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Setting Firm Boundaries with People to Improve Your Relationship With Food

A major problem I run into in treating dysregulated eaters is an inability to set firm boundaries with people. They get taken advantage of, walked on like doormats, ignored and neglected. And, then, when they feel hurt, they turn to food for comfort.
 
Make no mistake, setting and maintaining firm boundaries is a skill. I’ve written about it in many of my books, including Outsmarting Overeating and Nice Girls Finish Fat. It’s a learned behavior, like most of our life skills, from childhood. Either we learn that it’s okay to have needs and say no, or we learn that it’s unacceptable through love or approval being withdrawn when we assert ourselves. Often our same gender parent role models poor boundaries—Dad can’t refuse a request for help no matter what else is going on in his life or Mom keeps on doing for others until she’s depleted and depressed.
 
Strategies for maintaining boundaries run the gamut from gently saying no to shutting people out of your life firmly and completely. The fact is, if you need to keep repeatedly re-establishing your boundaries with certain people because they won’t take no for an answer, need constantly to be reminded of where you start and they begin, or seem to relish testing or violating your boundaries, you need to be more direct. Some people appear to be emotionally tone deaf because they don’t care what you wish or need or their desires seem far more important to them than yours.
 
Examples of these types of people include those with Narcissistic, Anti-social (aka Psychopathy and Sociopathy), and Borderline personality disorders. Boundary violations also may be seen in people with Bi-polar Disorder (being excessively high or low) and Depression. In the case of Major Depression or Bi-polar Disorder, a person may be very respectful of your boundaries when he or she is in a better or stable mood, but violate them when his or her mood changes.
 
The key to boundary setting is to be firm, clear, direct and not give a double message: “Do not interrupt me when I’m working,” “I will not be visiting more than once a week,” or “No, you cannot see the kids this weekend.” Notice how sentences are short and to the point with little explanation. Believe me, if people are serious boundary violators, the last thing you need to worry about is hurting their feelings. These people don’t care about hurting yours and some will never acknowledge wrong-doing, so you can’t shame them. Mostly, it’s vital to understand that boundary crashers are not like you and me.
 
Using what author Shahida Arabi calls Low or No Contact in Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, works very well with people who are narcissistic or psychopathic and unable or unwilling to honor your boundaries. If it seems as if you are repeatedly saying no to someone or telling them that they’re hurting you and they don’t seem to care or won’t change, you are probably dealing with a person who has this kind of disorder, or worse. Stop playing nice and play smart. Reduce contact to a minimum or cut off contact as soon as possible. Quit trying to help them understand you or change them and start taking better care of yourself.
 
Best,
Karen