The matter of boundaries and personal space is not a new one. Boundaries are meant to demarcate and keep away things or people who do not belong inside the fence. A fence is what it is and it has to be intact. What does a broken fence do? It makes the protected space vulnerable to trespassing. The same happens with unhealthy or porous boundaries in relationships.
Healthy boundaries are requisite for a healthy, peaceful, and content life. Healthy boundaries allow you to define yourself, understand who you are and what you need, and most importantly, help you realize what you don’t need. Healthy boundaries are necessary even in the healthiest and happiest relationships. It is the presence of a healthy boundary that preserves a relationship.
In this era of a small world and social media, healthy boundaries are getting blurred and damaged. Unhealthy boundaries have become so easy to form and a lot is taken for granted.
Generally, unhealthy boundaries involve:
- Being open to anybody and everybody about your personal life.
- Letting someone behave inappropriately to you and not reacting against it.
- Touching another person without permission.
- Talking intimately or being intimate with a new acquaintance or strangers.
- Unlimited giving for the sake of giving and taking for the sake of getting.
- Accepting gifts that you do not want or need — in any form.
- Letting someone take advantage of you or vice versa.
- Not noticing when your personal space or boundary has been trespassed upon.
There are many more common signs of unhealthy boundaries, but I want to talk about some specific instances that people overlook and underestimate today that are actually intense disrespect for personal space and boundaries.
So, let’s take a look at 5 underestimated instances of unhealthy boundaries, which apply in both real and virtual life and relationships. People assume it is all right to do these things or be at the receiving end of them, but in reality, they are not.
Unsolicited personal questions
This is so common today because conversations are not always face-to-face. Behind the screen, across the web, it is so easy for people to type in words that they otherwise would hesitate to speak. Unless a person has permitted you to ask a personal question, don’t. So how do you go about it? It’s easy.
Simply ask them if you can ask them a personal question and introduce what it is about so that you don’t surprise them in a bad way. You simply do not blast convoluted, double-layered, or nosy questions at a person regardless of their relationship with you. Perhaps he or she is a close friend, but personal boundaries should not be taken for granted.
The threshold levels of personal questions vary from person to person. What is uncomfortable for one may not be so for another. So, just because a question is all right if asked to you doesn’t mean another person is fine answering that question. What is pertinent to you may not be pertinent to another. Individual preferences vary greatly in this matter. Also, it depends on the vibes you give the other person.
Excessive compliments on physical appearance
It’s fine to let someone know that you think they look great. Sometimes, you can even tell them if a color suits them, if a hairstyle makes them look stunning, or if a particular kind of dress clicks for them. Admiration and appreciation of physical appearance is something we all do once in a while and something we all crave now and then. All as long as you are expressing it genuinely and without gestures or expressions that escalate it to the level of being lewd.
Initially, it feels harmless, but soon it gets out of hand if you do not say no to excessively specific compliments. How can you know the difference? That, too, is easy.
Trust your gut when it comes to compliments. Pay attention to their tone, gestures, eye movements. Be conscious of the direction of their words — especially in online chats. If someone you are not particularly close with takes the time to share your picture from your feed to your inbox to demonstrate his compliment, they sure are raking you in detail. Along with personal questions, they are fishing hard.
If a compliment is not casual and makes you feel uncomfortable because his or her eyes were not looking at your face when they said it, or their words mentioned intimate body parts, you sure know it is not appropriate. Unless it is your partner with whom you are intimate, specific compliments on your body are not something you should be entertaining. Also, beware when the compliments are constant and continuous — they are obviously trying to get to you.
Besides, “You look hot!” is not an appropriate compliment from new acquaintances or strangers. It is not even a compliment as many perverts assume.
The rules are the same when you are the one complimenting. Do it within limits.
The ‘No’ that should not be confused
One thing people have not really wrapped their head around is the matter of consent when it comes to little matters. Consent is not something that is exclusive to sex and surgery. Consent is mandatory for every frigging thing that involves another person.
Consent is necessary for every advance that requires entering the other person’s personal space. Whether you want to talk to them, or ask them a personal question, or do anything with or for them for that matter, you must ask, “May I….” and whatever it includes.
A “No” is a “No. It is unconditional.
You do not bargain for consent. You cannot ask them why they say no to you but not to another person. You do not ask them to explain their “No”.
Another aspect of the “No” is being confused or scared when you have to say it. If your mind is divided because your “No” would upset the other person or ruin your relationship, most probably you are in the wrong company. When you are clear about your feelings but are inclined to say “Yes” to something, you are not comfortable with, that shows your boundaries are unclear. You are likely to be taken for granted and used. You become vulnerable to hurt and oppression. You become easy.
When the time to say “No” comes, do not hesitate. The relationship or friendship you risk by saying no to something your integrity doesn’t condone is best gone. You are better off without someone who does not respect your “No” in your life.
Hugs, kisses, and handshakes
Just because you are a friend or family member doesn’t entitle you to physical intimacy. This is important even if the other person is three years old. While formal handshakes and hugs may be an expression of courtesy, they are also misused. You can greet the other person verbally and open your arms to let them know you are open to a hug. If they don’t run into your arms, they are simply not open to a hug. And if they don’t, don’t make a big deal out of it. Respect their decision to not be hugged.
It is also advisable to pause and speak before you extend your hand to someone you are meeting for the first time. Being aware of cultural differences and preferences is a way to avoid awkward handshakes because not everyone is receptive to them.
Teach kids about physical intimacy and what is proper and improper. Good and bad touches have to be introduced by 3 years of age. They need to know it early to protect themselves from abuse and form healthy boundaries.
Further, this applies to virtual conversations as well, because emojis and words are as intentional as actions. If you are not comfortable with someone sending you hugs or kisses over a chat, tell them so. Someone who is respectful will not be offended by your honesty. They wouldn’t be sending you an out-of-place hug or kiss even if it is an emoji in the first place.
Unsolicited advice and opinions
Many of us are guilty of this. You read it right. Advice that is unasked for is unsolicited. It is not rocket science to understand. It is pure common sense. This particular instance reminds me of a quote in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist:
“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
If you are spending a lot of thought and time on how others should live, it’s time you fixed how you should. Friends and family ask opinions and advice from each other. It is natural. But even then, unless asked, you have no reason to give your two cents right off the bat.
You should also be aware of people who feel entitled to give you advice when you are not seeking it. If you have not explicitly said that you need opinions or advice and still someone takes the liberty to without asking your permission, flag them in your mind. They are meddlesome and like to control lives.
Seeking advice is fine, a humble action because nobody knows everything and nobody is perfect. But that should not be an act of welcoming others to control your decisions or tell you how to live. The final say is and must be yours when it comes to your personal matters.
During a Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) Training I attended, I remember our trainer instructing us something along the lines of “therapy is not advice” among the common mistakes in therapy. Even therapy is not a venue to advise the other person. You might give flexible suggestions to better their situation, but not rigid advice and how-tos.
Giving fixed advice based on what we believe is closing all the doors to decision-making for the other person. A suggestion is always more humble, friendly, accepting, and acceptable. Unsolicited anything is a product of unhealthy boundaries.
Let’s respect healthy boundaries
Many a relationship would have been saved if boundaries were respected and valued. Healthy boundaries are at once valuing our own personal values and integrity, as well as the other person’s. They are crucial in personal development and good mental health. Healthy boundaries render you immune to abuse, exploitation, being taken for granted, and gaslighting. They ensure you have a clear sense of who you are and make socializing easier.
There is a clear difference between unhealthy boundaries and politeness. Most people avoid stating their discomfort or displeasure when being encroached upon because of politeness. Never confuse politeness with tolerating unhealthy advances towards your personal space. Because the aftermaths are not worth it. At most, you win over a psychopath to your life.
Unhealthy boundaries can be a source of discomfort, guilty feelings, abuse, depression, and worse. It’s hard to scrape off the consequences. It can wreak havoc in your personal life and create trust issues.
So, draw the lines with clear words. Say “No” without confusion when it needs to be said. Don’t say “Yes” out of compulsion. And finally, don’t be that person who manipulates boundaries others have drawn around them.