Boundaries with unsafe people

Dr Henry Cloud says that boundaries can help a person to shift from feelings of powerlessness to being able to recognise the options that they have in a relationship. Establishing boundaries is essentially creating a line between what we are willing to tolerate and what we are not. This line can be physical, emotional, or mental. By setting boundaries, we are able to say "no" to things that do not serve us, and "yes" to things that do. This can be a difficult process as others may not understand. Once we have established our boundaries, we need to be able stand up for ourselves our boundaries are crossed.

Setting boundaries with unsafe people

An unsafe person is someone who struggles to maintain healthy, safe, and respectful relationships with others. When communicating your boundaries with an unsafe person in your life, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be clear and concise in your communication about your needs, yet always be gentle and respectful without using accusatory language.

  • If they apologise and make amends, be ready to forgive them.

  • But, be prepared for the possibility that the unsafe person may not respect your boundaries.

  • Remember that we cannot control how others will react to our boundaries, but we can control how we respond. We can choose to respond calmly.

  • Crossing your boundaries should come with consequences and the first consequence is gently informing the person that they have crossed your boundaries.

  • If the person continues to cross a boundary, the next consequence is a warning such as “If you continue to do this, I’ll have to pull back and keep things on a surface level.” This is emotional protection.

  • We can also set a physical limit by saying: “When you act like this, I am leaving the room, until you can speak to me calmly.” You remove yourself from the situation.

  • If the person continues to cross your boundaries, it may be necessary to bring in other people. This is saying: “I’m only going to talk to you about this issue in the presence of someone else.”

  • If this is a major problem and you know there is likely to be a fight about this topic, you can suggest only talking about it with a counsellor. Just making this suggestion may help the person to understand the importance of the issue and, getting counselling may indeed be necessary.

  • In dire situations, when all else has failed, separation may be needed. This could be the case when, for example, the person is using drugs or is abusive. It’s important to note that separation should not be used at the first infraction with a loved one. It is used in situations where safety demands it or there seems to be no other option. We always desire to have good relationships with our loved ones.

Boundaries are not about control, they are about the freedom to choose to live our lives in a healthy way. Read more: