“Love thy Neighbor; yet don’t pull down your hedge.” — Benjamin Franklin
Boundaries. You know you’re supposed to have them. Maybe your boundaries are abstract, and you just go with the flow. Maybe you think it’s only people who are “too nice” or forgiving that have their boundaries violated. But at some point everyone has their physical, emotional, and spiritual limits pressed.
Perhaps a friend going through a breakup leaned on you too much to meet their emotional needs. Maybe someone violated your spatial boundaries by standing too close or being touchy-feely. At some point, you’ve probably accommodated people who have fundamentally different core values at the expense of your own emotional well-being.
Everyone is susceptible to a boundary violation, whether it’s once a week or once in a blue moon. In fact, it’s just the price of being social creatures.
If you’re a friendly person or meet a lot of new people on a regular basis, you may find this happens a lot. That is definitely the case in my life. In the words of Neville Longbottom, “Why’s it always me?”
The good news is that you don’t have to know exactly where your boundaries are. You just have to pay close attention to your feelings. Your instincts are on your side.
Did you ever have a sneaking suspicion when you met a person that something was off? You were uncomfortable and suddenly hesitant? Well, your gut is a powerful thing. As psychologist Dana Gionta, Ph.D., told Margarita Tartakovsky in this article: “When someone acts in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a cue to us they may be violating or crossing a boundary.”
Gionta pinpoints discomfort and resentment as two key emotions that well up when our boundaries are violated. Sometimes it’s best to just accept that the boundary violation occurred even if you can’t immediately specify what went wrong. We tend to pressure people into explaining themselves when they follow their gut, as if it’s a wishy-washy thing to do. But something isn’t automatically unfounded just because it’s ineffable.
For example, I recently interviewed a new dog walker to care for my elderly canine when I’m away during the day. From the moment he sat down, I had an uneasy feeling. I’m a chronic self-doubter, so I pushed my initial feelings down. “So he’s shabbily dressed and his hair looks dirty,” I thought. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”
We spoke for about 30 minutes, which included a tour of my home, and at the end of it my stomach was in a knot. My neck was sweaty. “I can’t be nervous,” I told myself. “I like talking to people. Besides, I’m not the one being interviewed.”
By the time he left and I closed the door behind him, I was exhausted. I wanted to pour myself a glass of wine (hey, it was 7:00 pm), but I knew right away that was the wrong reaction to have. I felt certain at that moment, I wouldn’t be utilizing the dog walker’s services. I couldn’t explain to myself why, but the decision felt right. My husband asked me how it went and I said, “I have to keep looking.”
Days later I felt I untangled at least some of what made me so hesitant about that particular dog walker.
- I was jumping through hoops to make the conversation go smoothly, and he kept interrupting with non sequiturs.
- He was more interested in how to work the entertainment center than how to give my dog medication.
- He was pushy, telling me how to conduct a tour of my own home.
- He wanted to change my dog’s walking schedule, which would inevitably change the schedule for both my husband and me. He was insistent and selfish about it.
- While appearances aren’t everything, he should have cleaned himself up a little bit before the interview.
While I gleaned that much, I was content not to push for more answers. I put faith in my gut.
Even though I wasn’t thrilled about having to continue the search for a dog walker, I was very happy with my decision. I felt as though I had honored my boundaries. The amount of trust I put into my instincts paid off and made me feel more confident about my perception — beating back that chronic self-doubt.
Setting healthy boundaries is a part of self-care. It honors your feelings, builds confidence, and allows you to channel energy to the things and people you care about the most. Next time you feel discomfort or resentment peak, honor your instincts. With practice, boundaries begin to feel like best friends.
Confident woman photo available from Shutterstock