“I told my boss that I was not going to work any more overtime, but she keeps trying to pressure me to stay, and even threatened to take away my promotion if I didn’t!”
“My ex has been showing up at my house, late at night, when he’s been drinking. I’ve told him numerous times that I don’t want him doing that. When I let him in, he keeps me up half the night, crying about how lonely he is and how sorry he is for the way things ended. Once I refused to answer the door and he pounded on it for 45 minutes. I was afraid he was going to wake up the kids. He always apologizes afterwards, but I don’t know how to get him to stop.”
If you have people in your life who have consistently been unable, or unwilling, to respect your limits, you may need to review the limits you’ve set to ensure that you have covered all your bases. (See Where Do I Draw the Line?). Once you’ve done this, you may have to have a (another) serious conversation about increasing the limits you have already set.
Preparing for Discussion
- Be conscious of choosing a ‘good’ time to talk, when neither of you are going to be tired, hungry, etc. See “How to Start a Good Fight.” Follow the Rules of Engagement
- Practice the conversation with a good friend. Ask the friend to imagine how the other person might feel in this situation and provide you with feedback on this.
- Be ready to assert your limits and to re-enforce the benefits of your limits to the relationship.
- Decide if you are willing/able to give the other person time to consider your request before responding. Let them know when you need to hear back from them and what will happen if you don’t hear from them by that set time.
During the Conversation
Once you have communicated your limits:
For example: “I am unwilling to continue staying late after work. I have other commitments and did not agree to the amount of overtime you are asking for when I took this job. If you continue to pressure me to do this with threats of revoking my promotion, I will have to discuss this with the human resources department or union representative. I feel that by limiting my overtime. I will be better able to commit the energy, creativity, and mental focus needed to complete these projects during my regular hours, without burning out. Also, I find myself resenting this job when it constantly takes away time from my family and when I am exhausted. I’d like to get back to the excitement I initially had for this job.”
OR “I’ve talked to you about showing up at my place late at night. I’m letting you know that the next time this happens, I will be calling police.”
…listen to their response. They may be very angry or feel that you are being unfair. Start by breathing deeply, so that you can be calm enough to hear them out.
Respond by telling the other person what you heard from them, about their concerns or feelings. Double check to see if you understood them correctly.
For example: “So, you think I should be required to stay late whenever you ask, and that, by refusing to do this, I am saying that I don’t want this job. It sounds like this angers you, as you think that I am disrespecting you. Am I hearing you correctly?”
OR “I understand that you are embarrassed about this and that you believe that it will not happen again.”
NOTE: You do not ever need to say that you agree with something if you don’t. The goal of checking in about what you heard, is to ensure that they know you were listening.
- Express your support and concern.
- Express confidence that the other person can take responsibility for their own feelings. Keep an open mind. It’s possible you may not have the full picture. For example: “I feel confident that we will be able to come to a better understanding. Is there something in my contract that I am unaware of?” OR “I believe that you can stop doing this and that you are able to get the help you’ve said you wanted to get with your drinking problem. I hope that you decide to do this soon.”
- Return to your request/ limit and to the reality of your experience. For example: “I understand that others may have been willing to do this amount of overtime, but I am not. I am not willing to ask that of my family and believe that I am fulfilling the requirements of my contract.” OR “While I hope it doesn’t happen again, I need you to know that I will be calling police if it does.”
- Repeat this process, as necessary
Be sure to redirect discussions about the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of your limitation. You are communicating your preference, not making universal moral judgements. You are not asking for opinions about your request.
Avoid responding to name calling, pathologizing, or personal attacks. Do NOT reciprocate. You may communicate the impact this behaviour has on you, and set limits on this behaviour as it occurs, For example: “If you continue to call me names, or yell at me, I’m going to end this conversation.”
Don’t lose focus on what you are asking for. Be consistent in your focus and in setting limits. Follow through with your limits. The more consistent you are, the more likely the other person will stop trying to violate them.
You may need to take physical action to remove yourself, or vulnerable others (such as children) from a situation. Some of the ways you might do this is by:
- Choosing to stop communication until the behaviour stops.
- Just say ‘no’ and repeat this until the other person stops their persistence.
- Continuing to assert your own feelings.
- Get help if needed. Call someone you trust to be present if you are feeling uncomfortable.
Get legal advice, if necessary.
- Change your locks.
- Go to a shelter.
- Call a crisis line.
- Call police (as in the example with the ex) and/or if someone is at risk of being harmed or if threats of harm to themselves or other are being made.
It can be emotionally challenging to set strong boundaries with someone you care about or who has authority over you. You might experience feelings of guilt for doing so, particularly if the other person’s response is very strong. Remember, your concern for both your wellbeing, in the case of the pushy boss, and the wellbeing of the other, in the case of the ex partner, is worth insisting on . It does not do the other person any favours to allow them to disrespect others.
If you feel very uncomfortable setting boundaries, or following through with them, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Talk to someone you know, whom you consider assertive and respectful, and get their advice. Make an appointment to talk to a counselor. Don’t put off setting boundaries that might improve your life and the lives of others.
Stay true to yourself. When you’ve experienced continual violations of boundaries, it can affect your mood and your self esteem.
Talking to a counselor about this can be very helpful. Surround yourself with people who have your best interests in mind and will respect and support your decisions.
See also 7 Ways to Love a Volcano
Also, check out When YOU are the Volcano – 7 Ways to Care for Yourself
Check out ‘Forgiveness,’ A Dirty Word?