The concept of boundary setting is probably as old as humanity itself – “that is your cave and this is mine”, “that’s your family, and this is mine”. Anyone who wants to use something that’s yours will have to ask for it, share with you or fight for it. This basic idea has come a long way and morphed into terminologies such as “body integrity”, “boundaries of the mind” and “spatial empathy”. We are no longer dealing with family members or neighbors only; our interactive spaces have expanded to, people from varied backgrounds, cultures, orientations and issues. That’s why the skill of boundary setting is highly relevant.

What is Boundary Setting?

Boundary Setting is the practice of sharing and asserting your personal values toward others. In a personal or professional environment, it is a way of preserving personal space and protecting it from being challenged, confronted negatively or being abused. Setting boundaries applies to physical space, thoughts or opinions, emotions and principles or beliefs. Personal boundaries define a person’s identity, unique feelings and thoughts. It is fair to say that as one expects others to respect your boundaries, so should you respect theirs. Do you hug someone, or just give a handshake? Do you know what you are feeling and can you sustain your thoughts and opinions in a group setting? Can you listen to someone’s ideas without needing to express yours aggressively, especially if their ideas are in contrast to yours? In an emotional setting, do you feel that you need to advice or feel guilty about someone else’s problems? What is your comfort level when it comes to sexual activity? When it comes to your spiritual boundaries or beliefs, to what extent do you feel the need to convince others? These are some questions that arise when reflecting on boundary setting.

How do you go about setting boundaries?

The process of boundary setting begins by defining what boundary setting means to you. First, you have to truly examine your preferences using your experiences, learning and consultation with people you trust. Perhaps meditating about it helps. Examining what triggered the need to set the boundary is important. Was there a “red flag” feeling or thought that triggered your instinct to set the boundary? Once you have figured out what boundary you need to set and with who, the second step, which is hard for many people, is communicating this boundary to establish it with the other person. Communication is important here. You will have to make sure you communicate clearly what your expectations are and why. Lastly, you have to be consistent in maintaining that boundary. Setting your boundary over and over makes it habit not just for you but for the other person too.

How do you respect the boundaries of others?

The fundamental idea that helps in how you treat others and respect their boundaries is based on the Golden Rule of “doing unto others what you want others to do unto you”. It means that as you believe that you are a noble being, deserving of trust and respect, so are they. Everyone has thoughts and feelings; everyone wants to be heard and accepted for who they are. You can show this respect by listening deeply to what they have to say. Watch for non-verbal communication. According to Peter Drucker, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”, so pay attention to body language. When someone is stepping back from you, they are probably indicating that they want some space. Respect that by keeping your distance. Chester McNaughton, a registered professional counselor who specializes in boundaries, anger management and dysfunctional relationships says: ““The key to boundaries is respect for self and respect for others,” This translates to: “I am important enough that I look after and advocate for myself, but you are important enough that while I look after myself, I also advocate for you.””

In Summary, SILKMentoring is focusing on these 3 aspects of Boundary Setting.

  • Self Respect, which is the belief that you are a noble individual who exercises honor and dignity in your thoughts, words and deeds. You hold yourself accountable.
  • With your Implicit or Explicit Permission, this means that you have the power and right to define the acceptability of what is done in your company. You do not have to tolerate rude behavior or foul language from others, just as they do not need to tolerate it from you. To give permission to self or others is such a powerful tool and gift and should never be abused.
  • Defined Personal Space, this implies that you are aware of what you want and the space that rightfully belongs to you. Sharing this space with others is your right and choice. This imaginary space is drawn around you based on your comfort level and what you believe is acceptable. When your self-respect shines through, those around you will feel your boundaries.

SILKMentoring suggests that you:

  • Stand your ground. Set your boundaries, communicate them and be consistent in your practice. You have to know when you need to say “no” to something. You have to know yourself well enough to know your limits.
  • Respect others when they stand their ground. When others set their boundaries, you have to abide by them. This shows that you respect them and honor their choices and words. 
  • Set mutual boundaries. These are necessary when people do not know each other or are unfamiliar with others’ culture, space and speech preferences, etc. It is similar to setting “rules of engagement” or “engagement guidelines” in personal and professional spaces. Universal boundaries are conducive to creating “safe zones” for conversations especially in aggressive environments.

The best bet is always to ask candidly or state truthfully what the boundaries are. Unless you are extra sensory and can divine someone’s boundary, open, loving and frank consultation will do the trick.