a person reflecting on their boundaries by open water

Setting and maintaining boundaries can feel really uncomfortable. You might feel afraid of how someone will respond if you express what you want or need. When people respect our boundaries it means they care about us and want us to feel comfortable and safe.

We also might find ourselves in situations where we have unintentionally crossed someone’s boundaries or, someone has set a new boundary with us. It’s normal to feel awkward or embarrassed in the moment. How you respond to the situation is important. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate you respect the other person.

Below are some tips on recognizing boundaries.

Spend time learning your cues.

Trust your gut. When our boundaries are being challenged or crossed our bodies raise the alarm through physical and emotional cues.

  • Physical cues: stomach pain, tensed shoulders, feeling numb, heart racing, shallow or rapid breaths, body shaking or trembling
  • Emotional cues: nervousness, anxiety, anger, sadness, fear, negative self-talk

Take the time to explore and create boundaries

Be mindful and respect other people’s boundaries.

If you’re not sure someone is comfortable with something, check.

Take care not to put pressure on someone to explain their boundaries to you.

  • Pressuring someone can make it hard for them tell you how they truly really feel, which means your attempt at consent is at risk.

Look for verbal and nonverbal cues that someone is uncomfortable: eye contact (looking away or avoidance), body language (tensing up, moving or turning away), topic changes, and direct responses.

Check out our consent cues page for more non-verbal cues to pay attention to.

Respect and celebrate the No’s

Remember someone expressing their boundaries is them being honest about who they are and what they want or need. The boundary might come as a surprise, especially if it is different from before. When this happens it can feel like rejection, which is hard.

Things you can say in the moment:

  • “Okay, that’s totally cool.”
  • “Thanks for letting me know … I totally understand.”
  • “I’m so sorry, I won’t do that again….”
  • “I didn’t realize … I’m sorry … I’ll think about that.”
  • “Thank you for telling me, would it be okay if I checked in with you later?”

Things you can do:

  • Take some time to cool off and be alone.
  • Resist negative self talk. Crossing a boundary does not automatically make you a bad person.
  • Give yourself credit. It takes courage to learn from your mistakes and do better next time.
  • Take time to process why you are embarrassed, discouraged, upset or hurt.
  • Do something that makes you feel good.

Your boundaries may be disrespected and judged.

When you establish boundaries and/or express your boundaries people may get irritated and upset, some may even disrespect your boundaries.

No one should have to defend or debate their boundaries.

You are allowed to determine your limits, and you deserve to have those limits respected.

You will likely make mistakes, and that’s ok.

You may be surprised at how you react to being told a boundary.

  • Take the time to go through what happened, how you handled it, what was going on at the time, and what was on your mind.

Reflect on how it feels to hear “No” and learning that you crossed a boundary.

Learning about our own and other people’s boundaries is ongoing.

Repairing the harm

Acknowledge a boundary has been crossed.

Have a conversation about what that was like for both of you, using “I” statements. Take ownership of your feelings and emotions.

Apologize. For example:

  • “I’m sorry that I …” (be specific, show the person that you understand what they are upset about).
  • “That was wrong of me, I should have ...” (show the person you understand how they feel).
  • “In the future I will ...” (tell the person what you will do from now on)

Sometimes people might need some time to consider whether or not to accept your apology. The person receiving the apology is doesn’t have to accept the apology. It’s important to respect how they choose to move forward.

Check out the Anti-Violence Project’s Blog for more!