When boundaries are crossed

What to do if someone crosses the line and makes you feel disrespected or uncomfortable.

Boundaries vary from person to person. While one individual may feel comfortable hugging a new acquaintance, others are not. Even with these differences, there are some generally agreed upon boundaries in any group, community or culture. When someone acts outside of the boundaries it can be confusing and frustrating. How should you respond when someone crosses the line?

When a boundary is crossed, it's common to feel uncomfortable and to be taken off guard. The first step to confronting the situation is to determine what the issue is. This can be more challenging than it seems since most boundaries are known but unspoken. You might not be able to define it in the moment, and that is ok. Some common issues include invasion of personal space, inappropriate conversations or language (written or spoken), and feeling disrespected.

The next step is to determine how you feel. Depending on the boundary that is crossed, you might feel uncomfortable, frightened or offended. Knowing how you feel allows you to start to explain how the behavior is inappropriate.

Finally, think about what you want as a result of the conversation. What is an appropriate resolution? Now you want to tie these thoughts together. Here are some examples:

  • “I feel uncomfortable when you put your hand on my back. I need you to stop touching me.”
  • “When you tell jokes about women, I feel disrespected. I'd like you to stop making jokes that come across as sexist.”
  • “I have noticed you have a hard time making it to our meetings on time. This is frustrating for me because I have another meeting following this and I value our time together. I need you to be on time and present when we meet.”
  • “When you posted your political opinions on my Facebook timeline, I was was angry and embarrassed. If you do that again, I will block you. I would hate to have to do that.”

It can be difficult to confront a boundary issue, but these matters often continue to grow if left unchecked. It is important to be firm and not make light of it. Michigan State University Extension has a variety of resources related to setting boundaries in the Ready to Go: A Mentor Training Toolkit curriculum.

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