Boundaries are often seen as punishment carried out by rigid, uptight or selfish people. They’re too often thought of as harsh, cold or uncaring. Because boundaries create limits, they’re seen as repressive or restricting personal freedom.
One of the biggest misconceptions about boundaries is that they allow one person to tell another person what they can or cannot do. In a parent-child relationship a parent can tell the child what he/she can or cannot do.
In adult-adult relationships, you can make a request for a change of behavior but you can’t demand any action or behavior from another person.
However, you do have the right to take action for your own self-care or protection if the other person can’t agree to an important request from you, or they break an agreement they made with you. Protecting yourself can be as simple as taking a time-out or as significant as leaving a relationship.
When you make a decision to protect yourself, your self-care—in the form of boundary work—may be interpreted as punishment. For example, if your spouse is regularly irresponsible with money and has broken financial agreements made with you, you may choose to get a separate bank account. The choice to get a separate account is not a punishment. It’s an act of self-care, and a natural consequence of repeated boundary violations.
One of the most damaging misconceptions about boundaries is that you don’t have a right to protect yourself because of what happened to you in the past.
Underneath this misconception is usually an unconscious belief that the person is defective or broken as a result of having her boundaries violated as a child or having experienced one, or several, traumatic events as an adult. If you were frequently abused—either verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually—you may unknowingly carry a deeply held belief that you don’t have a right to protect yourself. This is simply not true.
No matter what has happened to you or what you have done, you have a right to set limits around how others treat you.
Or maybe you’ve made mistakes in the past that you’ve had to repair in your current relationship. You may believe that because you’ve made mistakes you have lost your right to set limits on others boundary-less, offensive, or even boundary-violating behavior.
No matter what you have done in the past, you never lose your right to establish boundaries. No one earns the right to violate another person’s boundaries because of their past mistakes. Ever.
Boundaries aren’t something you do to another person. Boundaries are something you do for your own self-care, well-being, and protection.
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)