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Abusers have no respect for boundaries. Even if you attempt to build an impenetrable fortress around you, an abuser will think nothing of blowing it up with the equivalent of emotional and psychological dynamite. You’ll find yourself crushed and flattened under the rubble, and while you’re crawling back out you’ll be blamed for the fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into.

Once you’ve extricated yourself from a toxic relationship, this tell-tale disrespect of personal boundaries can be a useful guide when it comes to avoiding the attentions of, and entanglements with other controlling people in the future. In fact, life seems to be handing me plenty of opportunities to hone this particular skill since I separated from my husband just over a year ago.

For example my hackles automatically go up when someone offers unsolicited advice. I don’t need to be told what to do; I need a listening ear and empathy. There are times when I need help. We all do, but it isn’t helpful if someone takes over my show. Both these instances – offering advice I haven’t asked for, and crossing the line between help and control – show that the other person has boundary issues; that they aren’t aware of where their personhood finishes and mine begins. Hence, they step into my space and act as if they are me. My emotional response is usually an internal feeling of anger at being ‘pushed around’. We need to listen to anger. In and of itself, it is not a negative emotion but a protective one. Anger tells us when our boundaries are being crossed, whether those boundaries are physical or psychic. Anger tells us we need to protect ourselves in some way.

Anger is your friend. Use it well and wisely.

Boundaries are also crossed whenever people label us as something we know to be untrue of ourselves. I recently pointed out to a relatively new male friend that I found an email joke he sent me inappropriate, outlining my reasons quite clearly. He turned nasty and told me (this person who barely knows me) that I have issues. I’d like a dollar for every controlling person who’s analysed my ‘issues’ for me without taking a jolly good look in the mirror first. It’s not that I believe I don’t have any issues. As far as I’m concerned the human condition is all about issues, and our efforts to overcome them, in our quest for personal and spiritual maturity. It’s just that I don’t believe an amateur psychologist has any right to take me apart and act as judge and jury regarding my emotional stability or lack thereof; nor do I believe I have the particular set of issues allocated to me by this almost-stranger.

I’m extremely grateful for these warning signs. By paying heed I have effectively sidestepped a couple of potential relationships that would likely have led to more control, abuse and grief. Perhaps I should have given them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps if I had given them another chance or two or three, I might have granted them the opportunity to choose to grow and change. But I’ve reached an age and stage where I no longer wish to wait around for someone to catch up with me. I no longer wish to teach and guide and support such people. It’s time for me to reach for the good and allow the rest to slide on by. I listen to the wisdom of the still, small voice…and feel the peace.

Try setting a boundary and observe what happens. A controlling person will always react negatively.