When Your Boundaries Are Crossed

On your journey toward loving your reflection, you will find that you are having to set and sometimes cross, boundaries. Your personal boundaries will vary – sometimes it’s about how people relate to you verbally, sometimes it’s about how people relate to you physically, and sometimes it’s the behavior they either encourage or discourage in you.

Our lives tick to our own idiosyncratic beats – with no two human beings sharing the same sense of humor or individual space. Many times we don’t even know what our boundaries are until we’re faced with a unique situation and we have to define them – quickly. When those boundaries inevitably clash, life serves up either comedy or tragedy, depending on our ways of coping.

Rachel Pomerance for Excelle

I had a good friend I’ll call Liz – she did not like any man who was not her husband standing too close to her – it was her personal preference. When a male co-worker stood too close to her, she would discreetly move away, and if he moved closer again, she would tell him here “rule” and move again. Most of the time, this worked just fine – many people seemed to understand and respect her personal boundaries, but there was another co-worker of our, who I’ll call Derek, who took delight in standing very close to Liz because he KNEW it made her uncomfortable.

Since Liz was my friend, I ran interference for her – stood next to her so that Derek could not get too close, and I had no problem pushing him away when he tried to get too close to her. In today’s litigious world, he would probably be slapped with a harassment lawsuit.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior still happens – and in a recent article I saw on the Excelle website entitled “When Men Cross Boundaries at Work” they discussed the challenges and opportunities for responses when your boundaries are crossed at work. I chose to reframe some of the options they discussed in the article, because it’s not always about a conflict between a man and a woman that challenges your boundaries.

When someone crosses your boundary – be it physical, mental or psychological, you can handle it in several different ways:

1. Take the high road – by brushing aside a negative remark or insult, you can avoid going down to their level and diffuse the situation. We were told as children that sometimes people will say and do things just to get a reaction, and if they don’t get the reaction they desire, they will leave you alone. It may not be the fastest solution, but it does sometimes work.

2. A humourous response can sometimes diffuse the situation as well – if it’s funny to you, you can make a joke and move on, but responding to an overtly sexual remark with a joke or another remark with sexual content may encourage an over-the-top remark or an escalation from conversation to physical involvement.

3. Beware the instant, overly emotional response – you may say or do something that you wouldn’t ordinarily express, and in that case, no one wins. Taking a few moments (or a deep breath) can allow you the time to frame a response that not only defines your boundaries, but defends them.

4. If the boundary crossed involves innuendo or improper remarks, you can be moderately confrontational and ask if they really MEANT to say what they did, or more aggressively challenge them with a statement like “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear you – what did you say?”

When a Simple, but Snappy Comeback is not Enough

One way to determine the level of response required for a potentially troublesome remark is to consider the following factors:

  • Would I want the encounter to be the subject of a column in my local newspaper, mentioned on a community web page, or  reported by one of my local stations as part of the evening news? If the answer is yes, then take the step of reporting the conduct to someone in an official capacity. Behavior on that level may be criminally actionable.
  • Is there equal “power” between me and the person I’m interacting with? In work situations, an unequal balance of power means that you may need to seek advice from Human Resources in order to get the issue resolved.
  • Would I behave the same way if the person I’m in a relationship with were standing next to me? Sometimes thinking about how someone you admire or care about would see your reaction can give you additional courage to stand up for yourself or temper what might be seen as an overly aggressive response.
  • Is there equal initiation and participation between me and the person I’m interacting with? If you have allowed over-the-top remarks from the individual in prior encounters, you have given tacit permission to treat you in the same way again. “We teach people how to treat us” means that if you do not call someone on their actions or words the first time they cross your boundary, then they feel its okay to do it again and again, and may escalate their behavior.

You can defend yourself and your boundaries without losing control, without resorting to profanity or abusive terms, and without escalating the encounter to a physical altercation. Often, all it takes is for the other individual to KNOW that you are going to defend yourself, and they will stop challenging you.

Stand up for yourself, hold your ground, and make your boundaries clear. It’s part of loving your reflection!