Boundaries, Trust, and Abuse

Wow, I’ve learned a lot about boundaries since 2019, when I originally started writing this post!

Boundaries: the invisible fences of life.

Boundaries keep everyone safe from each other. Boundaries are about what you yourself will tolerate in your life and what you will do if someone continues doing things that you’ve communicated clearly are unacceptable to you.

“Don’t speak to me this way.” is technically a demand, not a boundary. The boundary version would be something like: “If you speak to me in this way again…” (clearly communicating what they’re doing that you will no longer tolerate) “…I will leave the room.” OR “…you won’t be welcome in my house any more.” OR “…I will cut you out of my life.” (clearly communicating what you will do in response if they continue to talk to you in that way)

It’s important to make sure you can follow through with whatever you tell the person your response will be and that your response is one that will keep you safe without being excessive (or maybe regrettable) under the circumstances.

In the example above: If the person has spoken to you in an abusive manner repeatedly, you’ve told them before that this behavior bothers you, and they have continued doing it; maybe cutting them out of your life is the best action and is one that you can easily follow through with and be better off for.

If, however, the way they’re talking to you is unusual for them, the person is apologetic, and you kinda like having them around; then maybe telling them you’ll leave the room and following through with that response would be a better choice.

My personal exception to a boundary needing to be about what you do and not what the other person does is if the boundary is specifically about what others are allowed to do with your body, your space, or your time.

Nobody should touch you without your consent, come over to your house/apartment unless you’re comfortable with them being there, or demand access to your time and attention unless you’re freely giving it to them.

Cool thing about boundaries is…

How someone reacts to your boundaries can tell you a lot about how trustworthy and safe a person is.

If you ask for time and space away from someone because you don’t feel safe around them and their response is a refusal to honor your boundary or a threat to ignore your boundary; that’s a huge red flag. Honestly, pretty much anything other than, “Okay, I hear that you want space from me because you don’t feel safe. I’ll back off until I hear that you’re ready to spend time with me again.” is generally a red flag in that situation.

An extremely glaring red flag is if your boundary is a basic personal boundary concerning your body, your space, and/or your time and the person you’ve given the boundary to describes your boundary as “abusive” to either themself or to other adjacent people.

Because no, it is *never abusive to refuse someone access to your body, your space, or your time. 

*this gets trickier if the “someone” is your minor child. I’ll probably write more about this in the future because there’s an appalling lack of boundaries in the “gentle parenting” movement and it is absolutely appropriate, nay vital, to set boundaries with one’s children, but it usually looks a little different than general boundary-setting does.

Have you set a boundary?

Often the most difficult part of boundary setting is that you have to clearly set a boundary.

Sometimes people will claim that others have broken boundaries that were never communicated to the others in any discernible way and that’s a different situation.

If you didn’t communicate a boundary with someone then you can’t hold them responsible for not respecting that boundary — you know, the boundary that they probably didn’t even know about because you never told them anything about setting a boundary.

In that case it can help to look at why you haven’t communicated your boundary so that you can determine how best to move forward with setting any necessary boundaries.

There can be many reasons and I’ll give two quick ones:

Are you waiting for a better time? Cool! I do that all the time and that’s a completely fine decision to make. However, as the person who is making the decision to wait, you need to take responsibility for your own discomfort until after you’ve clearly communicated your boundary with the other person.

Are you scared of the person’s response? That’s completely fair and understandable.

Also, fear of people’s responses can be tricky…

Sometimes a fear of someone’s response to a boundary can be a learned trauma-response on your part from how others have treated you in the past and you might be pleasantly surprised when that person actually respects your boundary.

On the other hand, maybe you have good reason to worry about that person’s response because they’re not actually a safe person and you truly do need to be careful.

If you’re fearful of setting a boundary then I highly recommend finding at least one neutral 3rd party (preferably a professional) to help you parse through such a fearful situation if you aren’t sure whether your fear is based on past trauma and/or current self doubt.

At one point in my past I was talking to 14 neutral third parties, including three mental health professionals, about a bad situation I was dealing with. An abusive person was refusing to honor the boundaries I’d set with them about my space and I wasn’t sure which of my responses were rooted in past trauma vs being rooted in a very legitimate bad (then-)current situation.

The absolute consensus of my neutral third parties was that I was under-reacting, that this person was not safe to have in my life, and that I should escape the situation as soon as possible. Which, thankfully, I was able to do!

Important note: If you are in a situation where setting a boundary could put you in danger, then please respect your intuition and don’t set boundaries unless you have a support system and a way to safety should the other person become abusive.

Trustworthy people will respect boundaries, abusive people will not.

The above sentence is something that I needed to learn over the last several years. It’s been a hard-won lesson.

Watch people’s behaviors. Just because someone says, “I respect boundaries!” doesn’t mean they actually will when you set one with them.

Absolutely judge people in your life by how they respond to your clearly-stated boundaries.

Stay safe, everyone! ❤

Tweet from Seanan McGuire:"When someone clearly states a boundary, the appropriate answer is not 'here are ways to circumvent or eliminate that to make things easier for me.' The appropriate answer is 'okay, people get to have boundaries, thank you for making yours clear.'"
Image is a tweet from Seanan McGuire:
“When someone clearly states a boundary, the appropriate answer is not ‘here are ways to circumvent or eliminate that to make things easier for me.’ The appropriate answer is ‘okay, people get to have boundaries, thank you for making yours clear.'”

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