Boundaries (again)

creative commons image by amiruddin on flickr

I want to talk about boundaries again. Boundaries are important. Finding ways to express boundaries is important. Responding properly when someone has expressed a boundary – VERY important.

So here is a thing about me – I have trouble explicitly stating my boundaries. I think there are a couple reasons why.

I was raised as a female. In my experience, people who were raised with the expectation that they would become women are raised (at least in the US) to not be clear about their boundaries. Women (or people perceived as women) are typically punished for defending their own boundaries, which leads women (or people perceived or raised as women) to finding other ways to state their needs or desires or boundaries. It leads to being indirect, to phrasing requests as offers, to saying “hey, why don’t you do x?” when they mean “you are doing y and it’s causing me discomfort or worse, please do something else” and expecting the listener to understand that a thing phrased as an offer or a suggestion was actually a request. As I’ve written about before I have an intensely huge problem with this sort of behavior. I find it rude, though for some reason many people seem to believe that it qualifies as “nice” or “polite.” Anyway, regardless of how I view that sort of behavior, I was raised as a woman. I was taught that it’s wrong for me to explicitly state my boundaries.

On top of that, I was on the autism spectrum but undiagnosed. No one knew. There were things that caused me pain that people could not understand how it did, so they did not believe me. I was expected to do the things everyone else did, regardless of the impact it had on me. Sensory overload and can’t cope? Doesn’t matter, I still need to go along with everyone else, smile as though I’m having fun, act the way I’m expected to act. Failure to do so would result in scolding, judgement, and/or punishment, and this continued well into my adult life. Actually, it still continues, though far less so and mostly from people who are convinced that if I just try harder, I could be like them. Happily, I am now at a point in my life where I can mostly ignore those people.

The end result of these two things is that I really have a hard time simply stating my boundaries. However, it’s something I’m working really hard on as I want to be able to do so, and I think it’s wrong to expect people perceived as women to always be passive and indirect about their own needs. Also, I really want people to be direct with me about their boundaries. I HATE having to constantly reinterpret what people say and figure out what they really mean because they’re being indirect. I have actually been actively working on ways to deal with that that don’t leave me angry or resentful for indefinite periods of time (potential script I have yet to use but think might work: “That was phrased as an offer/suggestion. Was it actually an offer/suggestion, or was it really a request?”) Anyway, because I want people to be courteous enough to be direct with me, I’m trying to learn to be direct as well.

So. Let’s say I actually manage to direct state a boundary. Or really, let’s say anyone directly states a boundary. Or even indirectly (arg) states a boundary but you’re lucky enough to know what they mean. What do you do next?

Happily, the thing to do next is the same in ALL instances! It’s a lovely area that does not force me to have a lot of different answers based on small differences in context. The thing to do next is respect the boundary.

So simple! Someone says “here is my boundary.” Then you say “ok! I respect that boundary!” And then, you know, you don’t cross that line, whatever it happens to be. Now, maybe you don’t understand why that’s a boundary. Maybe it seems weird and pointless to you. The right answer is still to respect the boundary. DO NOT demand that the boundary be explained to you first. DO NOT choose to reject the boundary just because you don’t get it. DO NOT say that the boundary is wrong or should be changed.

Sometimes there will be a tricky situation is two people’s boundaries/needs/whatever conflict with each other. I don’t have a pat answer for that situation. All I can say is to negotiate. Respect each other’s needs, believe each other when they express their needs and/or boundaries, and try to work out the best way to accommodate both of you.

It should not be hard to just accept and respect the boundaries people state, but so often it seems that people don’t do that. It’s hard enough for me to just directly say “here is my boundary.” Coming back with “no, your boundary should be something else” is rude, entitled, and personally painful. Don’t do that crap, seriously.

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5 responses to “Boundaries (again)

  1. Tricia

    “The right answer is still to respect the boundary. DO NOT demand that the boundary be explained to you first.”

    I find this to be the hardest part about boundaries. When someone confronts me as to why my line is where it is, I feel this insipid need to justify it. I shouldn’t, but I do. And then I lose control of the situation – which just crosses right over that boundary and this time I did it to myself. I find it most frustrating…

    • I think that’s a fairly common response to that sort of challenge, really. Especially among people raised as women. It can be really hard to retrain ourselves to not play that game. I know I still struggle with it.

  2. “The right answer is still to respect the boundary. DO NOT demand that the boundary be explained to you first. DO NOT choose to reject the boundary just because you don’t get it. DO NOT say that the boundary is wrong or should be changed.”
    Very well put, and spot on, NT or Autistic or whatever. As an NT woman, I totally get where you are coming from. Having to justify WHY is pretty insulting in general. Now, I might not mind if someone was actually curious about the why (and not just defensive and put out) – I might discuss it with them so they “get” it, but defensive/put out people make me not want to spend the time/energy to deal with. I wonder why it’s so hard for people to just have a little respect.