The Three Stages of Boundary Setting
“Could you please respect my space and take a step away from me?”
“I do not want to have this conversation with you right now. I need you to respect my decision.”
These sentences seemed absolutely rude to me before my Level 1 Training in New York this summer. Even though I see myself as a very determined and confident person, who knows what I want and can communicate it strongly, there is an area where I am totally insecure with expressing my needs and wishes. And that’s when it comes to telling people that they make me uncomfortable or scared. Communicating these specific feelings, I always feel that it is rude and not appropriate, that I have to be nice and polite, just wait it out, get through it or at least that I have to make up a reason or apology for leaving the situation - like not having time or having something really important to do.
Situations like the following example illustrate my insecure behaviour very clear:
I'm working behind a bar on a catering event to earn some extra cash for my studying. It's already later in the night and there are only a few guest lefts at the bar – men and women. I'm giving out drinks when this woman approaches me to order something, and grabs my arm to prevent me from leaving. I feel uncomfortable, but I tell myself, "Breath. Let it happen. It’s just her holding my arm." I get her order, turn around, and a man comes towards me and puts his hand around my waist wanting to order another beer. I am trying to create distance, moving away from him softly, and again I feel really uncomfortable. I smile. I take his order. I leave. I feel weird about the last to encounters while still with my frozen smile.
ESD training has taught me a skill that I wish I had learned when I was a little girl, or least that night in the bar.
This new skill that is in my personal tool box now is called boundary setting. Boundary setting to me involves a process of getting to know myself, learning what I am comfortable with and what I'm not, how to communicate my feelings and especially that it is okay and necessary to communicate my I need.
The latter one always seems like I am making the other person uncomfortable, while actually I am feeling uncomfortable myself because of this person. I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings while he/she is hurting mine though.
Crossing boundaries can be a mental process and can involve physical space and also just verbal communication. Therefore, step one of guarding your boundaries is about figuring out what your own boundaries are, physical and mental. It's also about getting to know yourself and about discovering where you draw lines so you can feel safe and healthy.
You may find your boundaries crossed when dealing with a toxic relationship, an emotional attack, a situational circumstance, an influential conversation, a physical movement or violent attack - anything that makes you feel threatened in your well being and safety.
In my example, it was people touching me while I was working.
Step two then is about how do you communicate your boundaries and claim your boundaries in front of others or to yourself. And then step three is about learning that you are allowed to communicate your own boundaries.
In my experience above, I knew letting someone touch me to just order drinks seemed very inappropriate and I didn’t like it or consent to it. I should have immediately said “Let go of my arm. Don’t touch me, please," while later on not feeling ashamed or guilty for having communicated my boundary.
But I did not tell the people in that moment, because I thought it was not my position to do so.
Because of my ESD training, I am very aware that decisions that involve me and my body are mine and mine alone, and no one else can set my boundaries.
I do not need to wait out a situation that makes me feel bad, weird or uncomfortable. ESD training has given me the confidence and tools to integrate in my everyday life.
Through games and role play, the ESD training made us realize and become aware of our boundaries in a safe environment, and that to me seems so important.
The experience of sharing, preparing and training ourselves to be aware, confident and strong enough to be able to step up for ourselves is what motivates me to teach the women and girls around me.
Victoria holds a Master Degree in Peace Studies and works for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She aims for gender equality all around the world - politically and personally.
In August, 2019, she attended an ESD Global Level 1 Training.
* Your donation to the ESD Global Scholarship Fund helps more women like Victoria bring boundary setting tools and skills to their communities throughout the world.