Setting Boundaries and Sticking to Them in Spite of Sabotage

We all think we can set boundaries. But what do you do when people try everything they can think of to knock them right back down?  

Credit: splorp

You can put up a fence or two, but keeping them up shouldn’t require bloodshed

We’ve all heard about the concept of setting boundaries.

Apparently, if there are lovers, family, friends or co-workers who walk all over us, sucking our precious time and energy with outrageous demands or bad behaviour, we can fix the problem simply by putting a few parameters in place. Sounds simple, right?

Setting Boundaries Not as Easy as it Looks

What we sometimes don’t hear is that the type of people you need to set boundaries with in the first place are the same ones who will hardly take them lying down.

Think about it. If you’re sighing, eye-rolling, pointedly looking at your watch, or otherwise broadcasting cues any normal person would get and it hasn’t made your tormenter back off, what makes you think explicitly announcing that you’ll no longer stop to chat during work hours will do it?

Expect Resistance

When you set a boundary, expect resistance. Forewarned is forearmed, so be wary of the top five ways your toxic friend, friendly boss, soul-sucking sister or other boundary bounder will try to sabotage your newly created fences.

Top 5 Boundary Resisters and How to Handle Them

  1. The Exception: “I was just –.” “Oh, you mean now? Now I’m not supposed to –?” All wounded innocence, The Exception continues to transgress, while bleating that it’s just this once  and it’ll never happen again — until next time, that is.
  2. The Explainer: Your pal at work always needs to call you during the one hour a day you’ve actually blocked off for your own project, it’s true, but there’s a good reason. Such a good reason, for this and every other transgression, that you’d be the bad guy if you continued to insist on compliance.
  3. The Belittler: Push your standards and the belittler kicks in. “Oh, I’m sorry,” rasps your co-worker. “I guess some people would rather endanger a work relationship over five lousy minutes.” If you fall for it and snap back that there’s a difference between one five-minute interruption and one every day for weeks on end, you’ve just proved her point. You’re obviously an anal-retentive, inflexible so-and-so — great justification for ignoring your request.
  4. The Attacker: When wilful misunderstanding, so-called logical reasons, and sarcasm don’t work, the saboteur attempts to turn the tables. “You know why you can’t even stop work for one second?” she yells. “It’s because you’ve always been a complete control freak. Nobody else will say anything, but everyone in the firm thinks so.” The message is clear: if you back off and let the boundary bounder continue to walk all over you, they’ll let your personality go unexamined.
  5. The Rewarder/The Punisher: “I told the boss Tom should go to Las Vegas for that conference,” your co-worker informs you. “I figured you’re more comfortable in a more controlled situation, like your office.” In other words, if you insist on her behaving like a halfway considerate human being, meet your new worst enemy. The softer side of the Punisher, the Rewarder, simply shows up during your project time… with cake. Who could turn her away?

Here’s the good news: you’re nearly there. While you can expect to be tested by boundary bounders, if you foil all these attempts at sabotage, your boundaries may actually win some respect, and who knows, you may get that uninterrupted hour to work after all.