The ability to establish and re-establish proper everyday limits on others

Boundaries. Boundary-setting. An oft-overused term and one I find is associated with a ton of misunderstanding. Unlike self-defense, personal-preservation, and martial skills, boundary-setting is an everyday life occurrence. Every day we set boundaries…or let them pass. Address them, or ignore them. They can be invasive, angering, subtle and time-built, or innocuous. NOT boundary-setting can be strategic as well, whether to learn patterning and whether the boundary is going to be ongoing or not. To see what a person´s underlying motive is over time for the boundary-infraction by feigning obliviousness or brushing it off as unimportant or non-invasive. To create a more impactful strategy to defuse it after a time has passed. Or acknowledging that it´s a one-time or singularly-focused boundary-cross from a strategic ally that alliance is better-served. Far too often, though, they are ignored because we are soft-wired to accept them, tolerate them, ignore them, or be fearful or hesitant at siphoning them off. Fear. Conflict. Repercussions. Aftermath. They can gnaw-away at one´s self-confidence and resolution. Add another unwanted stress to our already-stressed lives.

I guess at this point a good idea would be to define specifically what type of boundaries can be crossed and following by certain general strategies can circumvent them noting that, as always, context is king and strategy and tactics are created by the dynamic of the situation. That being said:

Categories of Violations

  1. Spatial. People that position themselves too close for comfort, invade space, or are constantly within the confines of our designated ring-of-personal-security. Criminals do this ad-infinitum in the interview phase of pre-targeting to gauge your capability to reinforce boundaries, re-establish space, or impart strong subliminal-messaging. It´s a far more imperative boundary-invasion than we often acknowledge because if we let this slip, generally the perception is that we´ll let a lot greater infraction occur with minimal resistance. Reinforcing spatial-infractions is a great place to start to maximize your capability in other areas.
  2. Physical. Inevitably an off-shoot of #1 because if they´re already to close, unwanted or uncared-for physical-contact can easily follow. Touching, perceived signs of affection, intentional or unintentional bodily-fluid transference, casual light-hearted pushes or grabs or hugs, fingers in face or chest, overzealous handshakes, etc. As they can often be innocuous, they´re rarely taken as a potential assault or act of violence or aggression, but inevitably they are if they are unwanted. Often they are a sign of attempted dominance-imposition.
  3. Verbal. Continued beratement, subtle derogatory comments, erosion of self-esteem and self-confidence. They can be momentary or time-built, subtle or transparent. Insults, jabs, unwanted nicknames, terroristic or implied threats, semantics,
  4. Psychological or emotional. The continued presence of something anxiety-creating, stress-building, or tension-inoculating. Diminishment through intentional ignoring or over-looking. Implication gestures. Gas-lighting. Symbolism. Using professed vulnerabilities and emotional traumas against you.
  5. Material or resource. The continued non-authorized borrowing of personal-property, extended-time possession of authorized borrowing of personal-property, misuse of personal-property, damaging of personal-property, all the way up to non-payment of debt-owed, will-manipulation & pressure, and theft.
  6. Privacy. Constant attempts to glean personal-information off-bounds, ask inappropriate questions of private topics, spy, trespass, access online social-media accounts, hack into e-mail account, eavesdrop into personal conversations.
  7. Time. Here when people say they´ll be over for a dinner-engagement at 5, expect them between 5:30 and 6, generally. Time is perceived differently in different parts of the world and even in our own backyard, people manage time differently. Time can be manipulated for impact and information-gleaning as well. But many continually waste, command, or monopolize your time simply because it´s not respected and/or theirs is mismanaged.
  8. Sexual. Since we´re talking more low-order, daily, often-occurring boundaries, let´s acknowledge that rape, sexual-assault, and sexual-predation are different animals. However, even during consensual sex with partners or trusted people can have elements that one feel uncomfortable or unnecessarily vulnerable. Unwanted touching in certain areas, uncomfortable acts, level of aggression being too overwhelming or over-stimulating, and even mid-event will to end the engagement with second-guessing and doubt.

Note that some or all of these can cross-over into others on the list and may contain a progression of escalation or inter-connection between one or more of the above in the same scenario. Certainly not out of the realm of possibility.And, getting back to the opening statement, what good is being a fighting-machine if violent conflict possibilities occur in a fraction of a portion of a percentage in your life and boundaries are broken with you daily? How valuable is #1 without #2? If you have no or minimal boundary-setting capability, who´s to say you won´t or wouldn´t hesitate, freeze, submit, or go on auto-pilot in the midst of a potentially-violent altercation, even with all that fight-ability? I have often found that the two have at least some correlating overlap. Strong boundary-setters are pretty good at knowing exactly what, why, and when they´re willing to utilize physical violence as well. While not at all always the rule, I have noticed that if decisive and efficient at one, generally the opposite is true as well. Which leads into the level of boundary-setting. We can:

Categories of Enforcement

  1. Over-enforce. Where an egregious amount of strength, aggression, or other means to set or re-set a boundary can cause backlash, resentment, revenge, and future hostility.
  2. Under-enforce. Where the method utilized clearly did not have the desired effect or was not acknowledged in any way by the offending party.
  3. Effectively-enforce. Efficient effective boundary-setting. (just the right amount) Generally, that ideal amount where the planned result of the boundary-invading stops, an enemy wasn´t made…or elevated, the person is cut-out of our lives, the alliance continues yet the infractions stop…whatever the best-case scenario would be in a particular context, including multiple outcomes. A “win-win”, both sides at some level of co-existence, offending action ceases, some semblance of normalcy restored and boundary re-established. I think it is also important to note that for some boundary-invasions, over-enforcement, under-enforcement, or no-enforcement CAN BE the desired or “just-right” outcome. Sometimes “just-right” or win-win just isn´t achievable. Sometimes either a hammer, or a feather – or a nothing – can have just the required impact of need. Sometimes we have to cut ties entirely, kneejerk react to stop a serious infraction, be rude, put a hard foot down, or offend/shock someone to stop higher-stakes invasions. Sometimes we want to keep a valuable relationship or alliance, have a strategic plan or long-term goal in place down the road for greater-anticipated offenses or big-picture motives. Sometimes we are in delicate situations, bilateral or satellite impacts from the main situation, or where tolerance will save something far more important – a marriage, a child, an income, a house, a resource, etc. Everything is contextual and there are varying strategies involved for over-, under-, or non-enforcement that maybe aren´t the best solution for the immediate issue at-hand.

As we´ve stated, these being staunchly-contextual, and every scenario being uniquely-different, there are an infinite number of ways to manage boundary-offences – including compound-uses of multiple methods on a long-enough timeline or if an ongoing singular-issue won´t be averted, mitigated, prevented, or stopped requires more than one. So, in a general sense, what are some of those methods of boundary-setting, noting that these are far more appropriate for some of the variations above, not as much for others…

Methods/Protocols of Enforcement

  1. Articulating – properly your state-of-being and emotional-reaction to said boundary-setting. Clearly enunciating what your end-goal is and an imperative in not having any misunderstood aspects of the boundary-setting, so that´s laid-out in 100% clear terms.
  2. Subliminal-messaging – looks, gestures, body-language, flat unemotive non-reactions, ignoring, facial-changes…all have their place in transmitting inner-thoughts and formations in the thoughts of others.
  3. Metaphors and anecdotes – here in Central America there´s a saying “speaking to Peter so that Paul can hear.” Subtle-messaging stated to a 3rd-party that has secondary- or tertiary-impact on the people guilty of the infractions while in their presence or knowing it will get back to them. Telling other shared friends, acquaintances, peers, satellites knowing it will be sent to the person in-question or knowing they are within earshot. Or telling a story where the end-result is your firm stance on a similar circumstance and how it affects future interaction.
  4. Mirroring – sometimes I´ve found that in specific circumstances read well, doing the same back to the other person has worked immediately and long-term in shutting that person up. It should be noted that this does not work on others and can escalate a situation exponentially so is very scenario-specific.
  5. By-proxy – similar to metaphors and anecdotes but actually having someone else – co-worker, family member, peer, superior, shared-friend – explain things to that person if you´re not able to keep a cool head or engage with a sense of calm, self-control, and discipline. Others also may be more apt to connect or communicate the person in-question.
  6. Subtle-threat or intimated-consequences – without crossing the line into illegal verbal-threat, subtle messages have oftentimes sent clear messages across to more dangerous or volatile boundary-crossers. The key, as we´ve stated before, is being willing to committedly follow-through on said threat if necessary and bluff-called. Bluff-called and response negated or halted sets the tone for being seen to cry-wolf every further attempt at the same.
  7. Simple commands or interjections can work well on the meeker, milder, non-conflictive, or potentially-submissive interloper. Or on the one with repeated offences and previous boundary-setting. “Stop.”, “Cut it out.”, “Enough.”, “Second/third warning.”, “No more.”, or “No.” can work quite suddenly with the right people. Note also that these are complete sentences and really need nothing to follow even if the offender isn´t playing dumb, feigning innocence for the benefit of onlookers, or building a support-base from pandering. That just adds to the impact of the interjection.
  8. Legal-action – sometimes the threat of legal-action or authority-intervention is sufficient to back someone up from line-crossing, knowing that it could have repercussions and collateral-damage potential.
  9. Fences – either physical or psychological. Denying information, going cold, silence, drawing-inward, denying apertures/vision.
  10. Physical separation or spatial-distancing. Angling, circling, subtle steps backward or offline, recoiling, detaching of body-parts being touched, hard pushes of limbs, “feeler-hand” to gauge subtle distance and keep people at-bay (touching back in ways that create-space, give breathing-room, and maintain distance). Or cutting-out the person entirely from your life might be a better option if the infractions continue.

Again, these are but a few that I have utilized with success in specific cases. The trick is knowing what those cases are and applying the appropriate technique without either over-enforcing, under-enforcing, or non-reacting out of fear, freezing, or forced inaction due to collateral influence. That takes experience, exposure to very diverse and unique social-situations, acknowledgement of culture differentiations and taboos, class-differences, and varying scaled degrees of conflict or potential conflict.

As always, and here akin to self-defense, personal preservation & martial application, mixing-and-matching and knowing the high-percentage responses to the given situation goes a long way towards success. As does knowing that there´s never only one way of doing a thing – and doing it well. Cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, and mix-the-solution-to-the-problem are never practical, they´re one-dimensional solutions to three-dimensional problems. Again and again, critical-thinking, high-stakes decision-making, adaptability, and resilience are the tilting factors with self-control, patience, and discipline in situational-processing. Situational tactics being led by solid pre-event strategies.


  1. No, it does not. But when combined with other pre- and post- tactics/strategies, and done time-appropriately and with intention, it can reinforce a message of disengagement and finality.

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