Boundaries are a complicated thing- especially for individuals who have been through trauma or come from families that had poor boundaries. We first learn boundaries in our family unit and then it is briefly talked about in schools, but most people just assume that boundaries are a thing ‘you know’. People who have gone through trauma may have had good boundaries before, but find them disrupted while trying to recover.
This is meant as a bare skeleton on how to rebuild boundaries:
Consciously make a decision about who can touch you, where and how. Lay out both things that are okay- and things that aren’t. Boundaries are going to vary from person to person- but you could say something like:
'I am okay with my friends hugging me but only if they do it from the front'
'I am not okay with anyone touching my neck'
'I am okay with people I've just met asking for hugs- but not with them touching me without asking first'
Boundaries are allowed to change too. Something you used to be okay with- might not be after trauma, or not on days that you’re triggered. If this happens, just talk to the individuals involved.
When someone violates a boundary- call them out. A simple ‘Hey, I really dislike being touched like that’ ‘I’m not a big fan of hugs’. Once you’ve laid out a boundary- you can just call someone’s attention to it with a simple ‘really?’ or ‘We’ve talked about this’ ‘You need to respect my decision on if I want to be touched.’
The best way to get someone to respect a boundary- is to say it in a calm but serious voice. Not angry but also not joking/nervously laughing. If you need to, physically take a step backwards to further reinforce the boundary.
Sometimes it can be hard to draw emotional boundaries because ‘they need us’, ‘they’re just acting out’, or ‘a good friend would’.
Understand that boundaries are necessarily for everyone involved, and just giving in every time someone asks you for something isn’t being a good friend- it is being a doormat. Having boundaries isn’t selfish- it allows everyone involved to grow.
Figure out what being a good friend really means for you- and understand that the best boundaries are flexible boundaries.
which means that you can set a boundary of ‘You cannot call me after 10 pm’ most of the time- and still be there should something come up that you feel it is appropriate to shift that boundary. Like, ‘Usually it isn’t okay to call me super late- but you’ve been through some rough stuff lately, so it is okay if you call me when you need me right now.’ Or ‘I usually wouldn’t handle you snapping at me- but I understand that x is going on. But I am going to make you aware that it isn’t going to continue. I’m happy to be here for you- but you are not going to use me as an emotional punching bag.’
You’re allowed to put boundaries on how much you can help too, ‘I’ll do what I can. but I can’t be there for you 24/7. It isn’t healthy for either of us for me to literally be your everything.’ and if you’re in that position- with a friend who is struggling, you can offer to help them find other means and other support- whether it be a hotline, a support group, or helping them make new friends… but you need to hold strong to the fact that you aren’t going to be ‘on call’ all the time. That you are a person too, and you have to take care of yourself as well. This does not make you selfish- I promise.
Material boundaries have to deal with our things. Such as whether or not you’re cool lending money to friends, or letting them stay at your house.
A big problem with material boundaries is that people often have a check list of ‘I can let so-and-so borrow stuff/stay over’ but they don’t set limits.
There is a big difference between someone spending a few nights on your coach because they’re only in the state that long, or they need a safe place to go too… and someone living in your house without paying rent for a couple of months.
and while there are some circumstances where you may permit that (helping a friend get out of an abusive relationship) there are others that you might not be.
And you are allowed to set those boundaries. It isn’t about how good of a friend you are. You aren’t failing someone when they need you most. You are setting boundaries that allow your relationships to survive.
It is also important to realize that if you have a friend that turns down things you offer- it is a boundary on their part. Sometimes people will try and convince someone to accept a gift or let them buy them dinner- and everyone needs to be aware that it isn’t cool to keep trying if someone is uncomfortable. A reason for this boundary may be ‘I can’t afford to pay you back- and I was taught to never be in debt to someone’ to ‘I am used to things like that coming with a price I can’t pay later on.’ and while on the first- you may be able to talk to them and be like, ‘hey, I’m in a better position financially right now… so let me get you dinner. you can pay me back with the pleasure of your company’ but understand when a no is a no.
Mental Boundaries come in two main forms- our absorption of other people’s ideas, and how much what they say affects us.
Mental boundaries can be telling that friend that is just a little too pushy about their politics, “Hey, I would prefer not to talk about politics at the dinner table.” or “You know what? I don’t have information about either side right now. So I’m going to read up later instead of making an opinion based only off what your can tell me.”
Mental boundaries are what allow us to come in contact with gross individuals and come away less hurt. It doesn’t mean that you’re never allowed to be effected by someone calling you a slur, or someone making comment on your worth- but they’re what allow us to say ‘They might think I’m (unpleasant thing) but 1. their opinion does not matter to me and 2. I have all these reasons I know otherwise/ people that believe otherwise. I shouldn’t let this hurt me.’ Setting a mental boundary doesn’t mean not calling people out who spout cruel things, or that you have to sit around and listen to it though. Play it safe and take care of yourself.
The thing about boundaries is that usually, they are found through bumping into them. Most of our boundaries are things we’ll never speak aloud because usually we don’t need to. (Think of it this way- you probably don’t have to tell your friends that it isn’t okay to punch you. Because this is a generally understood boundary.) People don’t sit down when they meet and go ‘Hi- I am so-and-so and never touch me here here and here, and never bring up this and never ask to do so and so’ and it would probably be a little weird if we did that about everything.
But when something is a strong boundary- such as a trigger, it is perfectly okay to bring it up before the boundary is bumped. Just a ‘Hey, I know this might sound weird, and you’d probably never do it- but I have a really bad reaction to people touching me without my permission and I’d rather put that out here now’
And a verbal/written call out of boundaries is the best one. while we should try and be conscious of people’s body language/ unvoiced cues- sometimes they can be hard to read or people don’t notice them.