How to Set Personal Boundaries

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Growing up as a kid with social anxiety, I was afraid to speak up to people. Even saying ‘hi’ or initiating casual conversation felt so burdensome to me, I couldn’t imagine stepping up to more serious things like saying no and being firm with my boundaries to people, especially to those who hold positions of authority like teachers or older family members.  

Saying ‘no’ will ignite uncomfortable emotions from other people; they could be disappointed or even mad. And failing to please people used to make me feel really guilty and bad about myself. So instead of having the courage to be firm with my boundaries, I broke my own walls off and tried to play it safe. Well, it was only a temporary safe period, because the lack of boundaries will only lead to more problems later. 

First of all, what exactly is a boundary?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, boundary is defined as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent”.

In the light of our everyday lives, personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits. (guidetopsychology.com)

In Islam, the concept of boundaries is clearly defined. Starting from the main and most crucial aspect of our faith (eeman) which is having the correct aqeedah, there are clear guidelines that ensure people to stay in the right path and prevent people from falling into shirk. There is also the concept of halal and haram. Even in our daily life, there are so many daleels which emphasizes the importance of respecting personal boundaries. 

Generally,  personal boundaries can be divided into three aspects:

 • Physical Boundaries

“O you who believe! Enter not houses other than your own, until you have asked permission and greeted those in them; that is better for you, in order that you may remember” [Surah An-Noor 24:27]

Rasulullah ﷺ said: “It is not permissible for a Muslim to look inside any house until he has been given permission.” 

Narrated by al-Bukhaari in al-Adab al-Mufrad (1093); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani.

These ayah and hadith above teach us to respect the physical boundaries. Even if we are really close to someone, we still have to ask permission before entering their home/room because it’s their personal space. Physical boundaries also include the boundaries that we set to our bodies, our stuff, and other physical aspects of our life.

Another example pertaining to physical boundaries is the act of hugging might be a usual affectionate gesture within your family. However, within friends or acquaintances, the act of hugging has its own boundaries that vary for each person. Establish your personal physical boundaries and respect others’ boundaries too.

Religious and Mental Boundaries

1. Say (O Muhammad ﷺ to these Mushrikun and Kafirun): “O Al-Kafirun (disbelievers in Allah, in His Oneness, in His Angels, in His Books, in His Messengers, in the Day of Resurrection, and in Al-Qadar, etc.)!

2. “I worship not that which you worship,

3. “Nor will you worship that which I worship.

4. “And I shall not worship that which you are worshipping.

5. “Nor will you worship that which I worship.

6. “To you be your religion, and to me my religion (Islamic Monotheism).” 

(Surah Al-Kaafirun : 1-6)

This surah is the perfect example pertaining to respecting mental, especially religious boundaries. This surah talks about the event in which some of the disbelievers asked Rasulullah ﷺ to switch religion with them for a year. It was obviously a very disrespectful action and Allah ‘azza wa jall sent down this surah as a warning for the Muslims to be firm with our religion, while at the same time respecting other people’s religion and not crossing the boundaries.

In this life, we will meet so many people from different religions, race, country, etc. Those people might have different religious values, tradition, insight, and other personal beliefs that they hold firmly too. It is important for us to be respectful and kind to each other despite our differences. It is also imperative for us to establish boundaries regarding our values, thoughts, etc. 

Emotional Boundaries

Abdullah ibn Amr reported: Rasulullah ﷺ said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.”

(Source: Musnad Ahmad 7033)

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: According to the saheeh hadeeth (authentic narration):

“Whoever has wronged his brother with regard to his blood, his wealth or his honour, let him come and set matters straight before there comes a Day on which there will be no dirhams and no dinars, only good deeds and bad deeds, and if he has good deeds (they will be taken and given to the one whom he wronged), otherwise some of the bad deeds of the one whom he wronged will be taken and added to his burden, then he will be thrown into the Fire.”

Islam is a peaceful religion which emphasizes the importance of good conducts and respect for people’s rights. One of the main parts of Islamic etiquette is to maintain a good relationship with people and avoid enmities. Asserting our emotional boundaries help us to protect and improve our interpersonal relationships with people. Be clear with what you feel comfortable with emotionally. Don’t hesitate to speak up when people treat you wrong or make you feel threatened. 

Why is it important to know and set our boundaries?

“Everyone is in the middle of a life story. And your story is shaped by what you’re saying yes to and what you’re saying no to.” 

– Sarri Gilman

Each of us have been raised in our own unique upbringing which shaped us into the person that we are today. We all have our own set of values, ideals, goals, and other things that create our own unique identity. Boundaries are a part of our identity and self-worth. 

Understanding and establishing our boundaries is an integral part of our self-care. The lack of boundaries can be detrimental to our relationship with ourselves, as well as our relationship with others. Dr. Tracy Hutchinson, a family therapist, explained that feelings of confusion, anxiety, or feeling drained around a person can all be signs that our boundaries have been violated. 

People need to know our boundaries and we need to state our boundaries in a clear yet assertive way to them. Setting up our boundaries allow people to respect and treat us better. It enables people to know what we like or feel comfortable with versus what we dislike or feel threatened with. 

When we with-hold ourselves from establishing our boundaries, it could lead to the feeling of guilt, resentment, and other negative emotions that will impact us negatively in the long run. So many people chose to stay silent when their boundaries being intruded only to let their grudge and resentment baggage become heavier each day.

Ibn Umar reported: Rasulullah ﷺ said, “Forgive each other and drop the grudges between yourselves.”

(Source: Musnad al-Bazzar 1163)

Al-San’ani said, “Grudges are malice, enmity, and hatred. Indeed, they are among the great sins, so let them fall away from your hearts and purify your hearts from them.”

Grudges and resentment damage ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally, even physically. Carsten Wroch, a Psychology professor from Concordia University, in his research found that bitterness can affect metabolism, immune response, and organ function. There is even a new term called post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED) that was caused by prolonged resentment. PTED is a feeling of injustice and disturbing memories that can cause depression, anxiety, and rage. (menshealth.com)

Let us take serious effort into taking care of ourselves, including setting up our boundaries, so we can live a better and healthier life in shaa Allah.

Setting up Effective Boundaries

It might be scary to finally begin setting up our boundaries. Always keep in mind the positive thought that even though it’s hard at first, but the discomfort only lasts for a short period compared to the peace of mind and safety that we’ll get after, bi idhnillah. It’s always better to start any habit from small actions. Here are some examples of the sentences we could use to set up our boundaries:

• Physical Boundaries

“Yes, you can borrow my books but please take care of it well and return it to me before the weekend because I need it for my class next week.”

“I’m sorry but we can’t have a hangout at my house now because I had some chores to do. We can hang out at another time in shaa Allah.”

• Religious and Mental Boundaries

“Your view is interesting but I think we can agree to disagree on this topic.”

“We don’t tolerate dishonesty in this house. You can tell me about the truth and we can work on the problem.”

• Emotional Boundaries

“I’m sorry but I don’t feel comfortable talking about my childhood. We can talk about other things.”

“I don’t like the way you treated me this morning, your words are mean and it hurt my feelings. Please be more respectful and use kind words.”

One of the keys to set effective boundaries is to be consistent with it. Some people might test our boundaries over time just to make sure whether we’re being serious with it or not (this is not a good thing and we should avoid doing this, but sometimes it happens right?). So being consistent with our boundaries makes people become used to it, it will prevent people from breaching our boundaries next time in shaa Allah. 

Another important element is for us to be assertive when we’re establishing our boundaries. Being assertive means that we are being polite while firmly asserting our boundaries. Use clear yet kind words. Choose the right intonation and respectful gestures. Assertiveness will hopefully make it easy for people to accept our boundaries and appreciate us more in shaa Allah.

At some point, there will be someone who doesn’t respect and keep breaching our boundaries. It is highly advisable to consult with your mental health professional for guidance. Don’t let it stay too long, make du’aa to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and try to find a solution to fix the problems.

The process of acknowledging and setting up our boundaries is not an easy one. It will somehow be hard at first. Have the courage and strength to go through it because this process is a catalyst for our own growth and goodness. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala bless us throughout this journey to reclaim our self-worth and to have a peaceful and healthier life. Barakallahu feekum ❤

Sources:

Good Boundaries Free You by Sarri Gilman | TED Talks

https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-personal-boundaries-how-do-i-get-some/

http://www.guidetopsychology.com/boundaries.htm

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/romantically-attached/201608/4-ways-set-and-keep-your-personal-boundaries%3famp

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/set-boundaries#how-to-communicate-and-set-your-boundaries

https://www.menshealth.com/trending-news/a19532552/let-go-grudge/

https://islamqa.info/en/answers/235658/guidelines-on-seeking-permission-to-enter

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