We all know that speaking up and setting boundaries in our relationships can be challenging. Attempting to assert yourself with difficult personalities can be doubly so.
Difficult people can find something to take issue with no matter how carefully you choose your words. It can seem that no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to give or do enough.
From the perspective of boundaries, these folks fall into the category of “boundary bullies”. I also refer to them as “Repeat Offenders” or in the most extreme case, “Boundary Destroyers”.
These types of personalities are intrusive, demanding, full of unrealistic expectations, and regularly disregard your boundaries. If you have people like this in your life, it can feel like it’s not even worth the hassle to assert yourself. Have you ever felt this way?
If you’re nodding your head yes, then this episode is for YOU. I’m sharing how to shift your focus to you (because the only person’s behavior you can change is your own), so you can become empowered to effectively establish your boundaries, even with impossible people.
Raising your awareness of your relationship with boundary setting is the first step to changing anything. Communicating your boundaries means sharing your preferences, desires, limits, and non-negotiables or deal-breakers clearly with others. Simply, it is letting the people in your life know what is ok and what is not ok with you.
Effective communication is at the core of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, but many of us were never taught these skills. Unhealthy boundary patterns often stem from confusion about what is your responsibility and what is not. Have you ever felt guilted into doing something you don’t want to do? Or saying yes when you want to say no? What about overgiving or over-functioning?
All of these are symptoms of a lack of clarity around what is your side of the street and what is the other person’s side of the street. It may be difficult for you to draw boundaries in general with everyone in your life. If that’s the case, asserting yourself with difficult or toxic people can feel nearly impossible.
In extreme cases, boundary destroyers may also be emotional predators, and that means, they know exactly the right buttons to push. Because of this, setting boundaries with difficult people is a particular skill set. If you are conflict-averse and avoid confrontation at all costs, boundary bullies and destroyers know how to use it to their advantage to get what they want.
Your personal history, past experiences, and your unique sensitivities and boundary style can contribute to your vulnerability when it comes to impossible people.
For example, if growing up, there was someone in your family system who was explosive or difficult, it can be hard to set boundaries as an adult because the little kid in you still feels the old fear.
Uncovering this information will help you identify how your dysfunctional boundary patterns came to be and what might be holding you back in the here and now. I call this collection of data your Boundary Blueprint. Learned behavior is not your fault, but understanding it now is your responsibility, especially if you want to make a change!
Where are my empaths and HSPs? If you are an empath or a highly sensitive person, you might naturally avoid conflict or confrontation because it’s too taxing on your system. This can impact your ability to set boundaries, especially with difficult or toxic personalities. It might feel easier just to give in than to go toe-to-toe with a person who is notoriously intense, intrusive, or abusive.
Knowing who your biggest offenders are and bringing mindful awareness to the issue when you’re not in the heat of the moment is a great place to start building your boundary resilience and confidence. Take an inventory:
> Who are the most difficult people in your life?
> Which relationships drain you?
> Do you ever feel dread or anxiety before you know you’re going to interact with someone? It might manifest physically as well, as a constriction in your chest or throat or an unsettled feeling in your stomach.
> Bring to mind who that person is and then think about why. You can break out your journal and take an observer’s stance.
> What is it about interacting with this person that is so difficult?
> Do you feel you can’t speak up? Why?
> Are they quick to anger?
> Does this person remind you of someone from your childhood? In what ways?
> How does this situation feel similar or remind you of something or someone from your past?
Take a closer look at your history, your patterns, and any limiting beliefs or experiences which could be compromising your ability to draw appropriate boundaries with difficult people. You can do so with calm, kindness, and clarity. And with more assertiveness when appropriate.
If confrontation and conflict make you cringe, remember: you have the right to end any conversation that becomes too intense or heated. You have the right to say what you need to say and to set limits. You have the right to say no.
Have you ever had an experience with an individual who tries to wear down your “No”? This is a boundary issue, and if it’s one you’ve experienced before but haven’t known how to handle it, you can say something like,
“You asked, and I’ve answered. The conversation is done.”
If the person responds with, “Why can’t we talk about it?”
You can say, “Because I made a decision and I’m asking you to respect that.”
Maybe they won’t, but start to practice expressing yourself with words that are clear about how you feel and what you want. No one else has the right to tell you how to feel or that you shouldn’t feel the way you do. Like any skill, communicating your boundaries takes practice, but I know you can do this!
In the end, you are the only boss of you. You have the right to be the decider of what happens in all areas of your life. You get to determine what your emotional, physical, sexual, psychological, material and mental boundaries are.
It’s our job to clearly communicate our preferences and ask for what we want with actual words. Then if people don’t listen or respect them, you may have to remind them and re-state your boundary. That’s appropriate with people in your life who are adding value, but you shouldn’t have to keep saying the same thing over and over again, which might be the case with the most difficult relationships in your life.
There has to be a moment when you reassess your relationships with the repeat offenders in your life, but you won’t know how to find a balance until you begin verbalizing your boundary requests. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
And listen, if you are lacking in this skill set, you are in NO way alone. I wrote Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (finally) Live Free, as a strategic how-to-guide for how to become a full-fledged Boundary Boss!
In the book, I take you through the process of uncovering your Boundary Blueprint and how to recognize and deal with boundary bullies. There’s even an entire chapter full of scripts and sentence starters for every, single, solitary scenario you could ever find yourself in where you would need to draw a boundary including with the most difficult people in your life.
I hope that this episode and the information added value to your life and gave you some hope! You CAN become fluent in the language of healthy boundaries and when you do, your entire life will transform.
The book drops on April 20th and I’ve created a 5-day non-challenge (because life is challenging enough), to answer your Top 5 Boundary Q’s and help you continue to raise your awareness around how you do or don’t communicate in all areas of your life!
I hope you’ll join me inside the non-challenge right here, and as always, take care of you.
Here are some more ways I can support you:
PRE-ORDER MY NEW BOOK BABY! Boundary Boss is THE essential guidebook for authentically expressing your desires, setting healthy limits, and bringing more satisfaction, joy, and peace into all of your personal and professional relationships. There are super JUICY bonuses when you pre-order, so what are you waiting for?
TAKE THE BOUNDARY STYLE QUIZ I always say, ya can’t change anything until you become aware of it, so take the quiz and discover your unique boundary style!
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