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Examples Of Personal Boundaries

November 18, 2013

Many people go through life oblivious of the existence of boundaries, either theirs or other people’s, which results in indiscriminate misery. Even if you are aware of the concept of boundaries, you may still not recognize when they are being crossed. Here is a very simple definition that clears up any and all confusion: a boundary is anything another person does to you or in your presence that you don’t like. This definition may seem overly simplistic, but it can serve as a reminder that you don’t have to tolerate anything that you don’t want to, and and a starting point for deciding what you are willing to tolerate. Also, it’s not really so simplistic. It involves two crucial distinctions:

1) It is something that another person does. You can’t say that the weather, or the television, or the stump you trip over, is violating your boundaries; boundaries only apply to the actions of human beings (or other hypothetical conscious actors).

2) It is something that is done to you, or in your presence. Your boundaries aren’t about objective moral principles, they are about your preferences. You can’t say that something someone else does violates your boundaries unless it directly affects you. This means that it is either being done directly to you, or you are witnessing it. Saying that you are not willing to tolerate some specific activity in your presence is a personal boundary; saying that you are not willing to tolerate the existence of some specific activity, whether you witness it or not, is not a boundary, it is a moral imperative.

So, personal boundaries are anything that could complete the following sentence; “I don’t like it when you…”

(“to me” boundaries)

  • talk to me in that tone of voice
  • talk to me using that language
  • refer to me by that name
  • say those things about me
  • make those suggestions
  • look at me with that facial expression
  • touch me like that
  • do that with my belongings

(“in my presence” boundaries)

  • talk in that tone of voice
  • use that language
  • talk to someone else like that
  • call someone those things
  • eat that food
  • play that music
  • make those noises
  • make those jokes
  • wear those things

Important things to keep in mind about boundaries are:

  • they are not innate, but largely a matter of conditioning
  • they are not fixed, but a matter of what you are willing to tolerate
  • they are not moral imperatives, merely preferences
  • only you can say what yours are, and you are entitled to preserve them
  • you are responsible for maintaining them, and if you allow them to be violated, then the predictable result is that you will feel hurt, confused, angry, and sad

The Difference Between Boundaries And Moral Imperatives

A boundary is something you are okay with happening, as long as it is not in your presence and you don’t have to witness it. A moral imperative is something you think should not happen. So the question to distinguish them is “If I remove myself from this situation, will I be okay with it?” If yes, it is a boundary, if no, it is a moral imperative. When confronted with a situation that makes you uncomfortable, it is difficult to make an appropriate action decision unless you recognize which of these cases is involved.

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