People who violate other people’s boundaries are all too common. They may be a relative, your boss, or just an acquaintance with no respect for personal space and privacy.
It feels like they’re everywhere.
Here are valuable tips on how to deal with someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries, as shared by experts.
Cialdini Method Certified Trainer | Author, “Power Up, Power Down: How to Reclaim Control and Make Every Situation a Win/Win“
“No” is a seemingly simple word. As young children, no was a word we used frequently. Toddlers often defiantly say no to their parents but quickly discover that word is not acceptable.
As we get older, it seems that many of us carry that toddler interaction into our belief system: Saying no is inappropriate and impolite.
This internalized belief is why many people struggle with saying no and setting proper personal boundaries at some point or another in their lives.
What are boundaries?
Simply put, boundaries are the limits we set around our time, energy, and money. Boundaries are parameters that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave toward them. They also define how we will respond should those limits be breached.
Boundaries and Power
Boundaries are an essential aspect of power. In fact, they are the “special sauce” in interpersonal power, but there is a distinct difference between power and boundaries. By holding firm to our personal limits, we are defining and establishing our true empowerment. Through maintaining and holding our boundaries, we show the world where we will and will not be moved.
Healthy, defined boundaries give us confidence. They provide us with the freedom to allow ourselves and others to have a voice, be heard, and cultivate trust in relationships. When we can stand in our power, others are given the ability to do the same.
Maintaining our boundary power allows us to maintain a life that we can be proud of and thoroughly enjoy. Then and only then can we use our talents to the fullest and live our purpose.
How to handle a boundary buster
As with all things in life, we will always encounter pressure to allow someone to cross or relinquish an established boundary. This influence to yield our boundary power comes in two forms: internal and external forces.
Internal pressures are those we place on ourselves and are strong motivators for many of us when setting aside our self-imposed personal limits.
Fear of anger, unresolved loss/grief, and fear of the unknown, change, guilt, and abandonment are reasons one might discard defined boundaries. Many of these causes result from limiting beliefs about our worth or messages reinforced in relationships or past situations.
External pressure comes from others telling or persuading us about what to do or how to act. Again, acquiescing our boundaries to external forces may spring from obligation, fear, and guilt.
Both types of pressure can be strong influencers and, at times, are valid and deserve our consideration. But often, these forces are ways in which we either self-sabotage or allow other people to exert control over the power we’ve created to safeguard our “boundary lines.”
A lack of clear boundaries invites others to be overly intrusive and often creates a situation from which it’s challenging to recover. Likewise, setting boundaries that are too fluid or permeable may keep us and others from being accountable and, in many cases, siphons away our power.
Taking time to do the work needed to ensure boundaries are adequately defined, communicated, and defended will serve us well. If this topic of boundaries is an entirely new concept, keep in mind that it is a process and does get easier with practice. Taking the personal boundary inventory is an excellent place to start.
How to stop a boundary buster
Let’s say you’re leaving work Friday at 5pm when a coworker tries to dump her work on you so she can go out to town for the weekend.
Here’s what to do:
- Ask yourself: How does this make you feel? Maybe you feel guilty not taking on work others ask you to do. Will you say yes outwardly but be internally resentful?
- Examine the symptom: Are you saying yes to something you want to say no to?
- Identify the root cause: What in your past or childhood taught you to relinquish your boundaries? Were other people (family, friends) asking you to help them out of binds they’d gotten themselves into and, if you didn’t, they threatened to withdraw their affections?
- Identify the need: Fear of abandonment? Guilt? What is causing you to allow this person to step all over your boundaries and give your power away?
- Respond, don’t react: Take a deep breath to “collect yourself.” Then respond with something like, “Meg, it sounds like you had a tough week with that unexpected client problem. I understand you are in a tight spot, but I won’t be able to help you on such short notice. I’d be happy to help next time if you ask at least two workdays in advance.”
Communicate your boundaries
Clear, open communication is the foundation of healthy boundary-setting. Limits can be expressed in a variety of ways to maintain our self-power.
Here are five steps to establishing and communicating the power of boundaries:
- Verbalize clearly with words what your boundaries are.
- Visualize your boundaries as your personal property line.
- Graciously refuse the request: “I’m sorry, but that is not going to work for me.”
- Identify those who continually try to break through your boundaries and put distance between you and those individuals when possible.
- Stand firm knowing that boundaries are parameters that help to enhance trust and respect.
Standing firm in our boundaries gets easier over time, and boundary-busters eventually realize we are not easy prey. And remember, it’s okay to take baby steps. The goal is progress, not perfection!
Dr. Carla Marie Manly
Clinical Psychologist | Author, “Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend“
Boundaries are the separations that humans need—mentally, emotionally, and physically—to feel safe, valued, and respected. Boundaries are vital because they create the foundation for a healthy relationship with the self and with others.
When healthy boundaries are not present, people can be left feeling angry or sad due to interactions that create a sense of being devalued, unappreciated, bullied, etc.
Some people grow up in environments where healthy boundaries are the norm; for these people, setting boundaries is easy because the concept was instilled early on in life. However, many people are raised in situations where boundaries are somewhat problematic or even non-existent.
For these people, setting boundaries can feel very unfamiliar and anxiety-inducing.
When setting boundaries, fear and anxiety often arise because the realm of healthy boundaries is largely unknown. When faced with people who are disrespectful, it can be difficult to learn and use the skills needed to set healthy new boundaries. In many cases, people are afraid that others will be angry when new, healthy boundaries are set.
Sadly, these fears are often proven right because those who are disrespectful often resent the new boundaries. People who tend to be disrespectful of boundaries often gain from the unhealthy boundaries.
We all feel better and do better when our boundaries are respected.
Although our boundaries with people can be very different based on the relationship, it’s always important to have clear boundaries that feel appropriate in the situation. In situations where boundaries are disrespected, it’s important to know that not all boundary violations are the same.
General categories of disrespect-related boundary violations
There are, in fact, three general categories of disrespect-related boundary violations; each category requires a different fix.
Category 1: Lack of clear boundary-setting
People sometimes disrespect our boundaries because they are unclear on our needs; this often occurs when we haven’t openly voiced our boundaries.
The fix: The best way to avoid having this happen is to know your boundaries and state them very openly and clearly. For example, if a friend is in the habit of using your phone without permission and feels disrespectful, you might say, “Please use my cell phone without my specific okay. My phone is my safe space.”
Category 2: Misunderstanding of boundary needs
In some cases, we may have made our boundaries known, but others may misunderstand the boundaries and cross them without intending to do so.
The fix: Misinterpretations of boundaries needs are common. If someone disrespects a boundary you felt was clear, simply restate your boundary in a highly clear, direct way in order to remove any ambiguity. For example, if a person you are dating seems to disrespect your personal space, it may be that more specificity is needed.
For example, you might say, “I had asked that you not stop by my place without calling first. Let me be a bit clearer. Please don’t stop by even after you call or text unless you’ve reached me and I give you a “Yes!” response.”
Category 3: Intentional boundary violations
Some people will intentionally cross boundaries to get their personal needs or agendas met. If persona continues to cross your boundaries after you’ve made your boundary needs very clear, you have several options—and they are not mutually exclusive.
- Restate your boundary firmly.
- Let the person know very clearly what will happen if the boundary is violated again. For example, you might say, “If you cross my boundaries again, I will discontinue our relationship.”
- Follow through on that consequence if the boundary is crossed.
As an example, if a friend disrespects your boundaries regarding sharing confidences, you might say decide to have an extremely clear conversation on the matter.
You might say, “Please share my confidences with anyone. I have very strong boundaries about this issue in particular. It’s important that I am able to trust you with my private information. I need to know that what I tell you is safe and is not shared with others.”
If the friend breaks your confidence again, you might say, “After I reminded you about not sharing my confidences with others, you told Phoenix what I shared with you. I feel very disrespected and disappointed by this as I’ve been very clear with you about my boundaries. I won’t be sharing private information with you in the future.”
Although such conversations can be difficult, they are always done best in person or via phone if necessary. This allows for open dialogue and clarifications that are not possible via text. In-person discussions allow for reading of body language and eye-to-eye contact. As well, email and text discussions can be easily shared, taken out of context, and misinterpreted.
Meagan Turner, MA
Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Emerge Counseling
Know your boundaries, state them verbally, and continue reinforcing them
It might help if we first define what boundaries are. Boundaries are what separate you from other people and other people from you. They can be diffuse, rigid, or flexible.
- Diffuse boundaries are hardly boundaries at all – it’s hard to differentiate between your own thoughts and feelings and the thoughts and feelings of someone else.
- Rigid boundaries are the opposite – your boundaries are so defined that no one can possibly pass through. Rigid boundaries might look like cutting someone out of your life entirely.
- Flexible boundaries are the most helpful to have in relationships – Flexible boundaries require give-and-take, where sometimes you compromise, but other times you are able to be assertive and stand your ground.
Firmly respecting your own boundaries can be the best antidote to someone else who won’t respect your boundaries. Know your boundaries, state them verbally, and continue reinforcing them. If you have flexible boundaries, they may need to become more rigid when you have to be resolute in enforcing them.
You can do this in a kind but firm way using a skill called “Broken Record Technique.” To use this, you acknowledge and reflect what the other person is saying and then repeat your boundaries each time they attempt to cross your line.
With a child, this may sound like, “I know you’d really like to keep playing video games, but right now, it’s time for dinner. You may choose to eat dinner now with the family, or you may choose to continue playing but not play video games tomorrow. Dinner is ready now, and since you are still playing, you are choosing not to play video games tomorrow.”
With an adult, this may sound like, “I understand that you’d like for me to stay after work, but I won’t be able to do that. No, I can’t work late tonight. I know how helpful it would be, but I need to be home on time.”
The key here is that, like a broken record, you do not move or give in to the other person’s boundary crossings.
By doing this, you take responsibility for your own actions, and the other person must take responsibility for their feelings about your actions. If you do give in, you implicitly show the other person that you either are not serious about what you are saying or that if they continue crossing your boundaries in the future, they will eventually get what they want from you regardless of the boundaries you’re trying to set.
Boundaries often feel most difficult to reinforce with friends, family, and work. It is possible to respect and care for others in your life while also respecting and caring for yourself. Boundaries play a big role in being consistent with others.
The Broken Record Technique allows you to be both respectful and firm, gaining control over your own life again.
Anna Jetton, Psy. D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Growth Peak Counseling
Scenario 1: A person you are not connected to or do not wish to continue to a relationship:
Avoid engaging in unproductive conversations or arguments
When someone is challenging us by not respecting our boundaries, the first thing to do is to assert/re-assert the boundary. It sounds obvious, but this is often a missed step. Many times, we think because we have said it once, the other should know and adhere.
This typically is not the case with boundary violators, otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it.
It can be tempting to want to defend ourselves or otherwise engage in an argument with the violator. However, this is not productive and tends to reinforce the behavior. Instead, engaging in a “broken record technique” whereby you continue to assert your boundary in a kind and calm manner over and over until you are able to end the conversation can be an effective way to maintain distance.
Be mindful, not reactive
As noted above, reactions tend to fuel the boundary-violator. Instead, maintaining a sense of calm presence using mindfulness exercises can help you stay centered and grounded in order to access a more effective response, as noted above.
Walk away or avoid spending time with the person
Limit your interactions with the boundary-violator as much as possible. And when you cannot, politely remove yourself from the conversation as soon as you are able.
Scenario 2: A person you love and care about and want to have a relationship with
Set a time limit when you have plans to interact with this person
When you have plans to interact with this person, make it clear up front that you have a certain amount of time you can devote to the interaction before you have to move on to other things, then, most importantly, adhere to this timeline.
Along these lines, maintaining consistency in this effort is important to helping the boundary-violator understand you cannot make yourself available to them at their whim.
Be direct when communicating
This can feel difficult in relationships we care about; however, assertive communication is often the best remedy for folks who consistently do not adhere to boundaries.
For example, using “I” statements to take responsibility for your feelings in the interaction can help defuse potential defensiveness from the other.
Talk to them about the behavior they’re enacting and how it is affecting you
Let the person know how special they are to you, that you do care about them, and because of this, you want to talk about the behavior they’re enacting and how it is affecting you.
People are tremendously understanding, more so than we realize. Many times, a person may not realize how their behavior may be impacting another. If the relationship is as important to them, they will likely want to work with you to create improvement.
Kate Fraiser, M.Ed
Parent Coach, Connect Point Moms | Director of Early Childhood Ministries, Grace Point Church
Boundaries are the limits of who you are, what you do, and what behaviors you will accept or not. They allow you to separate who you are and what you think and feel from others and their thoughts and feelings. They matter a whole lot.
Here are 3 Steps to Deal with Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Your Boundaries:
What are your boundaries?
It is important to establish personal, physical, and relational/behavioral boundaries to protect yourself and others from being hurt. What you allow is what will continue. Therefore, you need to first identify your own boundaries and then teach them to others.
For example, how do you feel about handshakes or hugs to people you don’t know well? Would you be more comfortable with an “elbow tap” or “fist bump”? How about emotional closeness or vulnerability? With whom are you willing to share secrets?
Protect your boundaries
Once you recognize your own personal boundaries, it may still be difficult for you to teach these to others. You may struggle with not feeling worthy to set this limit. Or you may wonder if that person will feel angry or rejected by you.
Those feelings must be recognized – not pushed away – but then put into their proper place.
This is your body, your child, and your home. These are your thoughts, your feelings, and your beliefs. And it is good and right for you to protect them from being harmed by others. This, of course, also means you have respect for others’ boundaries as well!
Set limits and consequences
If you’re a parent, you have experience with setting limits with your children. It may sound like this:
- “You can talk to me like this (example of kind words in a respectful tone). But not that (example of hurtful words in a disrespectful tone).”
- “When I am talking to someone, put your hand on my arm, so I know you need me. It’s not ok to interrupt. You can wait patiently until I am finished.”
- “You can ride your bike to the end of the street and back, but not onto the next street.”
- “Please knock on the bedroom door when it’s closed and wait for me to respond before opening it.”
- “At bedtime, you may sleep in your bed or read in your bed, but you may not get out of your bed to play.”
It’s basically the same with adults; you need to be clear on the boundary and then let them know what it is. If they cross it, you have a “consequence.” Using the above examples, it may look like this:
- “When you speak to me disrespectfully (crossing your boundary), I am not going to respond. If you want my attention, you will speak to me like this (example).”
- “When you interrupt me when I am speaking to someone (crossing your boundary), I am not going to acknowledge you. You can wait patiently until I am finished,”
- “You didn’t stay riding your bike on this street (didn’t respect your boundary). Therefore, you are losing bike riding privileges today.”
- “It is not ok to open the door without knocking and waiting for me to respond (not respecting your boundary). Let’s try again (model and practice it appropriately).”
- “You got out of your bed at bedtime (not respecting the limit). These are your choices: Sleep in your bed or read in your bed. Which will you choose?”
Keischa Pruden, LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS, SAE
Therapist and Owner, Pruden Counseling Concepts
Communicate your boundaries
Many misunderstandings between people often occur because there have been unspoken expectations that have been violated, but no one has spoken about it. Letting other people know your personal boundaries not only communicates your preferences but also holds them accountable for their treatment of you.
If they choose to continue to disrespect your boundaries after you have clearly communicated with them, they have knowingly caused an issue in your relationship.
Set consequences for disrespect
The heading may seem extreme, but it really isn’t. After you have communicated your boundaries with someone, you must also share possible consequences if they continue their behavior. And if they disrespect you/your boundaries after that, be consistent with your consequence. That may sound like parenting, and in a way, it is.
The old adage is true: You teach people how to treat you.
Consistent violations of your boundaries should be met with clear communication of what your boundaries are and then consistent consequences for negative behaviors. The ending result should be a reduction in disrespectful behavior and an increase in respectful behavior.
Limit your engagement with people who can’t respect boundaries
Sometimes people are determined to behave in a way that doesn’t contribute to your overall wellness. While you cannot ultimately control other people’s behaviors, you can choose whether you engage with them or not.
Granted, there are certain situations where the total disconnect is possible (employer, in-laws/other family members), but at the very least, limit your engagement with people who cannot respect the boundaries you have set for yourself.
Movement Pattern Analyst and Body Language Expert, Moving Image Consulting LLC
Since actions speak louder than words, I would suggest using body language to send clear boundary signals. Body language boundary signals include:
Create a wall with your body
Stand with your legs under your hips and square your shoulders. Face the person straight on. There is a clear, strong and barrier communicated. When you add words, the signal will be even stronger.
We have been encouraged to stand at 45 degrees and leave room open for others to join in the conversation and not seem confrontational. Avoid this with those who do not have boundaries because you need to take control of the situation.
Choose a single chair so the boundary-less individual can’t sit next to you
Do not sit on a bench, sofa, or anything where the boundary-less individual can sit next to you. Again, create more of a wall by sitting up straight.
Often people without a good sense of boundaries also have a poor sense of physical boundaries and will “invade your space” by sitting too close, leaning in, or physically touching your arm or shoulder. If there is no single option, it is fine to stay standing.
Use physical boundaries
If there is a table in the space, use it to create a barrier. Sit on one side and gesture for the other person to sit on the opposite side. If it is a long table with many chairs and there is a chance the boundary-challenged person will sit next to you, wait for them to choose their seat, and then choose to sit across from them or further away.
Few people will get up and move once they have chosen a seat.
Create boundaries with your gestures
Use a “stop” gesture with the palm up and pushing away from you. Slicing, focused gestures are also good boundary signals. Avoid anything soft or too fluid, which may be perceived as an “opening” for the other person to go too far or ask you something inappropriate.
Crossing the arms may work temporarily, but many people ignore this signal because it is a pose, and the brain responds more to movement.
Alli Spotts-De Lazzer
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Therapy Helps | Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor | Author, “MeaningFULL: 23 Life-Changing Stories of Conquering Dieting, Weight, & Body Image Issues“
An answer that no one probably wants yet needs to know
When someone doesn’t respect our personal boundaries, it usually means that we are not enforcing those parameters as clearly or consistently as needed for that particular relationship. (That’s probably not what anyone wants to read.)
Many people, especially those who identify as females, have been conditioned to “not hurt” others’ feelings or to avoid being seen as “a bitch.” So they don’t speak as clearly or firmly as needed.
Learn to speak directly and with your integrity
This can require practice as it probably won’t come naturally, especially during a moment of feeling pressured. Yet, if you value kindness, for example, you can enforce boundaries with kindness. Truly, it’s doable.
The person not respecting your boundaries may need to hear that you understood their request. When we acknowledge their want and restate our limit, it communicates that we have understood and responded, and the answer is not changing.
For example, “I can appreciate that you want that. And, I can understand that it feels upsetting that I won’t agree to that.”
Replace any “but” conjunctions with “and.” A person who doesn’t respect boundaries will likely seek a hole in your “but” (That’s crudely stated to help you remember it).
Choose the word “won’t” instead of “can’t.”
“I can’t” tends to engage a “Why not?” or “Prove it” type of response. “Can’t” happens to someone; whereas saying “I won’t” conveys solidity. It’s an empowered choice that’s direct and often necessary when clarifying a boundary.
When a boundary-crosser’s persistence can move our lines that we’ve politely drawn in the sand, that’s on us. We often need to paint or glue that line on concrete. That doesn’t mean to yell or say it forcefully; it means to channel your compassion, calmness, and utter inflexibility.
Unless you are dealing with a person stalking or someone with boundary crossings outside of the bell curve, the work is often (and frustratingly) on us, not them.
And, yes, there’s a fine line between “boundary” and “bitchy.” Protecting oneself can upset someone else—that’s true. Is that bitchy or self-protective?
Ideally, who do you prefer to feel uncomfortable—the boundary-crosser or you?
Life and Mindset Coach | Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee
Boundaries are certainly a frequently discussed topic recently, yet I’m not too sure as many people understand the true extent of boundaries. However, it’s one thing to not be fully versed in the benefits and purpose of boundaries, and another to knowingly not respect them.
With that said, I’d argue there are a few things to consider when assessing how to deal with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries.
Assess if this person understands what boundaries are and why we have them
As a marriage and family therapist trainee and mindset coach, I sit with many wonderful people who simply have never known boundaries to be a part of their lives. They didn’t grow up in an environment where boundaries were modeled, enforced, and respected.
They consequently grew into adults who never considered boundaries and perhaps don’t even know they exist.
Others grew up in homes where boundaries were forcefully and intentionally ignored. These people often grow into adults who feel powerless, hopeless, and easily taken advantage of because they learned very early that standing up for oneself or holding up boundaries had no weight or point.
This is important to understand because there are potential opportunities for you and this person to grow together. If a person finds boundaries foreign or even unsafe but are curious or willing to grow in their understanding, it’s possible to walk with them through this.
Reach out to mental health professionals, attempt hard conversations filled with curiosity rather than judgment and self-protection.
Assess how you’re communicating your boundaries to others
This one may feel harder to swallow, but there are times where we aren’t communicating as clearly as we think we are. We can feel blinded by our hurts and communicate with “trauma goggles” — a lens informed by trauma and hurt from our past that assumes other people are always out to get us, harm us, wrong us, or trick us.
Please hear me when I say that this doesn’t mean you are at fault for this person not respecting your boundaries.
If you tend to communicate aggressively, or through shutting down, acting out passive-aggressively (though you may not even want to or try to!), there is an opportunity for you to find deeper safety in conversation and conflict with others.
Deeper wounds are being touched, and we instinctively react to protect ourselves. If this resonates with you, speak to a mental health professional about healthy communication. There is a balance I often discuss with my clients: assertiveness and the healthy middle between aggressiveness and passiveness.
This is a skill that can absolutely be learned with guidance and practice! Learning to be assertive often looks like understanding your own triggers, providing compassion towards yourself for handling things the best way you knew how, learning to feel safe in conflict, and moving forward by practicing clear, confident asserting of one’s boundaries.
Take into account past and present circumstances with this person to inform your future
This builds off the other two points I’ve made so far. If you’ve started to explore your own triggers and build the assertiveness muscle, you will also learn to decipher when someone is able to hear your boundary-setting—whether this person is a safe person.
Suppose someone has consistently ignored your boundaries after they’ve become aware of what boundaries are and despite you clearly stating your needs. In that case, you may have to consider that this person isn’t able to provide the respect and safety you need.
This is an extremely painful and difficult realization and truly involves a grief process of its own. If this feels true for you, know that you’re allowed to feel disappointed and hurt by this person.
I’ve known many clients who feel they can’t be upset because the person not respecting their boundaries is a family member or close friend. You’re allowed to both love them and feel disappointed by their actions.
Once again, it can be useful to process this with the help of a therapist or coach as you navigate your next steps. There are some situations if someone consistently doesn’t respect the boundaries you’ve set, where it’s actually best to minimize contact.
Clearly stating the direct consequences of a person not respecting your boundaries is crucial, and if they still choose not to, you maintaining the relationship as it is now may only lead you to feel continuously hurt. As I’ve stated, this is difficult, and I would recommend navigating this with strong support and a mental health professional by your side.
Keisha Henry, MSW, LCSW
Adjunct Instructor | Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Choosing Therapy
Create and preserve your boundaries
Relationships require proper boundaries for healthy functioning, thus providing, perhaps, mutually satisfying exchanges. Boundaries are emotional and psychological.
With proper boundaries in place, persons are able to share and receive resources appropriately, enhancing their mental and emotional health.
Lack of proper boundaries tends to lead to dysfunctional patterns of communication and relationships.
Setting boundaries with others can be challenging, especially with persons who are difficult or do not see the impact of their actions on others. Healthy boundaries bring change– starting with yourself first.
5 practical ways to create and preserve your boundaries
This cycle can be changed with an intentional practice of the following:
- Being non-judgmental (Show yourself compassion and support first)
- Recognize and acknowledge your own needs (Write them down, be curious about them)
- Identify the role you or others maintain in your boundaries being violated (e.g., enabler, rescuer)
- Speak up (e.g., Ensure your safety and well-being first, verbalize needs, or write a letter)
- Be accountable (Seek professional support or a trusted friend to reinforce your action and skills)
- Continue this practice
Are you a people pleaser?
By being kind to yourself is more adaptive or “user friendly,” allowing one to integrate or “come into” this way of being as this feels more natural and tolerable versus being harsh and critical of your efforts.
With this approach in mind, there is no need to feel the need to master all the suggestions/skills listed. When making changes to any system, start with the most manageable area, as this can be encouraging and informative as you progress, leading to increased competence.
Like any new skill or perhaps retooling a skill, time, attention, and support are essential. Choose where you begin, so you can be intentional about your win!
Leadership Mentor | Executive Coach | Podcast Host
The key to getting someone to respect your boundaries is to start with yourself
The reason someone doesn’t respect your boundaries is because you don’t respect your boundaries. Boundaries are not for other people. And that’s where most people get hung up on their boundaries is because they’re too busy focusing on other people. Every single external relationship that we have is a mirror reflection of our relationship with ourselves.
If someone is not respecting your boundaries, that is a reflection that you’re not respecting your boundaries, or yourself, for that matter.
You have the power
You have control over changing the situation because as soon as you get clear on what the boundary or what you’re not respecting in yourself, it empowers you to make the change because you’re focusing on yourself, which is the only thing you have control over.
This can then change how you show up to the relationship or interaction with the person who historically has not respected your boundaries. And because you show up different, it influences the other people to change.
So it may be something as simple as actually showing up with the energy of being clear on what the consequences are and having the confidence to hold to them.
Also, a lot of people think they have boundaries, but they’ve never actually communicated them to someone else, either by example or verbally. So someone might not be respecting your boundaries because they honestly don’t know — and if you don’t have the confidence and the energy behind it to ensure that you’re clear — nobody else is going to be clear on what those boundaries are either.
Respecting your own boundaries is what sets the example for everyone else to know how to treat you. And then again, you have the clarity and the confidence of how to respond to those situations because your boundaries are all about what you will and will not allow.
Of course, we can’t control others. But when we know what we’re not willing to allow, we empower ourselves to respond differently.
So when we step up, we communicate, and we change the energy of who we’re being and how we’re engaging in the relationship, it may just get cut off altogether in a personal or professional situation. But those are the consequences that we’ve got to get really clear on, and that starts with us beginning to respect our boundaries with ourselves.
Look within yourself then take action
So the next time you run into a situation of how someone is not respecting your boundaries, take a step back and ask yourself:
- “Okay, how am I not respecting my boundaries?”
- “Where am I not clear on what my boundaries are?”
- “What are the consequences associated with that boundary?”
Look inward, get that clarity and confidence, and then you will know how to show up to that relationship because you’re going to feel way better about yourself.
Hannah Tishman, LCSW
Psychotherapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC
Respond differently than you may have in the past
Dealing with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries can be quite challenging. There are many factors to pay attention to when involved with someone who violates boundaries. Some of these include how long this behavior has occurred, if there has been physical violence, who is violating boundaries, and if you are setting clear boundaries?
When someone violates boundaries, it is important to determine if you are able to set clear, consistent boundaries. Know what treatment you are willing to accept and what treatment does not work for you. Notice the ways you respond and if there are negative patterns, you are engaging in.
The best way to break these patterns is by responding differently than you may have in the past. It can be difficult to navigate relationships with boundary violators as there are power dynamics involved.
These relationships might be with someone you aren’t able to take space from (for example, a roommate or partner). Perhaps you care for the boundary violator, and it can be difficult to navigate these feelings. Boundaries comprise how we want to live.
- where we want to invest time and energy
- how we care for ourselves
- who we want to be in relationships with
- not letting others mistreat us
- respect of space and privacy
Some ways to set boundaries include saying yes or no clearly, expressing differing opinions, staying silent instead of opting-in at all times, taking a step back from excess contact,
Some ways to speak up to a boundary violator include:
- “That’s not going to work for me.”
- “I can’t do this right now.”
- “Here is what I can do.”
Asking yourself what your needs are and taking space are important steps in dealing with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries.
Heather A Champion, MA, LMHC, QSC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Maitri Counseling Services, LLC
Identify what is reinforcing this behavior and how to stop reinforcing the behavior
The establishment and maintenance of boundaries depend highly on the consistency of consequences, whether they be positive or negative. If someone is not respecting boundaries, he or she is being rewarded for the behavior in some way.
For example, I was meeting with a couple for the first time with their nine-year-old daughter, who had been bullying her baby brother. Exasperated, they stated we just have no idea why she keeps doing this. I asked if they had ever asked their child why she continues to engage in these behaviors; they looked at me as if I was crazy and stated “no.”
I turned to the girl who was sitting in the corner of the room listening to her parents and asked why she keeps bullying her brother. She responded bad attention is better than no attention.
This story highlights what some of us forget; often, others break the rules or push the boundaries because the negative consequence of the behavior is better than no consequence. This creates a situation where the behavior continues.
When trying to establish boundaries, think about what might be reinforcing the behavior and how consistently the reward is acquired after the behavior. Then, to extinguish the behavior pattern, either remove the reward as consistently as possible or apply a negative consequence that is actually a negative consequence.
In the example above, I advised the parents to observe that their daughter was bullying. I also advised them to put their daughter in a time-out, rather than yell at her and give the behavior negative attention. I also advised them to look for positive behaviors and reinforce the heck out of them as quickly as possible.
Since she was seeking attention, I asked the parents to spend more one-on-one time with their daughter so that she would not seek negative attention. The parents definitely struggled to change their behaviors in an effort to not reinforce the girl’s behavior, but over time the behaviors decreased.
Whether it is setting boundaries between parents and children (in either direction) between romantic partners, friends, siblings, co-workers, or acquaintances, the most important thing to identify is what is reinforcing this behavior and how to stop reinforcing the behavior.
Master-Certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Unfortunately, when someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, you can only do a few things. However, what you can do is powerful for you.
The best thing that you can do is figure out why someone isn’t respecting your values. Ninety percent of the people who are not respecting your boundaries are doing so because they are not aware of your boundaries.
Establish clear boundaries
First, be very clear about what your boundaries are for yourself. When you have boundaries keep them for yourself?
For example, if you don’t work during your lunch hours. Don’t work during your lunch hour, ever. People follow your example; you need to lock your door, turn off your phone, go for a walk, etc., for your lunch hour.
Boundaries cannot be willy-nilly when you want them.
If people know you don’t work during your lunch hour, ever—they won’t call you or drop by your office during your lunch hour. However, suppose you occasionally, in certain situations, work during your lunch hour. In that case, they will likely think they fit into certain situations and request that you work during your lunch hour.
Be clear with others
Once you know your boundaries and are keeping them yourself, you want to communicate them clearly, without anger, blame, or even a hint of rudeness. If your name has changed, or you want to be addressed a certain way, let people know. Be diligent about reminding people and letting them know politely every time. People will get it.
However, if you slide and let some people address you in the old way or don’t address it, it will not be clear to others and will take longer to get people to honor your boundary.
Consequences are the results of things; they are neither inherently good nor bad. However, once people are clear of your boundaries, or when you are in a new situation and have to clarify them, sometimes it helps to discuss upfront the consequences of not respecting the boundary.
If you send me something to do during my lunch hour, it will sit for hours. If you don’t use my new name in my email address, it will go to the trash.
Once I was going to a theme park with two of my adult children. I wasn’t enjoying some of the ways they were talking at me instead of with me. On the way, I explained, “I am not feeling good about our recent conversations, and I feel x, y, z. So, therefore, if this happens on this trip, I am just going to go back to my lodging. I will not get mad, I will not be upset, I just will leave.”
Being very clear about the consequences of not respecting my communication boundary allowed my sons to think about how they were conversing with me. It was clear and unblameing ( I feel messages) and resulted in us having a great time together at a theme park in South Korea.
When people don’t respect your boundaries, one of the only things you can do is leave
If you say you will meet people at x time, and they are late, leave. If you tell the kids you are leaving for church at x time, and they are late, leave. If you have been clear about the bounds of communication with family and they are not respecting you or your boundary, leave. If meeting agendas aren’t being respected, leave.
Much of the consequence of people not respecting my boundaries is not having me in their presence. Unfortunately, many of us—myself included—when making new boundaries, do it out of anger and/or frustration of not having boundaries for years. Then, when we set boundaries, people feel relieved not to be in our presence.
The secret is to set boundaries before and outside of emotions. We have to honor ourselves before we expect others to honor our boundaries. Then we can do it lovingly and not with frustration and upset.
When you love and respect yourself, people will love and respect you too, and that will show up in your boundaries.
Natalie Capano, MHC-LP
Mental Health Counselor, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC
Analyze the relationship and explore the values you hold around the company you keep
Boundaries can feel like a necessary evil sometimes. You might feel uncomfortable identifying the need for boundaries with others, especially when technology encourages constant connection and never-ending communication.
Truthfully, giving 100 percent of yourself to a relationship 100 percent of the time is exhausting and nearly impossible. If you are always available for others, how can you put your needs first? Realizing the need for boundaries is the first step towards making change.
Next, you’ll want to identify what changes you need to implement to increase satisfaction in your relationship. You will then work up the courage to put your plan into action, and you hope that will be the end of it.
- But what happens when the receiving party doesn’t respond as we hope they would?
- What if they ramp up their messaging and calls more than before?
- What if they accuse you of being cold and distant, or they guilt trip you into apologizing?
Unfortunately, boundaries are often misinterpreted by others. You may get labeled as mean or selfish.
Whether with a friend, family member, or romantic partner, boundaries can test the true depth and connection of a relationship. Perhaps you develop a new perspective and learn that your friend valued your reliable advice more than they value your well-being.
You may learn that your family isn’t flexible with love languages, and they expect what works for them to work for you. This often tempts boundary setters into retreating and suffering in their old ways. Although difficult, it is incredibly important to stick things out and not relax your boundaries.
Maintain the changes you need for yourself, and with time, people may come around. They may respect and admire your persistence towards self-care, and they may get inspired themselves. I find that the people who don’t come to respect my wishes are usually not the people I want to keep in my life.
If you’ve been working on setting boundaries for some time now and they are not respected as you wish, it may be time to analyze the relationship and explore the values you hold around the company you keep.
Psychotherapist and Licensed Master Social Worker, Psychology Degree Guide
In my view, there are two very important components of dealing with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries.
Be crystal clear about what your boundaries are
As an example, if you have a friend who repeatedly stops by your house without calling first, be explicit about what you need from them. Some people can take a hint, but many others cannot. Making comments about being “so busy!” or dialing down your enthusiasm when the friend stops by will likely not be enough to make them change their behavior.
When you set a boundary, be firm, and leave apologies out of your request.
Try something like this: “Barbara, I find it stressful to have unexpected visitors, even close friends like you. Next time, please give me a call and ask before stopping by.”
When you set boundaries, be prepared to enforce them
In the same example, if Barbara stops by, even after you have asked her to stop dropping in unexpectedly, do not accommodate her.
When that doorbell rings, enforce your boundary by telling Barbara, “I was clear with you last week that I don’t like to have unexpected visitors. Please don’t stop by again without calling.”
Most importantly, don’t invite Barbara inside or accommodate requests to drop what you’re doing and spend time with her. Doing so would teach Barbara that your request was not serious.
This example presents a low-stakes situation, but it is understandable that other scenarios may be more difficult. Enforcing boundaries can be uncomfortable, lead to turmoil in a relationship, or even lead to a relationship’s demise.
That said, anyone worth keeping around will respect the boundaries you set out for them.
Mindset Mentor & Business Strategist
When somebody doesn’t respect your boundaries, walk away, literally. Creating physical distance between you and the person is a pattern interrupt.
They expect you to react in a way that is familiar to them. When you walk away, it throws them for a loop which might just be the jolt they need to reconsider their behavior towards you. You might have to repeat this a few times until it sinks in, and if it still doesn’t, it’s time for you to decide if you want to keep this person in your life.
This requires getting radically honest with yourself about your reasons why you allow this person in your environment in the first place.
If it’s a family member, you can start by limiting your contact and re-directing the conversation when things heat up. Throw out a question about a topic you know they are passionate about. People love to talk about themselves and what is important to them. It will immediately shift their focus, and you have set a boundary without them even knowing it.
If somebody keeps disrespecting your boundaries over the phone, you can say something like:
“I am not now, nor will I ever have this conversation, and if you keep insisting, I am hanging up.” Then do hang up if they continue.
When somebody repeatedly disrespects your boundaries, they disrespect you. When you keep allowing it, you disrespect yourself.
Founder, BU Coaching
Often when it comes to communicating boundaries, people beat around the bush in an attempt to avoid being ‘pushy’ or ‘abrupt.’ All this does is lead to a lack of clarity and a ripe environment for misunderstandings.
When communicating your boundaries, especially with someone who struggles to respect them, remember that being clear is being kind.
Lead by example
Once you’ve communicated a boundary with someone, it’s worth asking yourself whether you lead by example in upholding that boundary yourself.
For example, suppose you’ve set a boundary with your boss about not being contactable on weekends, yet you continue to reply to work emails on Saturday nights. In that case, you’re sending a clear message that you don’t respect your own boundaries, so why should other people?
When it comes to upholding boundaries, it’s important to take personal responsibility and demonstrate the behavior that you want other people to model.
Be OK with stepping away
If someone consistently ignores or doesn’t respect your boundaries, it’s a clear sign that they don’t respect you. In this case, you need to be ready to step away from that relationship.
Whether this means applying for new jobs, leaving your relationship, or taking some breathing room from friends or family members, it’s important that you prioritize your own mental and emotional wellbeing.
Niseema Dyan Diemer, LMT, SEP, BCPP
Co-Host, The Positive Mind Radio Show Podcast
Dealing with people without boundaries is one of the most challenging dilemmas we face in relationships.
There are two main ways this shows up. Someone is a “bull in a china shop” running ramshod over your feelings and sense of self, or they are “the invisible person” who you just can’t feel or know.
The first one uses others to feel themselves by running into and through you; the latter asks you to make them visible.
If you know either one of these individuals in your life or feel you may be one of them, you need to access your relationship to your boundaries. Invariably the best way to deal with someone who doesn’t have boundaries is to have boundaries of your own.
However, this might make the bull unhappy and the invisible one a little scared because they may become visible.
In my experience, when I really feel into claiming my own space in any room or any relationship, I become visible — I become more present and available to respond.
So when the bull comes charging, I can step out of the way, and I can invite my invisible friend to show themselves. You can only really be responsible for your own boundary, making sure it’s well-tended with your awareness and practice of saying “no, it’s not okay,” when you need to, and saying, “yes, come on in and let’s play,” when you want to.
Wellness Coach | Founder, VP Exclusive
Be clear on your needs
There are three important steps that need to be taken to set and maintain healthy boundaries.
- Write down 3-5 of your top values that need to be respected no matter what.
- Set clear expectations from that person and communicate clearly each value that needs to be respected.
- Ask them to repeat back what they understood.
We each have different types of communication, according to our leading type (kinesthetic, visual, auditory, auditory digital), and if the communication is not translated in the recipient’s modality, they will likely not understand. The biggest myth about communication is that it took place.
Clarify to ensure your message landed the way you need the person to understand. Then, you have validation that the communication took place.
These are three very important steps to set clear boundaries. If these boundaries are still not kept, once you’ve communicated and confirmed, it becomes your priority to hold yourself to boundaries and not let others trample them. If you allow them to be broken, then you broke the biggest boundary, which is your promise to yourself.
When that keeps happening in your life, it can drastically diminish your self-confidence, self-worth, and self-value.
Related: Why is Self Confidence Important?
When you have held yourself true to your own boundaries, others who refuse to follow your boundaries, will likely exit your life. Let go of those relationships. They’re not serving you well.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most common challenges or misconceptions people face when setting boundaries?
A common challenge is feeling guilty or selfish about setting boundaries, especially if that means saying no or declining invitations.
It’s important to remember that setting boundaries isn’t about being selfish or unkind but about taking care of oneself and fostering healthy relationships.
Another challenge is communicating boundaries effectively without coming across as aggressive or confrontational. Effective communication involves being clear, direct, respectful, and open to feedback and compromise.
Finally, some people may struggle with maintaining boundaries when faced with pushback or experiencing resistance. In these cases, it’s important to remain firm and assertive but also be willing to listen and negotiate.
Can boundaries be different in different types of relationships?
Yes, boundaries can vary depending on the relationship type and the intimacy or trust level. For example, boundaries may differ for a romantic partner than a colleague or acquaintance.
In addition, cultural or social norms may influence the types of boundaries that are considered acceptable or appropriate in certain contexts. It’s important to be aware of these differences and communicate boundaries appropriately to maintain healthy and respectful relationships.
Can social media affect boundary-setting in social interactions?
Yes, social media can impact boundary-setting in social interactions. Social media can blur the lines between personal and public space, making it more difficult to establish clear boundaries around communication, privacy, and personal information.
They can also make it easier for others to invade personal space or behave inappropriately or harmfully. In addition, social media may create pressure to conform to certain social norms or expectations, making it more difficult to establish and communicate personal boundaries.
It’s important to be aware of these challenges and mindful of how social media use affects one’s ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries in social interactions.
Can boundaries change over time?
Yes, boundaries can change over time as people grow and evolve in their personal and social lives. For example, someone may establish more rigid boundaries after experiencing trauma or abuse or become more open and flexible as they develop closer relationships with others.
It’s important to regularly check in with yourself, assess whether current boundaries still serve one’s needs and values, and be willing to adjust them if needed. It’s also important to communicate boundary changes clearly and respectfully with others to avoid misunderstanding or conflict.
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