How to Respond to Boundary Violations

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Set Boundaries, Find Peace" by Nedra Glover Tawwab. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How should you respond when someone crosses your boundaries? What should you do if, despite your warnings, the person keeps violating the boundaries you’ve set?

According to therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab, you should address a boundary violation immediately after it occurs. That way, you’ll minimize the chances of it happening again. But if the person keeps violating your boundary, it’s a sign they don’t take it seriously, so you should limit your interactions with them.

Keep reading for tips on how to deal with boundary violations.

Responding to Boundary Violations

When someone oversteps boundaries, Tawwab recommends that you immediately reassert your boundary. If you’re not okay with how someone is treating you, speak up immediately. If you experience a major violation and the other person continues behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable after you reassert your boundary, you may need to leave the situation altogether.

If boundary violations become frequent in one of your relationships, Tawwab suggests limiting your interactions with the person in question. Finding ways to limit time spent with people who don’t respect your boundaries can be an especially useful tool when you don’t have the option to leave the situation completely. In these situations, limiting the amount of time you spend interacting with the offending person can minimize your discomfort.

(Shortform note: Sometimes, people who repeatedly violate your boundaries do so in an attempt to get a response from you, much like a playground bully. If you’re dealing with a bully, it can be helpful to ignore that person entirely. By refusing to argue or engage, you deny them the satisfaction of knowing they’ve made you upset, which will make them less likely to try the same tactic in the future.)

For example, suppose you have a manager at work who makes inappropriate comments about your appearance. Even though you’ve talked to him about it, he refuses to listen, and because you need the income from your job, you can’t just stop showing up. In this situation, one option would be to limit your interactions with this manager, asking to be scheduled on different days, and working on separate projects whenever possible.

As we have mentioned, when you experience frequent major boundary violations, you may sometimes need to leave the relationship entirely. Tawwab believes that cutting people out should be a last resort—because it may not be possible to ever return to the relationship, you should only cut someone out when they leave you no other options.

(Shortform note: If you’re struggling to decide whether to remove someone from your life, experts recommend considering whether interacting with someone makes you happy. If interacting with someone consistently leaves you feeling unhappy and uncomfortable, it’s probably not worth continuing the relationship.)

Lastly, Tawwab stresses that you should try not to blame yourself when your boundaries are violated. Instead, take pride in the fact that you’re doing the hard work of setting and reasserting your boundaries. No matter how much effort you put into setting healthy boundaries, some people may still choose not to respect them. When someone chooses to behave in a way that makes you uncomfortable, it reflects negatively on their character, and not on yours.

(Shortform note: Part of setting boundaries is learning to accept that you can’t control other people. No matter how much effort you apply, you simply can’t force others to change. Instead, spend that energy thinking about how you’d like to handle things going forward, and what actions you can take to better protect your own boundaries.)

How to Respond to Boundary Violations

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Here's what you'll find in our full Set Boundaries, Find Peace summary:

  • How to transform the relationships in your life with boundaries
  • Why people struggle to reinforce their boundaries
  • A step-by-step guide for identifying and communicating your boundaries

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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