How to Take Back Your Power When Someone Violates Your Boundaries
By Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist.
People who violate boundaries are difficult because their behavior causes a lot of emotional havoc. When boundaries are repeatedly violated, relationships start to feel unsafe.
In some cases, you may even start to question yourself instead of recognizing this behavior as unhealthy. People who violate boundaries can be quite forceful, assuming they’re always right. They are often unaware of how their behavior impacts others. They will act as if nothing is wrong and may blame you.
When people violate boundaries (I call them boundary busters), you may need more specific tools to advocate for, and take care of, yourself.
Don’t worry, you can do this!
When someone violates your boundaries, it’s natural to feel frustrated and powerless, but you can learn how to take your power back.
In this article you will learn some practical strategies for confidently handling these boundary busters.
What are boundaries, and why are they so important?
Boundaries are limits you set for yourself that dictate where you spend your time and energy. They reflect your own personal choices. When boundaries are healthy, they guide you in making healthy choices based on what you can control versus getting stuck in trying to control people, places and outcomes.
Boundaries work only when you can control the outcome.
Susan wants to have a more relaxing holiday, so she asks her family to minimize outside activities. Her family ends up over-committing to several events that makes Susan feel anxious and resentful.
What can she do?
She can give in and attend all her family’s festivities OR she can remind them of her boundary and let them know she will not be attending every event.
Boundaries are never about getting the other person to change their behavior. When boundaries are healthy, they keep you physically and emotionally safe even if someone is out of control or disrespecting you.
Boundaries help you prioritize what’s important in your life. For instance, everyone has certain “non-negotiable” behaviors that they need in order to feel respected and loved. These behaviors are based on core values that they live by.
A few examples of core values include; honesty, integrity, respecting privacy, accountability, etc. When these core values are disregarded, boundaries get violated.
What are healthy boundaries in relationships?
For a boundary to be successful, it has to be something you can control, like what you say and do. What you say and do is all that you can control. Period.
The biggest reason boundaries fail is because you’re trying to change something outside of you instead of realizing that you need to focus on the things you can change.
Examples of healthy boundaries include:
- Saying no when you want to do something else
- Not going to places where you don’t feel safe
- Staying quiet instead of over-committing
- Not hanging out with abusive people
- Leaving the room when someone disrespects you
In all these scenarios, the success of the boundary depends solely on your actions, not theirs.
Why does someone violate a person’s boundaries?
People who don’t respect boundaries are not always aware of how this behavior hurts others. Often, these folks grew up having their own boundaries violated, so they don’t recognize the importance of boundaries in relationships. They never learned that skill.
More commonly, people with narcissistic traits violate boundaries to gain control and get what they want from others. These traits are rigid and don’t change over time. Maintaining a healthy connection with such people is challenging to say the least.
Addicts and alcoholics violate boundaries because they don’t have the emotional maturity it takes to respect others. They lack the ability to recognize their own dysfunctional behaviors because their addiction has over shadowed everything in their life.
What are some examples of violating someone’s boundaries?
- Not letting others have their own opinions
- Treating others badly
- Getting in someone’s face
- Not honoring what other people need
- Making all the decisions, so they get their way
Strategies to handle people who violate boundaries:
Boundaries help you identify what behaviors are acceptable and which ones aren’t. Having healthy boundaries protects you from toxic situations while keeping you safe.
Here are the steps to regain your power when someone violates your boundaries.
#1. Detach yourself from the actions of the boundary buster:
Violating boundaries indicates two things: a lack of awareness and a lack of skill. Many boundary violators don’t realize the impact of their behavior on those around them.
Often, these people have strong personalities that make it difficult for them to compromise and listen. They tend to attract people-pleasers with a high tolerance for bad behavior.
Boundary busters are masters at convincing others that they are right and you’re wrong. Don’t buy into that mentality. Instead, use positive affirmations to remind yourself that “It’s not my fault” or “Setting a boundary doesn’t mean I’m selfish.”
It’s okay to disagree with them or want something different.
You are never responsible for someone else’s actions, even when they blame you. The person violating your boundaries is the one overstepping; it’s not your fault.
Boundary violators tend to be quite forceful because they are used to getting their way. Some will react negatively when challenged, so be prepared to take a time-out if needed.
To take your power back, you need to detach from their behavior. Detachment, in this case, means letting go of the other person’s truth instead of adopting it as your own.
Examples of detachment include:
- Walking away when they start blaming you
- Telling yourself it’s not your responsibility
- Letting them have their opinion without changing yours
- Validating your truth instead of adopting theirs
As with any new behavior, practicing detachment takes time but knowing what your responsibility is and what it isn’t makes the process of letting go easier.
#2. When people violate your boundaries, use the broken record technique:
The broken record technique provides a powerful strategy to state your boundary with someone who violates them. It involves creating a simple statement that expresses your boundary clearly and firmly.
Here’s an example of a broken record technique:
“Let’s talk about something else because this conversation isn’t going well.”
“That’s not going to work for me.”
“I appreciate your asking, but I need to decline.”
When the other person challenges you, repeat this statement.
With people who violate boundaries, you need to be super clear. You may need to say your “broken record statement” 2-3 times to get your point across. That’s okay; remember, this behavior is a reflection of them, not you.
The win comes from holding your ground and not from getting the other person to see your truth because often they won’t be able to.
Most people who violate boundaries are used to getting their way, but when they’re challenged – they often don’t know what to do.
Or their behavior gets worse.
#3. When the person’s behavior gets worse, it’s time to leave:
When the other person’s behavior worsens, it’s time to leave.
Don’t stick around hoping to change their mind or calm them down. The goal is to leave BEFORE it gets verbally or physically abusive. Leaving makes a powerful statement because it conveys the message that this behavior will not be tolerated.
Sometimes, this means taking your own car to an event so you don’t feel trapped or leaving the room before the person loses control. It’s called voting with your feet, and that’s how you take your power back!
Remember, leaving gives you the dignity you deserve. Sticking around for more abusive behavior doesn’t make sense. It’s okay to choose your well-being first because the boundary violator doesn’t notice that they have gone too far.
Final Thoughts on Boundaries:
The purpose of setting boundaries is to keep you safe and advocate for yourself in relationships. You have every right to protect yourself from any emotional or physical abuse.
Remember, just because the boundary violator wants something, you don’t always have to give it. Saying no can be an important barometer for recognizing how healthy your relationships truly are.
When people violate your boundaries repeatedly without remorse, it’s probably time to re-evaluate the relationship and consider what’s healthy for you in the long run. Setting boundaries with these people requires a willingness to take care of yourself first. And you’re worth it!
Michelle Farris, Codependency and Relationship Therapist. Watch Michelle’s free 30 Minute Better Boundaries training here: https://counselingrecovery.lpages.co/boundariesmf/
This is a particularly good read on boundaries. I always look forward to hearing or reading Michelle’s contributions
Thanks Melissa! I really appreciate that and you for reading!
Thank you so much for these words. I need them.
You are SO welcome Elaine! If you’d like more help, check out my free training called Better Boundaries. The link is at the end of the post.