Originally posted on Shades of Us.
I have been thinking about boundaries a lot.
As a people, and by that I mean Africans and black people in general, we seem to be have a poor understanding of boundaries. In a way, it can be blamed on our socio-cultural style of community living. You see, our cultures promote relationships where it is okay for everyone to be in your space: expected even.
Parents believe that since they birthed a child, they have exclusive rights to all aspects of their lives. Siblings and friends think their relationship guarantee them unfettered access to those close to them. Teachers feel that because they impact knowledge, they can do as they please with the students in their care. Employers use people’s need for work and a paycheck to try to control the lives of their employees. Even the everyday market (wo)man and complete strangers think they have a right to know what’s up with you.
It is a never-ending cycle of intrusion of people’s spaces! The idea of people having boundaries seems…foreign to many in our communities. In fact, the idea that a person would deign to demand boundaries is not just seen as ludicrous, it is perceived as an insult.
But are boundaries an impossible — even disrespectful — ask? I would think not. Recently, I saw a definition of ‘boundaries’ that felt just…right.
“A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends . . .” — Positive Psychology.
Ooooh! The power in that statement!
No matter what relationship we have with people, we need a clear space where we begin but most especially, where the other person ends.
I believe that from a young age, people should begin to define their boundaries. It is okay to tell your parents — especially when you are an adult — that you have thought through an idea and can make your own decisions about them. Yes, they birthed you. They took care of you. They raised you. But does that mean that they should know — and control — every aspect of your life? The answer is no.
This will be perceived as promoting ‘disrespect’, but it is a critical step in the evolution of the parent-child relationship or any relationship for that matter; in essence, it is promoting a culture of respect. Setting those boundaries ensure that relationships grow without any toxicity that would eventually create resentment.
Let me give you an example.
I used to always walk into my sister’s room without knocking. Of course, knocking on siblings’ doors was not ‘normal’ to us. If we wanted something, we just went in and got it. One day, my sister — whom I must add is significantly younger than me — asked me to knock on her door before I came in. I was livid! ‘Who the hell did she think she was?’ I thought to myself. But after a while, I understood it. It was her room, her space. I couldn’t just barge into it just because I was older. She wasn’t disrespectful to me…even though it would have been perceived as that in our community. But if I continued to barge into her room without knocking, I would be disrespectful to her. And because she was younger than me, she would take it…and resentment would grow. My sister showed me that she knew where she began…and why her own space was important. She was telling me to accord her the same respect that she did me and it was an illuminating moment for me.
Even though she was enforcing boundaries for her physical space, we can take a cue from her and build boundaries for our emotional, mental, and spiritual spaces.
I analyze my relationship with everyone now. I ask certain questions that determine how much of me a person is allowed to experience. And it may sound weird, but I build spaces in my head where I fit each individual. This helps me for example, shut down innuendos from colleagues that would be normal with friends or maintain an aloof personality at events instead of the bubbly persona close associates know me with etc.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to let everyone in my spaces because I prided myself on being an ‘open book’. I am still open…I just don’t want everyone walking all over my spaces and dumping bits and pieces of themselves where I should — exclusively — be. And best of all is, I cannot abide by any disrespect of my person: because like I have established, people will disrespect you! Give them an inch…and you know what the rest would mean.
So…I am learning to define myself: ‘where do I begin?’, ‘where do I end?’. Then I define others; parents, siblings, friends, lovers, acquaintances, colleagues, strangers etc. Where do they begin and where do they end? Having defined my relationships, I have built the requisite boundaries. I think you can take a cue from this. Ensure your boundaries are respected by constantly repeating them until they become the norm. Then respect other people’s boundaries…even if they don’t seem to have clearly defined ones.
Or in other words, using the famous words of the Jew, Jesus Christ, “So then, in everything treat others the same way you want them to treat you, for this is [the essence of] the Law and the [writings of the] Prophets.” — Matthew 7:12 (Amplified Bible).