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When you experience discomfort due to knowing that something doesn’t feel good and right for you, you might wonder, Do I need to set a boundary about that person’s behaviour or my own?

In order for boundaries to respect you and others, they need to be two-fold. This means that yes, you might have to say or show something to the person in question but you also need to address the boundary on your end. If something, no matter how small it is, doesn’t shift on your end, you not only remain open to experiencing the issue(s) again in a similar way but you also won’t acknowledge whatever insight it is that you stand to gain that will not only enrich your understanding of you and your experiences but leave you feeling empowered.

Acknowledging your part no matter how small, is not about taking the blame and ownership of whatever it is that you dislike about the situation and the other person’s contribution; it’s about recognising that you can only truly know the scope of and control and amend your own responses. You can choose how you want to conduct yourself and how you want to respond to feelings, thoughts, your own actions, those of others and events but what you cannot choose or control is what others think, feel or do.

You have to take care of your side of the street and you have to be what you seek from others. This stops you from feeling victimised and as if you’re going to have to continue being held hostage to a tricky situation.

You being boundaried on your end, opens up your options. You go from only having the options of:

  • Suffering in silence and/or people pleasing in an effort to keep the peace or to limit further encounters
  • Going in to battle and engaging in a tug of war over power, who’s right or wrong etc
  • Cutting them off

To being more boundaried. You might:

  • Engage with them from a more boundaried place and/or limiting the amount of time you spend with them (putting a bit of distance between you but not opting out)
  • Opting out temporarily
  • And yes, opting out permanently

One of the mistakes that many make in trying to have boundaries is seeing them solely as a means of guiding and directing or even ruling others, but boundaries are for you. Others know the line when you know the line.

If a person is not being boundaried, us continuing to behave as if they are being boundaried or ‘normal’ causes us to not only be un-boundaried but to not make adjustments and recognise the differences in our relationships.

As our actual boundaries are not visible in the sense of each of us being able to automatically see at a glance what the lengths and breadths of a person’s boundaries are, the only way in which you can actually have boundaries is to know and communicate them through what you say and do (or what you opt not to).

Everyone’s boundaries are different and we are each responsible for letting others know where we and they stand with us— and yes, that includes with family, tricky or not.

With family, due to the longstanding history, it is important for us to take responsibility for how we want to come across now and going forward because family relies on a lot of habit and assumption so if we don’t want them to think that past experiences of us or assumptions apply, we have to be more boundaried so that we have a clear differentiation between the past and the present. If we keep acting as we always have, even if inside, we’re about to blow like a pressure cooker, our boundaries will be unclear.

An Absentee is likely to assume that you will still keep overcompensating for them. They might even assume that you’re so eager for their validation that you will not run the risk of expecting more from them for fear of upsetting the apple cart.

Followers are likely to assume that you will be the more responsible one, that you will lead and want to lead and be authoritative, and that you will be the rescuer.

Obligers are likely to assume that you will comply, often automatically, and that you will feel guilty and obliged in some way to ensure that they are OK or that you don’t cause awkwardness for others.

Power Players are likely to assume that you will continue to take a lesser, diminished role and that they are allowed to as they like with little or no consequences.

Rebels are likely to assume that you and others will keep pandering to them to limit negative consequences such as disruptions, confrontations and embarrassing incidents, and they might even assume that you will allow them to act like a big kid.

Upholders are likely to assume that their view is your view and that you will keep doing what they want in order to avoid having a run-in or to avoid feeling as if you have done something to disrupt family structure.

Users are likely to assume that whatever supply is being provided, that it’s there until it becomes clear that you’ve shut up shop, or they decide that they have no further use for you.

Rather than being open to their habits in the sense of playing a role that fulfils their need to be in their role, be yourself in the sense of being more honest and authentic by having healthier boundaries rather than trying to pretend that you are an actual kid (being in a child role) or fulfilling any other costumed role that leaves you feeling less than.

Communication isn’t all verbal so how you show up each day and within your relationships lets the people within them gather information about 1) who you are (or who they think you are) – your values, 2) your intentions, 3) how your regard them and 4), what you’re prepared to tolerate.

People cannot read your mind but they can read your actions which is why it’s so vital to match what you do not just with what you say but also with what you think – congruency. This removes ambiguity and mixed messages but it also ensures that you don’t undermine yourself.


  • Boundaries are about knowing the lines of responsibility – you can liberate you from taking ownership of other people’s behaviour.
  • When you recognise that you can differentiate between a person who has a boundary issue and a person who will respect that same boundary, you can adapt your responses and recognise the difference in relationship.
  • It is absolutely OK to let a person know when something doesn’t work for you but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to feel duty bound or in a position to change it. They are coming from a different level of awareness and may not see their intent and actions with the same eyes that you do. Rather than making the primary focus getting them to change and amend their behaviour so that you feel better, get on with doing what you need to do for you so that you feel better.
  • Taking responsibility for you and adapting your responses for instance in terms of attitude and mentality about the person in question, does not in any way mean that you are taking responsibility for their actions.
  • A person cannot know a line that isn’t communicated, even if you think that they ‘should’.

Journal PromptJOURNALING:  What do you think a TFM has come to expect of you? Be as truthful as you can without judgment of you. How do you feel about boundaries being two-fold? Can you see what it is that you will need to do going forward? Have you curtailed your options in the past and if so, how do you feel about opening up your options from a more boundaried place.

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