30th March 2021 • My Family Our Needs
This week marks World Autism Awareness Week (29th March-4th April) and MFON columnist, Aoife Casson, who shares her open and honest accounts of living with Asperger’s, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dysgraphia, talks boundaries and the importance of setting them for self-care.
Why boundaries are important
Boundaries are the invisible barriers we put up to protect ourselves from the outside world. They’re the rules that say, “this is what I’m comfortable with and this is the line you can’t cross”. Most of us set boundaries when we enter a new situation, such as starting a new job, going on a first date or moving in with flatmates. However, it’s never too late to set a boundary, especially if you’re still working out what they look like to you. The important thing is to remember that you’re not being selfish by setting them. This is a form of self-care. And everyone deserves to feel safe and comfortable in their lives.
Boundaries are important for several reasons. They help your friends and family know how best to support you, and where you stand on a variety of things including socialising, physical contact, doing favours and more. They also help you define what you are and aren’t ok with and give you the power to say no. At first, boundaries may sound like a negative thing, like you’re shutting yourself off from people. In fact, the opposite is true. Clear boundaries are the foundation of any positive relationship or interaction, and they work both ways! By being clear about your boundaries, you’re inviting the other person to open up about theirs.
Autism and boundary setting
Setting boundaries is a vital part of self-care, especially when you have extra support needs. As an Asperger’s person with multiple learning difficulties, setting boundaries means I don’t have to explain myself to every person I meet. My boundaries are non-negotiable, and people need to respect that, regardless of whether or not they understand them. As a disabled person, your boundaries may be different from a neurotypical or able-bodied individual and that’s ok. There is no right or wrong way to look after yourself. Self-care can look like many things. On one day, it could be having a lie-in and watching your favourite film. On another day, it could be saying no to an invitation or a hug from a family member because you’re not feeling up to it.
If you’re finding it difficult setting boundaries, or you’re feeling guilty for saying no, try thinking of a close friend or loved one. You care about them and want them to feel safe, happy and respected, right? And if they told you that something you did made them feel unsafe, unhappy or disrespected, you’d stop right away, wouldn’t you? Your friend’s boundaries are just as important as the ones you set for yourself. You deserve to feel just as safe, happy and respected as they do.
Boundaries designed around you
Take some time to decide what boundaries are important in your life. What do you need to feel truly yourself? What’s happening in your life right now that’s preventing you from feeling that? Now think about how you can implement them. It could be simply removing yourself from a situation, or a polite but firm “no, I don’t feel comfortable doing that”. Try practising saying no in the mirror or with a friend. Don’t explain yourself or make up reasons for the boundary, just let them know that it’s there. This will make you feel more confident when you do it in a real situation. And remember, if people start feeling defensive or uncomfortable, that’s on them, not you. You deserve to feel comfortable just like everyone else.
Whatever you do, remember to congratulate yourself for setting them. This isn’t easy, and practice makes perfect, but ‘future you’ will be grateful!
Visit the National Autistic Society for more information about how to get involved with the awareness week this week and for links to helpful resources.