Beware the boundary invaders

Boundaries keep you safe

Have you ever felt uneasy, anxious, or just plain at the end of a conversation with a difficult person? Chances are you were dealing with a boundary invader. This is someone who invades your psychological space in a way that makes you feel violated or uncomfortable. 


Typical behaviours of boundary invaders include asking overly personal questions, making sleazy comments, putting you down in front of other people, shouting at you, or asking you to justify reasonable decisions. There are many other ways your boundaries can be invaded. The bottom line is, if you feel your personal space has been violated you’ve been dealing with some sort of boundary invasion. Boundary invasion is a problem because it undermines your self-esteem and confidence.  

Long-term erosion of your boundaries will diminish your sense of personal power and autonomy. Over the long term, both of these consequences of being exposed to boundary invasions will impact on your sense of personal wellbeing. Chronic boundary invasion also leads to toxic relationships and can seriously damage team dynamics. For all these reasons, it’s important that you can spot boundary invasions in the early stages and do something about them. There are three key signs to look out for.  


Sign 1. You feel mad, bad or sad after dealing with this person 

Anger, distress or sadness signal that something is wrong. If these feelings occur every time you speak to a particular person, it’s likely that you’re dealing with someone who is invading your boundaries. Use your feelings as an early detection system. Don’t ignore them; instead pause when you feel mad, bad or sad. Ask yourself, what just happened to make me feel this way? Try to pinpoint exactly what the other person did or said which caused your discomfort. This will help you identify what sort of limit or boundary you need to set during future interactions. 

Sign 2. You’re constantly arguing or disagreeing with this person 

Healthy relationships are characterised by collaborative and mutually beneficial conversations. Yes, disagreements and conflicts do occur in healthy relationships; however they’re resolved quickly and respectfully. If you’re dealing with a boundary invader this isn’t the case. The same arguments will keep cropping up and the same distressing behaviours will continue occurring. You may even realise that you’re involved in psychological game-playing. This is a sure sign that some type of boundary invasion is taking place.  

Sign 3. You’re constantly on guard around this person 

Your brain is a pattern detection machine. It will pick up unhealthy communication patterns long before you become consciously aware of them. Mild anxiety or feelings of distress are an early warning sign that your fight or flight reaction is being triggered. Don’t ignore this. Instead, take action to communicate and reinforce your personal boundaries. 

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About the author of these tips

Eleanor specialises in teaching social and emotional intelligence skills to people in high intellect roles. Her clients work in academia, education, IT, engineering, finance and health. Eleanor is qualified in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming