By Annie Allen, Certified Divorce and Life Transition Coach®
Such a loaded word.
A word I would venture to guess most of us hadn’t heard for the first few decades of our lives. What a different life we may have had, huh?
Are you tired of attracting or allowing users and abusers in your life? Did you know there is one single way you can STOP attracting and allowing all users, liars, and cheats? When you learn to set healthy boundaries in your life, life changes for the better. That’s why I say “what a different world it would be” if we were all taught boundaries in the homes and schools of our youth.
The word boundaries can seem big, foreign, and intimidating so let’s simply it. Having boundaries just means knowing yourself and respecting yourself. Does that sound more do-able? Let’s explore this important topic so you can stop attracting and allowing people in your life who only hurt you. Life does not have to hurt, and many of you are going to have a hard time believing that.
First of all, you have to understand what it is about you that makes Boundary Busters want to be with you.
YOU WERE TARGETED
People who don’t respect the boundaries of others often target a certain personality type because of its unique benefits to their ego.
1) You are kind, loving and have good values.
To them, this means you will be forgiving to the very end of all the ways they will misuse and mistreat you.
2) They’ve tested your boundaries and can see an opportunity to get their ego stroked easily.
They have disrespected you, and you let it slide, so now they know they don’t have to. They can promise you a million times that they will do better the next time because they know you will believe them. Ego stroking will easily be met when they can get away with anything.
3) You are controllable and you have something they need: narcissistic supply (look it up).
They can control you because you have shown them that you will not demand the respect of having your own autonomous thoughts and feelings. They see a gateway to fulfill their insatiable need for control.
WHY WE MUST HAVE GOOD BOUNDARIES
Boundaries are just limits that we set with those that might abuse us. You will notice that you don’t really need boundaries when you surround yourself with people who respect you for who you are rather than what you can do for them. So, because boundaries are only needed with the people who tend to try to push your boundaries, or disrespect you, it becomes easier to identify who those Boundary Busters are, as you become more acquainted and comfortable with making boundaries are part of your everyday life.
Having boundaries protects you and your assets—like your heart, your time, and your mental health, if not also your money.
Boundaries empower you to set and communicate how you chose to conduct your life
Maybe best of all, boundaries relieve anxiety, confusion, depression and pain because when everyone knows and understands the code of conduct you allow in your life, they know they must adapt or exit your life and you can create a more peaceful life with less anger and resentment, and more joy!
WHO ARE THE BOUNDARY BUSTERS?
Boundary Busters are the toxic people that ooze negative energy and leave us feeling worse whenever we’re around them. Your gut will tell you if someone is toxic and not healthy to be around, but you have to be tuned into and trusting your gut to follow its guidance. Here is a short list of toxic characteristics. Even if they are otherwise nice, and other people like them, you will happier and healthier if you limit the time you spend with people who:
· Lie often
· Talk, but don’t listen
· Take advantage of your kindness
· Disrespectful of your boundaries
· Are frequently angry or aggressive, even passive aggressive or angrily sarcastic
· Blame others and don’t take responsibility for their actions, rarely apologizing
· Manipulate to get what they want (also referred to as playing on your emotions)
· Put you down
· Feel entitled
· Drain your energy
· Have a life of drama, but don’t take steps to change
· Discourage you from pursuing your goals
· Don’t consider other people’s feelings or needs
· Think the rules don’t apply to them
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH YOUR BOUNDARY BUSTERS
Setting boundaries is a process. There is no quick fix for dealing with people who don’t respect your boundaries. The bottom line is that we cannot make anyone respect us or our stated needs and wants (aka boundaries), but we can always control how we respond. Here are some important ways to do so.
Decide whether this boundary is negotiable.
Some boundaries are more important than others. Identifying what you’re willing to accept and what you consider intolerable or non-negotiable will help you decide if you’re willing to compromise on some issues. Compromise can be a good thing if both people are just adjusting and making progress. True compromise does not mean abandonment of your own needs to please someone nor does it mean accepting deal-breaker treatment. If someone repeatedly violates your most important boundaries, you have to ask yourself how long you’re willing to accept such treatment. I’ve been that person who accepted disrespect and abuse for years, hoping my toxic person would change only to look back in hindsight to see that they never had any intention to change or respect my boundaries. They were just waiting for me to cave again. And why not? It had always worked before. Until I decided it didn’t.
Write down what’s happening.
Record the boundary busting and your responses. This not only helps you check yourself for weak spots that need improvement, but helps you make needed adjustments. The fact is that it’s hard to repeatedly set the same boundary with a boundary buster who isn’t listening or trying to adapt. It can be easier to give up or be inconsistent with our boundaries, which just fans the flame. If you struggle with consistency, writing things down helps you get clear on what you’re willing to accept.
Accept that some people will not respect your boundaries no matter what you do.
It is so hard to accept because we want to believe everyone is like us, willing to give their all. It can be devastating that have to decide whether or not to continue to have a relationship with someone when they have proven over and over that they will not respect who you are and what you want in the relationship. It is important to learn though that you cannot change someone else’s behavior. You can choose to accept it, or you can choose to disengage from it.
Practice calm detachment. (As opposed to I am done with your sh*t!)
Detachment is a big word that simply means to shift away from trying to control people and situations. When you’re in a state of fear, you understandably want to control things to self-protect. Trying to control other people simply never works. When we detach, we stop trying to change them and we stop trying to force the outcome we want. We can detach from a Boundary Buster by:
· Physically leaving a dangerous or uncomfortable situation.
· Responding in a different way. For example, instead of taking something personally or yelling, we can shrug off a rude comment or make a joke of it. This changes the dynamics of the interaction.
· Declining invitations to spend time with them.
· Letting them make their own decisions and deal with the consequences of those choices.
· Not giving unsolicited advice.
· Choosing not to participate in the same old arguments or taking space away from an unproductive conversation or argument.
Detaching doesn’t mean you don’t care about them. It means you’re taking care of yourself and being realistic about what you can do in each situation.
Consider limiting contact or going no-contact. Sometimes the only way to protect yourself is to stop associating with toxic people who don’t respect you. Limited or no-contact isn’t intended to punish or manipulate others, it’s a form of self-care. If someone is hurting you physically or emotionally, you owe it to yourself to put some distance between you and this person. Despite what others may say, you don’t have to have a relationship with family members or anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. Family and friends should lift you up and support you, not leave you depressed, anxious, angry, or confused.
BELIEVE ALWAYS THAT YOU HAVE CHOICES
One of the great things about being an adult is that you have choices. You may not feel like it sometimes, but you actually do not have to continue to be friends with someone who takes advantage of your kindness, or work for someone who criticizes and belittles you all the time, or stay in a romantic relationship with someone who gaslights you and makes you feel like you are always the problem.
We all have choices — sometimes we don’t particularly like out choices, but it’s important to know that we have them. We aren’t trapped or powerless. If we choose to stay in a toxic place because it is easier than leaving, okay. That is a choice. You are not a victim. You are choosing to stay until you are ready to leave. If you are wise, you start preparing for an eventual exit well in advance.
If you choose instead to end the toxic or abusive relationship, it will be painful. For practical reasons, you may not be able to end yours right now. You may need to start making subtle but pivotal changes now, such as looking for a new job, locating copies of all important financial documents, ensuring you have access to half the funds to meet your needs in the event of a sudden separation, staying with a friend or at a shelter—all with the goal of eventually freeing yourself from this person who hurts you physically and/or emotionally. Hard choices may have to be made, but in the end, it will all be okay because you will be exiting the abuse.
IF WE’RE HONEST
The hard truth is that sometimes we just are not yet ready to go no-contact or end a relationship even if deep inside we know it’s unhealthy to stay. That’s when boundaries are crucial. Boundaries are the necessary first step in ending a toxic system and—GOOD NEWS—they are your first and best chance at saving the relationship too by affecting positive change (if that is possible, and you won’t know until you try).
If it turns out, after learning, implementing, and maintaining healthy boundaries for many months or even years, that healthy change in the relationship is not possible because there is only one willing party, your boundaries journey will have prepared you for a stronger exit that can be walked out with care, calmness and wise planning. This is not possible if instead of taking the route of boundaries, you continue to tolerate and participate in the toxicity until one day you cannot do it one more second and you leave abruptly, without a solid plan.
If you are honest with yourself right now and you know you are not ready to end your difficult relationship, here’s what you can do. Give yourself grace, keep soul searching, and do any or all of these these five things instead of staying in the stuck pattern and beating yourself up for it:
1) Identify your choices (such as detaching physically, detaching emotionally, limiting contact even if you live in the same house, avoiding being alone with them, practicing self-care often, leaving escalating situations immediately rather than allowing it to get worsepo)
2) Choose the best options for you where you are right now knowing that none of them may be ideal.
3) Respect yourself and start taking actions that ask for others to do the same.
4) Implement some consequences you are willing to stick to if your Boundary Busters violate your stated needs and wants. (Spoiler alert: they will.)
5) And trust your instincts.
Oh! And… 6) Listen to Episode 94 of the Starting Over Stronger Podcast (below) to learn more and gain encouragement for this part of your journey. You've got this!