Your personal space needs to be protected. If you don’t speak up and act to protect your boundaries in a situation where someone infringes on you to the point where you feel uncomfortable, the person will continue to invade your space. If you continue to say or do nothing, in most cases, the boundary breaker will go even further when given the next opportunity.
It is important and necessary to defend your personal space because to do so is to stand firm in your personal power. Those who find it hard or impossible to defend their personal space have had their personal power abused at some point in their lives, for example by a totalitarian parent or partner. Such people may often find it hard or impossible to stand up for themselves. Importantly however, this can be reversed. It begins with learning to assert and defend your boundaries (what is and what is not acceptable to you).
Physical Touch Violations
When you violate a person’s physical space by touching them when and where they do not want to be touched by you, you are violating them. To give an example, a man who pinches a woman’s ass as she passes by him in a crowded, dark nightclub is violating her physical boundaries. Not only is she made to feel uncomfortable, but her energy is also sneakily being nabbed by the ass pincher. Most of the time this kind of thing happens, the ass pincher gets away with the sneaky grab and nothing is said to him.
Importantly, it is not only strangers who may violate your physical touch boundaries. When someone you know violates your personal touch boundaries, it can be confusing and even harder to speak up. They may touch you in a very subtle or slight way that somehow feels creepy. At the same time your head will want to dismiss what just happened as it will be hard to put into words exactly what the person did wrong. In these situations it is important to speak up to defend your boundary by referring to what happened directly and how you felt about it. For example, “I think you may have touched my breast. Don’t do that I was not comfortable.’ If you say nothing, the next boundary violation by the person will go a step further and the frequency of violations will increase.
Communication Boundary Violations
Communication boundary violations are attempts to speak to or to prolong an interaction with a person who does not want to speak to you. The way a stranger may do this by following you around trying to ‘help’ or to sell you things. The way a friend or relative may do this may be to call you too frequently. The way an ex-partner may do this is to keep calling you and leaving you messages following a breakup, even though you have said you no longer want to be in contact.
Communication boundary violations are rife on the internet. If a stranger requests to be my friend on Facebook or a Skype contact of mine, that person is invading my personal space. If a stranger emails me asking for something (usually it is free teaching or personal advice) that is also a communication boundary violation because I did not offer my time nor attention to the person in the first place. In cases where a person violates your communication boundaries on the internet, the solution is to block the person and to delete any email or messages from the person without reading them.
Setting your own communication boundaries comes down to being clear about what is and what is not acceptable to you regarding contact. One of the ways I defend my communication boundary on the internet is by having an autoresponse to emails that says, ‘If your email is related to a product or service or mine, I will get back to you within three days.’ This is an indirect way of saying I will be in touch with you if you are my customer or client, but if you are a random stranger who wants something from me, perhaps not.’
From experience on the internet, if you allow people to break your communication boundary, they will keep pushing you by asking for more, more, more of your time or attention. By setting your communication boundary firmly, you can nip inappropriate and unwanted contact in the bud.
Property violations occur when a person uses your belongings or private space in a way that is uncomfortable to you. For example, this could be a guest that outstays their welcome in your home. It could also be a friend or relative who helps themselves to your belongings without asking first if they can borrow something. The closer you are to a person, the more generous and open you probably feel about allowing them to use your stuff. The important difference, however, between your generosity and having a boundary breaker in your midst is whether you feel comfortable about what the other person is helping themselves to. Do you feel it is a fair exchange of giving and receiving between you? Or is the person acting in an entitled way to take what they can from you?
In situations where your property is being violated, the reversal of this situation also comes by speaking up for yourself to express your own needs and requirements. This may mean asking the boundary breaker to pay their fair share in the future. It can also mean telling the person to come to your house less. If you say nothing, don’t be surprised if the next time you see the boundary breaker, she’s walking around in your bra and knickers and helping herself to your dinner!
NOTE ON HOW TO ESTABLISH YOUR BOUNDARIES WITH LANGUAGE
When someone breaks our boundaries, we react. When we react we are not always able to say things politely or kindly. However, if we say nothing and stuff down the strong reaction, the tension begins to bubble like lava beneath the surface. To prevent a huge eruption of emotion the next time your boundary is crossed, it’s important to speak up in the moment.
Every person has a different notion of boundaries and what is acceptable to them. For this reason, the boundary breaker in your life may not be aware that his or her behaviour is making you uncomfortable (although it’s different in the case of creepy and sleazy people, as they are purposely violating your boundaries to nab energy from you). This is why it is necessary to describe the action which made you feel uncomfortable and to follow up with why you won’t accept this to happen again. For example, ‘Sarah, I noticed my wardrobe was open and my clothes have been moved around. It seems you have opened my wardrobe. That made me feel upset. I would appreciate it if you do not do that again.’
If you happen to be dealing with a stranger or internet boundary breaker, it may be necessary to be more direct so that the person gets the message loud and clear. For example, if someone on the street is trying to promote something to you as you pass on the street, you can say, ‘I’m not interested.’
All situations of boundary breaking are different for which reason you will need to develop a flexible approach. At the weakest and most ineffective levels of protecting yourself, you will only be able to react strongly in the situation, for example by being aggressive or rude in return to the person. However, as your personal power steadily climbs (as you learn to defend and maintain your own boundaries), you will find yourself able to defend your space powerfully without needing to react emotionally to the situation. When you can protect yourself without strong emotion, that’s when you know you’ve got your power back.