A personal boundary is a rule that YOU SAY cannot be broken without consequence. Consequences for breaking your personal boundaries are not punishments for the person breaking them. The consequence involves you doing something good for yourself right away.
For example, this is one of the boundaries I set for myself:
No verbal assaults or verbal abuse. No name-calling directly or indirectly where it can be overheard by me or other people. No covert verbal abuse implying I am is less valuable than another due to differing opinions and beliefs. No labeling of me as unappreciative, uncaring, unfit, irresponsible, dishonest, etc. No word games, no rephrasing of my words to change their meaning, no more technicalities or meaning-splitting (i.e. “You didn’t say not to do that on the list!”). No attempts to control through tone or word. No abuse disguised as a joke.
The consequence of someone violating that boundary is as follows:
If someone violates this personal boundary and I feel safe saying something to them, I will say, “I feel threatened/hurt/disrespected by your words and tone. I am going to leave the house/room/relationship and maybe we can spend time together later, but I’m not sure about that yet.” If someone verbally abuses me and I feel unsafe in saying something, I will only act on the consequence, not explain it. I will leave the room/house for an extended period until I feel safe to return (if it is safe to return!).
Notice that the consequence for the abuse does not involve me saying, “You are ……! You make me feel…!”
- Saying “You are…!” labels and defines the person, and we abuse victims KNOW how unfair and miserable it is to be labeled – so don’t do it to someone else, no matter how nasty they are.
- Saying “You make me feel…” gives my power to the person hurting me. If I fall into the trap of believing that someone else can stir me up, then I let go of all responsibility for my own feelings. I allow the abuse to define me, and that is a slippery slope leading to all sorts of nasty internal consequences including low self-respect.
There is another way to write a boundary in which you have a specific person and their specific abuses in mind. Here’s a second example of a boundary:
When you narrow your eyes and interrupt me, I feel unheard and disconnected from the conversation. I want you to acknowledge my point of view.
And the consequence:
Because I am powerless over you, I will leave the room and the conversation temporarily until a later point in time when we can try to communicate again.
The first time I wrote out a boundary, I felt guilty. I felt as if protecting myself was a crime against him. The idea that I “should” be and do just as he wanted was the source of that guilt. But after writing a few boundaries, I noticed that the guilt disappeared. While defining the things he did and said, I realized that his actions were wrong. He “should” feel bad for the way he behaved and I had every right to protect myself from his derogatory words and actions.
Writing the boundaries helped me to recognize the abuse when it started. By defining what I didn’t like, by putting it into words on paper, I learned to circumvent the abuse from the beginning instead of letting it affect me until I was a crying heaving mass of jelly.
Writing my own boundaries gave me a sense of personal strength and a sense of responsibility to myself to curtail the negativity I had once so willingly accepted. I stopped seeing myself as a victim and started seeing myself as an agent of change, both for myself and my relationship.
When I began enforcing my boundaries, the abuse increased. My abuser was like a little child being denied his comfort blanket. He didn’t take to my new reactions well. We are divorcing because I began to act in ways that were good for me.
As much as I didn’t want this divorce, I also would not go back to that situation ever again. The outcome for your relationship may be different, but I suspect the feelings you have after writing your boundaries will be similar to mine.
- Disgust that the behaviors described occur in what is supposed to be a love relationship
- Desire to improve that relationship
- Hope that the abuser will change once the responsibility for their actions and words falls back onto their shoulders
- Greater sense of empowerment and the shedding of victim mentality.
For help writing your first boundaries, visit Verbal Abuse Journals/How to Set Personal Boundaries.