People pleasers and co-dependents struggle with this part.
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You’ve tried to set a boundary with this person, truly, you have. They just don’t listen! Is there someone in your life that continually crosses your boundaries? Perhaps you never had a boundary, or just gave up trying to set them when it did no good. That’s precisely what some toxic people in your life want to happen. They love when you have poor boundaries!
People pleasers, and co-dependents, grew up being taught that you cannot have boundaries. You were made to change, or hide your emotions, in order to keep your caretaker happy. As a grown-up, you either don’t know how to set a boundary, or have very loose boundaries that others can cross easily.
I was talking with a lady in one of my groups. She was telling me about her Mother’s Day celebration with her son. He came to visit her, but then got angry about the food she made because he was trying to lose weight. She politely told him he didn’t have to eat it. Then, he went on to berate and scream at both her and her husband for the next hour.
This woman has learned that it does no good to argue back with her son. It just escalates the situation. When he turned on her husband, she began to make herself busy cleaning up the kitchen, trying to stay out of the line of fire.
Finally, her son got so disgusted, that he decided to leave. This woman felt so drained, and hurt. She didn’t know what to do about the situation. She knew she didn’t want to talk to her son for a while. Luckily for her, the son does not live with her, so she gets a built-in break. Unfortunately for some of us, that isn’t the case. We live with the boundary crosser.
First, Do You Have a Boundary, and Is It Known?
The woman in my group did not have a clear boundary. Her son did not know that she did not want anyone to yell at her. You might think, “That’s just common sense.”, but some people yell because they think that is the only way someone will listen to them, or they yell out of frustration.
The first thing the woman in my group needs to do is to state a clear boundary. I imagine her saying something like, “I don’t like to be yelled at, and I have trouble listening to what you need me to hear. I will be happy to listen, if you turn down the volume, and have a conversation with me.”
Her son may attempt to stop yelling. It may take a few tries. What we need to look for when setting a boundary, is whether the person who crossed our boundary is attempting to do better. Is he trying to talk softer? Has he agreed to leave, and come back at another time when he is not so angry? Has he agreed to speak with a therapist, or some other person that can help him work through his emotions?
Have a Boundary consequence in Mind
If you have the opportunity to think about this ahead of time, all the better. The woman in my group knows that her son yells at her. She tenses up when he comes over, because she anticipates a fight.
It would really help her feel more in control if she knew how she wanted to handle it when her son yells at her in the future. She knows she doesn’t like yelling, and doesn’t want to allow it, so now she needs to decide what she will do next time. She can tell him firmly to stop yelling, and ask him to leave her home if he doesn’t. She can’t force him stop yelling, and she can’t make him leave, therefore, she needs to know what she will do if he continues to yell.
She can call the police if she feels threatened, and he won’t leave. Another option is locking herself in a bedroom, or even leaving the home herself if it comes down to that.
It’s not helpful for her to threaten to call the police, and she shouldn’t threaten to leave if she doesn’t intend to follow through. Otherwise, the yelling will continue to escalate, and she will feel more victimized.
Now, think about the boundary you decided on. What will you do the next time someone crosses that boundary? Here are a few things to try:
- Clearly state your boundary
- State how you will handle the situation if they don’t stop, or if they do the thing again. “The next time I feel like you are yelling at me, I will need to leave the room.”
- Limit your engagement by leaving the conversation, leaving the room, or leaving the premises
- Limit contact (See this person only on holidays, only when other people are around, only at family functions, etc.)
- Take a break from the relationship
- Cut contact for a set period of time, or indefinitely
Most People Will Honor Your Boundary
Most of the people in your life will honor your boundary and respect you for setting limits. The people that don’t honor your boundary, are the people that benefit from you having loose boundaries.
My group member’s son, for example, benefits from her loose boundary by feeling power over her. He is feeling miserable inside, and by intimidating her, he can put that energy onto her to carry. After their interactions, she feels miserable, and he feels a bit better. If she doesn’t set and enforce a boundary, she will continue to feel miserable during their interactions.
Surround yourself with people that value your relationship, and therefore honor and respect your boundaries. If you are a people-pleaser, or co-dependent, it’s not too late for you to learn how to set healthy boundaries and fill your life with respectful, loving relationships.
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