A universal animal need is to defend personal
space - i.e. to set and enforce psychological
and physical boundaries. You've evolved a
complex set of unconscious boundaries across
your years from life experience. Like most
people, you probably don't consciously think
about your boundaries until they're violated
Psychological boundaries or limits
have to do with (a) not facing uncomfortable
personal realities, and (b) not revealing
personal information to other people that could
cause embarrassment, harm, or rejection. As we
get to know and dis/trust other people, our
psychological boundaries may shrink or expand.
They also shift with age, increasing
self-confidence, and self-growth.
Physical (sensory) boundaries vary with
sexual mores and situational context. Example -
I'd welcome a backrub from my best friend, but
not a stranger. I'll kiss my own child
goodnight, but not a friend's teenaged daughter.
I'll hug you (with your permission) unless
you're contagious. If you stand too close to me,
I'll step back. If you caress me and I don't
know or trust your intentions, I'll feel uncomfortable. We each have boundaries with
sights, sounds, odors, tastes, and touching,
which start in infancy and become mostly
Behavioral boundaries define what actions
we will and won't tolerate with various other
people in various situations. For example, I
won't tolerate your talking lewdly, or too
loudly, or exposing your body to me (unless I
Cultural experience teaches us to assume
some limits with each other (e.g. bad breath,
body odor, and men kissing men are no-nos), and
we intentionally assert and defend other
unique personal limits. (I need you not to crack
your gum or smoke around me).
A major task in forming every relationship is
learning each others' boundaries, and evolving a
mutually-acceptable way of regulating and
enforcing them when they're violated. Do you
have an effective way of doing this with key
adults and kids in your life?
describe your habitual response when someone
violates an important personal boundary?
Do you repress? Get angry? Feel annoyed and
irritated? Criticize? Threaten? Plead? Hint?
Joke? Whine? Attack? Insult? Growl? Rant?
Lecture? Generalize? Leave? Avoid? Pretend? If
you violate someone else's boundaries, how would
you like them to respond?
Two universal challenges are responding to
people who (a) don't know your boundaries, and
who (b) know and ignore (disrespect)
them. The first merits respectful
(teaching). The second merits firm
enforcement - i.e. enacting some behavioral
consequence ("If you call me after using drugs,
I'm going to hang up.")
The rest of this article focuses on responses to
the second challenge - boundary intrusions or
fundamental issue here is preserving your
integrity (self respect) in the face of
aggression (disrespect). Are you
aware of how you do that now? Is it effective?
often have trouble asserting and enforcing
Now think of an adult or child who violates your
boundaries "too often." Keep them in mind as you
to (a) be clear on your boundaries, and (b)
notice when they've been violated "too
until they become a habit.
Identify how you
feel about the boundary violation and
the violator. Your feelings point toward
Decide if you need to respond now or later.
If so, decide what you need to do: Vent?
Offer feed-back Assert a consequence?
Protect your self respect? Forgive?
Warn? Remind? Set a new limit or
consequence? Protect your relationship?
Something else? Based on your need/s, try
one or more responses like these:
"(Name), I feel
violated and disrespected by you, because
exceeded / ignored / discounted / my limit."
"When you agree
to respect my limit (about _____ ) and then
you ignore it, I feel disrespected, and I
lose trust in you."
"Stop. I don't
need an explanation or excuse. I need you to
know how I feel and what I need."
"If you choose to ignore my boundary
(again), I'm going to (take some specific action)."
"I've asked you
not to just drop in. Please leave me alone
really hurt, frustrated, and angry at (your
specific boundary violation)!"
"From now on,
I'm going to (make a specific relationship
change) because I no longer trust you (about
"No, I will not
back off / change my mind / soften my
"Who's needs do \you feel are more
important here - yours or mine?"
The best answer is "Both of ours.")
focused only on your needs. My needs
(and values) are just as important as
"That's none of
your business, (Name)."
your hands off me."
"I feel you're
intruding in my life / space / business.
"No, I won't
discuss that with you."
"Do you know
what a personal boundary is?"
ignore or violate your boundaries, what do
theme of these examples
- brief, honest, direct, and respectful. No hinting, apologies, or
long explanations. Can you imagine yourself
calmly responding like them without anxiety,
guilt, or shame? If not, review your
rights and decide if a
is causing your unease.
Responses to Avoid
Most people react to intrusions and boundary
violations without awareness - specially if
they're ruled by a false self. Protective
subselves are apt to use lose-lose responses
"You are unbelievably nosy!"
(a provocative "You" statement)
"I wish you wouldn't do that."
(A timid 1-down assertion)
"(Name), d'you mind?"
protest, not an assertion)
"Some people are really insensitive,
don't you think?" (an indirect
"How would it feel if I did that to
you?" (a fruitless attempt to
get compliance, not problem-solve)
"You can be such a jerk!"
generalized, combative put-down)
"OK, that's IT! I'm telling Monica
about your affair!" (1-up revenge)
"(Name), you have the sensitivity of a
goldfish." (a sarcastic insult)
"Why can't you be as empathic as
_______ ?" (a shaming comparison)
you think of other ineffective examples
of reacting to boundary violations?
Bottom line - you have a wide range of
possible effective responses to people who
ignore your boundaries and intrude on you. See
these options for responding to
for more choices.