The notion of boundaries is experienced early, generally on the playground during games such as freeze tag or dodge ball. The rules are simple: stay inside the boundaries or face the consequences. From the outset, it is decided which lines can be crossed and which lines are off limits. Anyone who can’t abide by the rules must sit out.
As we get older, boundaries become more complex. There is no longer a line drawn on the floor of the gymnasium to guide our actions. We set boundaries related to materials and ownership, physical space, opinions, values, beliefs, and of course sexual contact. Setting boundaries is a means of establishing safety and respect. Every person has the right to be treated with dignity. Problems arise when people focus more on their desires, than on the people affected by them.
Consider Jian Ghomeshi. Initially, he claimed that the activities he engaged in, with partners, were consensual. As the scandal continues to escalate, his fans have learned that many of his sexual partners were coerced into these acts—either by the lure of his fame or the desire for their own. Friends and colleagues have now come forward to say that they had seen the signs, but not chosen to act.
When it comes to respecting boundaries, consent is key. Granted, “No means No,” but there is a need to focus more on “Yes means Yes.” Relationships shouldn’t just be about taking action and awaiting denial. Instead, we need to start by seeking permission in the first place. This does not indicate an agreement that follows coercion, but a true desire to participate from the beginning. It means focusing on the needs of the other, not just pleasing oneself. This is a mark of genuine maturity and good character.
When establishing boundaries, you have the right to expect people to respect them. If you want to move your boundaries – do so. The setting of personal boundaries is within your control.
People, places, cultures and experiences influence our values. As you experience changes in maturity, interests and skills, your outlook may change as well. Changes to boundaries should only occur if they are informed by your personal values and desires. You have the right to feel safe and comfortable.