Don’t Let Boundary Crossers Off The Hook

The other major aspect is setting consequences and then enforcing them. This is what happens when someone attempts to violate your boundaries after you’ve communicated them. This is can be whatever you want; the only thing it cannot be is nothing. Failure to do so will create porous boundaries, which are as good as no boundaries at all. However, they also cannot be too rigid.

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You’ve figured out your boundaries. You’ve clearly explained them to others. You’ve defined what the consequences will be. And yet someone’s still going past your limits. What now?

You have to lay down your personal law and not let the violators off easy. It’s time to act.

Implementing your personal boundaries is absolutely necessary when you’re trying to establish your limits and assert yourself. That’s why you should only set rules that you are willing to carry out. Any regulation you set that you’re only going to enforce halfway is probably one you should reconsider—you either don’t really feel the limit is necessary or you haven’t quite worked out all the details. People will take notice and take it as a sign that you aren’t very serious about your boundaries—they might as well not exist at that point. This is what is known as a porous boundary, and it’s a sign of weakness that people will immediately exploit.

Some folks will resent your setting down limits and dishing out consequences. We’ll go a little more into detail about how to contend with more negative outcomes in just a little bit, but for now, know that it will happen.

For example, it would have been easy to simply try and not let your Facebook bully friend bug you. You could have ignored him or found other ways to deal with him. But you know if you allow him to continue to have that access to you, he’s only going to keep doing what he does. You’ve explained yourself, you’ve defined your limits, and he’s ignored them. Hit that “unfriend” button and don’t look back.

You’ll find that if you back up your boundaries with solid action, there’ll be only a small bit of anxiety in the action itself—far less than there would be if you keep letting it fester.

You now know how to define your personal boundaries, explain them, and enforce them. And you also know that boundary rules can be different according to who you’re dealing with. Now let’s discuss what actually happens when people cross over into your personal space, whether they’re invited or not.

When you’re involved in an interaction with someone, there are basically three levels that depict how deeply you’re protecting your boundaries. Simply put, there’s too strong, too weak, and just right.

Healthy. The goal is to maintain your boundaries in a balanced manner. A healthy boundary will reinforce your character, moderate your emotional reactions, and help you be generous in a meaningful way.

When you have healthy boundaries, you have a healthy respect for yourself, your feelings, and your viewpoint. You don’t sell out your core values so others can take advantage of them. You exchange and reveal personal information in a suitable and proper way. You’re also able to handle it when people say no to you.

Rigid. You can also be extra-firm when setting your boundaries and turn yourself into an impenetrable fortress. But there are serious drawbacks to this approach. You’re likely to have few if any intimate or close relationships with anyone. You’ll appear distant and removed to other people, possibly completely isolated. You’ll be reticent to ask anyone else for assistance, and you’ll keep yourself away from vulnerable situations so you don’t have to deal with rejection.

The rigid boundary-setter does everything possible to avoid being exposed, weak, or too available because they don’t want to get hurt by anybody else. But in doing so, they still get hurt—by themselves.

Porous. Someone with very thin boundaries tends to let a lot of people and forces into their life to basically act out their will. When you keep porous boundaries, you tend to give out too much personal information or get far too involved in the problems of other people. “No” is a word you have an extremely difficult time saying. You open yourself up to discourteous and abusive people—in fact, you practically invite and permit people to take advantage of your goodwill.

The porous boundary-setter is far too trusting and unreserved about other people. They get exploited on a regular basis, even by people with no intentions to exploit them. They’re often disappointed and can become bitter about their existence even as they still over-share themselves. This is another way of describing blurry boundaries.

Looking over this information, you’re probably inclined to believe that the healthy level is the one you should shoot for 100% of the time. That’s not a terrible place to start. But you will find that you might need to adjust in either direction depending on certain factors.

For example, if you have a good relationship with your family, most likely you’d be a little more porous to them. If you’re in a working relationship with someone you mistrust, you’d probably nudge yourself toward the rigid policy.

You have the freedom to decide how far you’ll bend or expand your boundaries in a given situation. But there are very few, if any, situations where it’s a good idea to be full-on rigid or porous. Thick-bordered people are hard to reach, are very defensive, and practically walk around in spiky body armor. Thin-bordered ones are overly open and frequently naïve—they’re easy to get close to, but their naked sincerity can let bad forces in.

The main thing to consider when you’re setting your boundaries is that you’re the one in charge. You have to trust in yourself and believe what you need, want, and cherish is right. And you have to know that your feelings are equally as important as anyone else’s.

When you finally take the personal initiative to respect yourself and set and defend your boundaries, it may bend a few people out of shape. They won’t be happy. They’ll be upset and maybe sad. A few of them might be really pissed off. But staying firm to your boundaries will actually help your relationships and alliances over the long haul.

If someone else’s response makes you let down your boundaries, you’re going to feel irritated with them as time goes on. You can’t let yourself be deterred by them. You need a situation where your friends, relations, and associates truly esteem you for who you are and will respect your limits—even if they feel a little let down or unhappy with your decision at first.

Like any good business plan, you have to account for a certain measure of risk to make your boundary settings more likely to succeed. In this case, you have to allow for the possibility—in fact, fully anticipate—that someone might be angry when you set your boundaries.

You therefore need to steel your resolve with someone who might be unreasonably mad with you. You can’t accept their bullying or their attempts to break your limits. You can’t let them continue to exploit your sympathy or helpfulness or show disdain for the boundaries that are completely your right to establish.

If you allow an angry person to weaken your determination because they scare you, your situation will not improve. Realize this as quickly as you can. By withdrawing your request that they respect your limits, you’ll only get more depressed and displeased. In time, that turns into full-on acrimony and hatred.

On the other hand, if you stand firm in the face of someone’s indignation with you, the discomfort will only be temporary. They may continue to feel resentful for a bit, but you’ll at least know that you’ve stood your ground and defended what’s important to you. At least you will eventually feel confident that you’ve made the right choice. Chances are their anger will die down as well, and you’ll still have a relationship you can build back up again.

Whatever’s making them so angry isn’t your problem—it’s theirs. Once again, you’re responsible only for your own actions and deeds. They are responsible for their own reactions. If you sustain an even temperament and hold firm to your convictions about boundaries, maybe they’ll finally learn they need to respect others more often.

Don’t take an angry person’s bait. If their rage is starting to careen out of control, keep yourself calm. Don’t let them dictate the hostile tone of the exchange just because they’re infuriated. This is one of those rare situations where remaining idle is a sign of strength. Let them storm their head off, and quietly go about your business.

You might be tempted in the presence of an angry person to immediately try and make them feel better and get back in their good graces. But you should resist the urge to make it all better as well, because you’ll still be ceding your personal power to someone who’s just going to consume it.

When dealing with the fire and fury of someone who’s angry with your decisions, including those in which you establish your boundaries, the solution is marvelously simple: do nothing. It’s not always easy, but it’s almost always the best way.

Unfortunately, you will almost always have some sort of negative reaction to your boundaries. This is something you have to prepare for, but it will be difficult nonetheless. People don’t like getting told no, but that reflects on them, not you as a person.

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