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When a Third Party Is Used to Get Around Your Boundaries

Something a lot of people talk about, myself included, is that your boundaries deserve to be respected. It’s okay to limit contact with someone, or have boundaries that you need them to respect in order to continue engaging with them. Here’s a blog post I wrote on setting and enforcing boundaries which might be helpful to you.


What I want to talk about today is when someone uses another person to try and push against your boundaries. This is a way that triangulation can occur. Sometimes we put up boundaries with a toxic family member. Maybe we’ve decided that we won’t be attending a dinner at their place for whatever reason. Sometimes that toxic person brings other people into the situation to try and guilt you, manipulate you or otherwise still control you. This might mean they get a hold of your sister, who then calls you to beg you to go to the dinner because the “family should all be together” and it “won’t be the same without you.”


This person usually ends up encouraging you to drop your boundaries to appease the toxic person. It may be portrayed in such a way that the one you originally set boundaries against seems completely innocent and uninvolved, but they rarely are. (And even if they haven’t done something wrong, you are still allowed your boundaries).


The toxic person who you were setting boundaries against probably realizes that directly questioning your boundaries might make you feel more certain of the need for those boundaries and could even make others see the reasons why you set those boundaries. By bringing in a third party, the toxic person can maintain an appearance of respecting your boundaries. They may even talk about things in emotionally manipulative ways which portray you as unreasonable or hurtful for setting boundaries and make all their actions sound completely normal.


Why does the third party help push against your boundaries? There could be a few reasons.

It’s possible that they may be in such a situation that they truly cannot understand why you would set those boundaries. It’s possible that they receive favouritism and good treatment while you have received abuse or otherwise bad treatment. They may not have all the facts and the toxic person may have told half-truths or outright lies to make you look worse. It’s possible they’ve been raised or conditioned to believe certain treatment is normal when it is in fact abnormal or abusive.


Sometimes the third party does know how poorly you’ve been treated, but they enable what takes place or feel it’s just “easier” to “keep the peace.” Perhaps they will try to excuse the behaviour by saying “that’s just how they are” about the toxic person, or that they “don’t know any better.” If family is involved, “love” may be weaponized against you - with an argument that your boundary makes the toxic person feel unloved, or that if you really loved the third party, you’d just “let this go” and go along with what they want.


Setting a boundary does not mean you love someone any less than you would if you didn’t have the boundary. It means you love *yourself* enough to protect yourself. Having boundaries can help to have healthier and longer lasting relationships. For instance, it can keep you from growing resentful of someone who asks more of you than you really want to give, who might not realise they are asking too much. And this is just as important with third parties, who might not see the toxic behaviour of a mutual friend until you set a boundary against it or might not understand an unhealthy dynamic forming in a group of people until it is pointed out.


It’s important to remember that even if the third party means well, it does not mean you need to listen to them or justify your actions to them. If you are setting a boundary, you have a reason to do it - and whether that third party would think that reason was a good one or not is not important.


At the end of the day, it’s okay to have boundaries. And it’s okay to set boundaries with a third party pushing on boundaries you originally set with someone else, even if they mean well and are just trying to be a mediator. You have a right to have boundaries.


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