Two Uncomfortable Truths About Boundaries

There are two uncomfortable things to remember about boundaries in interpersonal relationships (and, by extension, rules).

  1. Your boundaries — particularly those originating in past trauma — are not a license to demand others comply to your wishes. If others will not — or cannot — meet them, that does not inherently {1} mean they are ignoring your wants and needs. This is particularly true when one person’s need comes into conflict with those of someone else.

  2. A boundary is not a specific, dictated course of action. It is an expression of a need. "I need time alone to process my feelings before continuing this discussion" is expressing a need and a boundary. {2} "You leave the house for a half hour" is a demand. Even "I’m leaving the house for two hours" is a unilateral declaration (and therefore may end up hurting someone else). There may be other ways to meet that need. Perhaps after discussing the need there only remains one course of action, but assuming that before discussing it with all parties involved is an ultimatum.

This might seem like splitting hairs, but it’s the difference between working together to meet everyone’s needs and, well, not. If it seems like you have to demand your needs be met without discussing them, and you’re certain you’ve asked clearly and directly for them to be considered, let alone met, then there is a deeper issue — on one or more parties’ part — to address.

{1} As usual, I’m assuming good faith on the part of all actors here.
{2} This can be approached from either side; for example, "I need to know we’re going to continue this conversation and my needs be heard" is a need, "We’re going to finish this argument right now," however, is a demand.