Reading time: 5 min.
Human beings can learn a lot from pets. In addition to their ability to live in the moment, pets have the innate ability to let their boundaries known to others. Cats hiss if you pet them on a spot they do not like. Dogs bark or growl to let you know that a territory line is about to be crossed.
Then you have people: some who stay silent when others cross their boundaries on purpose. Just ignore it was what I was taught to do if a boundary got crossed. I was not taught to set boundaries. I was taught to be an obedient people-pleaser. In fact, there were times when I was reprimanded for not ignoring things… for standing up for myself and my sisters at home.
Now, in my thirties, I am still learning about boundaries. I do not want to suffer in silence anymore. Let’s talk about boundaries.
Boundary: something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent
Types of Boundaries
1. The simplest type of boundary to understand is the physical type of boundary eg. lock on a diary, no trespassing sign, closed door. Take for example a parent barging into a child’s room without knocking, shoving his/her own belongings into the child’s closet, and then reprimanding the child for expressing shock or dislike of the situation. This parent is crossing a line or boundary with the child (and setting a bad example).
What else is included in physical boundaries? People’s bodies including their hair. No matter how curly or different a person’s hair is, touching someone’s hair without asking for permission first is crossing a line or boundary.
2. Another type of boundary involves respecting other people’s time. Calling your veterinarian at home at 8 AM on a Sunday morning, waking up the entire family, to ask questions about your pet when your pet is not having an emergency is crossing a line or boundary. Other examples include calling and waking someone up in the morning to talk about depressing topics, knowing that it is his/her birthday and making coworkers stay late on a regular basis.
3. The hardest type of boundary to set involves feelings. Just because other people’s feelings cannot be quantified like time does not mean that they are not important. Some people think that feelings are a form of weakness or irrationality. No, having feelings is part of being a live warm-blooded animal. Cats, dogs, elephants, birds, etc. have feelings.
Some people negatively influence other people’s feelings on purpose to get their way. I am appalled by the number of ways people cross emotional boundaries: emotional blackmailing, name-calling, gaslighting, etc.
Emotional blackmailing or using FOG (fear, obligation, or guilt) to get one’s way
Example: “If you do not write me this prescription, you do not love animals.”
No, me not writing you a prescription without seeing your pet does not mean that I do not love animals. Veterinarians are not allowed to write prescriptions without a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
Name-calling: using insulting or negative labels, especially during an argument or debate that one wants to win
Example: You’re stupid, worthless, etc.
No, please do not call me names.
“Name-calling can also be used to criticize your beliefs, opinions, and insights. A well-researched perspective or informed opinion suddenly becomes “silly” or “idiotic”… Rather than target your argument, they target you as a person and seek to undermine your [personality, ethics] credibility and intelligence in any way they possibly can. It’s important to end any interaction that consists of name-calling and communicate that you won’t tolerate it. Don’t internalize it: realize that they are resorting to name-calling because they are deficient in higher level methods.”
“When you notice someone does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it or cut them off. Many survivors are used to the “wait and see” tactic which only leaves them vulnerable to a second attack.”
―Shahida Arabi, best-selling author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care and Power: Surviving & Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse
Gaslighting: manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity
The term comes from the play or 1940s movies called Gaslight about a husband who made his wife question her sanity. He convinced his wife that her seeing the gaslights dimming on and off was just her imagination. It was actually him making the gaslights dim on and off.
Example of gaslighting: “They weren’t talking about you. Why do you think that people are always talking about you?”
No, I do not just think they were talking about me. I know they were talking about me because they said my name. Nobody else has the same name as me. I can hear them talk about me on a regular basis.
Notice how many times I wrote “no”. “No” is the human equivalent of a hiss or a growl to warn others not to hurt you, not to use you, not to disrespect you. Hisses, barks, and “no”‘s can protect you from being hurt. There are people who take advantage of compliant people.
“Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out.” ―Henry Cloud, American psychologist and author
This year, I started setting more boundaries. Instead of saying yes all the time, I started saying no when I felt uncomfortable. It freed up time in my schedule for what I truly care about such as writing.
That said, sadly, it is not all sunshine and roses when boundaries are set. Some people will not take no for an answer and will continue to contact you. Others will get upset and call you names.
“No” has a negative connotation. (So does hissing or growling) Some people do not say no as often as they should. Guilt, fear of rejection, and conflict avoidance are reasons people say yes when they truly want to say no.
Identity and Boundaries
Since moving to a different country, I have had to learn the hard way to say no to new people who tell me that I should be different. Just because I am in a new country does not mean that I should change my personality and be less polite.
I am me
And I won’t change for anyone but me
And I won’t change for anyone,
For anyone… like you
―I Am Me, song/album by Ashlee Simpson, American singer/songwriter
You’ve got opinions…
We’re all entitled to ’em, but I never asked
…You are not me
Who made you king [or queen] of anything?
―King of Everything from the album Kaleidoscope Heart, Sara Bareilles, American singer-songwriter
The picture above was taken in Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada, in the oldest Chinatown in Canada. It did not feel as narrow as certain parts of the Cango Caves in South Africa or the Củ Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. No matter where you are in the world it is important to set boundaries.
For more information on how to set boundaries, visit
- https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/romantically-attached/201608/4-ways-set-and-keep-your-personal-boundaries (Bockarova, 2016)
- https://www.uky.edu/hr/sites/www.uky.edu.hr/files/wellness/images/Conf14_Boundaries.pdf (The University of Kentucky, adapted from www.positivelypositive.com, www.outofthefog.net, and Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine)
Wishing you a healthy and Happy New Year! My upcoming blog posts will be more light-hearted and fun. Hit the subscribe button or follow me so that you don’t miss any new blog posts!