You Don’t Have To Explain Your Boundaries

by Amber Leventry

I’m intuitive and hyper-aware of my surroundings at all times — yay for PTSD and trauma responses! In some ways it’s pretty cool to scan a room, remember the details, and accurately get a vibe on the energy of the people I’m around. On the flip side, it’s exhausting, and when the vibe sits like a rock in my gut, my Spidey Sense prepares me to fight, flee, or — ugh — set a boundary.

Boundaries are hard, because they indicate a need to set self-preserving limits in order to maintain a respectful and healthy relationship. And OMFG, that’s a lot of work. Whether we’re able to read energy or are listening and reading the words coming out of people’s mouths, we can’t cancel or avoid everyone. We need to find ways to navigate tricky and sometimes toxic people in our families, workplace, and friend circles. What’s more, we can set boundaries and stick to them without explaining them.

Our kids are notorious for pushing our buttons and testing the limits we set for them. “But why!?” they’ll whine. We don’t hesitate to respond with, “Because I said so!” or “The answer is no!” Sometimes I’ll offer an explanation or alternative time to do said thing they desire, but often the answer is what it is. We need to put that kind of energy into dealing with everyone in our lives.

Sure, there will be resistance, and really toxic folks will show their true colors when they aren’t given the power to act the way they want. And some people will become defensive, but that doesn’t mean we need to make them feel better when we express our discomfort.

Cisgender, straight white males really don’t like to be corrected or given boundaries; between their egos and the cishet privilege that has prevented them from needing to understand issues that influence queer, BIPOC, and female folks, they either laugh off a boundary or get angry. Their reactions to boundaries are usually Why can’t you take a joke? or You’re a bitch. Classy.

I don’t owe you an explanation about anything, Chad, including the following: my pronouns, why your racist and misogynistic jokes aren’t funny, why I don’t want you to stand so close, why I can’t help you with that project, why I don’t want to listen to you complain about your wife, why I’m not comfortable with the way you speak to me or to women or about women, or why you need to talk less and listen more.

Cishet males — especially the white ones — have had enough time walking around society without explanation, without being questioned, and without the need to prove they belong. I won’t sugar-coat my disapproval to make them less accountable, and I won’t tolerate aggressive responses. I will suggest therapy.

I purposely avoid most cishet males, but there are plenty of cishet females and queer folks with whom I set boundaries — healthy relationships are for everyone. So we’re clear, boundaries aren’t bad. Direct communication isn’t rude, and honesty should be preferred. Not all confrontation is contentious, and saying no can be healthy.

I’m getting better about saying no to things, and it feels good. I still say yes to plenty of work and favors and have stretched myself thin, but I tend to only say yes to things I really want to do — and even then it may come with a warning about when I’m available versus not. I won’t do things out of obligation, but there is a difference between responsibility and a feeling of self-imposed expectations. This means I’m proactive with my communication; I work with bosses and clients when I need help, time off, or extensions because I can’t do all of the things all of the time. So I say so, rather than letting responsibilities slip or working myself into exhaustion and unhealthy mindsets.

This isn’t just about making “me time,” though that’s fine too if saying no is part of your self-care; for me it’s about self-worth and demanding — not asking for — respect. It’s about making my valuable time as meaningful as possible. And I don’t feel bad about it. Mostly.

Knowing what I need usually isn’t the problem; it’s the fear of someone’s response or judgement of my needs, so I also prepare a reason or justification for my boundary. While I know I’m doing the right thing, I still feel guilty at times for setting limits and boundaries. I wish I didn’t care about the response and potential judgement and questioning of my intentions or worth.

When I have to tell someone no, refuse an invitation, need to change plans, or declare something isn’t sitting right with me, I’m getting more comfortable with just stating the fact and boundary without giving a lengthy explanation. I don’t need to justify or prove my needs and wants. I’m not a failure or disappointment for knowing my limits and asking those around me to respect the boundaries I set, even if they are sudden or different than they were a few weeks or months ago.

People often don’t like boundaries because it means they can’t take advantage of you anymore. And you don’t have to negotiate your terms or give a why. Draw the line and hold folks to it. No one is entitled to the details of my discomfort, and no one is entitled to yours.