The Importance of Having and Enforcing Boundaries in Relationships: Why You Need to Draw the Line in the Sand
Boundaries are more than just lines on a map. In relationships, they are mandatory codes of conduct that need to be respected. It’s where we draw the line on what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
It’s a fact that you teach people how to treat you and whether it’s with family, friends, co-workers, or lovers, everyone must have boundaries. They are necessary because, well let’s face it, not everyone is playing with the same moral deck. There are a lot of very unhealthy people out there, who make a habit of projecting their issues onto others and it’s our job to protect our self-esteem and that’s where boundaries come in.
You may have a massively insecure co-worker that is always trying to put you down, to make them feel big. You may have an incredibly critical mother, that thinks her hurtful words are beneficial, or you may be involved with an abusive mate, that seeks to control you by attacking your self-esteem.
The Need for Boundaries
I used to be a massive people pleaser. I considered myself easy going and I believed that if someone had to be hurt, or put out in any way, it was better that, that someone was me. I was more interested in keeping the peace than being right. I thought I was being the bigger person and taking the high road by accepting other people’s bad behavior. After all don’t people always say, “I’d rather be happy, than right.”
That statement only rings true when your self-esteem is not under attack, because if someone is hurting your feelings, then let’s be honest, you’re not happy. I used to watch women that stood up for themselves and I’d think, wow she’s massively high maintenance and I may have even used the “b” word to describe them.
I grew up with an incessantly critical mother. I could never please her and her stinging remarks really did a number on my self-esteem. She would follow up hurtful comments with the phrase, “I’m only trying to help you,” as if that was supposed to automatically erase the pain, shame and guilt she caused me.
I followed that up with dating men that had issues and would seek to control, isolate and abuse my sense of self-worth to make themselves feel better. I never had boundaries in my relationships and I learned that men test you in the beginning, to see just how far they can push you. And if you don’t have limits, then you are allowing them to disrespect you and that shows them, that you don’t respect yourself, so it gives them carte blanche to continue to do so.
I had a friend who had explained to me that early in her relationship with her spouse, while they were still dating, he had called her a bad name, like stupid or idiot. She spoke up immediately and said “If you’re going to call me names I’m going to leave.” He apologized immediately and he hasn’t called her any names since. She taught him right out of the gate, that if you want to be with me, then you are going to treat me with respect – flat out.
Had I understood about the importance of boundaries earlier I would have said to my mother, “Mom, what you are saying is not helping me. It’s hurtful and if you insist on talking to me that way, then I’m really not interested in spending time with you,” and if that didn’t change her behavior, I would have followed it up by actually not spending time with her.
If you don’t let someone know their behavior is inappropriate it will continue. You must communicate directly and immediately following the
incident, that this behavior is not acceptable. And if it does continue, then you follow it up with immediate action, like ending your involvement with that person, because they are then showing you that they are the type of person that does not respect boundaries.
I have learned that my self-esteem is like the gold in Fort Knox. It is extremely valuable and mine to protect. No one, regardless of their issues, has any right to try to sneak out a few bars, so that their own pile gets a little larger at the expense of mine.
“Standing up for yourself and enforcing boundaries does not make you a bitch. It makes you someone that loves and respects yourself.”
When you create boundaries it lets other people know where you stand on you, how you expect to be treated and that there are consequences for crossing those boundaries.
Beware the Faux Boundary
When I was a little girl my big brother used to annoy me quite a bit and I would always say, “Stop it.” He was so much bigger and stronger than me, he would laugh and say, “Or what, you’ll say stop again?”
If you don’t enforce your boundaries with immediate action then your words are empty and people will not take you seriously. Messing around when you are young with your siblings, who love you, is one thing, but when you get into relationships with men you don’t know, it’s your responsibility to teach them how you expect to be treated. The clues about who you are involved with become evident immediately when you have and enforce your boundaries.
If you are involved with a Narcissists or a Broken Down, you’ll find that they don’t like or respect other people’s boundaries. They are the proverbial boundary busters. It’s all about them and they will say and do whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of its effect on you. They don’t believe in consequences because they seldom experience any.
I recall telling my ex-Narcissist over and over again that I was done and to lose my number, but I never meant it and he knew it. A few days, weeks or even months later I’d get a call or a text. I’d be so glad that he was back and he would act like nothing ever happened. And on and on the delusion would go over and over again.
Had I had and enforced boundaries early on, I would have discovered that he was a boundary buster – the type of person that wasn’t interested in my feelings or how I wanted to be treated. Everything was always going to be on his terms and by repeatedly crossing the line, he was showing me that he was never going to respect me and I would have saved myself a lot of time, money and heartache.
If you don’t have boundaries you are showing any old Tom, Dick or Narcissist that you are the type of girl that is ready and willing, to put up with all sorts of bad behavior. People will eventually show you who they really are, but by having and enforcing your boundaries early on, you can uncover someone’s true intentions before you become emotionally invested.
If someone knows where your line is drawn and they continue to leap back and forth over it, they are showing you where you stand with them and what you can expect more of in the future. By consistently enforcing your boundaries, you are cementing that line in the sand and if they continue to cross it, let them keep on walking.
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I’m in a 17 year marriage with a narcissist and I can only assure you that it will NOT get better. His sense of entitlement is completely justified by his critically low-self-esteem and he only keeps boundaries that suit him. I woke up one day after reading a post that matched him to a tee and began deescalating and disassembling the protective facade he’d created in our marriage.
I’m writing this as I sleep in our guest room for the third night in a row (on MY OWN VOLITION) because I’m taking back MY self-esteem or at least what is left of it. When he manipulates or tries to escalate, I now calmly retreat and tell him I’ll resume the conversation when he’s “emotionally available”. This has helped some but it’s an arduous process.
Knowing that his issues root from childhood trauma and that I do indeed love him is what has kept me in this marriage at my own expense. But I am a nurturer and I know my “supply” is running out. The years have not been kind to me and I wouldn’t recommend anyone starting out to do the same thing.
I’m trying to figure out what to do. I had set one specific boundary and he violated it. It was something very important to me and I got very deeply hurt. He says it was not done with the intention to hurt me, but acknowledges that he did indeed hurt me badly. Now he’s promising to make it up to me “for the rest of our lives”. I don’t know whether to believe this or if I’m better off to walk away. Any thoughts? I can be more specific what happened if needs to be. Thanks to everyone who will try to help me.
Well, I have been setting boundaries with my long term girlfriend/OCPD/NPD. I am new to doing it and I would take the bait and become upset and angry. I never used names, but, she would. I agree with your post. Setting boundaries preserves ones self. I was hoping it would also send a message and she would respond by stopping the abusive behavior. What happened is, instead of acknowledging her offense, she turned to blaming me. That’s what they (personality disorders) do. So, I just said I wont allow myself to be talked to that way instead of telling her to stop. Then I would let her know I was taking a walk for a half hor and return. She would apologize, without accepting blame, and without blaming. However, I kept setting boundaries and still had to leave over and over. She finally said she was upset that would leave and not stay to talk things out until we were ok again like we used to do. Which really amounted to her criticizing me and blaming me for an hour until she was satisfied and I sat there taking it to make peace. She wanted us to go to counseling together and then she said we should go separatly. Still, we never worked together ever on any issues. I insisted, then started to see her less and less. Like once a week instead of 3-5 times a week. Instead of trying to do anything to work on having more quality time, she found someone else and suggested we go no contact and heal before talking as friends. Setting boundaries was what finally brought the relationship to this. I am deeply sad, because I see this glaring truth. I mean little to her compared to her needs. It is hard as this was a very long, (years) relationship. But, I learned to set boundaries and followed through. I don’t regret it and feel better about myself. I’m just sad to find this out so far along. It never will work if she won’t cooperate or compromise. I hope this helps someone befor they waste years. Find out NOW if your boundaries will not be respected!
I just discovered this website and can say it’s a diamond among piles of uninteresting blogs out there.
Boundaries with a narcissist don’t work. I am doing the boundary work with my N mom and she is totally against it. There is no point in describing her childish, needy behavior. We all know how a dependent, narcissistic parent behaves with a child. But, I agree, actions speak louder than words. In the beginning, it’s hard to keep your boundaries strong because of ‘guilt’ . After a while, it tends to become easier.
I really need help on composing short words. My BDP violated my boundaries for years. This time, when he did so, rather than doing my usual, which is to fall over myself to earn his esteem back, I did nothing.
You see, he pulled full silent treatment on me, ignored me on social media and stopped taking my calls for no cause.
I sense that he wants to make up and I’d be willing to do so but not on his terms which is to pretend nothing happened, to have me come to him (even though he was the one who rejected me). I feel like this sends a message that it is OK to disrespect me, bust my boundaries and I will take you back.
On social media, he was begging for his “friends” to see him at a particular event that showcases his work. He states how much he “really misses” his friends. I know that he is talking about me because he isn’t usually so open when he invites people to his events. But since he didn’t single me out by sending me a message privately I’m not going to set myself up again for rejection and hurt. (I know though that if I showed up, he would act like nothing has happened.)
Still, I never communicated that I was setting new boundaries (about being treated respectfully) so he must be confused as to why I have suddenly stopped trying.
Anyway, I feel at this point he ISN’T reaching out to me because he feels I abandoned him. (He facilitated his own abandonment and I have cause.)
I don’t know how to word it so he understands.
Can anyone help?
“My esteem for you hasn’t changed. I love you and value our friendship. When you stopped communicating with me in all forms, it made me feel small and very invalidated. I realize my (in)actions without stating why must be confusing to you. I will explain. I value myself and expect to be treated with love, honor and respect. I hope you can understand that and we can resume our friendship.”
It’s too wordy for my taste, and I’m not sure if it is clear enough. I basically want to say, I will be there if you don’t treat me like garbage.
Help my older sister is a major control freak and big boundary buster she has even included herself in my group of friends..she also disrespects me in public. So I told her how I felt and told her I needed space from her, now she’s mad and talking about me to others. She’s very passive aggressive, bossy and condescending; it’s as if she is in some kind of competition with me. She’s a major town gossip which makes me crazy. Help me, please, she is 66 and I am 63 I thought she would have grown out of having to be bossy!
I’m in deep married 2 years together for. I wish I knew this boudaries tactic years ago. Because he has zero. No matter how much i beg him to respect them . My boundaries are irrelevant to him . I am now lost. I don’t know how to fix it or break loose
what tactics work with people who are hell-bent on destroying your boundaries even when you’ve told them they are abusers who want to destroy you. They keep pushing asa group and won’t take NO for an answer even if you insult them again and again.
queenie when someone continues to bust your boundaries your only course of action is to cut that person out of your life – period.
savannah, thanks for your reply. I have had some time without seeing this new N man. I know I want and deserve the best man for me, and he is not anywhere near the best. I have learned from my past of being in an abusive relationship 15 years ago, and although I had never heard of narcissistic behaviour I know not to go there again. Im so glad you have this blog and share your knowledge and advice. I have asked him when he called today not to contact me again. He said he understands, yet he has already tried twice to request me online in one day. he may not give up easily but I shall not yield. without coming across your blog I could have gone on for months with him hoping things would get better or trying to teach him how to behave with me, but I havnt got the energy. You have saved another woman from dispair- thankyou dear friend.
Hi Savannah. I understand what you are saying. I believe I do have boundaries.I call the shots on who I see and explain to men Im dating others and what im doing is none of their business. I dont discuss it with them any further. I say no I cant see you then Im busy, etc. And when I do go on a date I dont sleep with them and make it clear my rules. Im pretty tough. So I think I understand about boundaries, however Im unsure on what comes if the other person crosses them then what action to take. Do I say if you do XYZ again then this is what will happen? there has to be consequences. I have recently met someone online and had 5 or so dates. At the first meet he didnt turn up and I was sitting in the cafe totally confused as there was so much anticipation, and he kept asking even the night before, are you going to come, yet he was the one who didnt come. When I got it out of him he said he feared rejection! Last week he has done this again. There I am standing out front of the movie, after a 1.5 hr journey to the city and he didnt turn up. He left me a txt with a pathetic excuse but I didnt see it as left my phone at home, so didnt see it until I got home.I was very cross and didnt answer the phone for days. But he didnt give up. Finally when questioned he said he was so anxious all week. He knows Im seeing others( just dates) and he doesnt know where we are at, and is very confused. He takes meds for anxiety and told me he hadnt taken them the few days before the movie. He is so unresponsible. I do see things from his side, but there is no relationship as yet, its only been 6 meetings.On one date I was away from home for 7 hours and he didnt feed me. I didnt even have any water. He took me to a bakery, when he knows I am gluten free and cant eat that food and ate a brownie in front of me.I got me a coffee. I was furious at him and the next day I told him I didnt have a good time on our date. I cannot go all day with 3 hours of train travel and not eat. The next time I saw him he had some sushi for me to eat when I arrived and took me out later for a meal, so he has shown me he can improve once I explain to him . I really need to know how to enforce the consequences. Should I say if you dont turn up I will not see you for 2 weeks, or whatever so he knows thats what will happen. thanks for your advice.
Hi wiseowl – let me see if I’ve got this straight – so within 6 dates he has stood you up twice (once after you’ve travelled 1 1/2 to see him, then on another date he was so inconsiderate as to not even think of what your needs might be after 3 hours of travel – then to take you somewhere where he knows you can’t eat. He’s already offering you lame excuses and you’re only 6 dates in. My dear, men are usually on their best behavior the first couple of months into a relationship, so this is the best it’s ever going to be. You tell me – is this behavior anywhere near the same ballpark as good enough, or what you’re looking for? Standing someone up – unless there’s an emergency, sick children… – is just wrong – there’s no acceptable excuse for just not showing up. You’re already starting to show him that you are the type of woman that will accept bad behavior, so it gives him license to continue doing so. After he stood you up the first time – should have been the end of it for you, regardless of all previous communication or anticipation. This is who he is, he’s not the guy you’ve imagined him to be or hoped he’d be. In the future if you plan a date with someone and they don’t show up – walk away and be done with it.
another great post! i agree that you teach people how to treat you. My girlfriend always used to think that i was too harsh with guys i was getting to know by not allowing them to be disrespectful and rude because i would literally cut them off right away and she thought my standards were too high -well shes in a really bad place with her ex boyfriend right now who has caused her a great deal of heartache shame embarassment and is costing her a lot of money (legal fees)shes now trying to clean up his huge mess and all because and she seen those red flags all along with him but chose to ignore.Lets just say shes eating her words right now. She told me she regrets it that i was right. I like to see how they get when there angry because that is when the real beasts come out. And sometimes they say some really rude hurtful shit and that alone tells you a lot of what kind of man that they are, i know actions speak louder than words as far as good treatment goes. But we should also pay attention to words. I dont like to play games or test men but i do like to see now in the beginning stages how they act and react when they are upset because thats when you get to see their true colors
“I just cant believe I’ve attracted another narcissist!!”
This comment made me think of something. The seeming glut of narcissists in the dating pool makes total sense. Think about how many relationships N’s go through. They have short relationship fuses. So they are constantly cycling through those “relationships”, and on the hunt for new supply (often well before they have cut things off with the last woman). *Especially* online (as with my experience), where N’s can easily transition from one source of supply to another without being discovered. I discovered he was online looking for new supply while we were still dating. Now that I have had some time to think over the experience, I am grateful for how much I learned from my run-in with a pathological N. I am so much more wary now, and I actually don’t hate him at all, but rather I feel pity for him because he is quite screwed up and has a long road ahead of him. I feel sad when I think of his intelligence and good qualities that will forever be overshadowed by his dysfunction, and that he will likely never experience a healthy loving relationship.
Rings so many bells, red flags were there from the get go…. Funny thing is that the universe was sending me all kinds of signals that this relationship is NOT the one and I ignore them consistently. Heck I even believed that we were twin souls……So I’ve tried to set boundaries and every time we argue, he (is always right) uses tactics that drive me insane. I need to break off this relationship. Thank you for sharing your post. I just cant believe I’ve attracted another narcissist!!
Wow! Deep and timely. Thank you.
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