It all starts with establishing clear boundaries for yourself. When you have those, it’s easy to see when people cross them.
Of course, when it comes to having personal boundaries and having those boundaries respected by others, it isn’t always that simple. Fortunately, there are actions that can be taken to help deal with someone who isn’t respecting your boundaries, whether they are a close friend or loved one, or the person you share a cubicle with.
To help you get started, I’ve outlined some steps below on how to effectively deal with those who tend to violate your boundaries.
Establish the “who” of the violation
Every situation of boundary-violation is different, and the who of who is involved is a very important piece of information we need for us to make the best decision of our wellbeing.
Friends who don’t respect boundaries
This one can be tough. When it is a friend violating our boundary, we sometimes feel inclined to give them a hall-pass because they’re our friend. Unfortunately, avoiding the situation usually creates more long-term trouble (and is common people-pleasing behavior) than just addressing the issue as it comes up.
I once had a friend violate a few boundaries of mine, and I knew I had to handle the situation immediately in a calm and responsive way. I quickly let her know that her actions were completely not cool with me, and I wouldn’t tolerate that behavior in our friendship. A few years ago, I would have let the violation eat me alive, leave me worried and frantic at the thought of, how could someone do this to me? It must’ve been something I did.
At the end of the day, we have to remember that it is our responsibility to tell those closest to us what behavior is okay and what is not okay.
When you communicate your boundary to your violating friend, their response is a good indicator of the strength of your relationship. If they continue to violate and make you feel like a terrible person for speaking up, perhaps it’s time to find a new friend.
When a family member violates your boundaries
Gulp. If you thought to deal with boundary-violating friends sounded intimidating, the family can seem even scarier. I promise you, communicating your boundaries to a family member is like ripping off a band-aid. Just do it once and get it over with.
Communicate with love and make sure to let them know how their actions are making you feel. For an even more significant impact, I suggest starting your sentence with, “I feel frustrated when asked to do…” instead of “You make me so mad when you…”
Fortunately, most family members are coming from a place of love and support (unless you’re dealing with a narcissistic parent), and might not be aware that they’re violating your boundaries. Again, it’s the same deal with a boundary-violating friend – it’s your responsibility to communicate your unhappiness with their behavior.
I am fortunate to have an incredibly supportive family, but there were times I certainly had to let them know when I was uncomfortable fulfilling their requests. As the communicator of the family, I’ve been tossed crap to deal with and communicate on their behalf, and at one point I made it quite clear that I would no longer invest time or energy into a business that wasn’t directly mine.
What’s ironic is that because I used to be a people-pleaser, I would comply with these wishes and thrust myself into other people’s business and lives where I wasn’t invited, ultimately making me the boundary-violator at the end of the day. Shit.
Along this same line, I know a friend whose aunt-in-law asked her how much money she makes. My friend quite simply told her, I don’t feel comfortable answering your question because I don’t see how it contributes anything to our relationship or our conversation. Boom.
Dealing with a disrespectful co-worker
Before we dive into this one, I will say it’s important to use personal discretion here and consider the type of violation happening. If it is something that personally makes you feel threatened or uncomfortable, please do not hesitate to call on the proper parties like Human Resources or your manager.
Co-workers that overstep our boundaries can be tricky waters to navigate because well, you work with them, and are expected to continue to work with them.
For situations like this, I like to suggest starting with protecting your personal energy, especially if you consider yourself an empath. Start with simply taking a step back from the person, physically.
When you find yourself engaged in a confrontation or stand-off of some kind, physically stepping back can create more space between the two of you and send signals to the offending party that you’re feeling uncomfortable in the situation. If this isn’t enough, crossing your arms or wrapping a sweater or scarf around your chest can help to protect your precious energy and create more of a physical barrier between the two of you.
If boundary-violations continue to arise (again, ones that aren’t sexual harassment or abuse of any kind), consider chatting with your boss or a trusted co-worker about the best way to move forward in a professional manner.
Checklist for managing boundary violation
- Communicate how you feel, citing specific examples and starting the sentence with I instead of You
- If in-person, take a step back from the conversation, literally
- Wear a sweater or scarf to protect your vulnerable energy
- Call on the proper authorities, especially if you’re feeling threatened in any way
- Pour your energy into those who actively respect your boundaries and de-prioritize spending energy on those who don’t
- Re-assess the situation over time – has the person doing the violating positively changed their behavior towards you to fulfill your request?
- When applicable, stay calm and focus on responding, not reacting
When someone crosses your boundaries
It’s hard to uncover when someone is crossing your boundaries, more importantly how to deal with the violator, if you don’t wear your boundaries actually exist. Where is it that people are crossing the line and how does that make you feel? Having a sense of the areas of life that are being invaded by others is a very important step in learning how to deal with people who are perpetually violating your space, thoughts, emotions, etc.
To accomplish this, I want you to think back to a time when you didn’t speak up or express your opinion when something didn’t feel quite right. Where did you feel that violation in your body?
In my book, Boundaries with Soul, I talk about how I feel my boundary-violation detector shows up right in the pit of my stomach, now referred to as my Nauseated Knots. It’s important to first understand our overstepped personal boundaries if we’d like to make a change in our lives and handle the violator in a calm, respectful, and constructive manner.
By beginning to feel around for your current boundary lines, you can bring more awareness to the times when something feels off.
The next time you begin to feel uneasy, I invite you to take a look at what’s going on.
Where do you feel the discomfort?
Who is involved?
Is there a boundary being violated?
If so, what’s the next best step in moving forward with clear communication?
Examples of boundary violations
- Expecting something of others just because you did something for them
- Assuming you know what’s best for someone without taking their emotions or opinions into consideration
- Blatantly ignoring someone’s request
- Helping someone without first checking if the other party actually wants help
- Passing along unsolicited advice or suggestions on how someone should live their life
- Asking personal questions when they’re not necessary for the relationship
At the end of the day, dealing with intrusive people is never easy and every situation is different, but taking a stand in your own personal happiness is always worth it. If you find yourself still having trouble starting any of the suggestions above, I invite you to take a look at your beliefs around what you’re worthy of.
Sometimes, a gentle reminder that we are deserving of love and respect is enough to encourage change.