“Something brand new for me in 2021 is to stay actively away from drama and keep enforcing my boundaries. Infused in this action is to stop feeling guilty for the boundaries I am learning and putting in place, respect and honour myself and boundaries more, put my foot down when my boundaries and self respect are being disrespected or trampled upon and learn to serve the disrespect back good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over when the need arises”
These is an excerpt I wrote to a writing prompt during the bi-weekly women’s circle I join. The prompt for this was “something brand new in 2021”. Boundaries is something I am working on daily in all aspects of my life and talking to other girls and women about.
Can I see a show of hands? Yes, please, raise them in your room as you read. Have you ever told someone especially a man that you did not want something? What was his first response? Let me guess. Why? Or maybe he went on to do that exact thing you spoke against. Or maybe you have told a man not to touch you. Or you were not interested in his advances. And he continued to do just that. Sounds familiar?
Boundaries are a very tricky reality for women, can be extremely hard and triggering for girls and women to acknowledge, learn and enforce but one truth is certain, Boundaries are an especially important part of life and relationships be they personal and professional. Depending on the intersections with which you approach life, societal expectations, stereotypes, audacity and entitlement of men/society and a lack of know how, knowing, having, and setting boundaries can be a lot harder.
Girls and eventually women are not really taught boundaries when growing up, instead we are taught to make space for others irrespective of their actions towards us. We grow up stretching ourselves for others, its little wonder that when we decide to set boundaries, the society especially men push back and intend to continue take up space- theirs, and ours.
As a first child to clergy and teacher parents, I have lived most of my life until recently with very weak boundaries, so weak I would say they were practically nonexistent. I learnt to give and stretch myself thin even when it made me upset or filled with resentment. Sometimes, I was even made to feel grateful for the opportunity to be stretched thin. Even when I knew how to, I did not want to be seen as difficult sometimes (to my own detriment).
Statistics have shown that girls and women face more violence and abuse when they start to say “No”, “Stop it”, “I don’t want” and other variations with which we set and enforce our boundaries. The violence ranges from physical assault, sexual violence (rape, revenge porn, threats etc.) to death. Shocking right? It shows you the extent of entitlement of men and society to our bodies, minds, spaces and very existence. The push back because how dare we seek and want autonomy for our spaces, minds, actions, bodies, existence.
From a former lack-of-boundary-setter, you too can set boundaries dear girl and woman. Boundaries are not time bound or limited by age. The Igbo people of South Eastern Nigeria have a saying, “Na when person wake be im morning” which I will translate in this context to mean “You get enlightened when you get enlightened”. It will not be easy even for you the boundary setter, you will feel guilty many times for drawing those lines and asking that those lines be honored but you can do it. There are days when you will dishonour your boundaries or participate in dishonouring your boundaries either out of familiarity, fear of judgement or guilt. When that happens, as Aaliyah said “Dust yourself up and try again.
I have learnt that men will draw thick boundaries, know when their boundaries are being crossed or violated while crossing yours boldly and intentionally. If there is anything you must know, always remember that Men will ALWAYS choose themselves first not minding whose ox is gored.
Recently, a woman asked me how she could set boundaries and I said, like everything, “Start Small”. Write your boundaries so you can remember till they become a part of you. Start with “No” or
• Wait (Later, Not now)
• I do not have the capacity or time to handle this
• I need time to think about this
• I do not want to be spoken to in this manner
• I do not like the tone of your voice or the words you are using
And on days when they will not budge, give yourself permission to read them for filth. As you make space for others, know that whatever boundaries you set for yourself are VALID!
As you navigate February and the rest of 2021, I wish you strong boundaries and the resolve to stand by them.
I leave you with these words I wrote to myself as a reminder
These lines I draw
Are they for me?
Or for them?
Why did it take so long to draw them?
Either straight or wonky
These lines will teach me
These lines are here to stay
These lines are mine
Photo credit: Images courtesy of the storyteller.