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How Do We Respect Others’ Boundaries When We Don’t Like Them?

Respecting BoundariesIt’s natural to resist boundaries when we experience them, especially when coming from someone close: a spouse, family member, or friend. 

“Why are they rejecting me?”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“Surely their boundary doesn’t apply to me!”

But if we want strong relationships, we have to respect boundaries.


Respecting Boundaries is Crucial

The fact you’re reading this article means you care about your relationships. That’s a very good place to begin, because the first step in building and maintaining relationships is to show care and respect for others’ autonomy as fellow human beings. They have a right to their own feelings and boundaries, same as you. But when you do run into someone’s boundary, you may feel rejected, sad, or even depressed. 

It’s time to pause.

Resist Reaction and Negative Self Talk

It’s natural to feel fear, anxiety, rejection, sadness, even depression in this situation. Emotions are real and valid. You may not understand why all of a sudden they’ve drawn a boundary. 

Be Curious, and Breathe…

It’s important to pause, breathe, and make note of your own feelings and emotions. This is difficult to do when negative emotions arise. But if you don’t pause and take a breath they can quickly spin out of control. They may do so anyway.

It’s never easy to check our emotions. It takes practice to catch them as they arise. The earlier we catch them, the better.

Say to yourself, “Hey! I’m feeling afraid and anxious. What’s that all about?” 

Then take some deep breaths and feel the emotion. Don’t fight it or try to get rid of it, just feel it and accept it as a natural, normal experience. 

Tell yourself, “It’s okay that I feel sad, rejected, or depressed.” 

Don’t Assume Stuff

 Don’t assume you know what the other person is thinking! 

You don’t. 

Assumptions allow negative emotions to run rampant. 

When someone says, “NO,” it’s not about you; it’s about them. 

Tell yourself, “This is about their boundaries, not about me.”

They aren’t rejecting you as a person. It doesn’t mean you are bad or inadequate. It just means they’re experiencing a negative reaction to something you’ve done or said.

Take another breath and ask yourself, “What is this person really trying to tell me about themself?”

Apologize and Ask Questions

If you can let go of your negative emotions, even momentarily, the next step is to apologize for breaching their boundary and ask them to clarify what happened. 

“I’m so sorry. I did not intend to upset you. Clearly I have. You are important to me. Can you explain what I did or said so I won’t do that again?”

Again, don’t assume you already know the answer. Actually listen for it.

Communication Begins with Silence: Listen and Pay Attention

Whatever you do, don’t interrupt. 

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to learn anything while talking. Once you’ve asked them to explain their boundaries, let them! Actually listen to the words they use and observe how they say them. 

Listen Not to Respond, But to Understand 

Let me repeat: listen not to respond, but to understand. You might want to repeat that phrase to yourself, now, a few hundred times. The goal is to remember it when conflicts arise. You want to form a habit of listening. It’s not easy to do. Work on it. 

Forget what you want to say about their boundaries. It doesn’t matter. What is important in this moment is to understand the boundary. 

Pay Attention to Body Language

While you’re listening, also watch for visual clues. This might be in their body language. 

Do they fold their arms in front of them or step back away from you? It might not have been something you said, but something you did without knowing it. You might have accidentally invaded their personal space. You might have interrupted them or used a trigger word. Did they suddenly clam up during a conversation?

Accept Boundaries Without Judgement

If they’re willing to communicate their boundaries to you, accept them outright. DO NOT question the boundary, and do not ask them WHY they have a boundary. It is none of your business.

It’s unlikely to be about you anyway. Even if it is, their boundary is their boundary. If you seek to build and maintain good relationships, you must accept other people’s boundaries without question or judgement.

They may explain why. If they feel like sharing, great. Listen to understand, not to respond. Keep that phrase in your head. It’s magical. But do not expect them to share the why. Do not ask why their boundary exists. 

Their ‘why’ is their business and their struggle. Instead of asking them for their why, ask yourself the same question.

Work on Yourself and Your Own Boundaries

If you’ve read this far, you’re already asking yourself important questions. Awesome! Keep working on your own feelings and emotions. Take note of them. Become more aware when they arise. 

Ask yourself, “Why do I feel this? What do their boundaries mean to me? And why do they cause such a reaction in my own mind?”

Give yourself time to find the answers. It takes time to work on your emotional health. Try not to let your emotions drag you down. If they do, that’s okay. Just give awareness to the experience. 

Say to yourself, “I’m being dragged down by negative emotions. I wonder why?” 

This is how awareness comes: little by little, with curiosity and practice. 

There is no silver bullet to deal with your emotions of fear, abandonment, anxiety, depression, or rejection. It takes time and work. You’ve already begun. You read this article! Keep working on it, but don’t feel you have to do it alone.

Mental Health Counseling Can Help!

We at RDU Counseling for Change have the tools and expertise to help you. We promise to listen to understand, not just to respond. We offer mental health counseling and therapy for individuals, couples, and families. If you live in the Wake County, NC area, come see us. Can’t come into the office? We have Telehealth options, too! 

Contact us by email at or call us at (919) 713-0260.

Do it, now! There’s no better time to begin than now.


If you’d like to read more on boundaries, here are a couple of good articles:

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