Psychologist's Advice: How To Know When People Violate Your Boundaries To Save You From Discomfort

You may have heard it thousands of times: "He/she has violated my boundaries." What do people mean by that?

Our boundaries can be divided into 2 groups: physical and psychological.

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Physical boundaries

Figuratively speaking, it is a line that separates a person from the rest of the world, the so-called personal space.

It can be violated by:

  • random people;
  • people in your inner circle;
  • husbands, wives, partners.

1. Strangers

If someone touches a person without their consent, it violates their boundaries. People try to stay away from strangers at a distance of 3 to 13 feet in public places. It is called a social boundary or a distance of comfort. This distance may vary slightly from person to person one way or the other. If a stranger gets too close to you, leans, tries to touch your body, or hurts, you may experience a range of unpleasant feelings:

  • discomfort;
  • irritation;
  • anger;
  • resentment;
  • fear;
  • disgust, etc.

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These are feelings that you simply can’t ignore. If your brain sets off code red signaling that the boundary has been broken, it needs to be urgently protected. Don’t expect the intruder to understand that their behavior is unacceptable. Tell them about it in the form you find appropriate. You have every right to protect yourself!

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2. Inner circle

These are friends, relatives, possibly neighbors and acquaintances. We often let these people closer, sometimes hug or just shake hands when we meet.

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Just a reminder: you don’t have to do this. If you are unhappy with someone's touch, smell, or if you’re not a hugger, you have every right to refuse this contact. If you value the relationship with this person, and you don’t want to offend them, you will need to sugarcoat your refusal and make it understandable. If this person also values your relationship, they will try to understand and accept it.

3. Husband, wife, loved one

No matter how much we love our partners, we are not always ready for close tactile contact. If the touch of a loved one is untimely, painful or simply unpleasant, you have every right to refuse. No one can use your body as they see it if you don’t want it!

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Personal space also includes:

  • personal possessions;
  • a bed;
  • an office table;
  • a computer;
  • a phone;
  • anything within your territory you considered  your own.

You are perfectly capable of informing others about the objects you wouldn’t like to be touched without your permission. Note that these rules may differ depending on how close you are. You often allow close people do things you wouldn’t let your friends or colleagues do. For example, it is OK to let your children play with your mobile phone or drink from your cup, but someone else doing it can make you very uncomfortable.

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If you find a colleague at your computer without permission, it is a clear violation of your boundaries.

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Psychological boundaries

These lie in an abstract sphere: your values, ideals, needs, human dignity, your time, etc. If you feel irritation, anger or even rage, when communicating with a person, this is most likely a signal of violation of your boundaries, which can take a form of:

  • wasting your time;
  • intrusion in your private life;
  • giving advice;
  • attempts to impose opinions on you.

1. Your time

Time is an essential resource. There are people who steal it, engaging you in meaningless communication or asking for favors, knowing that you wouldn’t say no.

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2. Personal matters

Tactless questions are often used to violate your boundaries. For example, we always feel uncomfortable when we have to answer questions, like: "When will you get married already?", "How much does your husband earn?", "Why won’t you have another child?" etc. You have the right to refuse answering questions about your life, if you don’t want to do it.

3. Unwanted advice

Even if it is given out of the goodness of the heart, it also violates the boundaries. You can always hint that you did not ask for advice, or go ahead and say it directly.

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Appearance, clothes, weight, hobbies, lifestyle – are your personal matters. Attempts to change you are a huge violation of boundaries.

4. Values and beliefs

You have the right to have values and beliefs that are different from other people’s. If you don’t impose them on others and don’t harm anybody, no one should criticize you or change your mind. You can always come out of this type of a dialogue with the phrase "Thank you, but I will stick with my opinion."

This list can go on forever, you got the gist. Mark your boundaries and protect them. If you don’t do it, you complicate things for yourself, as well as for others. Don’t leave people guessing if something is OK or intolerable for you. And remember: people around you also have their boundaries. Try to be tactful and respect them.

Source: Elina Rosina, an applied psychologist, Gestalt therapist, family counselor

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The material in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the advice of a certified specialist.

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