What’s Your Limit?

I’ll never forget the day I yelled at my boss.

It was so out of character for me to do such a thing. I was raised to be a good little soldier and to obey and respect my elders and persons in positions of authority.

In the workplace, I had always been someone who did whatever I was told to the best of my ability and generally stayed out of conflicts and unnecessary drama. I usually just punched in, did my job, punched out, and collected my paycheck.

This one morning, however, I jumped into the mix without so much as a second thought.

I was working at a store and, before the store opened for the day, two of my co-workers, our manager, and I were opening boxes of new merchandise and stocking shelves. I was toward the front of the store when I suddenly heard the manager blowing his lid – why, I have no idea. He started cursing and yelling insults about how childish and incompetent we were.

I immediately walked toward him near the back of the store and called him out on his behavior. “That’s verbal abuse,” I said to him in a relatively calm voice, “and we don’t have to listen to it.”

He reacted very defensively, coming up with rationalizations for his outburst. But I didn’t let him get away with it. “I don’t care,” I went on. “We are not children. We are adults and we don’t have to put up with that.”

The next twenty minutes were tense and uncomfortable. We each had box-cutters in our hands and we were ripping open those boxes with a vengeance – in complete silence.

Stop Walking on Eggshells book coverDuring this time in my life, I was in the process of trying to empower my parents to stand up to some of my siblings who were trying to control every aspect of their lives – taking advantage of their kindness, their trust, and their vulnerabilities as senior citizens. They also needed to be empowered to end or at least deflect the constant criticisms or occassional outbursts at least one of my sisters would dish out in their presence, in their home.

It turns out, by trying to help my parents, I was also helping myself.

One might say there is a fine line between being ‘nice’ and becoming someone else’s doormat, figuratively speaking. My parents were always very nice and friendly to everyone they met. When I was growing up, our household was not one filled with conflict. In fact, I remember my sisters and I being scolded at the slightest sound of bickering.

But, sometimes ‘peace’ at all costs has a price. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to step in and ‘get involved’ if what is happening is beyond what should be tolerated.

I learned how to set some boundaries as a child but it wasn’t until adulthood when I learned how to empower myself and protect myself from people who would try to control or abuse me and my natural tendency to ‘let things go’ to my own detriment.

As a parent, I have gone out of my way to teach my children how to set and enforce personal boundaries, often by example. I wanted to share some of what a learned about boundary-setting on this blog as well.

Below I have listed some reasons why personal boundaries are important as well as tips on how to create and enforce them. Most of this information was attained from the book, Stop Walking on Eggshells: Talking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason, M.S. and Randi Kreger.


Define your Personal Limits

  • Personal limits help to protect you.
  • Personal limits bring order to your life.
  • Personal limits help you make decisions.
  • Personal limits can be flexible but not too flexible.
  • Personal limits reinforce your choice of what you will tolerate and what you won’t tolerate.
  • Personal limits reinforce your choice of what you deserve and what you don’t deserve. Contrast giving a gift vs. getting robbed. You choose what you are willing to give and don’t let anyone take from you what you are not willing to give without pressure.

Physical Limits – your space and privacy. What are your limits?

Emotional Limits

  • Separate your feelings from others’ feelings. Their feelings are not your feelings. Everyone has a right to their own feelings.
  • Emotional limits protect your feelings when you are vulnerable.
  • Share your feelings with others when you feel safe.

The following strengthen emotional boundaries:

  1. The right to say NO and the right to say YES.
  2. Respect for feelings.
  3. Acceptance of differences.
  4. Permission for expression.

Benefits of Personal Limits

  • Limits help define who you are – your values, beliefs, and feelings.
  • Limits bring order to your life, honoring Consistent Rules, Predictability, and Your Own Schedule and Needs.
  • Limits help you feel secure. You choose what to tolerate or not. You exercise your right to say NO. Your needs are just as important as theirs.
  • Limits promote intimacy, not enmeshment. Don’t lose (sacrifice) yourself to your relationship with others.

Without limits, your loved ones might use the following defense mechanisms:

  • Control
  • Blaming
  • Withdrawal
  • Threats
  • Rationalization
  • Perfectionism
  • Name-Calling
  • Intellectualizing
  • Black and White Thinking
  • Fighting about False Issues
  • Excessive Concern for Others

All of these defenses avoid feelings, avoid communication, and damage intimacy. The healthy alternative is to state your true feelings. They might discourage independence or independent thinking. They might push the envelope if they don’t have any limits.

How Limits Help Them

  1. Limits hold them accountable for their behavior.
  2. Limits force them to face how their behavior affects them and others.
  3. Limits decrease the chances of abandonment, their biggest fear.
  4. Limits increase the possibility of a happy and successful relationship.
  5. Limits set a good example of healthy behavior and healthy limits.
  6. Your limits help them create their own limits.

Guidelines for Setting Limits

Remember you have rights but don’t discuss your rights with them. Instead, discuss your  feelings of how you want to be treated. (See Rights to a Healthy Relationship.)

Ask Yourself:

  • What hurts?
  • What feels good?
  • What am I willing to give up for the relationship?
  • What angers me and leaves me feeling taken advantage of?
  • Am I able to say NO without feeling guilty?
  • What conditions lead me to feel anxious or uncomfortable?

Shortly before it was time for us to unlock the doors and open the store, the manager who screamed at my fellow-employees and me asked to speak with me outside. I felt like I was being called into the principal’s office.

He was very remorseful. He apologized. He said he didn’t know what came over him. And, he also said he respected me for holding him accountable for his actions and thanked me for doing so. This man was generally very kind and light-hearted and was a great guy to work under. While his initial response was quite immature, it didn’t take him long to prove that he was a person of good charachter.

I accepted his apology and told him he had a good mother. We shook hands and I told him to forget about it.

Setting and enforcing boundaries isn’t mean or rude. Doing so is a necessary component of healthy relationships whether familial, professional, or otherwise. Personal limits can prevent conflicts and distress and promote peace and harmony.

I can attest to that personally.

Related Posts: Living in Hell, Coping with BPD