Boundaries are so important. They are where we end and the rest of the world begins. When we are targeted by toxic people, boundaries become blurred. We become part of their personal world, and our own sense of self is expertly crushed. Boundaries are not allowed, and we are made to feel that maintaining any is rude and wrong.
The only way to escape the influence of toxic people is to begin putting boundaries back in place. Whether you physically remove yourself from a situation, or begin putting in place some emotional parameters, it is important that you remove yourself from their influence.
The trouble is that - once we are targeted and influenced by toxic people - we are often left with no sense of what healthy boundaries are. This not only makes it harder to escape, but also makes us an easier target for future bullies we cross paths with. Because we don’t know how to set and maintain boundaries, and often feel utterly guilty for even wanting to, toxic people gladly take advantage.
Boundaries are so important! They are integral in keeping us safe (both emotionally and physically).
“Whatever you are willing to put up with, is exactly what you will have.” - Anonymous
What Are Boundaries All About?
Boundaries are about setting guidelines that are very firm in some areas and have some wiggle room in others. This way we are able to have the highest quality experience of life possible. But flexibility without a foundation is just chaos. So when it comes to setting the guidelines regarding how you allow yourself to be treated by others, we can have a little wiggle room sometimes.
It’s about respect for yourself and respect for others. And it’s especially what we will we accept from others. You are sure to have heard the old adage about people treating you the way you allow them to. Boundaries help set parameters and guidelines on how you wish to be treated in all categories.
Boundaries are financial, physical, sexual, and emotional. Between friends, between lovers, between our kids, and even between our co-workers.
People get really mad with boundaries being broken by strangers, and sometimes the violation can be a very small thing. Yet when it comes to loved ones, we put up with far more than we should because we think that is what love requires. And this is just not true.
3 Simple Ways to Help Protect Your Boundaries
Since boundaries are key in both escaping and avoiding the influence of toxic people, let us have a look at some simple ways to maintain boundaries in your life.
#1 Learn to treat yourself as your own friend.
When you are judging the behaviour of people around you, or your own behaviour towards others, consider how you would advise your friend. This can help give you a more objective perspective on the issue at hand, and will most likely enable you to determine whether certain behaviours are acceptable or not. And when some behaviours are so damaging that engaging in communication and trying to negotiate with the abuser is not possible, this bird’s-eye-view perspective will help you to see that you still have the option of 'limited contact' or 'no contact'.
#2 Relate to toxic people as business contacts.
Toxic people are always looking for information they can use against you. The more they know about you, about your feelings, and worries or challenges the more ammunition they have. When in the company of toxic people, try to relate to them as you would a business contact. Talk about simple, general topics, let them talk about themselves, but guard your personal thoughts, feelings, and opinions with vigour. This way you are:
not going to give away information that will leave you vulnerable at a later date.
not going to have to worry about being rude - because you’re actually being as civil as possible.
#3 Decide what ‘wins’ you will give away.
Toxic people are forever looking for the win - to “get one over on you”. It can be helpful to make them feel like they ‘got away with something’ from time to time. That will keep them happy, and may keep them from doubling their efforts to attack you.
Sometimes letting a (not quite so) snide remark go unchallenged so they think they outsmarted you. This can save you a lot of misery in the long run. Not every short term win is a long term win. But between now and your escape, focus on your long term goals for freedom and safety. Winning the war does not always require you to win every battle.
Want to learn more about boundaries and how they can help you heal and protect yourself from bullies and abusers? Check out The Big Book of Boundaries. It is chock-a-block full of practical advice on how to maintain your boundaries.