How To Deal When Others Aren’t Respecting Boundaries 

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How to know when others aren’t respecting boundaries

We talk a lot about respecting boundaries, but the words are often overused. Anytime we feel uncomfortable with something, it’s a good sign that a boundary is involved. Any difficult emotion is a potential indicator. But was it someone crossing a line you clearly set, or was it you disrespecting your own boundary? Often, it’s the latter. And that’s the first and most important question to ask. It’s the clearest way to know when others aren’t respecting boundaries. Boundaries mean different things to different people but relate to what you will accept in speech, action or environment.

So often though, we end up disrespecting our own boundaries for others’ convenience, at the expense of our sanity. Over time, we’re subconsciously reinforcing the idea that we can’t trust ourselves to stand up for our own desires, preferences and limits. 

So where to begin with understanding the core of respecting boundaries?

Be as clear as you can as often as you can

Often when clients are super upset about an interaction with someone, it’s because a subtle boundary had been pushed for too long. But because it’s subtle, they don’t understand why they can’t let it go. 

It’s so important to be clear when communicating a boundary, but how can you be clear if you don’t know what it is, right?

How often do you check in with yourself before making a decision? Getting to know yourself at that core level is the quickest way to clarity here. And because we aren’t robots, that absolutely evolves over time and requires consistent monitoring. 

For example, you might dread going home for the holidays (or ever). So the first thing we notice is the feeling of discomfort, maybe the throat clenching or a pit-in-stomach feeling. Digging in, you mentally rehearse all these potential conversations you don’t want to deal with. Your relationship status. When you’re getting married. And what about kids. What you think about so-and-so controversial person that has nothing to do with your life. The list goes on. 

So each of those “catastrophe conversations” points to a subtle boundary that wants to be articulated. When we get serious about respecting boundaries, the work begins. Say it out loud – the conversations you care about and why, and the things that you aren’t interested in discussing.

Reinforce your boundaries, again. And again.

A lot of self-help guidance out there will suggest that if you want others to start respecting boundaries, you have to cut people out if they cross the line. And sometimes that’s true – certainly if there’s a risk of emotional or physical harm or any kind of abuse, remove yourself from the situation and connect with a therapist and qualified support system.

But more often than not, we have to actually reinforce our boundaries again and again with the people we love. It’s not a one-and-done scenario, and it’s not because people are out to get us. The bad news is it can feel really tough to have that conversation the first time. The good news is it gets easier the more you do it – as a mindset coach who’s led a lot of clients through this process, I can assure you that’s true.

Articulating, reinforcing, and respecting boundaries with ourselves and others is an ongoing, lifelong process. Just because you have to repeat yourself a few times doesn’t necessarily mean anything has gone wrong. A lot of times we’re setting boundaries with people who love us and do want to have a good relationship. But as humans, it’s hard to change our patterns. So be patient, but firm and clear. And be honest with yourself about when it’s time to cut ties.

Now let’s look at the process for identifying, articulating and respecting boundaries. It comes down to choosing consciously.

Guidelines for respecting boundaries…

At work

Scenario: You’re a senior consultant asked to work over the weekend for the third week in a row. Your coworker didn’t finalize his workstream’s deliverable and your manager needs you to help pick up the slack so the project is completed on time for the client. 

You don’t have major plans for the weekend so you feel like you should pitch in. You don’t have a “good enough” excuse. And you want to get promoted and be viewed as someone people can count on. But why do you feel weird about it? Ask yourself what boundary might be getting stepped on.

Is it that you promised yourself you’d get back into a consistent workout routine, and now you’ll miss your spin class? Is it that you planned to stay better connected to friends, and now you have to skip dinner with the girls? Determine the true priority and set a boundary accordingly. 

If the priority is making sure you look like a team player because a promotion is imminent, you might make one choice. In that case you choose to shift on your own boundary (albeit temporarily perhaps), but at least you did it consciously. On the other hand, if the priority is the commitments you’ve made to yourself already, then the boundary is to clearly say that you’re not available to work this weekend. Choose the former, and don’t blame your boss. Choose the latter, and don’t blame your friends.

Choosing consciously removes the drama.

With friends

Scenario: You have a great group of girlfriends and you all meet up for dinner a few times a month. But one friend you’ve noticed is consistently late, doesn’t fairly contribute to her share of the bill, and now she’s asking to borrow money while she’s between jobs. 

If your priority is being “there” for your friends no matter what, and that means giving them anything they ask for, then you make one decision. If your priority is your financial wellness, it’s time to set a boundary. Stating clearly “I care about you and am sorry you’re going through this tough time. I’m not going to lend you money, but I’d love to help by….” Maybe it’s an introduction for a potential job opening, or an afternoon out at a park to talk about what’s going on, or anything else that feels aligned. Maybe it’s nothing beyond an acknowledgement of the challenges she’s facing. 

Remember the only people who will be upset about your boundaries are the people who were taking advantage of your lack of them.

With family

Scenario: You’re in a leadership role at a start-up and you’re heads down working on a major development milestone. Your parents call you daily to complain about the weather, politics, cul-de-sac drama, basically everything you don’t care about right now. But you love your parents and do want them to feel like they can call you.

What boundary would you want to set? Is it important to talk to your parents daily? If so, can you set some parameters about what you’d be open to discussing? Maybe something like “I’m really focused on this project – I’d love to tell you more about it if you’d like. But I don’t have mental bandwidth to discuss Jane’s sister-in-law’s husband’s Facebook rant right now.” 

Ask yourself what you want to prioritize, and set yourself up accordingly.

Further reading on the topic of respecting boundaries

No time to read actual physical books? Try Audible instead!

3. It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn (this core patterning approach is also essential to facilitator-led past-life regression)

9. Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go by Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt PhD ABPP

The bottom line

At the end of the day, you have to start by respecting boundaries for yourself. Remember, no one around you will insist on enforcing them on your behalf. But it can be hard to get clear on what your boundaries are. They can and do often evolve over time. It sometimes feels scary to articulate them, and uncomfortable to reinforce them. 

Even when we make it all the way to being very clear on what the problem is and the boundary we want to set, we get completely hung up in the execution. Because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or seem dramatic or difficult. And yet, the issue persists until we address it. That’s where mindset coaching with an accredited professional can help. 

Photo of Emily Shutt wearing red scarf

Emily is a mindset coach and writer specializing in the habits of Millennial and Gen Z high achievers in the areas of money, relationships, lifestyle and travel.

She holds the PCC designation with the International Coach Federation and has been featured in multiple media outlets.

Emily Shutt ICF Credentials PCC WPCC