Boundaries are important. I’m not talking about defensive walls or impenetrable barriers. I’m talking about the things that allow you to know what your limits are, what types of relationships you are comfortable with, and how far you are willing to go in various situations. As black women we may vacillate between having boundaries that let everything and everyone in and putting up emotionally concrete walls for protection. This dynamic reflects the tension that many of us feel between wanting to be loved and cared for and feeling the need to proactively or re-actively defend ourselves against being hurt emotionally. Unfortunately, too many of us have experienced the pain of heartbreak and betrayal that prompt us to build emotional walls which may be moderately successful at keeping us from getting hurt again but also prevent us from experiencing joy and connection.
Boundaries are essential for being an emotionally healthy and grounded. They are important for all relationships. It can be easy to move in and out of romantic relationships without establishing clear boundaries, which often leads to messy interactions. I encourage you to identify your personal boundaries prior to entering into a relationship with someone. If a person truly cares for you they will respect your boundaries and shouldn’t push you to change your boundaries for their benefit. Additionally, once a relationship ends you should establish new boundaries with that person. If you don’t really end a previous relationship you will not be ready or available to start another one.
How to establish boundaries with romantic relationships:
- Identify what your boundaries are related to romantic relationships (e.g. monogamous commitment, sex, no sex, sharing information about the relationship with others etc.)
- Communicate your boundaries with your partner or potential partners
- Adjust boundaries after the romantic portion of a relationship ends (e.g. if you have broken up with someone it’s probably no longer a good idea to continue having sex with them).
Boundaries are also important for non-romantic relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, and supervisors. If you are always running around doing things for other people and frequently feel resentful that people ask you to do too much, you will likely benefit from learning to say no and establish boundaries. It can be a wonderful thing to support the people that you care about but this can become unhealthy if you do these things at the expense of your own well-being. Setting boundaries involves considering what you are able to do within reason and only agreeing to do that and nothing more. It can feel tempting to say yes to every request but when we are in the middle of feeling frustrated and overworked we usually resent the people that we were trying to help. Saying no takes courage and is empowering. Contrary to what many women have been socialized to believe, saying no is not mean; saying no acknowledges your own needs and wants in a healthy way.
How to establish boundaries related to relationships in general:
- Learn to say no (determine what your limits are and say no when someone asks you to go beyond those limits)
- Determine what you feel comfortable with related to how and when you spend time with people and what personal information you share with others and let people know if you become uncomfortable with a situation.