Ignoring your “no,” doing the opposite of what you asked, and mocking your requests are signs your boundaries are being violated. Knowing when someone crosses the line is key to maintaining healthy relationships.
Boundaries are essential for human connection and personal safety. They protect you, set the rules of engagement, and allow you to keep your individuality. Boundaries may be physical, emotional, mental, material, or time related.
Not everyone respects other people’s boundaries, though. And, sometimes, you may not be aware someone has crossed the line. But it’s important that you teach others how to treat you.
Here are the telltale signs of broken boundaries and how to deal with someone who crosses the line.
Codependency refers to a specific relationship dynamic where one person puts their own needs on the back burner, and the other tends to avoid accountability for their actions.
Conflict avoidance and people pleasing are common in codependent relationships. Among others, these behaviors may signal difficulty in establishing and respecting boundaries.
Feeling resentment for the things you do for the other person, even if you’ve volunteered, is also a sign of codependency.
“If you feel resentful for going along with someone’s expectations of you, they may have violated your personal boundaries,” explains Nancy Nzioki, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Mombasa. “Often folks will believe that unless they sacrifice their boundaries for the needs of others, they won’t be liked, loved, or valued.”
You’ve expressed your boundaries, yet the person continues to behave the same way. Having to repeatedly set your limits may be an indicator of a boundary violation.
“You find yourself having to constantly defend, explain, and justify the reasons for the boundary,” says Lucy Mjomba, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Nairobi, Kenya. “If you are facing a person who does not respect your boundary, they will likely not accept the boundary at first expression.”
Mjomba explains that ignoring your boundaries may be either conscious behavior or unconsciously forgetting if they have low self-awareness.
“They might want to bring it up multiple times, asking questions and scrutinizing the boundary, even if you explained the boundary clearly and explicitly the first time,” she adds. “It might even feel like conversation déjà vu.”
You’ve set and explained your boundaries, but they keep breaking them. Now, you’re also expressing how that makes you feel, and they continue to behave similarly. This is another example of boundary violation.
“A main sign that someone doesn’t respect your boundaries is if they don’t stop their actions after you’ve expressed discomfort,” says Quinelle Hickman, a licensed individual and couples therapist in New York City.
Hickman explains expressions of discomfort may include:
- “no, stop!”
- I don’t like that
- I don’t want to
- I’d rather not
- I’m not willing to do that
- that makes me feel (insert negative emotion)
“If you’ve essentially asked for something to stop and someone attempts to persuade you otherwise or continues to engage in activities you’re against, those are signs they don’t respect your boundaries,” she adds.
Perhaps you haven’t thought much about the signs your boundaries are being violated. But you know you feel uncomfortable or that something is off whenever that person is around. This may also signal broken boundaries.
“They get in your space, and you feel uncomfortable. Whether it is physical, emotional, or mental space, if you feel uncomfortable, it is likely a boundary violation,” says Katie Lorz, LMHC, a trauma and relationship counselor for women at HGCM Therapy in Washington.
“You feel physically uncomfortable. You may get sweaty palms, upset stomach, racing heart, elevated body temperature, or claustrophobic,” says Lorz. “This is your body’s natural response and signal that things feel unsafe and that a boundary is being crossed.”
Besides the physical symptoms of discomfort, you may also have a hard time processing your thoughts and emotions when that person is nearby.
“You may find it difficult to think clearly or have racing thoughts. You may feel frustrated or upset or like you can’t make decisions,” adds Lorz. “You may start to avoid social situations, take extra steps to avoid the person, or be worried about interacting with them.”
Being in a relationship with someone who constantly crosses the line may lead you to experience mental health symptoms. Lorz says these may include:
- anxiety, including panic attacks and agoraphobia
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
“Checking in with your thoughts, feelings, and body responses is a good way to know if a social boundary is being crossed,” advises Lorz.
A sign that someone doesn’t respect your boundaries is interrupting or changing the conversation when you’re sharing something important to you.
“For example, if you attempt to communicate your thoughts and emotions to a loved one [but they] constantly talk over you, cut you off in conversation, or walk out mid-conversation,” says Hickman. “Effective conversations require all parties to give fair time to speak, consider one another’s points, and take breaks when needed. If conversations aren’t approached fairly, it’s a sign that both you or your partner aren’t respecting boundaries.”
Sometimes, it’s difficult to consider other people’s intentions when they say things “as a joke,” or you’re not clear if they’re “only teasing.”
But, sometimes, humor may be a manipulation tactic they use to cross the line.
Sitka explains that a sign of broken boundaries may be “invalidating or minimizing your needs that led to the boundary. [For example,] ‘oh, come on! You can’t seriously be that bothered by my phone calls at night. You get plenty of sleep!’”
Gaslighting may also be a red flag, says Sitka. This may involve saying things like, “You’re just being too sensitive. Lighten up!”
It’s possible that besides ignoring your requests, someone may try to change your mind about your boundaries. This can be done in many ways, from ridiculing your logic for the boundary to making you feel guilty for setting the limit.
Maybe they tell you how much you’ve changed, how sensitive you are, or how someone else would never “do that” to them.
Perhaps they blame you for not loving them enough or being there for them when they need you.
They may also use the silent treatment or ghost you whenever you set the record straight.
All of these may be an attempt to continue violating your boundaries and manipulating you into thinking they’re right to do so.
What types of boundaries aren’t negotiable in a relationship?
“Behaviors that are indicative of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse should never be negotiable in a relationship,” advises Dr. Cynthia King, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Asheville, North Carolina.
King offers these examples of nonnegotiable boundaries in a relationship:
- physical violence (hitting, pushing, shoving, holding you down, pinning you)
- blocking your exit
- extreme jealousy
- needing to know your whereabouts all the time
- needing you to check in numerous times throughout the day
- isolating you from friends and family
- degrading and shaming comments
- sexual violence (rape, marital rape, coercion, pressure)
- controlling behaviors
“There may be some other things you are not willing to negotiate on,” says King. “You may have some firm boundaries due to past trauma or other life experiences. You need to be clear about what those things are and communicate them straight away in your important relationships.”
Experts agree that boundaries are about yourself and not other people. You’re not in control of anyone else’s behavior, but you may be able to make decisions and take action related to your needs and wants.
“A common misunderstanding about boundaries is that someone else is crossing them,” says Lorz. “One of the most important parts of boundary work is understanding that you are responsible for holding your boundaries with someone else. Your boundaries are yours to keep, communicate, and honor.”
“The first step involves you and only you. You need to be clear with yourself about what your values are and then what boundaries you uphold because of that,” says King. “Second, when someone violates your boundaries, I encourage you to use assertive communication.”
Expressing your boundary and how crossing the line makes you feel is essential to establish healthy relationships.
“If someone’s actions, beliefs, or communication feels like a boundary violation, it is important to let them know and hold your boundary,” says Lorz.
King offers these examples of boundary setting:
At work: “I am not able to come into the office on Saturday. I reserve the weekends for my family.”
With your partner: “It’s important to me that you don’t share the details of our arguments with your brother. It makes me really uncomfortable.”
With your kid: “Please don’t sit on mama’s lap right now. Mama’s body needs a break. I’d love for you to sit right next to me on the floor, and we can play legos.”
Lorz recommends assessing how safe it is to confront the person who crossed the line.
“If it feels safe to let them know, be direct, kind, and clear about your boundary and how you will respond if a boundary is violated,” she says. “If it feels unsafe to let them know, seek the guidance of a trusted friend, family member, or therapist to help you make a plan for letting the person know your boundaries.”
Suppose you consider that confronting the person may put your safety in jeopardy. In that case, Lorz says it’s important to “protect yourself by going ‘no contact’ and, when appropriate, taking legal action by getting a protective or restraining order, or filing a police report.”
Compromise and negotiation
Not all boundary violations are created equal. Those who don’t put your safety and integrity at hand may be worth discussing with the other person.
“You may need to flesh out what the boundary crossing meant and come up with a different way for [them] to get their needs met in the relationship if that’s where the violation comes from,” says King. “That’s the negotiation/compromise part. And you only negotiate on things that are negotiable.”
What happens if you’ve compromised, explained yourself, and requested your wishes more than once? A change of strategy may be needed.
“The best thing for you to do is stop any behaviors that allow you to be disrespected,” suggests Hickman. “Once you change your behavior, you may find that your loved one tries even harder to get you back to the way things were.”
Hickman says they may distance themselves from you, have emotional outbursts, or go full negotiation mode.
“If you stay clear, firm, and consistent around your boundary, over time, you will see changed behavior from your loved one,” she says.
If you don’t, it may be time to consider ending the connection or taking emotional distance.
“While some situations may call for compromise, don’t compromise on your happiness,” advises Hickman. “As the offenses build, so will your negative emotions while teaching a person that they can get away with their actions. Save yourself heartache in the long run by being clear, firm, and consistent with boundary setting and walking away sooner rather than later.”
To deal with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries, Sitka offers a strategy from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DEARMAN.
The acronym summarizes seven steps to confront someone who violates boundaries:
How can you explain what bothers or upsets you in a non-judgmental, non-blaming fashion?
“When we have had you over to the house recently, you often bring up how we should be parenting differently when Sam has a tantrum.”
Can you express your feelings and thoughts about the situation using “I” statements?
“Being a new parent has been stressful for me. Hearing opinions and judgments about our parenting is upsetting to me.”
Can you establish what you want or don’t want the other person to do plainly?
“I would like for you to be able to come over and enjoy time together without giving us advice about what we should do with our parenting when she has tantrums.”
Would you reinforce the benefits that your request will likely have?
“I would feel relieved and supported if I could manage her tantrums without worrying about comments regarding how I am parenting.”
Can you keep your focus on your needs?
“I know you understand how stressful parenting is. I feel confident that I can enjoy our time together more peacefully without the comments about parenting.”
Is it possible to use your body language, tone of voice, and metacommunication to show your certainty in your position?
Are you open to other solutions to the problem?
“How about I ask for your feedback on other parenting things that come up for us? I know you have some great ideas about potty training!”
Setting and respecting boundaries in new relationships may be a trial-and-error process for some.
“Boundary violations are not uncommon in relationships. They are often a signal that miscommunication is happening, and can be remedied by simply taking time to talk openly with each other and establish clear boundaries for the relationship,” says Lorz. “If this doesn’t work, it may be helpful to engage the support of a therapist, counselor, mediator, or trusted third party.”
Are boundary violations in relationships a reason to end it?
“I definitely don’t recommend having a hard and fast rule of ending relationships as soon as a boundary has been crossed,” says King. “There is learning for both parties when a boundary violation occurs.”
Sitka recommends asking yourself these questions before ending a relationship for a boundary violation:
- Did you state the boundary and the expected/wanted behavior clearly and explicitly to the person?
- On a scale of 1-10, how distressing is it to have your boundary violated?
- What are the consequences (good and bad) of ending the relationship? How willing are you to face those consequences?
- Have you exhausted all other ideas, attempts, and possible compromises that could better resolve this boundary violation without a complete cutoff?
How you feel and how much effort you’ve put into setting your boundaries may also help you make the decision.
“It is important to be aware that deep emotional harm can occur from repeated boundary violations,” says Lorz. “If your boundaries are being ignored or challenged, and you have tried to communicate them without success, it may be time to end the relationship.”