion of healthy boundaries often manifests as not wanting to cause conflict or rock the boat. There’s a mistaken belief that standing up for yourself is somehow selfish, and you’re afraid that you’ll be perceived as attacking the other person or otherwise result in rejection. This is a classic symptom of having been abused and gaslighted.
It is not selfish to love yourself just as much as you love other people, and if other people truly love you and have a healthy respect for your boundaries, they will not be put off when you set one. They will respect it, apologize, and learn from the situation. If the person who is overstepping their boundary is a toxic abuser, they will actually believe they are doing nothing wrong and flip the situation back around on you, attack you and make you feel crazy, or if they’re an avoidant personality, they’ll simply disappear.
How to Uphold Personal Boundaries Without Overstepping
There’s an easy way to tell what’s really happening, though, and it involves looking carefully at the words you are using or the words that are being communicated to you.
If you are upholding a personal boundary, you are making statements about yourself and how you feel about the other person’s actions. “I feel ________ when this happens…” “I am uncomfortable when…”
If you are unknowingly overstepping your personal boundary, you’re usually making accusatory statements directed at the other person. “You are [the problem]…” “You shouldn’t…”.
Chronic abusers who violate boundaries typically weaponize shame and guilt against you. They won’t take no for an answer. They’ll call you selfish, they’ll tell you you’re being too sensitive, and they’ll say you can’t take a joke.
Someone who doesn’t have a clear understanding of boundaries, particularly those who chronically abuse boundaries, will generally feel threatened when you stick up for yourself, and that’s ok.
If you think this person did this unintentionally and you’re worried about a misunderstanding, just make sure that you are making statements about your personal feelings and what you allow in your space. “I do not believe that.” “This doesn’t make sense to me because…” Feel free to explain why you don’t believe that. It’s a natural discourse and it’s an attempt to create understanding. If you think this person is a chronic boundary abuser and you’re worried about a volatile reaction, you’ll have to be incredibly firm with your boundaries and be willing to walk away if the person doesn’t accept it.
When someone isn’t necessarily intentionally being a complete asshole, but may have made a minor error in judgement on more than one occasion and you notice a pattern of this behavior, these are known as microaggressions and they are usually the result of subtle, subconscious bias. This is a much more difficult conversation to have in order to get this person to understand why their comments are harmful and if you’re not versed enough in sociology and bias, it’s going to be difficult to have that conversation with them without having them shut down.
In this case, the best thing you can usually do is set a firm boundary and tell them that what they said is not appropriate and they should never say that to you again, then perhaps direct them to some reading material on the subject.
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