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Sharp Health News

6 tips to set boundaries with difficult people

Feb. 20, 2018

6 tips to set boundaries with difficult people

We all have that one person in our life: the over-sharer, the over-asker, the over-stepper. Maybe they come over unannounced. Maybe they borrow things but rarely return them. Maybe they push relentlessly to turn your "no" into a "yes." They are boundary-crossers — and believe it or not, you do have the power to stop them.

People who push boundaries do it for numerous reasons. Some have low self-esteem or are self-serving. Some were raised that way, or are struggling to connect in a way they previously failed to. But for many, it's a simple lack of awareness, an inability to see what boundary they are pushing or how it is affecting you.

According to Lindsay Kramer, a marriage and family therapist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, setting boundaries is a matter of self-respect. "Boundaries create an expectation," she says. "They put parameters in place for what you will accept from people."

Setting boundaries:

  • Demonstrates that you deserve to be treated well
  • Protects you from draining or toxic people
  • Ensures supportive and respectful relationships
  • Helps you avoid those without your best interest at heart

But while everyone can have boundaries, the hard part is enforcing them. "We have an innate need to please others," says Kramer. "When we start sacrificing our needs to make other people happy, it's time to make changes and stop giving away our own personal energy." To do this, Kramer suggests the following six simple steps:

1. Listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right, say or do something about it. Don't go against your better judgment to please another.

2. Think realistically. Ask yourself if you're asking for too much, or if the person is truly capable of making this change.

3. Set the bottom line and hold it. Be clear when communicating your limits, and be strong in enforcing them. Don't expect someone to respect a limit that you don't stick to.

4. Let others set boundaries, too. When you communicate your limits, respect the person's point of view. Resist the temptation to get defensive, and consider what they need from you.

5. Anticipate change. Setting boundaries can alter your relationship, so be prepared and offer the person time and space to process this new way of interacting.

6. Ask someone else to hold you accountable. Holding the line can be difficult, so find someone to back you up and keep you in check.

So what happens when setting boundaries doesn't work? Perhaps your limit isn't accepted, or enforcing it makes you feel guilty or unkind. Kramer encourages you to remember why you set the limit in the first place, and avoid these three most common pitfalls:

1. Not maintaining the boundary because setting it made the person upset.

2. Worrying about what someone will think about you for asserting yourself.

3. Going back on the boundary because you're lonely.

"It's one thing to miscommunicate or argue from time to time," she says, "but if you dread answering the phone every time someone calls you, your relationship needs management. Remember that change is hard. But committing to a change will make you and your relationship stronger."

For the news media: To talk with Lindsay Kramer about boundaries for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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