I’ve often heard people saying about others, “He needs to learn about boundaries,” meaning that he needs to learn not to overstep other people’s boundaries. To me, this seems like an inversion of the value and importance of boundaries. Boundaries are not a way that others can learn to read our minds and a way that we can label others when they fail to do so. Boundaries are invisible inner thresholds that only we can discern and protect.
The most common issue with boundaries is that we fail to notice them in ourselves and then fail to express the needs that they represent. I might say, “Hey baby, I love you, and although I usually enjoy you stroking my head, right now it seems to be irritating me.” If she continues, then I could say, “Please will you stop doing that.” If she still doesn’t stop doing it, then I can move away. You see, my boundaries are my boundaries. They are a way for me to know what I need and to advocate for that.
There are people in the world who will tell you that your boundaries are wrong or invalid or that you have no integrity because your needs keep changing. These people are disconnected from their empathy. They are not comfortable with you needing what you need. They need for you to be a certain way more than they care for your wellbeing.
It’s hard for people like that to ever really be in relationship, because they cannot see you. If you say that you don’t want something, and it’s in conflict with what they want, then they will attempt to invalidate your need. But this is the paradox of human relationship: humans are unpredictable and fickle. To be in relationship with a human is to be in relationship with something that cannot be defined, something that keeps changing. These people find it terrifying to not be in control. Yet not being in control of your partner is characteristic of a healthy relationship.
Boundaries call for noticing what I want and what I don’t want, and advocating appropriately and non-violently. When I am interacting with someone who is un-empathic and they attempt to invalidate my needs and challenge my boundaries, it is my responsibility to take care of myself by walking away. These people don’t want to be in relationship with me anyway; they only want to be in relationship with themselves, using my body and mind as a puppet to project their disowned parts onto.
Boundaries are not a tool to make someone else wrong, to claim that someone else has “poor boundaries.” If I am struggling with someone who is un-empathic, it’s a sign that I myself have poor boundaries. We can also teach our children to take care of their own boundaries by demonstrating it ourselves: “It hurts when you pull on my hair. Please stop doing that.”