Asking yourself these kinds of questions can help to build up a better idea of what your boundaries are, and what constitutes a crossed boundary, or a boundary pusher/ crosser.
I would suggest categorising the answers into level of importance. Try using the traffic light system – amber is an advanced warning, red is a no-no. You then need to decide how many ambers constitute a bigger warning, and how many reds make up a more serious warning.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or expert; these are questions I’ve formulated for myself to try and help me identify, create and build stronger, healthier boundaries. I share them here so they may provide food for thought.
A note on triggers: some people trigger reactions in us that make us uncomfortable because they bring up unhealed wounds or unresolved issues. Check in with yourself to see if this may be the case, or if someone is genuinely displaying behaviours or saying things that test or cross your boundaries. This is all about taking responsibility for your own emotional health, and blaming others for your own ‘stuff’ doesn’t help with that.
- What warning signals does my body give me with boundary pushers or crossers?
- What sort of people drain me?
- What experiences in the past illustrate people crossing my boundaries?
- What sort of personality types do I need to be aware of because they may be an unhealthy influence on me?
- What behaviours make me feel uncomfortable with, and ‘threatened’ by, others?
- What sort of things do people say that give me warning signs they may be boundary pushers/crossers?
- What values do I have that I will not ‘allow’ others to chip away at?
- What types of viewpoints are so opposed to my values that those who aggressively pursue or stand for them may be best kept at a distance?
- What behaviours or actions would I never engage in or tolerate in myself towards others?
- What behaviours, actions or words would I not want my loved ones to be subjected to?
- How do I feel when I’m not in contact with someone? If I feel better/calmer/stronger could they be a boundary pusher/crosser?
- Am I indulging/ ignoring/ not confronting the behaviours, words or actions of someone because it’s ‘easier’ or ‘safer’?
- Do I have growing frustrations based on a person’s behaviours, actions or words towards me?
- Are there times when someone deliberately or aggressively undermines me?
- Does someone treat me like their personal therapist or emotional dumping ground (to an unreasonable degree)?
- Does someone actually engage with me, or do they just try to push their own agenda and dominate the conversation?
- Am I being deliberately steered into conversation, behaviour, events or situations that are not for my own good?
- Am I allowed to express my own opinion about something without it being seen as an attack/ affront, or without being ‘corrected’ or ‘educated’?
- What behaviours and traits have I worked hard to heal or rectify in myself? Do I really want people in my life who display these kinds of behaviours, especially if they seem stuck in them?
When some people feel threatened or ‘attacked’ they respond in kind – they go on the defensive, threaten and attack. People who use The Viper feel they are asserting their boundaries but in reality they are responding from a place of inner pain. The Viper is a clever, cutting weapon. Often information that is personal or was given in confidence is used, fears are played on, or the truth is twisted to ‘shame’ the perceived offender.
This approach is not constructive behaviour. Firstly, it’s continuing to feed a negative cycle of energy, and secondly, if the person who wields The Viper is wrong about the others’ intentions it can cause (sometimes irreparable) damage to the relationship. The responsible approach is to look at the deeper reasons for why this reaction is being triggered in the first place.
The Viper wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t already some sort of fear, wound or doubt within that is acting as a trigger. Blame is often apportioned outwardly so the person doesn’t have to look at their own side of things. Ill-treatment (whether real or perceived) is not acceptable to them, yet they resort to more of the same.
There is no need for The Viper if someone is taking responsibility for their own emotions, if they are building their own sense of self-worth, if they take good care of themselves and set appropriate boundaries. When they show up for themselves and their rights, opinions and needs The Viper is not needed. The Viper is a defensive mechanism, so if someone is taking responsibility for their own path, taking accountability for their own actions and needs, and living with integrity then it won’t exist anymore. They will be more aware of how they are triggered and find a way to process that without releasing the potentially destructive energies onto another.
That is not to say that those who use The Viper should ignore genuine ill-treatment, but more that they need to learn to take a step back and not take the eye-for-an-eye approach. This only feeds the negative energy cycle, and while it may provide temporary relief the trigger within still remains. If the person can look at what is actually causing them to be triggered – the underlying issues – then they can start to heal and take more appropriate action.
Some questions for those who recognise The Viper in their own approach to asserting boundaries: If you perceive a hurtful remark or attack why is that triggering you? Does it remind you of an unhealed wound? Does it remind you of a previous situation where you didn’t assert your needs at the appropriate time?
Does it make you feel inadequate, or make you question your self-worth? If so why? Where are you overlooking your own self-worth? Where are you building up resentment because you’re compromising too much, not showing up for yourself, or not setting healthy boundaries early on before things can escalate? Yes, the other person may genuinely have acted in a hurtful or harmful manner, and there’s no excusing that, but how have your decisions and actions also contributed to this situation manifesting? What have you allowed to keep going that should have been addressed sooner?
Some further questions: Are you being triggered because something reminds you of a previous situation or wound? Is this current situation really like the previous one, or is it just bringing up a reminder of unhealed pain? Is there the possibility you could be reading more into something that there actually is in this present situation?
Please look within to see what makes you want to act out the hurt. Only then can you address the actual issue and take more emotionally responsible action.
Note: I refer mainly to friendships and attachments that are not family- or partner-based in this article. Although the sentiment of allowing people their privacy stands, in terms of partnerships or family relationships I do understand that other factors need to be taken into account. This article is also not referring to those with mental health or anxiety conditions that have an unhealthy insular effect. This article refers to personal inclinations and boundaries in people who generally prefer more privacy or may be more socially introverted.
When taking responsibility for setting and creating healthy boundaries it is also important to learn how to respect the boundaries of others. If someone is a private person they may not feel comfortable opening up to you, or else they may be willing to share so much and nothing further. Please try to respect this need, even if you wish to know more. It is not deception to keep things private, nor is it necessarily a reflection on you as a person.
When set healthily, boundaries serve to keep us protected, and also to keep a hold on our integrity. If a person does not wish to open up further then allow them their space. Don’t try to tell them they’re too closed off just because you may have a more open boundary style, or just because they won’t tell you all you want to know. Unless someone is actively evading or deliberately withholding information, it is not your place to push for an answer. People have many good reasons for not revealing all, or for not talking about certain subjects.
Consider, as well, that even if this person cares for you they may not wish to share all that you might want to know. Respecting this boundary – putting your wish for further knowledge aside to respect the others’ need for privacy – shows compassion and care. Pushing at this point, in your own quest, can lead to discomfort and even feelings of being intruded upon for the other person. If they then give information reluctantly, because they feel pressured, it may lead to resentment as they go against their own integrity and needs to put your desire for more information first.
Be patient. Over time this private person may open up more. Or they might not, and you have to learn to accept that is part of their boundaries. If you cannot accept this then try talking to them and explaining how you feel, without being accusatory. Some people are more introverted than others, and more private, and may not reveal much of their inner life or workings to anyone.
If you cannot reach a healthy compromise on both sides then you will have to consider whether you really want to allow resentment to build (on either or both sides) because of over-compromise. In this case, though you care for each other, it may be that you have to interact on a less personal level, or decide that it is healthier for both of you to go your separate ways.
Creating healthy boundaries of your own is one thing, but respecting those of another is also of importance. Boundary work goes both ways.
I will state now that I have nothing against cats – I love cats – but this image popped into my head, so here goes:
Some people are supportive of you when you’re engaged in your own separate endeavours. They’ll cheer you on, encourage you and even share your projects or links with others. But if you start to stray onto ‘their’ territory, beware. If you start to work in an area resembling theirs, if you talk about expanding in a way that touches on what they do, if you start to explore a spiritual branch that borders on or meets theirs, beware. Then the Cat perceives a threat. It gets its claws ready, but before it goes for a complete kill it will bat at you with its heavy paw to ‘put you in your place’. Remember, you are only supposed to be a Mouse.
If you roll over then the Cat goes back to its usual self… until the next time. Some Mice will continue to roll over, but after a while others will get bored and decide they are, after all, a Cat. The ‘first’ Cat will not like this. Now you are no longer willing to play small so you are a threat. Hissing may ensue, and if the warning to clear off ‘their’ territory is not heeded then the claws come out.
Some people are like the ‘first’ Cat and cannot abide others stepping into or exploring things even loosely based on what they see as ‘their’ territory. It is based on insecurity and fear, and for some there may also be an element of control or personal power to it. They need to feel secure, and if you start to ‘intrude’ on ‘their thing’ it shakes them and they feel the need to reassert their status. The two main variations they use are power dynamics and minimising.
This can appear as:
– telling you that you can’t do something.
– saying you’re copying them.
– saying you need to acknowledge them as your teacher/ mentor and let them teach you/ show you the ropes (teacher-student power dynamics).
– saying you’re only starting out so you don’t need to think about the ‘bigger’ stuff.
– telling you your blog/ business is only a small one and you’ll have to work hard to get to their level.
– saying you’ve been taking advantage of all the things they’ve told you about this (possibly even only vaguely-related) subject.
– saying they obviously planted the idea(s) in you and, as such, they deserve recognition for it.
Do you recognise a ‘first’ Cat in your life who wants you to remain a Mouse? If so my question to you is: are you going to keep playing the Mouse to someone else’s Cat, or are you going to stand strong in your own feline credentials, no matter the outcome?
The Autumn Equinox (22nd September) is a time of change, as we leave Summer and enter the dark half of the year. It is also a liminal time, where the boundaries between worlds (the human and Other worlds) are said to be thin. It’s a time of winding down, bringing in the harvest and preparing for the arrival of Winter.
This week I am focusing on Boundaries. I have spoken about them before, but as we come into the Equinox it’s a time of reflection, and traditionally looking at what is important and going to help you survive Winter. This means ‘stocking up’ on the things that are good for you. It is also about letting go of things that aren’t, as anything that wastes easily is of no use in the depths of Winter. Our ancestors had to prioritise meats, crops and harvests that would get them through even the coldest conditions.
In our own lives this can translate into looking at self-care priorities, but since Equinoxes are about weaker boundaries between worlds they are also useful points to take stock of our own boundaries, and those of others around us. It’s quite surprising when you start to look at boundaries just how we can compromise them too much. It also makes you more aware of boundary pushers, or even people who completely disregard them.
Generally we are encouraged to be accepting of people, so we put up with behaviours that are not healthy because we are taught that being accepting is the same as being compassionate. Being accepting of someone’s inappropriate behaviour is not the same as being compassionate. Being compassionate still allows you to accept or love the person for who they are, but it also allows you your own boundaries, does not condone others’ poor behaviours, and allows you to gently but firmly say, “I care about you but I do not have to accept/ put up with this.”
Sometimes learning about our own boundaries comes in the form of a relationship (friendship, romantic or otherwise) that displays unhealthy boundaries – our own, theirs or a mix of both. They teach us by example, because many of us believe we have good boundaries but when faced with our desire to be ‘accepting’ and someone else’s boundary pushing we can find that, actually, our boundaries aren’t so good after all.
This week I’m publishing a few pieces I’ve had in my notebooks for a while. They’re all about Boundaries. Welcome to Boundaries Week.
Sometimes a relationship comes into our lives and it can leave you wondering, “What on earth can I learn from this?”
I looked deeper into an unhealthy friendship that ended earlier this year to find the lessons within. I turned it into a self-respect manifesto to remind myself never to make myself small to suit someone else’s needs, moods and demands. I hope it can provide inspiration for others to do the same.
I respect my boundaries.
I respect my need for self-care.
I respect my need to withdraw from relationships that do not work for me.
I respect my need to speak my Truth.
I respect my gifts, abilities and pathway.
I respect my values.
I respect my knowledge and experience.
I respect my contributions.
I respect my need for discernment.
I respect my need for honesty and integrity.
I respect my intuition and gut-instinct.
I respect my trust in my Beloved Inspirer(s).
I respect my need to be among loving, open, optimistic, nourishing, supportive people.
I respect my inner power.
This week has been different, in that a lot of it has been about inner healing, self-discovery and things that have inspired me. To change things up a bit I thought I’d express this in a kind of ‘doodle diary’ of all those things I’m grateful for from this week.
When life gets you down or you’re reminded of the mistakes you made on your path, remember this:
(c) Michelle Gilberthorpe, She Holds The Bowl, 2017