Wanna Teach People How To Treat You Better, Jane? Try Boundaries.
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
How Knowing Your Personal Boundary Style Can Help Mend or Invite Healthier Relationships.
Do you have a hard time saying “no” to people in your life?
What about staying in relationships long past their expiration date?
Maybe you’re scared to tell certain people in your life how the way they speak to or treat you makes you feel?
Ever heard that saying “You gotta teach someone how to treat you”? Well it’s true!
Personal boundaries are limits and rules we set for ourselves in relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others, yet are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.
But what if they aren’t healthy? What if you identify with the questions above? It’s likely that those reading this have experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime and as a way of managing and coping with said trauma(s), you’ve picked up some not so healthy personal boundary techniques along the way to cope. We get it. Arming ourselves with this information is necessary to change it, though.
Different Types of Personal Boundary Styles
A person who avoids intimacy is said to have rigid personal boundaries, while the over-sharers of the Universe fall into the category of having a porous personal boundary style. Someone with healthy personal boundaries likely has healthy relationships and a strong belief in their values.
Avoids close relationships and intimacy for fear of rejection
Unlikely to ask for help
May seem detached, even to romantic partners
Extremely protective over private information
Difficulty saying no
Over-involved in others problems
Accepting of abuse, disrespect
Dependent on the opinions of others
Knows personal wants and needs and can communicate them
Doesn’t compromise values for others & values own opinion
Shares information in an appropriate manner, neither “under” or “over” sharing.
Accepting when others say “no” to them
While some of us may resonate with one so much so that we cringed while reading the above lists, many people rely on a mix of personal boundary styles and will choose which to employ depending on the given circumstances. For example, someone may have healthy boundaries at work, porous in their romantic relationship, and move between the three in their relating with family members. While the setting and specific relationship type vary and influence our chosen boundaries, other factors can influence our personal boundary style in relationships. The setting and social dynamics (power, racial, cultural, socio-economic, gendered) will also influence which personal boundary style one might use in a given situation and should not be glanced over with a minimum of concern.
Not commonly listed: trauma. We believe that trauma can certainly affect how we interact with those in our lives and that if we challenge ourselves to confront said truth with grace and rigorous honesty, we’ve positioned ourselves in the best posture for healing! It just feels scary.
Trauma and Personal Boundary Styles
For those of us living with PTSD, or any trauma-related condition, learning to set healthy personal boundaries is both critical and extremely difficult. Plagued by feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness for trauma survivors setting boundaries can feel like the end of the world. Literally.
For this reason, it’s imperative that trauma survivors first educate themselves on trauma.
What is it?
Do I have it?
What do I do next?
One thing about trauma that we must understand is that it can come in ALL sizes.
"Small to gigantic, trauma is very personal and can be almost anything that negatively impacts us in a deep way." Bri Smith
Licensed Mental Health professional, Judy Crane, poignantly describes trauma as “visceral, Sensory, cellular.”
"It’s a Soul Wound that impacts the very core of who we are, what we believe about the world and our place in it. We experience trauma with all of our senses; taste, touch, sound, sight, smell and our 6th sense, intuition."
Still wondering if you have trauma? Check out this article on Jane’s Journal about the differences between “little t” and “Big T” trauma to help you decide.
We had the same question. Now that we’ve acknowledged and accepted our individual trauma distinction, what now? The decision to seek treatment for trauma is highly personal and can take an array of forms. Some choose psychotherapy or group therapy, while others rely on more Eastern healing practices. And, whether gladly or apprehensively, others use pharmacological interventions to aid in their healing process.
When my therapist asked what specific boundary style I most identified with, I stared back blankly. I was confused. I knew that conflict made me extremely uncomfortable and that people pleasing was the medicine in which I chose to remedy it with, but… Then he passed me a hand out with the three categories of personal boundary styles. Rigid, Porous, or Healthy.
I gasped. I’m porous all the way. Both with myself and others, I’ve been plagued by fear and insecurity so much so that until 2017, I felt utter hopelessness daily. Hopelessness is a critical feeling for someone with trauma, or in my case, complex trauma. To be consumed by hopelessness is to be stuck in a dark hole of despair with little belief in a way to get out, or that there’s anybody waiting for us above ground.
In seeking healing, you’ve probably also heard the term, “trauma-informed”, but what does that mean given the above mentioned knowledge.
“A trauma-informed approach is defined as a program, organization, or system that realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery and responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.” samhsa.gov
So whatever healing modality you choose, as long as it understands the widespread impact & array of recovery pathways and resists re-traumatization and it feels right for you: go with it. For me, it’s a concoction of therapy, plant medicine, and a healing community that breathes new life into me every day.
When People Disrespect Your Boundaries
Ughhhhh. It’s grueling, isn’t it? When someone in your life is overstepping or down right disrespecting your personal boundary limits, it can be incredibly painful. Like animals, humans are social beings. We crave getting along with others and feeling a sense of a community. Yet, what happens when because of that desire, we begin to compromise our personal relationship boundaries? Nothing. That’s what happens. The person, or persons, will continue to treat us that way.
“People treat us how we allow them to.”
You know them. The emotional vampires, the abusers and users, or those other traumatized souls who’ve collected a box full of unhealthy tools, coping mechanisms, and boundary styles. They’re out there and, often unknowingly, prey upon people who’ve experienced trauma. It’s important to note here that those users and abusers I just mentioned, yup, they probably also have trauma.
It’s Not About Them, Though
Choosing to rely on healthier personal boundaries is up to us! Enforcing our boundaries cannot be up for debate. It’s not a democracy. We rule our Universe. And for the trauma survivor who often feels like a victim already, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Trauma survivors often fall into two categories: overly assertive, or not assertive at all. Rigid, or Porous. This presents it’s own set of challenges. Too assertive often masquerades as being an “asshole” or in our case, a “bitch”. Not having the ability to be assertive, the toxics of the Universe will surely take advantage of us.
People can think and say as they wish, but they only get to treat us how we allow them to. We, that’s right: you and me have the right to determine what we will and will not put up with in our personal relationships.
Inviting Healthier Relationships Into Your Life
We don’t change overnight, Jane. First things first, be as honest with yourself as possible. Neither rigid or porous boundaries are ingredients for a healthy, healing lifestyle. You’ve been relying upon this style, or combination of styles, for presumably a very long time. In desperation, you’ve had to practice this way as a protection mechanism.
If you’re perpetually scared that people will leave, why would you leave a toxic relationship? If you grew up poor and have a decent paying job, yet your employer is making unwanted sexual advances towards you, are you too scared to report or leave? Are you unlikely to ask for help? How does that affect your relationships?
Do your intimate relationships feel like they don’t really know you at all?
Awareness is key here. Once we’ve determined which style we most identify with, we have a chance to intervene in its constant invasion. Letting friends and loved ones in on your process can also be especially helpful. As we’ve learned, we’ve attracted some of the wrong kinds of people into our lives, so be sure to practice mindfulness in your choice of which person to approach. And if you make a mistake or act out on old behaviors, It’s okay. With grace and compassion, you begin again.
That’s it? Yup. Remember that old cartoon, G.I. JOE?
Well knowing really is half the battle.
Seeing the ways in which unhealthy coping mechanisms have played and replayed in our lives is paramount in healing. Yes, it may take a long time to practice healthy personal boundary styles more regularly in your life. That’s just the truth of it. Without awareness, though, none of it is possible.
Can Cannabis Help?
For me, cannabis had been an incredible tool in the healing process. It’s allowed me to see myself as I really am and still love what I’ve found. Not all the time, no. But it’s becoming more frequent and I owe it all to the courage to be honest with myself. In being honest, I saw and continue to see how my boundary setting styles lay at the core of my relationship struggles and every day I have the opportunity to practice integrating another way. I'd say that's helping.