Trustworthiness Skill #1: Boundaries

When trying to gauge if a person is trustworthy, one of the most important concepts is: boundaries.

Many of my clients have heard about boundaries when they come into my office. “A boundary is a stop sign” or “A boundary is telling someone NO.” 

However, they tend to forget about emotional boundaries, intellectual boundaries, and advocating for themselves when something is happening that goes against their values or they are simply not okay with. I end up telling most clients that, “You have permission to have preferences, not wanting to do something, or disagreeing with closed love ones”. Compromise isn’t always a bad thing, but for many of my internalizing clients it’s a reason they don’t set boundaries which over time demolishes their self-esteem. Why? Because we lose self respect (and self trust) when we don’t advocate or stick up for ourselves.

The other side of emotional boundaries is taking responsibility for what is ours and NOT emotionally taking responsibility for what is not ours. For instance, if someone is mad at you it is THEIR responsibility to tell you and to make a resolution. It is not your job to walk on egg shells, try to guess when they’re mad, or change your behaviors if they haven’t communicated that they are upset and/or set a boundary. Additionally, we are not responsible for another person’s happiness, their sadness, or any emotional state. They are. If we were, I would be an expert in MAKING people happy and man, my job would be easy… I’d simply just “make” people happy. But that is so not how it works (yes, I’m talking to you my people pleasers).  

Boundaries also help us communicate our anger in a way that is safe and does our feelings justice. When we are upset, it’s often a good time for us to communicate a boundary. Boundaries help us live compassionate lives because we are no longer harboring resentment to the limits we didn’t set or the “no’s” we didn’t say.

Not only are boundaries important for US to have, but it’s also important for us to notice or see them in other people. I do not trust an overly nice person or a person who never disagrees with me. Why? Because I’ll never know that they will have the courage to tell me when I’m upsetting them, what they prefer, or how they’re really feeling. As humans, we are all going to irritate and annoy people from time-to-time and we all have different viewpoints. If I’m with a “yes” person, I feel more like I’m having a relationship with the wall than another human being. I want to get to know you. That means knowing when you disagree with me and trusting you will let me know when I’m inadvertently hurting or annoying you.

To create safe relationships, it is crucial that both parties have boundaries. They are the way that we communicate what we are okay with, and what we aren’t, and how we are able to continue giving to loved ones from a healthy place without feeling resentment. May we all learn how to have the courage to set them and to respect them in our loved ones.

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