Have you ever thought about your personal boundaries and what they are exactly?
I think boundaries develop and evolve over time. When I was a child, I wasn’t aware of boundaries. I probably couldn’t even spell that word properly without struggling for a bit. I was aware that certain actions would (most likely) cause happiness, sadness, or anger, but that was pretty much it. I couldn’t explain the why. I’ve only deciphered my potential reactions from specific events, which barely scratched the surface of personal boundaries.
I’d like to think that I’m getting better at following the boundaries that I’ve set up. Obviously they’re still solidifying and changing as I’m experiencing drastic and mundane changes, but the core values are pretty much set to stone. Before I elaborate…what are boundaries?
For me, boundaries are a set of personal guidelines (determined by my beliefs, values, and past experiences) that I use to assess interactions between other people and me. If someone were to cross the line (accidental or incidental), I’d be able to react to said action appropriately. Essentially – if something that I couldn’t personally accept was said or done to me, I would be able to react accordingly.
It’s a little bit harder for me since I was born and raised in an Asian (collectivist) culture, but educated in a Western (individualist) manner. Long story short, in my experiences and opinion:
Collectivist cultures care about the present and future interaction within a group a lot. Family comes before the self. It’s important to see how certain actions, reactions, statements, and opinions will impact the group dynamic. If it were to create something negative, it’s generally considered bad / taboo to bring up. There’s heavy emphasis on the face, pride, and harmony of the group in Asian culture.
Individualist cultures care more about the self. You’re essentially living for yourself and creating your own identity, so there’s a lot more independence involved. There’s a lot less expectations as to what one should do in the future. There’s a bit more leniency to explore and discover what one wants to do (ranging from interests/hobbies to career path). It’s not to say family isn’t important in the Western culture, but there’s definitely less emphasis compared to Asian culture.
I’m literally exposed to both sides of the spectrum and sometimes there’s an internal tug of war that seems to be ripping me apart. I think this struggle partially contributed to my existential crisis before. I’ll save that for another day.
I was born and raised to listen. Blind obedience is good. My parents love, care, and want the best of me. It’s a fact that’s never changed. However, as the black sheep of my family, I’m not the type of ideal child that my parents want me to be.
Let me backtrack a little bit: I used to listen…a lot. I studied meticulously (or as best as I could – when I was in school, I thought certain subjects were really boring, and I couldn’t / still can’t do math problems to save my life). I couldn’t go out with my friends (I probably went out less than 10 times my entire four years of high school). I had to take piano lessons. I needed to get into a prestigious university. There were all these requirements that I felt like I had to accomplish. Don’t get me wrong, these were all beneficial for me in the long run, but were all of these things what I truly wanted to do? Obviously, not a lot of students voluntarily want to go to school when they have to go, but my point is…am I doing certain things because I was expected to, or did I want to do them for myself as well?
Even though I obeyed, there were times that I just flat out refused and carved a path for myself instead of following my parents’ expectations. They were definitely unhappy about that. I think that I’m a really stubborn person. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to change my mind. Usually I think way too much about an issue (and about each possible and impossible scenarios), but then still end up with the same conclusion.
There were just small things at first when I was in middle and high school that caused inconveniences, but didn’t really annoy my parents too much. For instance, when I started going on a diet towards the end of middle school / beginning of high school, I decided that I cannot eat anything after 20:00 pm. That was annoying, but they understood and then eventually accepted that.
Then there’s more significant decisions.
When I was in my sophomore year of college, I decided that I didn’t want to major in Romance Languages. My parents have been telling every single person they know about how their daughter was going to major in Romance Languages and potentially another major but that’s to be determined. Nope. I decided to still take some language classes (Spanish and French – and excluding the freshmen year when I took Italian classes because I lived in Florence then), but I ended up declaring my psychology major towards the end of the spring semester of 2012. My parents were not amused…at all. In fact, I think my dad called and told me that I an idiot in a much more colorful way. My mom called as well and was extremely concerned that I was going to destroy my life with picking this major. However, I can definitely look back now and say that I do not regret it at all. I love psychology, and I think it’s a better fit for me than any other majors. I didn’t double major at all, but I’ve taken a few badass classes as well (food sciences with a cooking lab, beverages – or also known as wine / spirits tasting class at 10:00 am, nutrition, special effects makeup class, film photography class, geopolitics of beauty, and definitely a few more I can’t remember at the moment…). I wouldn’t trade these classes for the world.
It might seem like I’ve gone off a tangent, but it all boils down to boundaries again. When I was younger, I didn’t have a sense of identity and self. I listened most of the time, because I was afraid of disappointing my parents. When I started to develop my own thoughts, I learned that it might be scarier not trying out what I want to do. I’m not saying that I know for sure what I want to do now. I’m definitely not saying that I don’t struggle with trying to please my parents’ expectations and satisfy my own goals at the moment. I’m in a tug of war for sure. However, I believe…despite the fact that it’s important to respect my parents’ wishes (and I do, as much as I could under my guidelines), I’m beginning to establish and express to them in a much better manner of what is and isn’t acceptable to me. I cannot do everything my parents expect and want me to do, and I’m conveying that message to them in a calm, respectable manner. It’s essential to set certain boundaries to the closest people in your life, too.
It’s a bit difficult to say this, but I don’t think I’ve established great boundaries with my parents before. I have been / still am working on that. One of my defense mechanisms is to shut down. I’d clam up and refuse to talk, because when I do, I know I’d regret the words that come out of my mouth. I used to fume and get agitated over the smallest issues when I was younger, but it’s probably because I didn’t have an outlet. I did tasks that I didn’t necessarily want to do; I just completed them because they were required. I took in unnecessary stress and anger that were not related to me from my parents (don’t get me wrong – their work is stressful, and I don’t blame them, but it was unfair for them to set off their anger at me when it’s unrelated to me). Now that I’m more and more aware of different situations involving my parents, I’m better at gauging at how I should react while defending my boundaries. Whenever there’s a disagreement with my parents now, I can let them know how I think and feel in my regular tone in order to get my point through (as attested by my colleagues and relatives – they think arguing with me is pretty anti-climatic) as opposed to a shouting match that leads to nowhere.
That being said…it’s important to establish clear boundaries with different types of people in your life. I have different sets of boundaries for strangers, acquaintances, work colleagues, business partners, customers, new friends, friends, good friends, close friends, romantic partner / significant other, people in the past (essentially people I’ve previously had contact with in the past but do not want to in the future), relatives, and family members. It’s inevitable to avoid contact with people for too long (believe me, I’ve tried – texting/messaging and calling still counts as human contact). There are certain actions that my friends can do to me that counts as appropriate for me, but not when it’s from a work colleague or a stranger. I can’t pinpoint an specific example right now (ha – way past my bedtime right now, it’s 23:16 pm), but I’m sure you can think of a personal case easily.
It’s actually hard for me to list out the specifics of each of my boundaries, but the main question I ask myself when something happens is: is this acceptable and appropriate action/behavior? If the answer is no, then I figure out why (usually doesn’t take long) and talk about it as soon as I can. I’m the type of person who likes to talk whatever it is out instead of saying things are fine and then turn into a passive aggressive grouch all day. After communication is through, everything is water under the bridge for me and I don’t dig up the past.
If it’s an issue that’s irreparable, I (try to) let that person know I’m not going to tolerate that sort of action / behavior and cut that person out of my life. I’m not saying it’s easy, because I’ve really struggled with people I cared about dearly when they’ve crossed a line. I definitely didn’t deal with them in the greatest way, but I did manage to go no contact with them…cold turkey. Looking back, it might be one of the bravest things that I’ve ever done in one of the most vulnerable times in my life. I definitely didn’t think about boundaries back then, but they were more or less established, and once certain lines were crossed…I couldn’t go back to the way things were.
Just to clarify: there’s no anger and animosity on my side for these people as they’ve been involved with some of the best memories I’ve ever had in my life, but even if we were to have the chance to talk and amend the past, it’ll never be the same in the future. At least, it’ll never be the same in the near future. I still wish them the best. It’s not because I’m holding a grudge…it’s because I have enough self-respect, dignity and love for myself that I refuse to let the people who have disrespected me and made me questioned my cores and values waltz back into my life as if what happened between us were just small blips. They were not just small issues, at least, they were not for me, and that’s important to acknowledge.
I think ever since I’ve really thought and established my boundaries, I’ve gained a lot more courage and confidence. I used to be a total pushover (then turned occasional) who accommodated to others even though I might not have felt comfortable during that time. I’m not saying that I don’t help others or go out of my way for certain people anymore – I still do, but I also consider about how I feel about the situation now before I do anything. It seems a bit scary at first to exercise personal boundaries, because it might offend people. However, if I don’t have certain boundaries, I will just end up hurting myself in the long run. This will eventually take a toll on mental wellbeing…and I’m speaking from a personal experience over here. People who get offended with me for having my boundaries (granted, I don’t think my personal boundaries are rude or anything, as I still treat everyone with manners and respect no matter who that person is) are not ones I’d like to have around for long in my life anyway.
People who want you around in their lives will respect you and your personal boundaries. These are the strong and healthy connections / bonds that humans crave and should have. Others who knowingly cross your lines repeatedly are the ones that you need to reconsider having in your life, because these interactions are nothing but toxic to you. Keep asking yourself if certain situations and behaviors are acceptable and appropriate to you. It’s hard, but life’s too short to settle for less.
PS: This took way longer than expected. It’s 12:10 am now and I’m ready to crash. Definitely way past my bedtime.