When It Comes To Setting Boundaries, Most People Have It All Wrong. Here’s A Better Strategy To Protect Yourself From Obnoxious Friends And Loved Ones

Most of us have that one annoying, obnoxious friend or relative who we would rather avoid.

Why? Because they grate on our nerves with their inappropriate comments, or because they ask us all-too-personal questions.

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How about you? Do you know someone like that?

Maybe this person wants too much of your time and tries to make you feel guilty when you say “no.”

Or they make rude observations about your weight, diet, appearance, or love life.

Or they often sound judgmental and holier-than-thou, and are constantly trying to “fix” you in some way.

You just want to tell them to zip it and back off!

But you know that’s not an ideal response. You still want to maintain civility or a relationship with this person, because they’re your family member, friend, or boss. Maybe this is even your partner or spouse! You don’t want to be rude, but you also really want them to stop their rude behavior.

Perhaps you’ve thought about setting a boundary with this person, or already have, but it hasn’t had much effect. They STILL continue to persist in their subconscious and hurtful behavior or words.

Is this because boundaries mean nothing to this person?

Or, is it because you don’t know how to set good boundaries?

My guess is the latter. Because in my professional experience, MOST people have the wrong idea about how to set boundaries, and that’s probably why they aren’t getting good results.

But in this article, I’m going to set the record straight, so you can get it right.

And perhaps you’ll finally be able to mend your relationship with the overbearing in-laws, the nosy aunt, or the obnoxious neighbor (or anyone else who gets under your skin).

What Is A Boundary, Anyway? And Why Do Most People Have It All Wrong?

You may be wondering, “What is a ‘boundary’ anyway?”

A boundary is a limit you place between yourself and another person. It is the limit of how comfortable you are with another person’s physical proximity, behavior, or words.

When you “set a boundary” you are essentially communicating what you are or aren’t comfortable with, or what you will or won’t tolerate.

Maybe you’re nodding your head right now, confident that you know what boundaries are. Many of my clients thought they knew, too.

Take one of my former private practice clients, Marilee. She told me in one of our early phone sessions, “I set a boundary. I told her that she couldn’t speak to me that way anymore.”

Or my client, Jackson, who told me, “I earn the money. My girlfriend doesn’t work but loves to spend the money I earn. So, I set a boundary. I told her that she had to stop spending so much money and racking up credit card bills.”

Another client, Lora, told me, “I set a boundary. I told him he has to stop putting me down in public.”

And another said, “I set a boundary. I told her she has to be on time from now on.”

Guess what? All these people are confused about what a boundary is. They think a boundary is something they set for someone else, but they are wrong.

A boundary is not about trying to control the other person by telling them what to do—it is about telling them what YOU will do in the face of their continued unkind or undesirable behavior.

We cannot control another’s behavior, but we can control our own response in the face of another’s behavior.

A boundary is something you set for yourself. A boundary is about telling your truth and acting on it. A loving boundary is an action that you take for yourself that takes care of you and creates the space for you to keep your heart open, without violating the other.

For example, if Marilee had said to her partner, in a kind voice, “I’m no longer available to being spoken to like that, and every time you speak to me in a disrespectful tone, I will walk away,” she would have been setting a loving boundary.

The boundary she would have set for herself is that she would leave when her partner is treating her disrespectfully. For the boundary to have power, she would need to act on it every time her partner treated her badly.

Do you see the difference in these statements? If Marilee says to her partner, “You can’t speak to me like that anymore,” what power does THAT have?

Not much.

So, if you’ve had trouble with people not respecting your boundaries—in other words, they continue to do what you don’t like—then it’s probably because,

a) You haven’t phrased your boundary in a loving, effective way.


b) You haven’t followed through on your end to do what you threatened you’d do if they crossed your boundary.

First, let’s examine how to phrase the boundary in the most loving, non-drama way possible…

What To Say And How To Say It (When You Want To Set A Boundary)

If Jackson says to his girlfriend, “You need to stop spending so much and racking up our credit card bill,” what might be the result?

His girlfriend might go into resistance to being controlled by him and spend even more money. If Jackson were to set a loving boundary, he would say, in a kind voice, something like, “Honey, your spending is over the top and it’s causing me a lot of stress. If you keep spending like this, I will have to cancel your credit cards and give you a set amount of cash instead.”

Since Jackson earns the money, he would then be able to control how much he made available to his girlfriend.

Lora would have set a loving boundary if she said, again in a kind voice, “I’m no longer willing to be with you in public when you put me down. The next time you do that, I will say to everyone that I don’t like being put down by you, and then I will leave and take the car or a cab home.”

Another example: “I really hate being late to events. The next time you are late, I will leave on my own so that I can be on time. If you want to continue to be late, then I will just plan on taking separate cars.”

This is the formula for setting appropriate, loving, and effective boundaries.

You state what you don’t like or won’t accept about the person’s behavior and how it makes you feel. Then you state what you will do in the face of that behavior in the future.

Then, of course, you must take the action you have said you would take. If you do not take the action, then what you have said is a manipulation rather than a truth.

A boundary means nothing until you are willing to take the action.

Which leads me to ask, why would you have trouble following through with what you said you’d do if someone crossed your boundary?

The answer lies in what (or whom) you’re willing to lose in order to take loving care of yourself.

The Biggest Reason You May Have Trouble Following Through With Boundaries

For anyone to set a boundary for themselves, they must be willing to lose their partner/friend/family member rather than continue to lose themselves.

It is not easy to commit to take loving care of yourself and risk losing someone. But is the illusion of connection with that person worth the reality of losing yourself?

In a caring, loving relationship, you can make reasonable requests of your partner and your partner will want to do all he or she can to meet your requests. But in a dysfunctional relationship, your partner might ignore your requests, just as Jackson’s girlfriend ignored his.

That’s when you need to accept that the caring is getting lost in power struggles and control issues. To get yourself out of the unloving system that the two of you have created, you may need to explore the issue of setting loving boundaries for yourself.

To set a loving boundary for yourself, you need to reach a place within where you feel good enough about yourself to know that you don’t deserve to be treated badly. You need to know how to love yourself rather than abandoning yourself by compromising what you need to feel safe, secure, or authentic.

This means you need to be willing to let go of people-pleasing, apologizing, or making yourself small in order to “keep the peace.”

How To Stop Abandoning Yourself

If you’re reading this and agree that you have trouble setting loving boundaries for yourself because you’re afraid of losing someone’s love and respect, then your first step needs to be to learn how to take loving care of yourself. When you do, you’ll finally be able to set effective boundaries.

That will happen because you will stop needing to GET love from others, but rather, have access to the unlimited love within.

With so much love for yourself from within yourself, you’ll have no trouble standing by your boundaries and walking away from anyone who doesn’t respect you.

Here’s how to get that inner love…

How To Get Compassion For Yourself So You Can Stick To Your Boundaries And Get Respect

The challenging part of taking loving action on your own behalf, by following through on your boundaries, is that you need to be willing to let go of controlling how your partner will feel and behave.

If you’re so focused on the possibility that they’ll feel hurt, angry, or may leave you, you’ll be unable to take loving action on your own behalf.

Only if you are in compassion for yourself will you be able to act on your own behalf.

That’s when you can calmly stand up for yourself and walk away, or follow through with an action you said you’d take.

This is much like what a loving parent would do in order to protect a vulnerable child.

BE that loving parent to yourself.

My 30-day program, Wildly, Deeply, Joyously In Love will show you exactly how to do that, by taking you step-by-step through a process that will cultivate that loving compassion for yourself. I call this process “Inner Bonding.”

When you learn and then practice Inner Bonding, you’ll be able to love yourself rather than continue to abandon yourself by letting people walk all over you. When you can love yourself, you can set a loving boundary and act on it each time your friend or partner acts disrespectful.

The more you’re willing to act on your boundary, the more effective your boundaries will be, and the more respect you’ll get from your partner, friends—anyone in your life.

In addition to learning how to gain compassion for yourself through Inner Bonding, this 30-day program will also help you discover:

  • The #1 reason for relationship failure and how to keep from repeating painful dynamics from one partner to another
  • The often subtle ways fear of rejection and fear of intimacy show up and create painful consequences in relationship
  • How your partner’s difficult behavior may be a cry for connection—even if it feels like the opposite to you
  • Why sharing your feelings over what your partner did so often backfires, and exactly how to say what you need to without creating more tension
  • Why it’s common to fall out of love with your partner—even if you’re with the right partner

And much more!

You can begin this 30-day video program today, along with the 6 Steps to Inner Bonding included, here:

Start the Process Now

We train people in how to treat us. People tend to mirror how we treat ourselves. If we don’t treat ourselves with respect, then others will likely disrespect us, too.

Let me show you how to always treat yourself with kindness, respect, and compassion.


Margaret Paul

P.S. My program, Wildly, Deeply, Joyously In Love will also show you how to speak up for yourself the very moment after someone says something hurtful. No more stewing about a conversation days (or even weeks!) later, wishing you had said something.

Learn the common reasons why you may not be speaking up for yourself, and what exactly to say to set an instant boundary within a conversation.

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