Personal boundaries are established to let others know where you end and where they begin. Boundaries act as an invisible line around you that signifies your personal space, limits, likes and dislikes as well as your values and beliefs. When someone oversteps or ignores your boundaries, you may feel uncomfortable or resentful. Because communicating your boundaries in an assertive manner takes practice, Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., associate editor at PsychCentral.com, suggests beginning by enforcing small boundaries. As you achieve success, you can gradually work on enforcing larger ones.
It can be difficult to set personal boundaries, but when dealing with someone who repeatedly disrespects your personal boundaries, that difficulty increases. Pay attention to what you are feeling inside when you are with this person. Situations where you feel a loss of energy, overwhelmed or about to cry, likely signal that a boundary has been crossed, according to Cheryl Richardson, life coach, in the article, "Begin to Set Personal Boundaries," on Oprah.com.
Begin by making a list of specific things that you don't want this person to do such as invading your personal space or personal belongings -- for example, asking your co-worker not to go in your desk drawers even if she is only looking for a pen is not an unreasonable request. While it may not bother someone else, if it makes you uncomfortable, it's important to acknowledge your feelings. Increase self-awareness by understanding what your specific boundaries are and then presenting specific actions to protect those boundaries.
It can take time to learn how to set boundaries with another person, especially if he does not take you seriously. When setting boundaries with him, avoid getting into a debate, defending or over-explaining yourself. Use a direct approach, and be firm but friendly. Restate your boundaries in the face of resistance. When setting boundaries, follow up with action, as giving in will allow a person to continue ignoring your needs. For example, in the presence of an angry person, set your boundary by stating, "You are not allowed to yell at me. Please stop or I'll leave the room." If he continues, follow through by leaving the room.
Change the Relationship
If you've made an effort to set boundaries and follow through, yet you are still constantly on guard, you may need to change the course of the relationship with this person. Richardson recommends attempting to heal the relationship with a family member or friend by sharing the truth with her. Explain that you'd like to honor the relationship by being truthful. Say something like, "When you call me at work twice a day, I feel pressured to talk to you and wind up working later into the evening. If you can call me in the evening, I can give you my undivided attention. Would you be willing to do that?" If your boundaries continue to be violated, or if it is an acquaintance, consider spending less time with this person or simply ignoring her behavior. Over time, she may come to understand you are serious or you may need to end the relationship to preserve your personal boundaries.