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When a Personal Boundary has Been Breached — 5 Steps to Turn Conflict Into Connection

Becky VandenBout
8 min readJan 13, 2021


I’m only speaking of boundaries that do not jeopardize a person’s physical or mental safety. Abuse in any form should not be tolerated. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline immediately.

Think “you’re invading my space” rather than “you punched me in the face.”

Boundary work is messy; it involves conflict, difficult conversations, and choosing sincerity to yourself over other’s perceptions. When we’ve been violated, we all react a bit differently. Some try to “cope” and keep the peace, while others object immediately. Because people are so different and we all carry a certain amount of emotional baggage, what we see and feel isn’t always what’s actually happening.

It’s important to be as objective as possible when dealing with a breached boundary because when feelings are involved, our reality is always a bit skewed. Even the most objective thinkers have egos, systemic beliefs, and cultural biases.

Boundaries provide us an opportunity to tell the world what we stand for, and because of this, they’re a great way to learn about people; not their favorite food or if they like dogs, but about what really makes them tick.

Often when a breach occurs, it’s unintentional, and can be resolved easily. Occasionally, though, the violation will live in our memories forever. It’s far too easy for a breached boundary to become a burnt bridge.

It’s up to you to decide if you want those memories and lessons to be about connection, compassion, and staying true to yourself, or if you want them to be about avoidance, anger, or fear. This is why it’s important to learn how to effectively set and enforce personal boundaries.

So, what to do with a broken personal boundary? Here are 5 simple-ish steps the not only guide you through resolving a breached personal boundary, but promote accountability, connection and healthy conflict resolution skills.

1. Understand why your boundaries are what they are

Think of personal boundaries as your own personal terms and condition; the working agreement you have with yourself. These are the rules of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior towards you, people you love, and things you care about; in other words, your deal-breakers.

It’s important to make sure your these are accurate reflections of your values and what you stand for before enforcing them. While nothing needs to be perfect, take a bit of time to really think about the boundaries you’re setting and why they are so important to you.

Think about how you’d build a structure. You want whatever you’re building to have a solid foundational base to hold it steady and support it. If your boundaries are based on inauthentic or inconsistent beliefs, when that boundary is breached, it’s unlikely that you’ll take any action, and if you do, it’s likely to be for the wrong reasons.

As we grow and transition through life, our values, what we stand for, who we love, and what we need will change, so keep in mind these aren’t permanent. What we need to feel safe and happy today might be very different from five years ago.

If this is all new to you, try starting with one or two and move on from there.

2. Look inward

When boundaries are broken, it’s uncomfortable. Part of having personal boundaries is being okay with that. It’s easy to play the blame game and jump to conclusions about others rather than looking inward at ourselves first.

Again, I want to stress that I’m only speaking of personal boundaries breaches that don’t involve abuse. If you are being abused, get help immediately.*

Unless you’re a robot, it’s impossible to be perfectly objective when judging an emotional situation, so assuming the boundary breach is entirely the other person’s fault is naive and irresponsible.

Have a good hard look at yourself and start asking questions. “Why does this bother me so much?” “Have I been extra angry or impulsive lately?” “Am I overly stressed right now?” “Do I hold a grudge for that person?”

The offender’s intentions alone, no matter how good, should never invalidate a boundary breach, and the purpose of this isn’t to invalidate your feelings. It’s about practicing self-awareness, kindness, and compassion; to communicate effectively yet responsibly.

If you’re going to confront a person over a behavior of theirs that is causing you pain, you need to first make sure this isn’t a matter of your own perception or emotional reaction. Your mental state throughout this process will make the difference between burned bridges and life lessons. There is nothing productive or kind about unloading on somebody because you’re stressed out.

So if stress or emotions are heightened, take a breather, crank out some endorphins, or sleep on it before taking action over a breached boundary. Sometimes it’s not so much a boundary breach as it is our own insecurity, a hit to our ego, or an internal conflict that drives us to react. Remember, the things that bother us most about others are often the things we dislike about ourselves.

Your mental wellbeing, self-awareness skills, and ability to look inward and get uncomfortably honest with yourself will be the most effective tools in distinguishing a serious violation from an emotional response.

3. Can you let it go?

Some of us are better at this than others. However, this step is important because sometimes keeping the peace is actually more important than resolution. I’m a Myers Briggs ENTJ (The Commander), so trust me when I say I don’t take that statement lightly.

Keeping the peace is almost never my go-to solution, but I’ve learned that a little compassion can go a long way. I’ve upset people I care about by not taking their feelings and well-being into consideration before attempting to resolve a problem, which often results in making mountains out of molehills. I’ve learned that letting something go isn’t a sign of weakness, sometimes it’s simply practicing compassion.

Is it the first time that person has done this? Was it a rare and honest mistake? Have they recently lost a job or loved one? Do they struggle with anxiety or depression?

These situational factors in no way invalidate the breached boundary or excuse bad behavior, but taking into account the other side of the story is vital towards having an objective response. While their behavior might be unacceptable, everybody makes mistakes and has off-days/months/years (good riddance 2020).

Everyone has a story, and assuming you know theirs is both naive and egotistic. I’m not saying give them a free pass or ignore what they did, but if you decide to move forward with confronting them, do it thoughtfully, communicate kindly, with much empathy.

4. Have the conversation

If you’ve checked in with yourself and you’re feeling confident that this was, in fact, a broken boundary that you can’t let go, it’s time to have the conversation.

First things first, you need to be able to state clearly what they did, how it affected you, and what you’d like them to do differently. Without this, it’s really just a grievance.

Going into this conversation while riled up will almost always lead to shaming them or mis-communicating what you need, so the clearer and calmer your state of mind the better. It’s best to pick a place that’s somewhat private, informal, and allows you to exit the conversation; like a breakout room at work. This helps make the other person comfortable and allows you to decide when the conversation is over.

People generally have one of two approaches towards this conversation. There are the folks who like to rip the band-aid off and those who prefer a gentler approach. There’s no right or wrong choice, but, as a band-aid-ripper, I’ve learned that you need to base which approach you use on the personality of the person you’re dealing with, not on your own preferences. Otherwise you end up with hurt feelings or an irritating and inaccurate delivery.

If the offender is a tell-it-like-it-is person

Rip that bandaid off and get straight to the point, without the fluff of small talk or questions you don’t really care about. They’ll respect you more if you’re polite, but don’t waste their time. Deliver the message honestly but kindly.

Avoid accusatory statements and over-explaining; stay objective and on topic. If the other person gets defensive, stand your ground, but don’t let them suck you into a battle of who is right or wrong.

You are the only expert on you. These are your feelings. The boundary breached was yours and yours alone. Simply move the conversation forward with what you’d like them to change.

Once you’re done, ask them if they have any questions or how they’re feeling. Be respectful of their time but also their feelings.

If the offender needs a gentler approach

Ask them questions, and phrase things in a positive light. Don’t over generalize with words like “always” and “never.” People who need a gentler approach tend to feel attacked when confronted, so don’t downplay your message, but keep that in mind.

“I appreciate your love of plants, they’re beautiful aren’t they? I have a few succulents at home. While I love them at home, it makes it hard to concentrate when there are plants creeping into my cubicle.”

Maybe this is a weird example, but I actually had this problem with a vine-growing cubicle neighbor.

No matter what course of action you choose to take, the important thing is that you accept the person for who they are as well as the situation. You can’t change another person, but you can express how you feel and ask for them to change their behavior. You can treat this conversation as an opportunity to connect rather than a an unmet expectation.

No matter what approach you take, keep it clear, no longer than necessary, and kind. If the talk gets aggressive or past your comfort level, ask to reconvene later and end the conversation. Once things get heated, productivity typically flies the coop.

5. Accept things for what they are

You can’t change others. All you have control over is yourself and the capacity in which that person is involved in your life. Accepting the person and situation frees you from the role of “fixer” and allows you to move forward without needing anything from the other party involved.

The practice of acceptance can bring peace, clarity, personal growth, and a more authentic path forward. So if the other person isn’t in a place to think critically, reacts combatively or continues their behavior, you have three options. None of them are perfect, but combined with staying present and accepting the reality of the situation, they will empower you to resolve the boundary breach within your own actions and life choices.

a. let it go
pros: keeps the external peace
cons: can feel like self-betrayal, creates internal conflict

b. try having the conversation again
pros: did you forget to mention something important? were either of you having an off day? do you have new questions?
cons: conflict may intensify, can be seen as “nagging” if the focus is too much on the problem rather than solutions

c. remove yourself from the situation
pros: problem eliminated
cons: can be drastic, alienating, cause new problems

Enforcing boundaries is an art, but simpler than most think. It can be intimidating to be the one creating conflict. So the next time one of your personal boundaries has been breached, rather than face it with dread and anxiety, remember that conflict can be a healthy way to have a growth mindset, allowing you to be open to new opportunities, deeper connection, and more fulfilling relationships.



Becky VandenBout

Entrepreneur, mother, former electrical engineer, web developer, freelancer | Founder of Joon + Co. and the #mindfultechmovement | Lover of noodles and calculus