Do you have trouble holding your boundaries?
Do you find it even more difficult after a conversation with your significant other, your mother, your best friend? You might be in a relationship with a boundary-pusher.
Here are six types of common boundary-pushers I’ve identified in my years as a therapist (and as a human). It’s likely you’ll recognize at least one in the list!
The Crowd-Pleaser is very invested in What Everyone Else Will Think, and will make sure you know what a social outcast you’ll be if you set your boundaries. Couched in concern that everyone approves of you, the Crowd-Pleaser will remind you of how your boundary-setting will look to your mother-in-law’s sister’s nephew, and why that guy’s impression of you is so important.
“Brad will be so disappointed if we don’t show up to this event. He hasn’t seen us for the past three years, and we don’t want Brad to think that the Labor Day sack race isn’t important to us.” Even though he’s of no real relation, and it’s likely that Brad hasn’t thought about you – ever – and you DON’T actually care about attending the Labor Day sack race, you may find yourself in a sack on Labor Day with the very important mission of not disappointing Brad.
Reminding you of how others’ will judge your every move, the Guilt-Tripper will inevitably tell you what you “Should” do in every instance in order to make sure you are still a Good Person. You “should” call your grandmother every day, even if she criticizes your weight and generally reminds you that you are a disappointment. You “should” lend money to your financially imprudent uncle for the 20th time because “we’re family” (knowing full well you’ll never see those funds again). Etcetera.
The Placater will tell you to your face that they respect your boundary, but when it’s time to enact it, they will forge ahead anyway. Example: Your husband agrees beforehand to leave a party at 10 pm so you can get enough rest to wake up at 7 am and make the kids pancakes. When 10 pm rolls around, he says he’ll be ready in 15 minutes. You end up leaving the party at 1 am after asking him every 15 minutes if you can leave yet. That’s a Placater.
“Stop over-reacting” is the token phrase of the Minimizer. “You’re being overdramatic” is a close second. Cutting, succinct, and sure to make you feel five inches tall every time, the Minimizer’s dismissive overtures will have you rethinking your choices and questioning your logic for weeks after the fact. Extra Minimizing points if you end up adopting their language to describe yourself (“I’m just a Drama Queen, I guess”).
Often disguised as “compromise,” the Negotiator will push the limits of the initial boundary until it’s no longer recognizable. Example: “I hear that you want to go to your family’s house on Christmas Eve, and to my family’s house for a few hours on Christmas. Sounds great! Why don’t we visit your family from 5 – 7 pm, and then head to my family’s for an overnight…just so we can be there in the morning to do gifts. And do breakfast with them, and maybe lunch. Possibly dinner. Maybe stay until Sunday? Good plan!”
This boundary-pusher comes crashing through your boundary by literally refusing to acknowledge the boundary was set. If they ignore that you said it, or pretend they didn’t hear you, to their reasoning, it doesn’t exist. The relative that shows up for a 14-day “surprise” visit when you told them now wasn’t a good time? She’s a Bulldozer. The grandmother who buys 40 gifts for the grandkids when you specifically said (eight times) to please only buy them one gift each? Bulldozer.
Boundary-setting can be challenging no matter what, but it is infinitely more difficult to hold firm boundaries when they are not respected by the people in your life.
If you find yourself having to constantly justify your decisions and recognize the qualities discussed above, you may have a boundary-pusher in your life. Practice standing your ground and reminding yourself that the problem likely lies with them, not with you, and maintain your boundary. You’ll be grateful when you get to leave the party at a reasonable hour.
And you’ll never have to worry about what Brad thinks again.