April 22, 2015

On Boundaries & Abuse: When is Enough Really Enough?

abuse survivor

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When is enough really enough?

Even the most calm, happy, relaxed and patient person can reach a breaking point in just about any situation or relationship. There are lines and if there aren’t— There ought to be.

Breaking points, boundaries, limits… call them what you will, are important. They both protect and empower us. Establishing boundaries can be difficult for some. It can be hard to say “no” to our children, our parents, our teachers, our friends, our partners, our bosses or the sad lady on the corner asking for a burrito or some spare change.

Boundaries are about finding balance between self and others.

Ideally our boundaries will be well established before we enter a new relationship. I have a few firm, unbreakable boundaries I already know that if the person I’m with is either physically or emotionally abusive or unfaithful I’m out. Period.

If a friend acts like a drunken idiot there is a line and when it’s crossed I have no guilt about ending that relationship. If I am treated disrespectfully in a work or social environment I will change the situation. If the health and safety of my family and those I love are at risk I have lines.

Some lines are firm and others may be a little less so, either way there are lines that when crossed can’t be uncrossed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unreasonable. I forgive. And sometimes I forgive again and I might even forgive again and again until I just can’t do it one more time. I believe in giving people second chances and I believe in trying and failing and trying again but when it comes to relationships with other human beings I do so remembering the old saying “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, Shame on me.”

There is a time for effort and a time to move on. There is a time to try and a time to let go. Sometimes things get blurry. Putting some thought into where your lines really lie can give you the confidence to follow your gut when the time comes.

I once had a stressful job involving, long hours, low pay, no benefits and ridiculous amounts of sexual harassment on a nearly daily basis. We were a small business, most of us were friends and every single one of us needed our jobs so I didn’t want to rock the boat. I complained to our boss but beyond that I did nothing. For years.

My breaking point was a long time coming. I’ve learned since then.

The day I reached my limit and walked out was also the day that my boss finally fired the man who left obscene photos on my desk, suggested “under the desk duty” daily and made my life hell.

I never settled for that in the workplace again.

Most of us have had our share of relationships of one kind or another in which we have had to set boundaries or be treated like doormats. I’ve been there. A few times. I’ve been with people who spent my money or not pulled their weight, I’ve been with addicts whose poison was more important than the relationship and I’ve been in a relationship with close to no limits.

I have sacrificed my time, my energy and in one case, my dignity.

In each of these relationships the day came when enough was enough and I was completely and totally done. It was truly as if there was that one last straw. I had seen it coming every time. I had even said that I saw it coming, I didn’t know when but I knew it was coming and when it came—It came. That was that.

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t go back.

Enough was absolutely enough.

This week marks two years since my very dear friend was killed by a man she loved.

He loved her too, for many years. But he shot her and then he shot himself.

I have wondered almost every day since then how that could have ended differently. How do we recognize when we need boundaries? How do we establish and maintain those boundaries in ways that are healthy for ourselves?

How do we redefine them if and when the time comes?

My friends story is a drastic representation of what can happen if we aren’t firm with our boundaries. Most of life’s situations do not have such dire consequences but there are consequences nonetheless.

I think the key to never getting to the point of enough being enough, never knowing that last straw and never breaking the camels back is to establish across the board healthy boundaries and stick to them. Determine what works with your morals and values, don’t settle for less and work from there.

It’s hard at first and it’s sometimes hard to maintain but the pay off is well worth the effort.



Author’s note: If you or you children are in an abusing relationship please seek help. Please tell someone you trust. Abuse is never acceptable. Not from a spouse or partner, a parent, a teacher, a friend. Not from anyone. If you feel unsafe leave. The National Domestic Violence Hotline telephone number is 1-800-799-7233. The National child abuse hotline number is 1-800-4-A-Child  The can assist you in finding local resources.


Author: Kimby Maxson

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Global Panorama at Flickr 

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