Jenny Hewett chats to two Dubai-based experts about why setting boundaries is key to positive relationships and living more deeply.
In an age where social interactions are carried out online as much as they are in person, the importance of setting guidelines in the way that we interact with others has never been more of the essence. Living in a city where different nationalities mix on a daily basis we’re more likely to be exposed to the concept of personal boundaries as we weave our way around the codes of various cultures. It is inevitable that we will all come across someone who tests our boundaries at some point, in ways that are both positive and negative, whether it’s the power-hungry colleague or the flaky friend. Here, two experts explain why setting clear boundaries in regards to the way we interact with others is key to developing mutually respectful relationships.
What are personal boundaries?
‘When we respect ourselves as individuals, we create boundaries so that people don’t mistreat us,’ says Amrit Chand, CEO of wellbeing centre, Miracles. ‘Boundaries are often mistaken for being something that is protective or to create personal space. That is fine as long as we understand that it is more than that. When we treat ourselves right we wouldn’t feel like the world is after us, and therefore there is nothing to protect. Boundaries then become a matter of respect, honour and compassion.’
How do they work in friendships and relationships?
‘Boundaries teach people how to treat us in our relationships,’ says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The Light House Arabia clinic. ‘There are healthy boundaries and unhealthy boundaries. Most often we learn how to set boundaries from our parents and caregivers. Being passive when you are feeling violated in some way, allowing people to treat you badly, allowing people to take advantage of you, being overly familiar with people you don’t know, pleasing others at your expense are some of the signs of unhealthy boundaries. Meanwhile, being assertive, asking for what you want and need in a relationship, having self-respect, not actually allowing people to take advantage of you by speaking up and slowly building a trusting relationship are some of the signs that the person has healthy boundaries. Not setting boundaries is also setting boundaries,’ says Dr Saliha. ‘No matter what you do (or don’t do), you are communicating a message about how you allow people to treat you. The only difference is that boundaries
are either going to be healthy or unhealthy.’
Why do we test boundaries?
‘Humans test boundaries for several reasons,’ says Amrit. ‘It may be to assume power over an individual because they feel powerless within themselves or to be wanted and accepted usually due to low self-esteem. Subconsciously the closer we feel we are becoming towards someone the more the boundary starts to disappear. This may lead to misunderstandings or a feeling of a breach of personal space. We may also test each other to bring out the best in them and help them come to realisations about themselves.’
Why is setting boundaries important to self-esteem and positive interaction?
‘It communicates self-knowledge, self-respect, and allows you to maintain your dignity in relationships,’ says Dr Saliha. ‘When you firmly tell someone that something they did was not acceptable for you, you are letting them (and yourself) know that you can stand up for yourself, defend yourself, and protect yourself. This will naturally instil a level of confidence and esteem in a person.’
How do we set boundaries?
‘What is acceptable to one person may not be acceptable to another,’ says Dr Saliha. ‘That is why it is important for people to communicate their own personal code in a gentle and firm way. It is a big mistake to think ‘he loves me so he should know what is acceptable to me’ or ‘I have been working here for five years and he still doesn’t know that I don’t like to work after 5pm’. If you haven’t clearly and explicitly communicated your boundaries to the person who you feel is violating your boundaries then you are allowing them to treat you a certain way.’
What about those people who put up a brick wall?
‘Usually people who have rigid boundaries are not porous at all,’ says Dr Saliha. ‘There is no way to penetrate their thought or their way of being. They are set in their ways, good or bad. They want others to make the compromises and they expect others to be flexible. This person is very difficult to be with, because they are basically dictating all the rules of how things will be.’
Miracles, 306 Icon Tower, TECOM. (04 363 9307). LightHouse Arabia Clinic, Villa 2, Jumeirah Road, Umm Suqeim 2 (04 380 9298).
Lay it down
Dr Saliha reveals her three-step rule for setting boundaries in relationships
1. Establish what is acceptable to you: to do this you can listen to your emotional signals because your emotions communicate what is good for you and good to you. Note down all the people and places that drain you.
2. Assert yourself: learn firm and gentle ways of asserting yourself. Assertiveness is a skill – that means it is learned. When you are first learning to assert yourself, people may not take you seriously. You may have to communicate your boundaries many times before someone ‘gets it’.
3. Let go: you may have to let go of certain relationships that don’t survive the push back from you. People get used to treating us a certain way, and when the rules of the relationships change the relationship may not survive. That is something you have to work on.