Person To Person: How To Set Boundaries With Abusive People

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) If someone in your life is pushing you around or pushing you too far, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your sanity.

Tribune News Service

Do you have a person causing trouble in your life? Maybe there's an adult bully at your workplace. Or, is an abusive son-in-law pushing your daughter around?

Difficult people have always been around. Since the beginning of time, there's been a thief, warrior attacking the tribe, or a would-be lover trying to steal someone's mate.

Realizing your situation is likely not new to mankind, take heart in the fact that good must triumph over evil. It just takes some superhero tactics to protect your world.

If a strange person or a close blood relative is negatively impacting your life, try these tactics:

-Document what's happening in writing. Keep in mind that odd behavior from others can be drug abuse, a physical illness, or a mental illness. A written report will keep you from making missteps in handling the problems.

-Tell a few close friends and family members. Don't share everything or they'll get tired and avoid you. Do say, "I feel threatened," or "I feel this person is going to hurt someone."

-Decide what to say. Don't blurt out verbal punches at random. For example, if your son-in-law is verbally abusing your daughter, resist calling him a nut. Instead, say, "I'd like to know if there's anything I can do to help you as a couple." Or say, "I'm lost on what to say to you, but you know we all must sit down and try to talk about this situation."

-Protect all people from physical abuse. No exceptions! While every case is different, you can always do something to intervene. For example, if you plan to leave an abusive spouse, ask your brother or a friend to call you throughout the day. This alerts your spouse that others are checking on you. If your spouse is hitting your children, send them to a neighbor's house or your parents' home.

-Get professional help immediately. Join a support group or find a counselor. If necessary, talk with authority figures, such as a lawyer or the police. Taking someone to civil court can work in some circumstances. A judge is really the ultimate authority figure in many situations.

"It's not normal for adults to hurt other people," says an executive we'll call Richard. "I've had employees who verbally shoved co-workers around. In extreme cases, you have to fire them. I used to try to work things out, but the older I get, the more I know I can't fix these problems."

Richard is correct. People who cause problems, slam other people verbally, or act out violence physically are almost impossible to change. You can only manage yourself in relation to them.

"My husband is bipolar," says a friend of ours we'll call Rachel. "While I don't refer to him as bipolar, I do refer to him as 'nervous.' When he suddenly shouts or screams, I leave the room. His moods can change suddenly."

In the beginning, Rachel explains, she thought their issues were marriage problems. She now knows that bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness.

"Realizing this," says Rachel, "I don't try to fix or change my husband. I have simply changed the way I interact with him. My reality is that I can't share all problems with him. He goes nuts on me. I do walk on eggshells. When he is calm, he's a lovely person. When's he's revved up, he's a nervous wreck."

Ultimately, we all must decide what's going to work with abusive people. Honesty with ourselves is critical. ___ (Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.) ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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