When we don’t set boundaries, we're setting a precedent. We’re sending the message that we’re okay with someone’s behavior. It’s the same as socializing a toddler or a dog. Bad behavior allowed is condoning it, and it will be repeated.
It’s up to you to let people know what you want and expect in a relationship. They will treat you accordingly. With an abuser, usually what you say won’t matter as much as what you do. If you continue to allow bad behavior, don’t complain. You need to take action. Arguing, nagging, begging, or shouting won’t change things. You need to confront abuse strategically.
Steps to Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries takes learning, a commitment of time, and practice. Follow these steps:
- First, you must come out of denial and learn what constitutes emotional and verbal abuse and narcissistic abuse.
- Change starts with building your self-esteem and treating yourself with respect, like you matter. In formulating boundaries, it’s critical that you identify your feelings, needs, values (e.g. honesty, fidelity, privacy, and mutual respect). You must also honor and value them.
- You must believe at a deep level that you’re entitled to the respect and consideration that you want to receive. When you’re unsure, that’s the message you send. An abuser will be quick to make excuses and shift the blame. Your self-doubt will undermine your determination and position.
- You also need to speak assertively and know your bottom line, what you’ll accept and what you won’t, and what you’re willing to do about non-compliance. Some abusers are determined not to show defeat and will double down when you object to their behavior. But if you’re firm and consistent, they may relent if there’s a price to pay.
- You must realize you have power. The entire relationship dynamic can turn around when you do. You’re not a victim, and you have choices. When you feel that, so will the abuser, and you will be persuasive or empowered to leave the relationship.
- Finally, you may have to have consequences if your boundaries are ignored and the abuse is repeated. to set boundaries with consequences is not easy. It's a higher level of assertiveness and takes forethought, conviction, and practice. Consequences are not meant to punish, but are actions you will take for your own protection and self-care. They should be carried out matter-of-factly and calmly.
Things You Can Do
In “The Power of Personal Boundaries,” I underscore the importance of boundaries in order to ensure respect, safety, and trust. Do you honor or override your feelings, wants, and needs? Once you know your comfort zone, you can determine your boundaries. Assess your current boundaries in all areas. Codependency for Dummies has self-healing exercises that take you through these steps. Think about:
- What specific behaviors have you participated in or allowed that violate your values or compromise your needs and wants?
- How does it affect you and the relationship?
- Are you willing to put in the risk and effort to maintain your boundaries?
- What rights do you believe you have? What’s your bottom line?
- What have you said or done that hasn’t worked and why?
- What are consequences that you can live with? Always mean what you say, and never make threats you won’t keep. Remember, all your effort is undone if you don’t maintain your boundary and consequences.
- How you will handle the other person’s reaction.
- Learn the 6 C’s of assertiveness and how to set effective boundaries in the ebook How to Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits.
Watch my webinar How to Be Assertive. Learn how to change the power dynamics in an abusive relationship with Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist: Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships.
© 2021 Darlene Lancer
April M. Zeoli, Echo A. Rivera, Cris M. Sullivan, and Sheryl Kubiak, Post-Separation Abuse of Women and their Children: Boundary-setting and Family Court Utilization among Victimized Mothers, J Fam Violence. 2013 Aug 1; 28(6): 547–560.