Peer Support May 2022
What are boundaries?
Personal Boundaries are rules and limits we set for how we interact with others including how much we give or take in interactions.
They are also an invisible line between ourselves and other people. They keep us from losing our sense of self among others and knowing who we are.
Boundaries & Autism
• Alexithymia may make us unsure of what we are comfortable with until it’s too late
• Taking things at face value may lead to others taking advantage of us
• We tend to have strong empathy and a sense of justice so end up giving too much
Porous Boundaries: Gets too involved, sees other’s problems as their own, risks becoming emotionally enmeshed with others or situations.
Rigid Boundaries: Struggles to trust, share and co-operate, difficulty opening up to others.
Healthy Boundaries: Based on (known personal) values, can communicate needs and limits calmly, can say “no”, can accept “no” from others.
Types of boundary
I don’t want to talk about that topic, it’s very sensitive to me.
I respect that you are Catholic, but I don’t want to join you at mass.
Never hug me from behind, it makes me afraid.
You can ask me for support, but I may not have the energy to help you.
It is never okay for you to look in my handbag.
I don’t think you should be telling me that.
I’m sorry, I have a rule against dating work colleagues.
Please don’t touch my arm, it makes me uncomfortable.
I don’t have capacity to help you until next week.
I disagree with that assessment of the situation.
I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. I would like to take a break and discuss this later.
If you swear/raise your voice at me I will leave this conversation.
I can only stay until 9 PM.
Healthy boundaries set limits, they do not dictate action. They establish the conditions you need to feel safe and good about yourself.
If someone breaks a stated or known boundary that is a major red flag. Withdraw from that person and seek advice from a trustworthy third party.
“Friend” is a broad term. Friendships exist on a wide range of intensities from trusting and loving to acquaintance to “not enemies”.
We often think that friendships depend on shared interests, but actually those just provide the opportunity for friendships to form. In fact friendships survive because of other qualities, which are regulated by healthy boundaries.
Closeness vs Distance
How well do we know each and trust each other (how much do we share)
Energising vs Draining
I generally feel like I have more energy/ happiness after spending time together
Respect vs Disrespect
Treats me in a manner that I would treat them & aligns with my values.
Reciprocity vs Exploitation
If I help them, they would help me also
Openness vs Secrecy
Doesn’t keep important things from me (for the level of closeness)
Is this level of closeness appropriate/comfortable in this situation?
Do I have limits on my time and energy?
Have I set my values and boundaries? Am I sticking to them?
Am I giving or taking too much?
Are they sharing too much/not enough for the level of closeness?
What’s Right for Us
If we know our core values (e.g. Honesty, Family, Personal Space) we can set our boundaries to reflect them.
If we get unsatisfactory answers to the boundary questions we know the friendship is not right for us at that time. Then we can withdraw and /or seek what we want elsewhere.
- Context is crucial: In some contexts (e.g. with a spouse) some boundaries or core value are less important than others.
- Another way to tell if a friendship is right for you is to ask yourself “What do I admire /respect about this person?”- if you can’t find a thing you do then it may be a relationship you don’t want.
- Friendships can form complex networks – some people are only friends so long as they have one friend in common.
- Malicious people will try to cross your boundaries to exert power.
- If we don’t set boundaries early people might overstep them by accident later, causing hurt : If we don’t set boundaries we can end up setting traps.
- If you accidentally transgress a boundary you can later apologise and engage in social repair.
- Autistic people often need to have reasons for doing things and this can be a factor in how we express boundaries.
If NTs talk in such a way to set a boundary without setting a boundary (or say they don’t want something when they do): “I’m sorry I didn’t do X for you. I am not a mind reader, it’s important to me that you communicate clearly if you want something (and I’m not happy that you’re punishing me for not understanding)”
If medical professionals won’t accommodate needs: “This is what I need for my own safety I need to know who you are and who has authorised.”
You can choose to escalate or de-escalate a situation with your choice of language when setting a boundary. Phrases should be personalised and not generalised or a criticism, but still firm:
“It’s important to me that…”
“I respect your feelings, however at this time I need…”
“I’m busy right now but I could meet you at X time later…”
“I don’t find talking to you to be helpful. I won’t be answering anymore messages.”
The assertiveness formula (calmly but clearly): “When you did X it affected me in Y way. In future I would prefer Z outcome.”