When someone has broken a physical boundary, it’s usually easy to tell. These boundaries relate to your body, physical space and privacy. For instance, someone might cross your physical boundary when they stand too close or barge into your room without knocking.
However, emotional and mental boundaries tend to be more subtle and tougher to spot. How do you know if someone has crossed these limits?
Here are six telltale signs, along with how to tell someone they’ve broken your boundary.
1. You justify someone’s bad behavior.
According to Jan Black, author of Better Boundaries: Owning and Treasuring Your Life, a lesser-noticed sign is when you make excuses or justify others’ bad treatment of you. She gave these examples:
- “Don’t worry; Brad only treats me badly when he’s stressed.
- Mary doesn’t mean to be rude, she’s just comfortable around me.
- Yes, Sheila makes fun of me but I know she loves me.”
2. You blame yourself for things going wrong.
This doesn’t mean taking responsibility when you’ve done something wrong. Rather, it’s another form of making excuses when someone else mistreats you.
Black shared these examples:
- “If I kept a cleaner house, he wouldn’t need to call me a slob.
- It’s my own fault that my co-worker takes credit for my work.
- My shyness makes Bob think he’s got to talk enough for both of us.”
3. You feel shame.
According to Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, a relationship expert and author of The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women, another boundary violation is when you feel shame for no apparent reason.
For instance, let’s say a stay-at-home mom designates one night per week as her personal time. Her husband agrees to take care of their child every Wednesday night. However, he calls her several times while she’s out to say that their child misses her, Hanks said.
4. You start doubting your decision.
You make a decision that you believe works for you, but you start second-guessing yourself after someone else keeps questioning it.
For instance, a college student decides to major in engineering, said Hanks, who also writes the blog Private Practice Toolbox on Psych Central. “He’s planned his schedule for next semester and shares his excitement about the decision with his parents.” They say they support him. But they start asking questions and insinuating that engineering might be too challenging and he might do better with another major, she said.
5. You sense something is “off.”
You can’t pinpoint what’s wrong. But your internal warning system keeps ringing. For instance, you were invited to a party but you’re getting the feeling that this group really has a hidden agenda, Black said. Or someone’s stories simply don’t add up to what you know about their past, she said.
6. Your decision is disregarded.
Put another way, you “sense you’ve given away your power to choose,” Hanks said. For instance, it’s your birthday dinner, and you tell your friends that you’d like to eat at your favorite Italian restaurant. However, as you’re driving to dinner, your friend suggests going to the new Thai place instead. And she “starts driving there, reassuring you that you’ll love it,” she said.
According to Black, you can communicate clearly that someone has crossed the line by using words or actions. “In most cases, your tone does not need to be angry or dramatic. You are simply stating and managing what is.”
For instance, she shared these sample phrases:
- FYI, I have a thing about that.
- I’m drawing new lines around that and need you to respect them.
- I am uncomfortable with this.
- I am no longer willing to do that [or] go there.
- That doesn’t work for me.
- If you want to be with me, things need to change.
- I am upset by what just happened.
- Let me explain how I see what you did.
- I don’t agree.
- You are asking me to put myself in danger and I won’t do it.
- Please say that differently.”
Regarding your actions, you might leave; shake your head “No”; put up your hand (as if to say “stop”); avoid the person or situation until you’re able to confront them; or seek professional help, she said.
Setting and protecting your boundaries takes practice. As Black said, “Perfect is not the goal; your safety and freedom is.”