It can be difficult to know how far is too far when it comes to the way we speak to people.  We seem to understand acceptable limits when talking with clients, customers, employers and employees but, even then, we can lose our ‘professional cool’ when our pesky emotional buttons are pushed too hard.  It makes sense then, that it is much harder to locate the ‘best in us’ when it’s a family member pushing those buttons.

“I work hard all day to be nice to the people (idiots) I work with.  Why should I have to work hard at home too?”

People are often surprised to discover that some of the ways they talk with loved ones are actually boundary violations. They may have learned these ways of communicating when they were growing up but, because it seems so normal and familiar, they never question it.  Even if they become aware that the recipient is hurting, or the relationship is more damaged afterwards.

Here is a list (adapted from Terry Real’s book, The New Rules of Marriage) that might make things a little clearer. These are called Psychological Boundary Violations but more simply, they are ways of responding or communicating that make relationships worse and they are absolutely changeable.  If you are using these against your partner or kids… they are not on!!

Yelling and screaming: Some people think this is okay because “Everyone does it”.  Not true.

Name Calling: Any sentence that begins with “You’re a….”

Shaming or Humiliating: Communicating that someone is a bad or worthless person.  Shaming behaviours include ridiculing someone, mocking, being sarcastic, humouring, or being patronising.

Telling an Adult What He or She Should do: Unless you’re someone’s boss, therapist or adviser, you have no right to tell another grown person what he or she needs to do.  That’s intrusive.  The same is true for dictating what someone should think or feel.  And it’s even more intrusive to tell someone what he “really” thinks or feels, as in, “You’re not disappointed; you’re angry.”

Making Contracts and Then Breaking Them: Destroying the foundations of trust.

Lying: It may feel like you’re ‘saving your skin’, but it’s having the opposite effect.

Manipulating: Deliberately falsifying information, or dishonestly changing your behaviour, in an attempt to control your partner.  For instance, hamming up a feeling: “Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine out here in the rain.  You go have a good time”.

Real says that even if a behaviour of yours doesn’t appear on this list, if someone is calling it abusive, it’s nothing to be proud of.  You can still wreck a relationship even if you don’t think your behaviours are abusive.

Hmmm… something to think about!  And something to act on if you want to improve your important relationships and earn your own self-respect.