The Boundary Power Struggle

by Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT 104464

Honoring your own boundaries can feel tricky when others with a misunderstanding of boundaries try to cross them.  It can sometimes feel like a tug-of-war or power struggle.

Many people use the term “Boundaries” to keep people out, to control their enviornment, or as a self-sabotaging measure to feel safe when their trauma responses are heightened.  And to some degree, boundaries are certainly called for in these instances.  However, when they are in direct conflict with your own boundaries, that’s where discernment comes into place.

Your boundaries are there to keep the good in.  You have created these standards for your life, your family, your business, and your relationships for a reason.  Another person’s standards for themselves and their life can come into direct conflict with yours, what you do in those circumstances is what influences your quality of life and relationships.

It’s a good idea to take a look at both sets of boundaries.  Sometimes we draw our lines, time passes, and our fence needs shoring up – to grow our lines to encompass more room to wiggle, or to firm the boarders and keep them sturdy right where they are.  What are your boundaries that are being questionned?  Does your life have room to move them to accomodate this other person’s need?  What are they asking from you?  Are they asking you to break the law or to accommodate them in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or disengenuous?

Once you get a good handle on where you are and where you’re willing to go, and you’ve evaluated if you’re comfortable with the requests from the other person, then you can confidently communicate your boundaries.

For example, mask wearing.  I’m personally vaccinated and I don’t love wearing masks all day at work.  I also really don’t like breaking the law and I don’t like the idea that I share a room with people all day and since I don’t know everyone’s medical histories I feel doubly committed to wearing my mask.  It’s the law and I really want to keep all my clients healthy, even if it’s inconvenient.  Periodically a client will ask to remove the mask for our session and I will tell them no.  I feel comfortable and confident in that decision because I’ve really thought it though and if I was to allow that boundary crossed it would have legal and ethical consequences for me.  I would feel so horrible if someone were to get sick and their only outing that week was to their therapist’s office.

Sometimes people have genuine desires that are not malicious, and they believe in their boundaries.  That’s okay.  They can opt out of that relationship.  If I were to have a client or coworker who refused to wear a mask in the office, that is their option and they are able to opt out of coming to my office.  Would I be disappointed?  Yes.  Would I miss them?  Yes.  Would it be their choice to honor their boundary over their desire to wear a mask?  Also, yes.  We would be two people honoring our boundaries and that might mean that we don’t engage with each other any longer.

When it’s unhealthy is when the other person covertly tries to get away with circumventing your boundaries.  Dr. Cloud has a sentence in the preface of his book Boundaries that says, “where there is deception there is no relationship.”  If there is someone in your life who is going behind your back to get around your boundaries or if they are attempting to manipulate you through intimidation, threats, gossip, etc. then they are opting out from being a part of your life.  They are making the choice to be outside your boundary.  They are not honoring their own boundary while also honoring yours, they are trying to take a battering ram to yours.

It’s okay to double down and be firm.  It’s okay to say, “I looked at my boundaries to see if this was a place for me to grow, and it is not.  By your behavior you have opted out.”  It’s on them, even if they try to say you’re the one making them feel bad.  They knew where you stood and they chose the battering ram anyway.


Jessica Wilkerson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #104464 and is registered with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.  Boundaries is a big part of her clinical work as she sees so many people feeling guilty and second-guessing themselves for honoring their boundaries.  She interweaves this theme through most of the conversations that happen in her office.  Many times the internal dialogue people have around their boundaries came from early experiences in their families or in school with friends and teachers.  We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and rewrite our present.

If you would like an appointment with Jessica, please call (530) 809-1702 or email