Setting limits is often part of relationships, but if you feel disrespected by someone crossing your boundaries, it may be time to take action.

Setting boundaries can be an essential part of interpersonal relationships. When you set healthy boundaries with others, you protect your own time, energy, and needs.

Boundaries often require clear communication, such as stating:

  • what you need
  • what you will and won’t tolerate
  • how you’d like others to treat you

But setting limits in your relationships can be challenging, especially if you haven’t had much practice. Self-awareness and setting clear lines become easier with practice.

Others may try to cross your boundaries. Sometimes, this may be unintentional because of a lack of clear communication. Other times, it may be intentional, with someone pushing against your boundary to fulfill their own needs.

But there are assertive and respectful ways to deal with someone who crosses your boundaries.

Sometimes, people may cross your boundaries because you were unclear about what they were from the start. In these situations, the person may not necessarily be trying to disrespect you, so clear communication is essential.

Here’s the difference between an unclear boundary and a clear one:

  • Vague boundary: “I need some space right now.”
  • Clear boundary: “I could use the next 3–4 hours to myself to decompress. I don’t want to talk during this time, and I would like to be left alone in my room until I’m done.”

The clear boundary statement is specific about what you need, how long you need it, and what you expect from others. There’s little room for misinterpretation.

If you’ve set a boundary and someone crosses it, you have the power to let them know what will happen if they don’t respect you. Setting a consequence means that you’re serious about enforcing your boundary.

Say that you’ve lent a friend some money, but after many requests, they still haven’t gotten around to paying you back and are dismissive of your concerns. You could tell them, “If you don’t respect me enough to pay back the money you owe me, I will not be going out to dinner with you again.”

In this situation, you’re telling the person that they made a commitment, you need the money they owe you, and if they choose not to pay it back, you won’t continue interacting with them in the same way.

Limiting your engagement in certain situations, where possible, is another strategy for maintaining your boundaries.

For example, if you need to limit your time with a friend, family member, or significant other, this may help show them that you won’t tolerate disrespect.

Choosing to limit engagement may involve spending less time with someone, ending conversations that aren’t going anywhere, or even going no contact.

If you’re in a dangerous situation where limiting your engagement isn’t possible, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.

It may also be helpful to find a therapist to help you work through the situation and create a safety plan.

If you’re consistently saying yes to things you want to say no to, this may mean that it’s time for you to set a limit.

Being persistent and holding your boundaries firm when someone tries to cross a line communicates that you respect yourself.

On the other hand, if you give in when someone disrespects your boundaries, you let them know that it’s OK to cross that line.

A 2020 cross-sectional study out of the Netherlands suggests that people with blurred work-life boundaries experience burnout and emotional exhaustion. The people in this particular study also participated in fewer healthy lifestyle behaviors when poor work boundaries were involved.

If you’re dealing with a boss or supervisor who doesn’t respect your work-life balance, being persistent and straightforward with them may be one way to avoid exhaustion and burnout.

For example, if they aren’t respecting your work hours, you could say, “I can’t respond to emails after 5 p.m., as I’m off the clock. I’m happy to deal with any emails sent after that time when I get into work the next day.”

Your supervisor may push back against the boundary in this situation, but it’s important to stand firm. If you don’t respect your time, your supervisor won’t, either.

Calm communication with someone pushing your boundaries shows that you can hold space for yourself without acquiescing to something you don’t want.

One way to practice this is by using “I” statements. For example, “I feel angry when you speak to me like that. If you continue to yell at me, I’ll have to end this phone call.”

When you use an “I” statement, try to communicate calmly and assertively.

It may feel overwhelming when you begin to set boundaries with others. It’s tough to make space for your own needs if you’ve never tried before. Placing those limits, especially when others don’t agree with them, may make you feel selfish, guilty, or ashamed.

One tip for dealing with these overwhelming emotions is to remind yourself that boundaries are an essential part of healthy relationships. In addition, it may be helpful to remember why you need to set the limit in the first place.

Healthy boundaries help you maintain your sense of identity and protect your energy. It gets easier with practice!

For more information about setting boundaries, check out this guide from The Self-Help Alliance.