Archive for the ‘Feminism & Masculism’ Category


February 22, 2009

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the world about what boundaries are, and how they are formed.

That is very unfortunate (and hurts a lot of people), because this is one of the few topics in which theres no room for grey area. Why? Because ambiguity is what creates bad/nonexistent/dysfunctional boundaries. If there are grey areas, then –by definition- they are not boundaries. They are, at most, suggestions. Far more often, they are unexpressed, half-hearted or conflicting desires.  A half-built dam won’t hold water.

Boundaries need not be set in rude, aggro-fueled or adversarial ways. Healthy boundaries generally aren’t. What they must be – to qualify as boundaries at all – is clear and consistent.  That means clear to others, not just to us in our own heads (or to old friends who we’ve had a thousand conversations with, or who will take our ‘side’ regardless of facts).

A lot of other things seem to get mistaken for boundaries.

A desire unexpressed (or partly expressed – inaudibly, inconsistently, incoherently) is just that – a desire.  It is *not* a boundary.

Hiding from someone, avoiding or cutting off contact (including when used as a technique to “win” an argument) is not a boundary.

Acting annoyed, and assuming s/he must be able to figure out why, is not a boundary.

Telling someone to f— off because s/he did something you didn’t like –that s/he didn’t know you wouldn’t like- is not a boundary.

Telling someone to f— off because you did something that you later decided you regretted is not a boundary.

Getting someone fired, or kicked out, or getting your boyfriend to beat him up, or getting your friends to talk bad about him is not a boundary.

People with passive-aggressive tendencies sometimes talk about boundaries as if they were a sort of supernatural force-field, like auras that magically emanates from them with no effort, forethought or communication required to create or maintain them. This erroneous belief is part of a terribly destructive pattern, leads inevitably to all sorts of conflict and drama, can retard or arrest development.

If I have not done the work to know and understand what I want, then, by definition, I do not have a boundary. How can I express something that I don’t know?

If someone doesn’t give me what I want – when I didn’t spell out clearly what I want – they have not violated my boundaries. I have failed to establish boundaries – and that is my fault, my responsibility – not theirs.

Clarity and consistency – the definers of boundary – often require effort and practice. The ability to set good boundaries is a skill –an absolutely essential survival skill for all human beings.  But its  not taught in most schools. To people who grew up in cultures that punish clarity and reward passive-aggressiveness (like ours in the USA), the effort to establish good boundaries can seem nearly insurmountably difficult.

Can’t I just hire somebody to do that for me? Or get my boyfriend or my Mom to do it?

No. You can’t. (You can try -many do- but the result will most assuredly not be healthy boundaries.)

No one can take responsibility for your boundaries but you. This is not because people are unkind or out to get you (some are, some aren’t). Its not even because some folks wouldn’t gladly set your boundaries for you if they could. (But they can’t).

Its because its physically impossible. No one can read your mind. No one can speak for you, but you. And no one should.

Boundaries are 100% the responsibility of the individual.  I am responsible for establishing my boundaries.  You are responsible for establishing yours.