3 Tips to Stop Feeling Taken Advantage Of

“When we spend our time and energy pleasing or avoiding upsetting others… that’s a strong indicator we don’t have good boundaries.”

By Audrey Hardin, LPC

By Audrey Hardin, LPC

Let’s talk about BOUNDARIES –baby.

We’ve all heard the term thrown around in various circles –friendships, romantic relationships, with a coworker or even a boss. At this point it might even sound like psychobabble to you, but let me share my own personal experience of why boundaries go beyond “catchy lingo” to a core truth I live my life by.

Most stories I’ve heard about boundaries usually start with a time where someone had none, got burned, and needed a new way to live… My story is no different.  

Growing up, I was the Queen PP -People-pleaser, that is!

If people were pleased with me, I felt emotionally safe.

So, I spent the majority of my days thinking about how I could help make someone’s life easier. If they were happy with me, the chances of them harming me were slim. Oh, and I was great at it.

I worked the system. It wasn’t enough to make a great grade, I also wanted to be the teacher’s favorite. If I couldn’t be the best dancer in class, I wanted to be the most liked… again, I felt most secure this way.

This is key: I would go to great lengths, including sacrificing my own needs, for the sake of not upsetting the other person.  

When we spend our time and energy pleasing or avoiding upsetting others… that’s a strong indicator we don’t have good boundaries. We put others’ needs above our own …and if we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself,” it implies we must love our “self” first.

Learning what good boundaries look like through this illustration profoundly changed my life. Sadly, this didn’t happen until after college, but you’ve got to start sometime, right?

Think of yourself like a beautiful house surrounded by a white picket fence. Inside the front gate you have a sidewalk leading up to your large front porch. As you walk up the path, to your left and right is your yard filled with rose bushes and [insert your flower of choice] that you have worked hard to prune and grow. Inside the home is a large entryway with a dining area to the left with a large white rug. Beyond the dining room is the living room with large white chairs and a leather sofa. Rounding out the tour is your bedroom, the most sacred part of your home –you rarely show anyone this room, as it is special.

Boundaries in motion

When someone comes into your life (or to your front gate) you have a choice to invite him or her in, tell him where he can walk, and where he can sit.

Imagine if you tell him to stay on the sidewalk, but 5 minutes later he ends up in your newly planted flower bed. You might gently correct and motion your guest back to the sidewalk and proceed with your conversation.

But what if another 5 minutes go by and he disregarded your redirect and is back on your flower bed! What do you do now?

I have seen numerous clients, friends, and myself included, fear a negative reaction in return for speaking up and setting a boundary again. They fear rejection, ridicule, or being labeled as “not cool, fun, nice…” -fill in the blank.

The typical response? They choose to ignore their boundary has been violated and invite the violator into their home and offer him a glass of iced tea!

Before you know it, the guest has spilled the drink all over the white rug but are we really surprised?

In an effort to keep the guest entertained or pleased, you invite him into the living room to sit down with a glass of wine –which this time, you make sure to point out the white chairs. Before you know it, though, your guest slings his wine, and it spills all over the fine upholstery. You sit there stunned, but offer to refill his glass!

Some of you may cringe at the mere thought of such a violation with no consequence, but when our desire to maintain approval or peace outweighs our sense of self-worth, it can easily happen …and before you know it, your guest is in your bedroom and you are left feeling taken advantage of.

If you feel taken advantage of, this may be a sign you have not set clear boundaries or you have not enforced the consequences. 

As a people pleaser, my tendency was to ignore my own boundaries AND the consequences for their violation. 

Here are 3 Tips to start setting boundaries today:

1. Know your worth.

If we don’t know what we are worth, then we won’t care to protect or guard ourselves.

The truths that really helped me anchor my own worthiness come from the Bible:

First, the Creator of the universe made us in his likeness and image (Genesis 3).

He wonderfully knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139).

He chose us as His own before the foundations of the world (Eph 1:4)

-All reminding me that my worth is not from me but from God, who graciously sent His own Son to die for me [for us], loving me in spite of all of my sin and condition to mess it all up, and because He did, we now have INFINITE worth.  

2. Build your fences.

When you know your worth is infinite, you have a better grasp of the value you are protecting.

Consider what it would take for someone to be invited into your yard, your home, your living room, and your bedroom. As you see yourself as the treasure you are, the more care and respect you will expect.

Remember, just like boundaries around a home tell us where to walk, sit, and sleep, our boundaries teach people how to treat us.

One of the best ways to determine if a person is worthy to come inside your fence, yard, home, etc. is to observe them in increments –i.e. start slow.

You can begin by talking to them on the other side of your fence with the gate closed. If he or she respects your boundary, you can invite them into your yard. Maybe your living room is reserved for family and a select few friends, and your bedroom is just for you unless immense trust has been built.

3. Establish your consequences.

Without [consequences], the people perish.

So often we think boundaries are mean or harmful towards those we set them with. When in reality, we are the ones who get harmed when we have none. Without fences, anyone and anything could come into our yard!

For many of us, we can articulate our boundaries once someone violates them. For instance, if someone stands too close to us; talks to us inappropriately; or carelessly uses our things, a little light goes off inside of us that says “stop!” or “no!” alerting us that someone crossed our boundary.

However, when it comes to shutting the behavior down, we freeze. The key to good boundaries is good consequences.

When a person violates your boundary (steps on your roses), you ask them to step back onto the sidewalk. If they do not do so immediately, or you find them right back on your roses five minutes later, they lose the privilege of being in your yard. This is not rude or selfish but wise. Simply, escort them out.

Most of us fear that setting boundaries will end the relationship, when in fact setting boundaries will ensure the relationship will last.

In the words of Henry Cloud, “Boundaries are basically about providing structure, and structure is essential in building anything that thrives.”

I wish I had learned the importance of boundaries much earlier and spared myself the heartbreak of losing myself for the sake of peace or someone’s approval.

Like a strong fence around our home, when we build boundaries into our lives, we invite emotionally healthy relationships and shut out ones that cause harm.

Happy building!