Boundary Myths

Myth: If I set Boundaries, I’m being selfish.
Fact: Appropriate boundaries actually increase our ability to care about others.

Myth: Boundaries are a sign of disobedience.
Fact: A lack of boundaries is often a signal of disobedience. People who have shaky limits are often compliant on the outside, but rebellious and resentful on the inside.

Myth: If I begin setting boundaries, I will be hurt by others.
Fact: Boundaries are a litmus test for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness.

Myth: If I set boundaries, I will hurt others.
Fact: Boundaries are not an offensive weapon; boundaries are a defensive tool. Appropriate boundaries don’t control, attack, or hurt anyone. They simply prevent injury.

Myth: Boundaries mean that I am angry.
Fact: Anger tells us that a boundary has been violated. This is generally not new anger, it’s old anger. It’s often years of no’s that were never voiced, never respected, and never listened to.

Myth: When others set boundaries, it injures me.
Fact:  An inability to accept other’s boundaries can indicate a problem in taking responsibility.
Fact: Past, inappropriate boundaries set on us as children can injure us.

Myth: Boundaries cause feelings of guilt.
Fact: We need to distinguish between those who give to get and those who truly give.
Fact: Just because we have received something doesn’t mean we owe something.

Myth: Boundaries are permanent, and I’m afraid of burning my bridges.
Fact: You own your boundaries. They don’t own you.
Fact: If you set limits with someone, and they respond in a mature and loving way, you can negotiate the boundary.

Could & Townsend, 1992, ps. 103-120

If you don’t send your significant other nudes, inappropriate pictures, sexual texts, or aren’t very sexual in real life, you still don’t deserve to be cheated on.

If you don’t send your significant other nudes, inappropriate pictures, sexual texts, or aren’t very sexual in real life, you still don’t deserve to be cheated on.

I repeat

If you don’t send your significant other nudes, inappropriate pictures, sexual texts, or aren’t very sexual in real life, you still don’t deserve to be cheated on.

A loving partner will respect you and your boundaries. Don’t ever settle for less.

Blocking is not evidence

People get to decide who they do and don’t want to talk to.

Online, part of what that means is that people can block each other. People who don’t want to talk to each other can make the conversation stop.

If someone blocks someone else, all it means is that they’ve decided to stop talking to them. In almost all cases, you have every right to do that.

Blocking someone doesn’t mean you’ve lost an argument. (Similarly, if someone else blocks you, that doesn’t mean you’ve won or that you’re better than them.) It just means that you’ve chosen to stop talking to someone.

There’s nothing wrong with ending a conversation. You don’t have to interact with everyone who wants your attention. You have the right to have boundaries and you have the right to use technology to enforce them.

The only time it’s wrong to block people is if they are entitled to your attention for some reason. That’s rare, and mostly applies to corporations and elected officials. 

Blocking is not a punishment or a confession of weakness. It’s a boundary.

“Every time you set a healthy boundary, you’re saying yes to recovery.”
Setting healthy boundaries for ourselves is not a selfish act— it’s essential for our wellbeing. Listen to your instincts • identify your emotions • set your limits • maintain your needs • and respect others people’s boundaries 💞✨

Ableist hostility disguised as friendliness

Some people relate to people with disabilities in a dangerous and confusing way. They see themselves as helpers, and at first they seem to really like the person. Then the helper suddenly become aggressively hostile, and angry about the disabled person’s limitations or personality (even though they have not changed in any significant way since they started spending time together). Often, this is because the helper expected their wonderful attention to erase all of the person’s limitations, and they get angry when it doesn’t.

The logic works something like this:

  • The helper thinks that they’re looking past the disability and seeing the “real person” underneath.
  • They expect that their kindness  will allow the “real person” to emerge from the shell of disability.
  • They really like “real person” they think they are seeing, and they’re excited about their future plans for when that person emerges.
  • But the “real person” is actually figment of their imagination.

The disabled person is already real:

  • The helper doesn’t like this already-real disabled person very much
  • The helper ignores most of what the already-real person actually says, does, thinks, and feels.
  • They’re looking past the already-real person, and seeing the ghost of someone they’d like better.

This ends poorly:

  • The already-real person never turns into the ghost the helper is imagining
  • Disability stays important; it doesn’t go away when a helper tries to imagine it out of existence
  • Neither do all of the things the already-real disabled person thinks, feels, believes, and decides
  • They are who they are; the helper’s wishful thinking doesn’t turn them into someone else
  • The helper eventually notices that the already-real person isn’t becoming the ghost that they’ve been imagining
  • When the helper stop imagining the ghost, they notice that the already-real person is constantly doing, saying, feeling, believing, and deciding things that the helper hates
  • Then the helper gets furious and becomes openly hostile

The helper has actually been hostile to the disabled person the whole time

  • They never wanted to spend time around the already-real disabled person; they wanted someone else
  • (They probably didn’t realize this)
  • At first, they tried to make the already-real disabled person go away by imagining that they were someone else
  • (And by being kind to that imaginary person)
  • When they stop believing in the imaginary person, they become openly hostile to the real person

Tl;dr Sometimes ableist hostility doesn’t look like hostility at first. Sometimes people who are unable or unwilling to respect disabled people seem friendly at first. They try to look past disability, and they interact with an imaginary nondisabled person instead of the real disabled person. They’re kind to the person they’re imagining, even though they find the real person completely unacceptable. Eventually they notice the real person and become openly hostile. The disabled person’s behavior has not changed; the ableist’s perception of it has. When someone does this to you, it can be very confusing — you were open about your disability from the beginning, and it seemed like they were ok with that, until they suddenly weren’t. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.

it took me a long time
to admit this to myself 
but i realize now 
that every time 
i forgave you 
for the same mistakes 
i was forgiving you 
for knowing better
and still choosing to hurt me
and that is unforgivable
—  pardis a.
A post for men about creepy men

I wrote a post a while back about how some people are very good at getting away with doing intentionally creepy things by passing themselves off as just ~awkward~.

Recently, I noticed a particular pattern that plays out. While creeps can be any gender, there’s a gendered pattern by which creepy men get other men to help them be creepy:

  • A guy runs over the boundaries of women constantly
  • He makes them very uncomfortable and creeped out
  • But he doesn’t do that to guys, and
  • He doesn’t talk to guys about it in an unambiguous way, and
  • When he does it in front of guys, he finds a way to make it look deniable
  • And then some women complain to a man, maybe even a man in charge who is supposed to be responsible for preventing abuse in a space
  • and he has no idea what they are talking about, since he’s never the target or witness
  • And he’s had a lot of pleasant interactions with that guy
  • So he sympathizes with him, and thinks he must mean well but be have trouble with social skills
  • And then takes no action to get him to stop or to protect women
  • And so the group stays a place that is safe for predatory men, but not for the women they target

For example:

  • Mary, Jill, and Susan: Bill, Bob’s been making all of us really uncomfortable. He’s been sitting way too close, making innuendo after everything we say, and making excuses to touch us.
  • Bill: Wow, I’m surprised to hear that. Bob’s a nice guy, but he’s a little awkward. I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything by it. I’m not comfortable accusing him of something so serious from my position of authority.

What went wrong here?

  • Bill assumed that, if Bob was actually doing something wrong, he would have noticed.
  • Bill didn’t think he needed to listen to the women who were telling him about Bob’s creepy actions. He didn’t take seriously the possibility that they were right. 
  • Bill assumed that women who were uncomfortable with Bob must be at fault; that they must be judging him too harshly or not understanding his awkwardness
  • Bill told women that he didn’t think that several women complaining about a guy was sufficient reason to think something was wrong
  • Bill assumed that innocently awkward men should not be confronted about inadvertantly creepy things they do, but rather women should shut up and let them be creepy

A rule of thumb for men:

  • If several women come to you saying that a man is being creepy towards them, assume that they are seeing something you aren’t
  • Listen to them about what they tell you
  • If you like the guy and have no idea what they’re talking about, that means that what he is doing is *not* innocent awkwardness.
  • If it was innocent awkwardness, he wouldn’t know how to hide it from other men
  • Men who are actually just awkward and bad at understanding boundaries also make *other men* uncomfortable
  • If a man is only making women uncomfortable but not men, that probably means he’s doing it on purpose
  • Take that possibility seriously, and listen to what women tell you about men

tl;dr If you are a man, other men in your circle who are nice to you are creepy towards women. Don’t assume that if something was wrong that you would have noticed; creepy men are good at finding the lines of what other men will tolerate. Listen to women. They know better than you do whether a man is being creepy and threatening towards women; if they think something is wrong, listen and find out why. Don’t give predatory dudes who are nice to you cover to keep hurting women.

Abuse is about control.

An abuser doesn’t always need shouting or physical intimidation like throwing things or grabbing in order to control someone. Abuse can be present without those behaviours.

An abuser can talk calmly and even use a friendly tone of voice or a progressive Consent Culture vocabulary and still be abusive, because the abuse lies in infringing on someone’s autonomy.

If a peer relationship feels abusive but you’re doubting if it’s Really Abuse, look at whether each person is making choices about their own bodies, schedules, activities, and external relationships.

A boundary is about your own body and life, not someone else’s - it’s “I don’t want to do X thing with you” and not “I don’t want you to do Y thing at all even if it does not involve me.” Someone making choices that override your autonomy, even “for your own good”, is not allowing you to have boundaries.

If you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone because they do Y thing that doesn’t involve you, that’s your choice. You can simply end the relationship, or you can say, “Is Y important to you? Because it makes me uncomfortable,” and have an honest conversation about conflicting needs/preferences to see if a relationship is possible.

But there’s a problem when one person says to their peer, “Stop Y thing that doesn’t involve me, or I will do something to punish you,” or even “You’re not allowed to do Y anymore, I don’t like it.” You don’t get to make choices for other people.

I think one of the fears that comes up when you talk about setting and respecting very firm boundaries is that someone is going to game the system.  That they’re going to claim that every one of their dislikes is an absolute hard limit, and find ways to argue that they have a boundary against not getting their way in everything.  And every time you try to make some kind of argument about which boundaries are unusual-but-reasonable and which are just them being a tiny dictator, they’re going to say “so you’re deciding which of my boundaries you’re okay with violating?”

In my experience, this fear is… totally well-founded and the only solution is to stop being friends with people who do that.  Sorry.

(I could add something here about “it’s not spite, this is to help both of you be safe since you clearly have incompatible needs,” but it’s totally spite.)