My Top 10 Takeaways from “Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship” by Adelyn Birch
This is one of the few books I’ve read that really address boundaries from a place of truly keeping a target safe and sane. The author really understands abusive behavior and makes it clear that this book isn’t about trying to set boundaries with a dangerous and destructive person–that we need to end those relationships and use the information in this book to develop healthy relationships with healthier people from here on out. Because to try and develop healthy boundaries with a dangerous or destructive person can (and most likely will) enrage them.
If you’d like to learn more about this book, you can click here to find it on Amazon (this is an affiliate link and helps to support this website).
- All abuse starts with a boundary violation. There are different forms of abuse, however the one thing they all have in common is that they start with a boundary violation. This is not to say that all boundary violations are abusive—they are not, but it’s important for us to be aware of our boundaries so we can tell when they’ve been crossed.
All abuse is about gaining and keeping power and control over the target. Abuse comes in different forms:
Physical Abuse: includes acts of violence that cause physical harm or injury.
Sexual Abuse: includes sexual exploitation or forced participation in sexual activity that is unwanted, unsafe, or degrading.
Emotional Abuse: diminishes self-worth and self-esteem. This is done is two ways: verbal abuse, which includes name-calling, criticism, put-downs, yelling, and shaming. The other is through subtle psychological tactics the target is often unaware of. Abusers may use intimidation and threats as well. They may threaten to hurt themselves, their target, of their family. They may destroy things, damage personal possessions, or harm pets.
Financial Abuse: includes controlling access to money, taking a target’s money thru deceit or theft, or preventing a target from earning an income.
Social abuse: Includes limiting access to friends and family or completely isolating the target, and/or preventing them from going to school, work, or other activities.
- It doesn’t matter why another person is abusive, and it doesn’t matter if they are doing it on purpose or not. Abusers are aware of what they are saying and doing, but they may not understand that what they are saying and doing is abusive. This could be because of some cognitive issue, limitation or inability to self-reflect on their actions, being raised in an abusive homes, drug use, or for any other number of reasons. However, this doesn’t mean we should accept or accuse their behavior, as there is no excuse for abuse. What matters is the presence of the abusive acts themselves and the effects they have on you. You do not have any obligation to be abused, no matter what their problem is or where it comes from, and you do not have any obligation to try and teach them to how to not be abusive. (In fact, trying to do so will often lead to further abuse—which is often more severe, and can put the target at the risk of greater harm.)
*Healing begins when the target stops trying to second guess why a person is abusing them (and wondering if they are a narcissist or if they are “just” an abusive jerk), and focuses more on their boundaries, standards, deal breakers, and feelings about how they are being treated. If how you are being treated isn’t okay with you, then it’s not okay. It doesn’t matter what the abuser, or anyone else thinks about it. *
- It’s crucial to develop boundaries before getting involved in a new relationship. When you get out of an abusive relationship, there comes a time when you start to look beyond the trauma you experienced. You don’t want to let what happened hold you back from living your life anymore. However, dating may make you nervous. In the past you never wondered if the person you were interested in may be an abuser. Now you are wiser now, and know that you can’t tell who a person is in the beginning of a relationship—and that none of us can. The only way to tell what kind of person someone is, is to take things slowly and see how they act in a wide variety of situations. Not being able to tell who is an abuser may be unnerving and you may wonder what you can do to protect yourself. It’s not unusual to feel vulnerable and need to regroup. You may have withdrawn for a while to figure things out.
To help build your confidence, develop personal boundaries before getting involved in new relationship. Boundaries, combined with your experience and knowledge can help you avoid becoming involved with another abuser. Boundaries make it possible to connect with others while maintaining your safety and integrity. When you have boundaries, your fear will diminish significantly. You will feel empowered because your boundaries will enable you to communicate your self-worth to others. The more you practice upholding your boundaries, the more respect, love, and support you will have in your life. Boundaries protect your emotional and physical health, and they protect you from the behavior and demands of others. They allow you to confidently express who you are and what you want. Boundaries help you to live an authentic life.
As important boundaries are, they’re just one part of preparing yourself for new relationships. Knowing your weak spots and how they can make you vulnerable is also important. It’s also important to value yourself and feel your worth, and to know what you want from life and from relationships. It can also be incredibly helpful to learn about psychological manipulation, the mindset of an abuser, and the warning signs that tell you that you might have an abuser on your hands. It’s also helpful to learn how the mind works, (and to get in tune with how we feel emotionally when we are in denial, or when things are a problem, as well as how healthy relationships and situations feel like.)
Although boundaries will build up your confidence and improve your life and relationship, they will not automatically get rid of the limiting beliefs that caused you to have weak boundaries in the first place.
There comes a time when you must learn to be your own protector, your own advocate, and your own best friend. You may realize that after this traumatic relationship, that changes are needed. This doesn’t mean that this was your fault or that there was anything wrong with you before. It simply means that there are people in this world who don’t have our best interests at heart. The world isn’t the way we want it to be, it’s that way that it is—and we need to know how to have healthy boundaries to interact with others.
Boundaries will help you discern who is trustworthy, who respects you, and who offers a real and meaningful connection. We all need boundaries. They aren’t just for keeping users, abusers, or manipulators away—they useful for day-to-day dealings with neighbors, parents, siblings, friends, children, bosses, and everyone else we have contact with. When you create boundaries, you are not building a wall around yourself in response to your trauma. You are doing something healthy and necessary. (But you may start out at first with building a wall around yourself (aka fortressing), and even if you do set healthy boundaries and don’t fortress, others may tell you that you are being too self-protective. Odds are this is because they have poor boundaries and/or aren’t used to you having boundaries.)
- Understand if (and when) you have any people pleasing or “doormat” tendencies. People pleasing is when we allow other’s needs and feelings to take priority over our own. This may keep the peace with them for a while, but it comes at the price of our inner peace. There is less outer conflict, but our inner conflict grows. If we say no, we feel guilty. If we say yes we feel resentful or we get upset with ourselves, obsessively think about the situation and how we could get out of it. It seems like we can’t win.
People pleasers believe assertiveness is harsh, setting limits is rude, and requesting that our needs be met is demanding and selfish. Some pleasers don’t believe that they have any rights or needs at all, and if they do, they feel guilty and selfish for expressing them. They consider it selfish to act in their own best interest, and often live a life full of taking action from a place of fear of abandonment, obligation to others (at the expense of themselves), and guilt for saying no and not doing what others want them to do. Some people believe that martyrdom, self-denial, and incessant caretaking are virtues to be practiced to the point of misery. This is known as being a doormat. When people are doormats, they allow others to take advantage of them.
People-pleasers and doormats and others without boundaries don’t value their needs, feelings, and desires, and continually put others’ needs and feelings first. They don’t believe that they have rights, or don’t know what they are. They fear the anger or judgment of others and fear being thought of as self-centered. They fear being abandoned (or don’t want the hurt of being let down again) or are ashamed of showing their feelings or asking for what they want or need.
- Understanding what your basic emotional needs are.
Emotional needs include:
- The need to be acknowledged
- The need to be accepted
- The need to be listened to
- The need to be understood
- The need to be loved
- The need to be appreciated
- The need to be respected
- The need to be valued
- The need to feel worthy
- The need to be trusted
- The need to feel capable and competent
- The need to feel clear and not confused
- The need to be supported
- The need to be safe, both physically and emotionally
A big part in rediscovering yourself is with getting in tune with your emotional needs, your feelings about how you deserve to be treated, and your ability to assert your power and control over your life. This is done by developing boundaries.
- Understand the signs you are being manipulated and/or are in an unhealthy relationship. If you are in a relationship and notice any of the following signs, there is a high probability you are being manipulated:
- Your joy at finding love has turned into the fear of losing it.
- Your feelings have gone from happiness and euphoria to anxiety, sadness, and even desperation.
- Your mood depends entirely on the state of the relationship, and you are experiencing extreme highs and lows.
- You’re unhappy in the relationship and uncertain about it much of the time, yet you dread losing it because you are blissfully happy every now and again.
- You feel like you’re responsible for ruining the best thing that ever happened to you, but you aren’t sure how.
- Your relationship feels very complex, although you don’t know why.
- You are unable to explain the issues in your relationship clearly, and wind up saying, “it’s just complicated.”
- You obsess about the details and try to analyze them in an attempt to figure it out. You talk about it all the time to anyone who will listen.
- You never feel sure of where you stand with your partner, which leaves you in a perpetual state of uncertainty and anxiety.
- You frequently ask your partner if something is wrong.
- It feels as if something is wrong, but you aren’t sure what it is.
- You are frequently on the defensive. You feel misunderstood and have the need to explain and defend yourself.
- You seem to have developed a problem with trust, jealousy, insecurity, anger, or overreaction which your partner has pointed out to you on many occasions.
- You feel ongoing anger or resentment.
- You have become a detective. You scour the web for information about your partner, keep a close eye on his or her social media accounts, and feel a need to check their web search history, texts, or emails. When they aren’t home you worry about where they really are.
- You feel that you don’t truly know how to make them happy. You try hard but nothing seems to work, at least not for long.
- Expressing negative thoughts and emotions feels restricted or forbidden, so you try to keep those things to yourself. You feel frustrated that you aren’t able to talk about things that are bothering you.
- You don’t feel as good about yourself as you did before the relationship. You feel less confident, secure, intelligent, sane, trusting, attractive, or in any other way “less than” you were before.
- You feel inadequate, like you’re always falling short of your partner’s expectations.
- You often feel guilty and find yourself apologizing a lot. You continually try to repair damage you believe you’ve caused. You blame yourself for your partner pulling away. You can’t understand why you keep sabotaging the relationship.
- You carefully control your words, actions, and emotions around your partner to keep them from withdrawing their affection again.
- At times you erupt like a volcano filled with anger, frustration, and even hostility. You don’t normally act this way, and vow that it will stop, but no matter hard how you try it keeps happening.
- You do things you aren’t really comfortable with or that go against your values, limits, or boundaries in order to make your partner happy or keep the relationship intact
- You feel bad for staying, or wonder why anyone else would stay in a relationship that causes fear, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, confusion, and frustration.
People stay in relationships like this because things aren’t always bad, and oftentimes in the beginning, things are often ideal. When things start to take a turn, the target starts to blame themselves and double up their effort to make things work. And if things do work—if they are calm—then they feel relief and think that things have finally turned a corner. Their partner may be kind and loving. (And of course blame them for everything—telling them that they will forgive them for being so difficult.)
These highs and lows create a cycle that the target is not aware of (it feels like the normal ups and downs of any relationship). Manipulation begins slowly and subtly and gradually escalates. Targets are controlled through a series of promised gains and threatened losses, covertly executed through a variety of manipulative tactics. (Confusion, uncertainty, relief, calm followed by chaos are all signs of manipulation.)
Beware of relationships that substitute intensity for intimacy. A healthy relationship doesn’t have extreme highs and lows. There isn’t false flattery, love bombing, future faking, or otherwise an “ideal” or even calm period followed by abuse of any kind.
Your needs and feelings are every bit as important as someone else’s. If you don’t believe this, then odds are your boundaries will continually be pushed and violated.
Boundaries keep you intact. They guard our dreams, goals, values, time, sense of self, money, self-worth, emotional well-being, physical health, safety, and self-respect. Boundaries keep you intact, and allow you to live your life the way you want to live it. They are held in place by your decisions and actions.
If you have weak or non-existent boundaries, the space is probably filled with things like low self-worth, self-doubt, insecurity, fear of rejection, the need for approval, disappointment, and resentment. These ingredients are a recipe for an unfulfilled life and damaging relationships with users, abusers, and manipulators.
We get off track when we:
- Don’t realize our self-worth
- We don’t know who to give our trust to
- We believe others have our best interests at heart (especially if they are family or “friends” or people that are friendly)
- We believe that other people’s needs and desires are more important than our own
- We believe that pleasing someone else is worth sacrificing ourselves for—and feel the need to give up our happiness, desires, values, self-respect, dreams, money, and thus our lives
When we don’t have boundaries, we neglect who we are and what we want. As a result, we see the skewed image of ourselves reflected in the eyes of those to whom we give our power, and we mistake it for the truth.
(When a person doesn’t know who they are, much like a child develops their sense of identity, they will rely on developing their identity by seeing themselves reflected back from others. This is a huge problem if the person you are looking at has a destructive personality and consciously or subconsciously needs to tear you down so that they feel better.)
- Setting boundaries takes practice and is often really uncomfortable at first. Many people are uncomfortable with boundaries because they may fear abandonment or rejection. We may not like confrontation. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We fear boundaries will keep us from being loved.
If we are afraid to have boundaries, it means we care more about what others think of us than what we think about ourselves. In doing so we lose respect for ourselves and our self-worth suffers. Others lose respect for us too.
Setting boundaries isn’t selfish, it’s self-care. A character disturbed person may try to make you feel like you are being selfish for not putting them first. It’s important for us to know the difference between mistreating someone else and taking care of ourselves.
This book isn’t about trying to fix a relationship with a toxic or abusive person. This is meant to help you establish new and healthy relationships and to avoid becoming involved with another abuser. (Trying to set boundaries with an abusive person often does not make things better, it makes things worse, and can put you in great physical harm—especially if they’ve been physically or verbally intimidating, threatening, or harmful in the past.)
If you are involved with a dangerous person who harms you physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, sexually, socially, or financially—the only boundaries that will keep you safe are physical ones.
If you try to start setting verbal boundaries with a dangerous person, they will see it as a challenge they need to defeat. Anyone who purposefully harms you in any way will not respect you or your boundaries. (The odds of the seriously harming you or your loved ones is greater than the odds of them changing. A porcupine is a porcupine, it will not become a kitten, no matter how much you love it, try to build up its self-esteem, nurture it, or be patient with it. It’s important that we see people clearly and for who they are, and to not cling to hope that things will be different when their past performance has shown that nothing changes—or that they’ve gotten worse.)
When we don’t have boundaries, we neglect who we are and what we want. As a result, we see the skewed image of ourselves reflected in the eyes of those to whom we give our power and we mistake it for truth.
- Understanding that you have rights as a person. You do not need to earn them and deserve them. You have them because you are a person and because you exist.
Your Basic Human Rights
- I have the right to my own needs and feelings and to have them be as important as anyone else’s.
- I have the right to experience my feelings and to express them, if I want to.
- I have the right to not be held responsible for other people’s feelings.
- I have the right to express my opinions.
- I have the right to decide what my priorities are.
- I have the right to be independent if I want to be.
- I have the right to decide how I spend my time.
- I have the right to choose how I live my life.
- I have the right to change myself, my behaviors, my values, my life situation, and my life.
- I have the right to change my mind.
- I have the right to make mistakes.
- I have the right to develop and express my talents and interests.
- I have the right to choose who I spend my time with.
- I have the right to choose who I share my body with.
- I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by everyone I come into contact with.
- I have the right to be listened to respectfully.
- I have the right to ask for what I want.
- I have the right to say no.
- I have the right to set limits and boundaries.
- I have the right to set limits on how I will be treated by others.
- I have the right to walk away from relationships that I determine are not good for me.
- I have the right to have my boundaries respected.
You have these rights, and have the right to stand up for them.
How did you feel when you read this list?
Did any points catch your attention?
Do you agree with this list, why or why not?
- Understanding Signs of Weak Boundaries.
Weak boundaries are like weak muscles—they only get stronger with use and repetition. Developing strong boundaries takes daily practice. At first this can feel overwhelming and exhausting, and you don’t need to firm up every boundary every day. You will get better with time. Not to mention that what comes across your radar as a boundary violation will also grow with time. In a year from now you will most likely shake your head in disbelief that you didn’t realize your boundaries were being violated in so many different ways. The irony is that we often have weak boundaries because we believe our behavior will gain the love and respect of others, but it doesn’t. When we have weak boundaries, every act of self-denial and compliance eats away at your self-respect and the respect that others have for you.
Signs of Weak Boundaries
- Ongoing anger at yourself or someone else.
- Feeling resentful.
- Low self-worth and self-esteem.
- Apologizing frequently.
- Doing things that make you uncomfortable.
- Doing things you really don’t want to do.
- Going along with someone else’s relationship agenda.
- Going against your personal values, rights, or needs to please others.
- Putting other’s needs ahead of your own.
- Being sexual when you really don’t want to, or engaging in sexual acts that make you uncomfortable.
- Letting someone touch you when it makes you uncomfortable.
- Not being able to notice when someone else’s behavior is inappropriate.
- Telling someone intimate details about your life when you’ve just met them.
- Staying in a relationship that makes you unhappy.
- Returning to a relationship when you know you shouldn’t.
- Letting others direct your life.
- Giving as much as you can, without getting as much or anything in return.
- Allowing something to take as much as they can from you.
- Being overwhelmed and preoccupied with someone.
- Accepting food, drinks, or gifts that you really don’t want.
- Committing yourself to something that you don’t have the time or desire to do.
- Letting others describe your reality (letting others tell you what your thoughts, emotions, and motivations are).
- Letting others define you.
- Not being able to assertively ask for what you want.
- Feeling responsible for other people’s feelings and problems.
- Complaining to others instead of talking to the person who is causing a problem.
- Becoming easily overwhelmed emotionally.
- Seeking the approval of others.
- Inability to separate your self-worth from what you believe others think of you.
- Self-consciousness and social anxiety.
- Saying yes when you want to say no.
- Feeling guilty when you do say no.
- Saying no when you want to say yes.
- Not speaking up when you have something to say.
- Adopting someone else’s ideas or beliefs so they will accept you.
- Not calling out someone who mistreats you.
- Becoming overly involved in someone else’s problems.
- Not communicating your emotional needs in your closest relationships.
- Avoiding difficult conversations because you’re afraid of confrontation or of displeasing someone.
- Doing things out of a sense of obligation, instead of protecting your energy and time for things you’re enthusiastic about.
- Spending time with people who drain you or that you don’t really like to be around.
- Feeling you do a lot for other people, but they don’t appreciate it.
- Ignoring problems or staying quiet to “keep the peace.”
- Expecting others to know what you need without telling them.
- Inability to be honest.
- Understanding that you matter, have value, and can live a life that you love—and boundaries play an important part in that. Self-worth comes from honoring who you are and what you want—and living an authentic life. You need to have your own best interest at heart. (It’s not being selfish, it’s part of self-care.)
When we feel “love” strong emotions are involved like dopamine and oxytocin. Love doesn’t have to be blind, and we don’t have to throw caution to the wind. (Because that’s not healthy, or what a person with healthy boundaries does.)
When you have boundaries that are based on knowing what you want and need from a partner and a relationship, you will know when things are going off course. You’ll know what you won’t tolerate, such as deceit or failures to keep promises. You will have expectations of your partner, such as honesty, respect, loyalty, and emotional and physical safety.
Boundaries protect the things you value. Not knowing what you want in a relationship makes you a jellyfish, a gelatinous blob that takes the shape of whatever container you’re put in. If you aren’t clear on what you want in a relationship, you will conform to the other person’s agenda since you don’t have one of your own.
We often think that putting others first is a virtue, but in truth it backfires. There are plenty of people willing to let you sacrifice yourself on the altar of virtue for their benefit, and to the detriment of yours.
If we are a people pleaser, we only look at ourselves when things aren’t going well. We wonder what we did wrong, and wonder why we aren’t enough to keep them happy. We don’t think about our own unhappiness, only theirs.
If we are highly empathetic, we’re at greater risk of becoming involved with a manipulator. When we’re more concerned about other people’s feelings than our own, we are the perfect prey for manipulators. This is because we bring enough emotion, love, and investment to the relationship to make up for the other person’s lack of it. We fill in the blanks they create. We do psychological cartwheels while they are content to be carried.
When you don’t have boundaries, it means that you will put up with just about anything to be loved. But real love and a healthy relationship never require that you have no boundaries.
Giving up a boundary is a big red flag.
Boundaries give you a fighting chance—maybe your only chance to prevent entanglement with a manipulator. And if the person is not a manipulator, boundaries give you the ability to create the healthy relationship you want, with a good person you can trust and who respects you.
It’s a good idea to have a clear idea of what you do and don’t want in a partner and in a relationship. It’s difficult to figure this out while you are dating, as feelings get involved and can cause us to justify what’s going on. If you don’t know what you want, how will you know when you aren’t getting it?
No one intends to get involved in an abusive relationship, just like no one plans to join a cult, or get caught up in a scam. It’s hard to see a problematic situation once we are in it, if we don’t realize ahead of time what our boundaries, vulnerabilities, and deal breakers are.
The author spells this out perfectly, “When we are looking for love, no one thinks, ‘I want to be in an unhappy relationship with a person who is out to dominate, humiliate and use me. Ideally, he’ll be someone who has no respect for me, and who will manipulate me into losing all respect for myself. He must be able to take control of me so he can hurt me deeply and repeatedly, and yet keep me running back for more with just a few kind words and worn-out promises. I want him to be a liar and I want to be let down in every way. I want to give up all the dreams I’ve ever had for myself in exchange for a few stale crumbs of false affection. I want to be kept in constant turmoil as I wonder where I stand with him, what I’m doing wrong, how I can make him happy, where he really is right now, and what will happen tomorrow. I want someone who will waste my time while he abuses me and diminishes me until I don’t have the strength to stand up and walk away. I want to learn to blame myself for all of this. And I want someone who can make me believe this is love.’”
Even though no one wants this, many people get sucked into it. It is vital to know what you want before your next relationship begins. (And to not be so starved out that you are willing to compromise your wants away. And to have the self-esteem enough that you like yourself enough to think that you are deserving of what you want.)
Decide on the details of a healthy, loving relationship in detail. Describe the personality and traits of your partner in detail. Describe the ACTIONS this person would take that show you they actually possess these traits. Then, describe, the actions they might take to show you that they don’t. Decide which traits are non-negotiable and that you will not tolerate. Describe how you’ll feel in this healthy, loving relationship. List all the ways you want to feel. Then list all the ways you don’t.
Check in with yourself and your relationship at regular intervals.
Decide on the pace that you would like the relationship to take. You can and should control the pace—doing so gives you room to breathe. It gives you time to consider what you are thinking and feeling. It gives you time to learn about a person’s character over time and in different situations. Ask yourself how many times you are willing to get together in the first week? The first month? What activities are you willing to give up to spend time with this person, if any? What activities are you not willing to give up? How long will you wait before you have sex?
When you define your boundaries and make a commitment to honor them, you will know that giving them up for someone or bending them is a red flag. If you lose someone over your boundaries, it was because they were the type of person you didn’t want in your life—this is a good thing. It means you protected yourself.
Some examples of boundaries to think about:
- I will not make excuses for anyone’s harmful behavior. I will not let anyone make excuses for their own behavior either.
- I will take things slow and control the pace of a new relationship. I will not see someone more than ___ times per week during the first ___ weeks or months. This will give me the time to evaluate a new person’s character, and the space to evaluate my thoughts and feelings about what has happened during the time I spent with them.
- When I meet someone new, I will maintain my other relationships and interests.
- I will not become sexually involved with a new interest for a minimum of ___ months so I can avoid creating false feelings of intimacy.
- I will not go against my personal values, rights, or needs to please someone else.
- I will not be involved with a person whose words and actions don’t align. I will believe actions over words every time.
- I will not be involved in a relationship with a deceitful person. I will not tolerate deceit in any form.
- I will not lend money to anyone whom I haven’t known and trusted for many years.
- Under no circumstances will I be involved with someone who is married or in a relationship or who is otherwise physically or emotionally unavailable.
- I will not participate in humiliating, dangerous, or illegal sexual acts because I am pressured by my partner, nor will I continue a relationship with someone who pressures me to do so. (Nor will I be with someone who pressures me, period.)
- I will not give my trust to someone who hasn’t earned it. I will only trust someone who proves themselves trustworthy, and ONLY for as long as they continue to be worthy of trust.
- I will not be a part of a relationship where I am not treated with love, care, and respect.
- I will not be a part of a relationship where my emotional needs are invalidated.
- I will not be involved with anyone who mistreats people or animals.
- I will not marry or move in with someone before we’ve been a couple for at least ___ years, no matter how in love we might think we are.
- I will not give up the following personal goals: ___ (going to school, saying money for a house, writing a book, going to the gym, etc.) for anyone.
- I will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind (belittling, humiliating, the silent treatment, yelling, hitting, name calling, subtle put downs, etc.)
- I will not be involved with anyone who becomes controlling, jealous, or possessive.
- When I meet a new love interest, for the first several dates I will take my own car and meet only in public place, for a short time. I will let someone know where I am, where I’m going, who I’m with, and when I expect to return.
Boundaries are useless if you don’t defend them. This is the scary part for many people, because they don’t know how to be assertive (generally because many people have been taught to never speak up, or that their feelings are wrong or don’t matter). (Many people don’t know how to properly defend their boundary. They may yell, cry, beg, plead, threaten, drag the boundary violator to therapy, sign up for marriage retreats, go to church, and otherwise twist themselves into a pretzel trying to fix this other person and their relationship. It can take a person decades before they realize that a relationship takes two people who are committed to working towards a solution and who treat each other with dignity and respect. If those elements aren’t there, then there is no relationship present, and for sure no relationship worth trying to work on. If you have to teach a person how to treat you with dignity and respect, and to not cheat, lie, steal, manipulate, hit, yell, belittle, demean, shame, or guilt you, then they have their own issues that they need to work on. We can’t fix them (even small issues in another person are not within our power to fix). Only they can fix themselves. Trying to carry another person across the finish line who doesn’t want to be in the race to begin with will only serve to annoy them and exhaust you.
Defending your boundaries takes practice, and it does get easier. Abusive relationships and friendships are far more painful in the long term than being assertive is in the short term.
You may feel guilty, selfish, or embarrassed by setting a boundary at first. Defending your boundaries takes practice. You may feel controlling at first, but there is a difference between holding your boundary and being controlling. Controlling people is telling them what to do, setting a boundary is about saying what you do or do not want to happen to you. If I tell a friend to stop smoking, that would be trying to control her. Asking her to not smoke in my house is setting a boundary.
If they don’t respect your boundaries, they don’t respect you.
The author gives the example of a woman going on a date, and telling a guy she’s in bed by 10, and to not call after that. He calls her at 10:30 to say he’s had a nice time. If she says nothing, she will wonder why he’s so insensitive, if she speaks up and redraws it, she will feel better. If he calls again after 10pm, then she knows he doesn’t respect that boundary. (I liked this example, because it shows a seemingly small boundary violation, that might tend to fly under the radar of most people. Boundary violations don’t have to be huge in order for us to address them or for them to be an issue. In fact, most boundary violations with abusive people start off small like this, and then they grow. When we give an inch, they take a foot, and then a mile. …And to be clear, us addressing small boundary violations isn’t about us coming from a place of fear, like, “oh no, I better address this in case they are a narcissist.” They comes from a place and mindset of empowerment, of, “This isn’t going to work for me—and it doesn’t matter if the person is a narcissist, sociopath, controlling, bad with time, forgot, etc.”)
Get clear on your deal breakers. Thinks about boundaries in terms of code orange and red. Code red are full out abort mission, whereas code orange may be to stop, think, and proceed with caution.
If someone repeatedly crosses a code orange, then it becomes a code red. For example, if a person is repeatedly late, makes you wait, and expects you to change the schedule for them, then you are dealing with a person who expects you to accommodate them and their needs and who does not respect yours.
If a boundary problem is an ongoing issue, it’s a warning sign about that person’s character, and character disorders can’t be changed.
Set consequences. Consequences are not threats made to control another person; they should only be actions you sincerely intend to take if a boundary is violated.
A code red boundary violation does not require you to set a consequence. You get out of there immediately. The relationship is over. (For me, a code red boundary is if someone treats me with distain, contempt, hostility, or aggression. A person who treats another this way doesn’t like or love them, let alone respect them.)
Enforcing a boundary does not mean arguing about it, or explaining it until you are blue in the face. Your boundaries are your boundaries. They are not up for debate. If someone violates a boundary, and you ignore it, or fail to recognize it, you may feel angry, uncomfortable, resentful, misunderstood, frustrated, taken advantage of, victimized. Never ignore these feelings—take the time to figure them out so you can do better in the future.
Emotional manipulators push boundaries because they want what they want—often at the expense of others. What’s important is to resist the temptation to rewrite boundaries on the fly.
(People often rewrite their boundaries because they don’t want to miss out on a potentially great person, that the person will leave, they are scared to be alone, they are fearful they are a narcissist for having wants and needs, or that they are being mean or somehow not compassionate enough. If you have to sacrifice your boundaries or otherwise being treated with dignity and respect to stay in a relationship, then you are not in a relationship—you are being manipulated.)
Manipulators often want a victim, they don’t want a challenge. (And even if they do want a challenge, they won’t get much of one with you, because you’ll disengage and stop the game early on.)
“It’s hard to enforce a boundary when you don’t even know it’s being violated.” (This is so true, and the best way to tell if it’s being violated is to pay attention to how you feel.)
Healthy boundaries are defined as flexible and not rigid, but it’s important that you aren’t flexible with the wrong people. If you are putting yourself in physical or emotional harm’s way, then this isn’t a boundary you want to be flexible with. If bending your boundary means sacrificing your dignity or safety, then it’s not a boundary to bend.
No one is a good judge of character right away—it takes seeing a person over a period of time to be able to tell who they really are, this is why it’s important to go slow. (Although, I will say that if a person comes across as problematic, odds are they are. Don’t stick around to see if this is who they really are. It’s much easier to get a false positive than it is to get a false negative, meaning, it’s much easier to think a person is good and decent when they aren’t than it is to think a person is abusive or problematic when they aren’t.)
Practice self-love and confidence every day until it feels natural. Setting and defending your boundaries is an excellent way to do that (and frankly, it’s the only way). You matter. Your boundaries matter. You can do this. (((HUGS)))
The book club discussion on this book will happen Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 6:30pm EST on my YouTube channel: “Thrive After Abuse” which you can get to by clicking here.
My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
Latest posts by Dana (see all)
- Episode 99: Live Stream with Richard Grannon - December 11, 2017
- Episode 98: Book Club on Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship by Adelyn Birch - December 4, 2017
- Episode 97: Live Stream 11/29/17 - December 1, 2017