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10 Tips for Setting Boundaries with Difficult People

Do you find yourself wondering how to say no or how to get people to respect you? You may need to work on setting your boundaries with other people.

difficult people

Everyone knows at least one person they simply don’t mesh well with, whether it’s a family member, coworker, or an ex. These are the people that don’t know how to respect your personal space, your privacy, or your life choices. What no one seems to realize often enough is that you deserve to be respected, and you are entitled to it. This means other people, no matter how difficult, need to back off when you need them to back off. Plain and simple.

There may be some instances when you would let other people walk all over you, simply because you don’t want to cause a fuss. Remember, you’re a person who has rights. And no matter how high up in the social ladder other people are, they shouldn’t tread all over you. It’s true that some people may not realize that they’re stomping on your dignity, but that’s exactly why you need to learn to set boundaries with them.

When and how to implement boundaries with other people

If you’ve always been the type who won’t speak up when other people can’t seem to respect your boundaries, here’s what you should do.

#1 Decide what your boundaries are. They’re different for everyone. Many people just want to be treated nicely, some need more alone time, others need coworkers that don’t pry into their personal lives, and so on. Sit down and honestly write what it is that’s bothering you, and what it is you want to change about the way people treat you.

#2 Calm yourself. Oftentimes, due to adrenaline or simply fear of hurting someone’s feelings, people tend to get a little jumpy. There’s also the possibility that you’re angry at the person or situation. Whatever the case, it’s important to calm yourself down in order to be taken seriously. Too much fear can make you come off as shy and nice. Too much anger can make you come off as a hilarious mess. [Read: 14 quick stress busters to calm your mind]

#3 Be honest and clear. The only way to get what you want is to communicate it clearly and honestly, so it’s not taken lightly. More so, it ensures the person you’re dealing with knows exactly where they stand and what they need to do to get on better terms with you. If they don’t want to do it, that’s fine, but at least you tried and were completely honest.

#4 Say no. Seriously, if your phone is ringing non-stop and you can’t catch a break, say no. If you don’t want to go out, say no. If you don’t feel like dealing with someone’s never-ending drama, say no. If an ex is not leaving you alone, threatening to ruin your current relationship, say no.

So many situations, all handled with a simple no. If people know that you can assert your right to not be put through a situation you don’t want to be in, they’ll eventually learn that they can’t just expect you to go along with their desires.

#5 Don’t feel guilty. At some point after implementing the boundaries, it’s normal to feel guilty. Pushing someone farther back a bit can make you question whether you’re doing the right thing or just being mean. Always remember that boundaries are perfectly healthy. What’s not healthy is feeling like someone is dictating your every move. Don’t feel guilty, and instead, feel relieved that you’re taking steps towards feeling happier. Eventually, they’ll get it too… or become history. [Read: Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about justifying your life choices]

#6 Negotiate. With yourself. Do you really need that super fun but backstabbing friend? Do you really need that emotionally abusive partner? Do you really need to jump through hoops to please a boss who doesn’t even notice your efforts?

What is it that you need to do for yourself to make your life better, and what do you think you need to do in order to have a good life? Reevaluate your priorities and be firm with your decision. [Read: 8 tips to be good friends with your coworkers]

#7 Treat others like you’d like to be treated. As cliché as it sounds, lead by example. If you want to be left alone, leave people alone. If you want respect, treat others with respect. Why? Because people learn how to treat you based on how you treat them. [Read: 12 ways to make a great first impression]

#8 Don’t be pressured into giving out your number. If they’re co-workers, they can have your work phone or email. If it’s an ex, chances are this is irrelevant, unless you change your number. Depending on the situation, this may be something to consider. If it’s a random person that you wouldn’t want to talk to again, the answer is pretty simple. Hint: #4.

The point is that you keep friends and your current partner in the forefront, and work-related friendships in the office, unless you’re sure they won’t go overboard and become a problem later down the line. Setting boundaries at work is a hassle, after all. Trust your gut on this one and select the people you’re okay with and those you’re unsure about.

#9 Being polite doesn’t mean being an open book. Telling people about that time you did questionable things with a questionable someone in a questionable location may not come off as worthy of respect. In other words, as you age, you learn that having a mouth filter is actually a life-saver. In adult relationships of any kind, respect must prevail, and conducting yourself like a teenager won’t get you that at all. Just greet people, hang out, crack jokes, and keep your laundry in the hamper.

#10 Threats don’t work, try options and consequences. “If you don’t stop calling me, I’m going to move away.” That doesn’t work, because it’s a threat *a possibly empty threat, at that*, and you should never have to threaten anyone. Instead, try options and consequences.

Go for something like “if you want to keep calling, go ahead, but know that I can change my number too.” This is a consequence and a warning of the consequence, but you’re letting them decide whether you need to do it.

[Read: 10 ways to calmly deal with difficult people]

Boundaries should always be established. You should never feel an obligation to do something you don’t want to do. Life is about joy and spreading that joy with people you care about. Don’t be afraid to stand up for that and set the boundaries you need to set to spare your peace of mind. Remember, setting boundaries means defending respect.

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Jennifer Mendez
Jennifer is a writer, director, consultant and author, with a passion for all things literary. While she works on a variety of projects at a time, her one true ...
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