Out of Bounds: Dealing with People Who Break Boundaries

Most people have a sense of what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to respecting boundaries.  However, we are bound to find individuals who don’t.  These people are abusive…and if we don’t deal with them properly, they will continue to break boundaries time and time again.

As much as we strive for healthy relationships, we inevitably encounter individuals who are bullies, toxic or just plain manipulative. Some of these people KNOW what they are doing, but often, most “just don’t get it:”  They have little-to-no self-awareness and feel that they are fully entitled or appropriate in their behavior.  And what’s worse is that they frequently get away with it because others don’t stand up to them.  This enables boundary breakers and convinces them that their behavior is acceptable.  Here’s a news flash: It ISN’T.

The best thing you can do is firmly establish boundaries.  You’ll feel better about yourself and your relationship.  Further, you won’t have to succumb to their inappropriate behavior over and over again:

  1. Know Who You Are Dealing with: The first step in this process is to identify those individuals who don’t respect your boundaries.  Doing so will keep you on the look-out for times that boundaries need to be reinforced or put into place.
  2. Tune-in: Start paying attention to how these people typically break boundaries.  Some questions to ask: Are they pushy?  Do they ask questions you feel uncomfortable answering?  Do they discuss things with you that are inappropriate?  Do they disregard your wishes or needs?  Do they always prioritize their needs before yours?
  3. Trust Your Gut: If you aren’t sure as to whether or not a boundary is being broken, stop thinking and start feeling.  Does something feel awkward, uncomfortable or wrong?  Can you feel an adrenaline rush, but aren’t sure why?  Do you feel nauseous during the discussion?  At times, our guts have better listening skills than our ears.  If you can feel a visceral reaction to the conversation at hand, you can be pretty sure that something isn’t right.
  4. Think First, Speak Second: Once you realize boundaries are being broken, think about how you want to react.  Reacting without thinking through your position and what you want as an outcome can lead to an unresolved situation, potential “room for discussion” or more broken boundaries down the line.
  5. State Your Position: Tell the person who is breaking a boundary that they are indeed breaking a boundary.  Sugar-coating it…hemming and hawing…playing nice…politely saying no…often doesn’t work with people who perpetually break boundaries.  Unfortunately, many of these boundary breakers don’t have a clue as to the fact that they are crossing a line.  The more obvious you can be, the better.
  6. Don’t Back Down: If the person continues to push you on a topic, tell them the topic “isn’t up for discussion.”  The more you stand your ground, the less likely the person will continue to try to push you on things in the future.  No means no.  Inappropriate is inappropriate.  And, boundaries are boundaries.

The more you set boundaries, the easier it will get. Do you have boundary breakers in your life?  How do you handle the situation?
[ad#Get-Real]

Share

, , , , , ,

  • Sunnysouth

    My family never had boundaries and I was expected to fix everything in my family from a very young age, which lead to anxiety and depression as I got older. They refuse to admit it is a dysfunctional family. Now I have an in law who also grew up in a dysfunctional home with no boundaries and I am having a lot of problems with her bossing everyone around and siblings, and often parents, who do not show me respect or any thought. The problem with the inlaw is that no one want to get them angry because they have a bad temper. I am ready to just bolt.

  • Sasha

    People can break boundaries without being abusive. My mother breaks boundaries all the time, but not to be mean or manipulative; rather, to meet her own needs for attention, affection, belonging, and feeling needed. She admits she has never had a good grasp of social rules even as a child. I think this is harder to deal with because The boundary-breaker isn’t a jerk. She truly wants to be helpful but damages relationships and causes frustration with her constant meddling. It is a repeated, though not enjoyable, conversation I have with her asking her to back off and respect my wishes in my own home. My husband and I are drawn to the brink at times.

  • M

    Calling someone abusive because they “don’t get it” is unkind.

    Do them and yourself a service, and have discussions to help them understand.

    But calling someone abusive implies malice on their part, and in my experience, people who are breaking boundaries are often trying to be helpful, and other people let them because they don’t realize how much that hurts the relationship when they don’t set their own boundaries.

    So – not really JUST the fault of the boundary breakers in a lot of cases – it’s the fault of people who don’t draw lines when lines need to be drawn.

    It’s a difficult area because you often can’t explain exactly what the problem is.

  • Thinblueline

    Leave a message…

    For years i did a lot of inner child work and it was very difficult
    and emotionally draining because, and i need to be evasive here , i had a
    very traumatic childhood so i had to fend for myself really young(9 yrs
    old) and by the time i was 13 i had already been blessed with being
    able to read people or what i call “people watch” and more often then
    not if i “sized you up” i was almost never wrong i knew what boundaries
    were and i set them right away and most of the time it was out of fear
    because i was violated as a kid and i didn’t like to be touched “at all”
    in any way whatsoever so even though i would set boundaries with people
    it was always done with anger and as a result of my upbringing i became
    an alcoholic because i didn’t want to dig up all that “stuff” from my
    past but i knew i had to, so i sought out therapy i have been in
    therapy ever since ( off and on for almost 20 yrs although i never
    missed more then 3 months at most) anyway i’m sober now and i go to A A
    meetings and there are some really selfish people who are pretty sick
    and out for themselves, i’m the type of guy who reaches out to people (
    phone/text)all the time and i gravitate toward those with long term
    sobriety , i typically talk to people that i laid back and reserved and
    like clockwork i’m interupted daily one day i was talking to this one
    guy who i admire and this woman came up and decided she was going to
    jump her way into our conversation and it really caught me off guard and
    pi**ed me off so i wasn’t having it, ” can you excuse us plase we were
    talking about my uncle who has cancer” she was blown away i have no
    problem setting boundaries and my wife will tell you if i have something
    to say i’m going to say it however i don’t always think before i open
    my mouth(must be the irish in me LOL)anyway i have a self esteem today
    that evwen i’m proud of , years ago i was a tortured soul with a damaged
    and mangled self worth, not anymore , there are to many people ( of
    course my lovely wife) to name, God bless you all and i thank you.

    Rich

  • Guest

    For years i did a lot of inner child work and it was very difficult
    and emotionally draining because, and i need to be evasive here , i had a
    very traumatic childhood so i had to fend for myself really young(9 yrs
    old) and by the time i was 13 i had already been blessed with being
    able to read people or what i call “people watch” and more often then
    not if i “sized you up” i was almost never wrong i knew what boundaries
    were and i set them right away and most of the time it was out of fear
    because i was violated as a kid and i didn’t like to be touched “at all”
    in any way whatsoever so even though i would set boundaries with people
    it was always done with anger and as a result of my upbringing i became
    an alcoholic because i didn’t want to dig up all that “stuff” from my
    past but i knew i had to, so i sought out therapy i have been in
    therapy ever since ( off and on for almost 20 yrs although i never
    missed more then 3 months at most) anyway i’m sober now and i go to A A
    meetings and there are some really selfish people who are pretty sick
    and out for themselves, i’m the type of guy who reaches out to people (
    phone/text)all the time and i gravitate toward those with long term
    sobriety , i typically talk to people that i laid back and reserved and
    like clockwork i’m interrupted daily one day i was talking to this one
    guy who i admire and this woman came up and decided she was going to
    jump her way into our conversation and it really caught me off guard and
    pi**ed me off so i wasn’t having it, ” can you excuse us plase we were
    talking about my uncle who has cancer” she was blown away i have no
    problem setting boundaries and my wife will tell you if i have something
    to say i’m going to say it however i don’t always think before i open
    my mouth(must be the irish in me LOL)anyway i have a self esteem today
    that evwen i’m proud of , years ago i was a tortured soul with a damaged
    and mangled self worth, not anymore , there are to many people ( of
    course my lovely wife) to name, God bless you all and i thank you.

    Rich

  • Denise

    I was divorced several years ago and now have a child with my new spouse.
    My ex husband has married my new husbands sister, so he is my brother in law and my baby’s uncle.
    I have tried numerous times to keep them out of my life, but due to the fact that
    my new husbands sister wants to see our baby, they come over once a week…usually unnanounced.
    I do not know how to express to them how much I dislike their visits and do not want them in my life without offending the entire extended family.
    I don’t want my ex to be a part of my new life…how do I handle this?????

  • Digja

    Thankfully I dont belong to this culture. Putting boundaries on others is actually disrepectful in my culture. If you have to refuse someone, You must understand, explain and respect. Flat “No” without much reason and you will be disliked very soon.

    My sis stayed in the US for a few years and came back and started behaving just like this. She was putting boundaries on others too often. No one wanted to spend time her anymore. She was ready to respect others boundaries, if they had any. But the relationship was clearly missing.

    Gradually we explained the culture differences and she accepted. Now she follows 2 patterns. One for the US- Boundary-driven, self protecting people, the other for us, relationship-driven who are not afraid of people.

    • BrokenReality

      You are a sad person if you feel that setting boundaries equates to being afraid of people. We believe in dignity and respect; allowing someone to trample on you without the ability to set limits is akin to rape; but as you point out this is America and rape isn’t something we tolerate when it occurs.

  • goddress@gmail.com

    thank you and advice please….

  • B

    I still live at home with my parents right now, and I no longer allow my dad to touch me because when he used to hug me he’d smell my hair and kiss my neck, and when I told him not to do it, he’d laugh and shove me and tell me to stop overreacting and to just go along with it. So now when he makes a move to hug me or touch me, I dodge, and when I do that, he starts hollering, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” and he also says very threateningly, “Come here!” And a few times in the past, for other similar reasons, he has chased me around the house, held my arms, and pushed me into corners so he can intimidate me. I know I should leave, but it’s so hard because both parents turn on a dime and become comically aggressive whenever they get the smallest whiff of my independence, and I’ve grown up with this my whole life and it’s difficult to trust my ability to live on my own. I feel like I can’t tell anyone, because the people who know my parents think they are so charming and nice, and the people who don’t know them just tell me to move out, and I guess I’m not ready to leave yet.

    • brettblumenthal

      B. I obviously do not know you or your family, but it doesn’t sound like a healthy situation, for any of you. I don’t know how old you are, but if you are over 18, I’d highly recommend moving out. Your safety is important. Trust me, you know how to live on your own if you are 18.

  • Pingback: Manipulative Behaviors | Self Development

  • Ena

    My mother breaks all boundaries. My husband and I are currently expecting our first child – we had a miscarriage back in October so this is a really sensitive subject and situation for us. This has been a complicated pregnancy and I’m only 4 months along. My mother does not respect that we are a married couple and there are things we need to keep to ourselves. If I don’t tell her I’m going to be gone from work she freaks out and calls the whole world. We’re in and out of the hospital, but at this point I can’t handle this stress of having to give her a full report on my whereabouts. I’m not going to alarm her with something if it hasn’t happened. She says she’s my mother and has a right to know, but doesn’t respect that my husband is going to be there by my side.

    My husband and I argue –and she wants to come fix our problems and makes a big deal over something he and I have already discussed and fixed. We just want her to respect and understand that there is a reason why we don’t bother her. It’s not to exclude her or anyone on either side of the family, but we have already gone through the loss of a child. And we don’t want people putting their needs before ours. It might sound selfish, but I’m the one who’s feeling all the complications of this pregnancy – I don’t need someone to be a martyr and make it about them.

    Her behavior puts pressure on my marriage and it’s getting to the point my husband doesn’t want to see my family around us – which is why boundaries need to be set. But how do you establish them when the person breaking them Is victimizing themselves and puts guilt on you?

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.webuzi Peter Webuzi

      Never good to hear a woman say “we had miscarriage” or “we got pregnant”. Clear case of boundary problems.guess that why we are on this forum to start with.

  • Jan Smith

    I was invited to a friends place out of town for christmas lunch and we were all having a lovely time. I made the dessert as I was asked to do..I should have taken notice of the warning signs when my friends long term friend who is very petite size 8 in clothes and small asked if she could sit next to me ..just as I was cutting the dessert up to everyone she brought up the face about a lady I didn;t know in another town who was huge and she apologised to me before she mentioned this the Hitler syndrome I have since read 1% of the population do this..they wait til they feel safe to humiliate you in front of their audience to ridicule me re my weight…after having spent a worrying week before christmas with my handicapped son who is now having seizures I was thrown out of gear with this womans rude comments. I hardly know the lady but she is a sister in law with a friend of mine who lives in my town. both these women have been left money from a huge estate recently so they have no need to give me hell. I am an outgoing person who loves life and I am beginning to think this woman who has never worked and totally spoilt by her now dead husband has a problem with my people skills…having a handicapped son I have had to deal with many people over 30 years and I am used to most people being civilised in conversations. I no longer visit my friend out of town but then I though maybe this woman is jealous I am also friends with her long term friend. this even upset me for over a year and can;t understand why people do this in public she hardly knows me. there is also another story attached to this regarding the estate she got money from as my sister in law should have received something but didn’tbecause of this nasty woman who manipulated an old lady into letting her money go to her and her sister in law.

  • amber

    Teresa, when she asks to take your dog for a walk, tell her very politely “no thank you”. Don’t give her any reasons, because that only opens up a debate. If your neighbor asks why, just say, “I got other plans for my dog today.” Don’t tell her what the plans are, because that’s all she needs to know. Keep it general. She may be thinking she’s doing you a favor by walking your dog, and if she is, then she won’t mind you saying

    “No thank you, I have other plans for my dog today”.

    If she keeps pressing after that and wanting to know why, then she is breaking a boundary with you. Don’t be tempted to tell her the reason no matter what. It feels abrupt, but it works on boundary violators, because they want clear, non-ambiguous messages. When we try to give reasons to let them down gently, they don’t read it correctly, and think you are giving them another problem for them to solve.

    EXAMPLE GONE WRONG:

    You: “No thank you, I have other plans for my dog today.”

    Neighbor: What?

    You: (lie to be polite) “He’s been sick and throwing up all morning so I want to keep him inside until I figure out what it is?”

    Neighbor: “Let me come in and sit with him for a while and I bet I could figure out why he’s sick. Can I see him? Did you try….”(believes you and wants to now offer to help out with figuring out your dogs sickness and offers to come into your house to watch your dog).

    Don’t LIE. Don’t give fake reason, because it opens up new can of worms.

    EXAMPLE DONE RIGHT:

    Just say AGAIN and AGAIN each time the neighbor asks why,

    “no thank you” and “No need for you to be concerned, I got it covered, but thank you very much for the offer.”