When Someone Responds to Your Boundaries with Anger

BoundariesWhen you establish a new boundary with someone else, the most common form of resistance one gets is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves.

When they hear the word “no,” they have the same reaction a two-year-old has when deprived of something: “Bad Mommy!” They feel as though the one who deprives them of their wishes is “bad,” and they become angry. They are not righteously angry at a real offense. Nothing has been done “to them” at all. Someone will not do something “for them.” Their wish is being frustrated, and they get angry because they have not learned to delay gratification or to respect others’ freedom.

The angry person has a character problem. If you reinforce this character problem, it will return tomorrow and the next day in other situations. It is not the situation that’s making the person angry, but the feeling that they are entitled to things from others. They want to control others and, as a result, they have no control over themselves. So, when they lose their wished-for  control over someone, they “lose it.” They get angry. Here are six steps to consider when someone responds with anger:

1. Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem. If you do not realize this, you may think you have a problem. Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn what their families of origin did not teach them: to respect other people.

2. View anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot jump across the room and hurt you. It cannot “get inside” you unless you allow it. Staying separate from another’s anger is vitally important. Let the anger be in the other person. He will have to feel his anger to get better. If you either rescue him from it, or take it on yourself, the angry person will not get better and you will be in bondage.

3. Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves. There is great power in inactivity. Do not let an out-of-control person be the cue for you to change your course. Just allow him to be angry and decide for yourself what you need to do.

4. Make sure you have your support system in place. If you are going to set some limits with a person who has controlled you with anger, talk to the people in your support system first and make a plan. Know what you will say. Anticipate what the angry person will say, and plan your reaction. You may even want to role-play the situation with your group. Then, make sure your support group will be available to you right after the confrontation. Perhaps some members of your support group can go with you. But certainly you will need them afterward to keep you from crumbling under the pressure.

5. Do not allow the angry person to get you angry. Keep a loving stance while “speaking the truth in love.” When we get caught up in the “eye for eye” mentality of the law, or the “returning evil for evil” mentality of the world, we will be in bondage. If we have boundaries, we will be separate enough to love.

6. Be prepared to use physical distance and other limits that enforce consequences. One woman’s life was changed when she realized that she could say, “I will not allow myself to be yelled at. I will go into the other room until you decide you can talk about this without attacking me. When you can do that, I will talk to you.”


Click to Tweet: If you keep your boundaries, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time, instead of “other control.”


These serious steps do not need to be taken with anger. You can empathize lovingly and stay in the conversation, without giving in or being controlled. “I understand that you are upset that I will not do that for you. I am sorry you feel that way. How can I help?” Just remember that when you empathize, changing your no will not help. Offer other options.

If you keep your boundaries, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time, instead of “other control,” which has been destructive to them anyway. When they no longer have control over you, they will find a different way to relate. But, as long as they can control you with their anger, they will not change.

Sometimes, the hard truth is that they will not talk to you anymore, or they will leave the relationship if they can no longer control you. This is a true risk. God takes this risk every day. He says that he will only do things the right way and that he will not participate in evil. And when people choose their own ways, he lets them go. Sometimes we have to do the same.


Learn more about setting healthy boundaries that last in the New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries.

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  1. Jayella says

    What if I wish *to do* something which the other person doesn’t want me to do? Something the other person isn’t involved in, like wearing certain clothes to go out, or listening to certain music on earphones, for example? Is one unable/not entitled to set a boundary on such things if one is living in the other person’s house?

    • DJ says

      Firstly sounds like control. Have you sat down with the person to work out some ground rules for living together that respects EACH others boundaries. It sounds like you fear your housing is at risk if you make to big a change. So start taking back your power and individuality respectfully using small steps, for example, you wish to go out in clothes of your choice which are modest but your preference.
      Consider developing a plan B or back up plan. Also getting some support and advice about your situation.

  2. Becky T says

    I needed this reminder today. Thank you. Boundary work isn’t always fun, but the freedom that follows is worth it!

    • Tanya says

      I agree! I’m working on it myself. And as a Christian unfortunately not all my sisters are in agreement with boundaries. They feel it’s unloving. But God showed me that in 1Corinthians 13 He defines Love. If it doesn’t look like that then the person we are setting a boundary with is not loving us. Even if they say they are.

  3. Jill Lamson says

    My personality tends toward….okay lets get this hashed out with you doing the changing!! 🙂 In other words I can go for the jugular when it comes to communicating my anger and disagreement! As I have begun to grow and change I am seeing my own immaturity – my own character defects, God is so good! I am now working at how to hang in there with the person I am communicating with, listen thoughtfully but don’t sacrifice who I am as a person (what I believe). On the flip side of anger or the passive aggressive style, it is important for me to read body language and tone.. They may not be raising their voice but that does not mean they are not also trying to control with anger. I am learning to ask myself questions about how this person is communicating or not communicating, for example, what their eyes are saying. Body language can be very tense/nervous with someone not realizing their own anger because they have not raised their voice. I rather recently pointed this out to someone and they said, “I don’t get angry”. I laughed out loud from surprise and she immediately burst into tears. Unfortunately I just didn’t have the emotional reserve at that point to sit down and say, lets talk some more.

  4. Sandra Freeman says

    So what if a husband is refusing sex for years. Do I have to respect that boundary? Is it selfish for me to keep bringing it up every few months? I’m desperate. He doesn’t even hug me or sleep in the same bed. Am I the selfish one here
    Or is he? Because I’m seriously considering divorce so I can have a shot at a family. I’m almost 38 and running out of time for his selfishness. I’m not ugly either and if I wanted to I could cheat on him but I don’t. So it’s not like I’m not attractive anymore.

    • AmyB says

      He is breaking the marriage covenant. His body is not his own now that he is married. Speaking from my own experiences, the man you describe sounds like he may be a manipulator. Seek counseling from a professional trained in emotional abuse and manipulation.

    • hadley says

      Wow! I cannot judge based on this small amount of info, but I would encourage you to seriously seek professional counselling from a Christian counselor. One thing I have learned is that when a person is believing lies about themselves, Satan wrecks havoc on the heart. One’s past can play a HUGE part in this process. Does your husband feel unworthy because of something that has happened years ago? Sexual sin is very shaming, whether this person was “shamed” by another, or he is simply believing it on his own because of something he did. Satan gets in our heads and whispers these lies…and they are powerful. Only the power of Jesus Christ can break that type of bondage. If you are a Christian, You have that power in you. If your husband is a Christian, he has that power as well. Just remember, this is a journey. It is never “won and done”, but Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit can and will heal these broken areas if you invite Him to. He will not just do it for us, because He is a gentleman. He will never violate us, but if we invite Him in to our mess, He will heal!! Just remember that love is patient, and kind, and keeps no record of wrongs. It’s difficult to wait, but your husband could be deeply wounded by something he’s not willing to talk about.

    • Lester says

      Boundaries are to maintain our personal integrity, never for controlling other people- Anne Katherine.

      I agree with other comments- he has broken the marriage covenant. Seek counseling. If that fails, consider he has abandoned you after a fashion and, as such, divorce may not be an unreasonable option.

  5. Joe Buscampell says

    Everything that is explained in this article is totally me, and I cannot believe how inconsiderate and how my body language has affected others and the woman I love. She gave me the book to read a couple months and I thought I was too good to read it. Last night analyzing my actions, I realize I’ve pushed away people instead of using my networking skills, (that I use on a daily basis) to implement a down to earth feeling to those around me. I have apologized to many close people from church, work and at home…now I must do some work on myself before turning to the woman that I love and thank her for the love she shows me and for keeping her boundries. Thank you and God bless.

    • Susan says

      The same way- staying calm and reiterating your position. They will use multiple methods to break your resolve but your consistency will win in the end.

  6. JJ says

    What about getting sworn at? Ok. The person says they’re sorry now. But it just keeps happening. Not often, but way more often than it did in years past. But im not okay with it. How do I enforce that? Hell say he’s sorry. But I’m not okay with it. How do I deal with this appropriately – learning to forgive, but not just letting this keep happening?

    • M says

      You could say: “We are in a pattern that keeps repeating itself. There’s a situation where swearing happens, then we talk about how that is inappropriate, then you say “I’m sorry,” then it starts over after a few days or weeks. Based on this pattern, it seems clear that those words are only intended to pacify me and stop the conversation. I need this pattern to stop. I need you to speak respectfully to me all the time. I think you swear when . So starting today, if you swear at me, or in my hearing, then I will _____ for a while to let your emotions cool off. I will check back with you a little later to see if you are ready to continue the conversation.”

    • Lester says

      An apology with no corresponding change in behavior, even a small change since true change is often gradual, indicates the “apology” is not an honest one, but a mechanism used to avoid change… A way of saying “get off my back about it” and is this not an apology. If the apology in question does not come with amends (in this case, behavior change) do NOT accept it. Stand your ground and banish that person if necessary. Be courageous and love from afar if you must.

  7. Stephanie says

    Maybe the person that has to deal with the new boundary is actually just hurt cause her best friend made a boundary that the person feels hurts their friendship and puts the friendship at a distance. Does not have to be a character or anger problem but an emotional you hurt me I thought we were closer than that problem I DNt think that’s self centered. But I do think they should talk it out especially when they are neighbors. Yes I’m speaking from experience

    • Latoya says

      It’s ok to be hurt, but you still have to respect her boundaries. She set a boundary that she felt was necessary. Maybe she needed distance because you don’t respect boundaries…just a thought.

  8. Karen says

    Anger was the response from my parents ALWAYS when I set protective boundaries from when I was young-before the Boundaries Books were even written. There was child abuse, domestic violence, unwanted sexual perversion & also sexual abuse, constant criminal acts such as frauds/embezzling/loansharking/illegal payoffs/stolen goods..all in front of us children. BOTH parents were involved in the physical abuses of us children & the other abuses. It was all about controlling and keeping their children terrorized and co-dependent for the parents’ own selfish need to feel power. Theiy really showed nothing but hate for each other & so abused each other verbally & physically daily-in front of us. Their “sick drama” or “evil dance” was the center of our lives. They then each would abuse us physically out of their own rage towards each other. As if we weren’t terrorized enough watching them in fear for our lives and their lives! We never knew when someone would be killed.
    I had to “parent” myself. My siblings allowed themselves to continually be victimized. I spoke up when I was able and as I got older I made it clear I’d not tolerate the abuses anymore & I’d contact police, authorities, etc if it kept happening. I had anonymously called police at times as a child. In those days laws were not as strict about abuse & the police believed my parents’ lies that “nothing happened”. I was too afraid to speak up in front of parents out of fear for my life if the police were not going to arrest & incarcerate them. Which they never did. It’s hard when I was underage and had nowhere to escape to & no adult in my life to support/protect me. But I used distancing-in my room all the time, distancing to friends’ healthy families’ homes as much as possible, not interacting with family much of the time… No adult in my extended family-all of whom KNEW of the abuses-ever said a word or intervened to protect us children. They feared the “wrath” of the abusers so they kept silent. And they “advised” us to stay silent. Those enablers who covered up the abuses would be charged with crimes today for keeping silent. I was completely on my own trying to stay safe until I could get out of that house.
    As an adult survivor, I kept much more distance & when my values, boundaries.. were not respected or were abused, I’d explain that I had to separate completely-no contact-for a time until/unless things changed on their part. I kept to my consequences & they always begged & begged me to be back in their lives, said they were sorry, said they understood what they needed to change & that they would. I’d let them back in my life-believing the best of them as the Bible asks us to do-but they kept doing the same verbally, emotionally & even physically abusive things. Always threatening violence. Their need for control never abated.
    In fact they hated me MORE the more I instituted & kept to my protective boundaries, limits & consequences for unsafe, unhealthy behaviors. Yet they would NEVER let me alone when I put complete distance-no contact-in place when necessary! They’d lie again & again about changing but they never did. I never knew WHEN I “should” cut off ALL contact COMPLETELY with them since they were “family”. So long periods of no contact followed by forgiving them & believing them that they would change & letting them back in my life…went on for decades.
    I got professional counseling during my young adult years after leaving their house. I learned about abusers, was taught more skills to distance, detach, disengage (NEVER to engage in their DESIRED CONFRONTATIONS!). This worked for many years to keep myself as an adult & my own family safe from their abuses but they never changed. They always went back to abusive behaviors. And anger when I imposed consequences, explaining WHY as lovingly & clearly as I could.
    Yet they KEPT drawing me back into relationship with them with promises that were always lies. They just REFUSED TO STOP TRYING to gain control over me! And they REFUSED to leave me alone! I’d have PREFERRED if we went our separate ways FOR GOOD but felt guilty/a “bad Christian” cutting ALL ties FOREVER when they’d ask for forgiveness & promise to stop the bad behaviors. I felt I had to KEEP FORGIVING.
    The latest boundary-setting I did after their abuse resulted in their usual begging for forgiveness (turns out they were PRETENDING to change their behavior only so I’d go back into their home) & my forgiving them again led to a VERY VIOLENT ATTACK BY THEM. It was a planned ambush attack-to “get even” with me for setting firm consequences to their serious abuses of my boundaries again. Or maybe it was a culmination of their RAGE about the many years of my boundaries & consequences & holding them accountable for their abuses to me & my family too.
    Since it was a “set-up”- a “surprise ambush” on us, we were the only ones violently harmed by a weapon used on us. We had no chance to defend ourselves. We had to call the police & rescue when we left their house. Criminal charges were filed against the attacker.
    Yet my adult siblings-who KNOW WHAT HAPPENED-sided with the abusers (as co-dependents always do to “please” the abusers to try to gain their love & approval). They have chased after parents’ love & approval & allowed abuses to themselves over & over even as adults now WITHOUT EVER SETTING A SINGLE BOUNDARY TO PROTECT THEMSELVES OR THEIR FAMILIES!
    So I STAND ALONE. I am the “outcast” as I’ve ALWAYS been for standing up for myself. I believe my siblings resent my strength & my unwillingness to endanger or degrade myself for the love & approval of abusive sick parents who are actually INCAPABLE OF LOVE. They only USE people for their own needs. To control people. They control my siblings. They controlled other adult relatives who wouldn’t dare step up to try to protect us as children being abused and terrorized. They used fear to control & it worked on all except me.
    So ultimately they had to try to destroy me with brutal violence resulting in lifelong very serious injuries-one of which is blindness in one eye from the ambush attack with the weapon to the face & head. The attacker stated his intent to KILL US with that weapon. And all the enablers/co-dependents turned their backs on me for calling the police to REPORT A VIOLENT CRIME RESULTING IN BRUTAL INJURIES!! They say, “It’s “family”. Should have “let it go” and not called police!
    So now the “decision” I never seemed to know how & when to make-cutting these repetitive unrepentant unremorseful intentionally violent abusive liars out of my life FOR GOOD has been made FOR ME. By “Divine Intervention p” I believe. God said, “ENOUGH!” And by the legal system instituting a “no contact order” for our protection. Regardless of the expiration of this order, they need to be & will be removed from our life for good for our own protection. That is a crystal clear necessity now.
    Also, if I’d had the “Boundaries” Books long ago I’d have KNOWN there is a DIFFERENCE between “FORGIVING” (commanded by God) & “RECONCILIATION” (desired by God but NOT POSSIBLE IN MANY CASES-SUCH AS THIS CASE). Unregenerate sinners inflicting a lifetime of intentional sins/abuses/lies about “changing”..cannot be part of my life. They’ve proven to be so much more dangerous & hateful to me than I’d ever imagined. I suffered at their wicked hands SO MUCH LONGER THAN I NEEDED TO. I thank God for these articles from “Boundaries” Books and the books themselves which enlightened me and reinforced the “no contact” necessary in this case. I only wish I’d read them BEFORE the vicious attack & lifelong injuries we will now have to endure.
    Please pray for us as we stand ALONE in this. No supporters within my family of enablers & co-dependents. They never got any counseling as adult survivors of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuses, criminal acts by parents in front of us…as I did to try to process what happened to us as children. Very very disappointing since they ALL KNOW THE TRUTH OF WHAT HAPPENED that violent night recently as well as all my life. The abuses happened to them too. Yet they are in denial to keep seeking & striving for the approval of empty violent parents.
    BUT GOD KNOWS AND STANDS WITH US!! Praise Fod for His promise never to leave or forsake us. Standing on that promise as I go through life now with no family. But it had to be that way.

    • SEA says

      You have suffered enough. Stay away from the birth family. They are absolutely wrong and you need to start a new life. You have no guiltor shame to bear. Read:The Betrayal Bond. And read purging your house pruning your family tree by Perry stone also. The saying blood is thicker than water actually means the blood of Jesus is thicker than the water of the womb. You are born of Christ and will find family there if you find the right congregation. Be careful what you share until you feel safe. Consider going through deliverance with a person who knows what he/she is doing. It will rid you of a lot of old tormenting factors and generational curses. Pray the 23rd psalm as a prayer every night. Claim it for yourself. Ask God to give you a new family.

    • Carrie says

      So sorry for the pain and abuse you have sustained way too long. I have set some new boundaries in the last few years with multiple relationships. I understand how you feel alone. I too have felt alone and vilified for boundaries. What I’m realizing though is God will give you strength and when you are being assaulted or shamed because of your boundaries, people wish they were as strong as you and continue to function in negative patterns. I applaud you for identifying some godly boundaries and your worth more to God than these abusive people. Talk to a godly counselor and keep believing God’s love for you. God bless your strength and courage.

  9. Temitope says

    Karen, seeing all you went through from those that supposed to love you leaves me speechless. Thank God for sustaining you thus far, only ask God for grace not to be bitter towards your family. Rather invest your time and energy in rehabitating yourself. Bearing in mind that you’ve a Heavenly Father who loves you beyond comprehension. He’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother. And He promised never to leave nor forsake you. You’re loved my dear sister.

  10. SEA says

    Number 6 is not easy and does not work with an extremely manipulating emotionally abusing person especially if your married to them. They can just leave come back all smiles as if nothing happened, nothing gets resolved or changed. They continue with the emotionally abusive behavior. If you ignore it, it only gets worse and they amp up what they do to hurt you. Over time you learn to take it and not to set them off. It’s good advice for a normal human being but someone with serious issues and possible mod disorder it is not going to resolve anything. I ended up having to threaten divorce for minor things before things started to get better and he got help. I have lived through hell trying to set boundaries like this bc counselors advised me to stop managing his emotions. That got me white hot rage and threats of being shot and threats of physical abuse. My serious threats to divorce is the only thing that worked.

  11. Care says

    Can you differentiate the difference between setting boundaries as an adult and parents having rules for a minor child. I feel there is a comment here that may confuse the two.

    Minor children need to know parents set rules and boundaries to protect thier kids until those kids become adults and some rules (some would be reasonabkl some not so much) may apply if an adult child is living at home….then the adult child …if they felt were being treated unreasonably may need to find thier own place to live.

    Anyway just thought a clarification may be needed since all age groups are reading articles on the internet.

  12. Care says

    PLEASE NOTE: my prior comment does not apply to those in the comments in abusive situations..please know I posted my comment and hadn’t yet read the ones with kids/adults in abusive situations. I am talking about kids in normal households not abusive ones. Hugs to all!

  13. Carol Ann says

    There’s something I’ve been dealing with for years in my family of origin, and I’d like to know if it’s actually a boundary issue.
    My mother was married and had my sister and me. She divorced when I was very young, and then remarried six months later. My stepfather adopted my sister and me, and I considered him my father. He and my mother had a child together. The fact that my mother had been married before is our “family secret”.
    My mother and father never wanted my youngest sister to know that my mother had been married before and that we were half siblings. It was made very clear to my other sister and me that we were to say nothing to our younger sister.
    When I got married and left home, my youngest sister began asking questions like where I was born and how long our parents had been married. My parents were very careful and never would say how many years they had been married in front of her. I told my mother that my sister was asking questions and that if they didn’t tell her the truth that I was going to have to tell her, because I wasn’t going to lie to her. My mother did tell her the truth, but she lied to my sister and told her that she had told her when she was younger, but that she just didn’t remember it.
    Apparently my mother held it against me, because a few years ago she referenced the incident in an e-mail and said how I “took everyone down that road”. (Is she trying to make me the scapegoat here??)
    My father was diagnosed with Cancer about 2 years ago, and my family immediately ostracized me. My mother and sister could have written a manual on gaslighting at that time. In addition, despite my Dad saying my husband, son, and I could visit anytime we wanted, they made sure I wasn’t allowed to be there when he died, and they purposely didn’t tell me about the visitation at the funeral home – leading me to believe the only gathering was at the church. My dad died almost two years ago, and my family hasn’t spoken to me since we left the cemetery. My mother will reply to an e-mail. She refuses to tell me why they are upset with me.
    I’ve said again and again that if they will just tell me what I’ve done, that I will apologize for it if I can. They refuse to tell me what they’re upset with me about. {I will say that for the last several years, I haven’t attended large family gatherings because they were just brutal and full of the emotional and mental abuse I endured while growing up. I have done the best I can do – sending cards for birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc. and calling and visiting periodically. Maybe I hadn’t done enough in their eyes to be included at the end of my Dad’s life???} It’s obvious they’re trying to punish me, but they won’t say for what.
    About 2 weeks before my Dad died, I gave him a letter thanking him for things he’d done for me throughout my life. At the top of the list was that he adopted my sister and me. Based on comments my mother and father made, I could tell they didn’t appreciate me even writing that down as something I was thankful for.
    My mother sent me an e-mail just recently and said that if I will never bring up anything at all from the past – and she defined that as even something that happened just yesterday – then we can have a relationship. It’s like she is asserting that as her boundary.
    The problem is that my idea of a boundary is that we take the Biblical approach and talk about whatever the problems are so that we can have a chance at a healthy relationship. Over the years she has wanted us to “start over” in our relationship as if nothing has ever happened. For years, before I got healthier, I agreed to it, but the end result was always the same. Nothing changed, and we ended up upset with one another.
    My boundary is that I would like to have a relationship with her if she will follow the protocol set forth in Matthew 18. Whether she does or not, I will still send her cards and check on her by e-mail. I love my mother, and I want the best for her.
    I probably would just walk away if I didn’t have two young nieces. I want them to know I love and care for them. I was just told by an extended relative (who didn’t seem to agree) that I am seen as a threat and that my nieces must be protected from something I have said or might say to them. This is a “new” thing that has only been the case since my father died. I was close to them and did things with them before.
    My husband thinks (and I’m inclined to agree) that they are afraid I will tell my nieces the “family secret” that my mother was married before – even though I assured them I would not and that what my sister and her husband tell their children is their business.
    Are these all huge boundary issues? Have you ever heard of anything like this before? Any advice you can give?
    Obviously I’m afraid of their anger and what they might do, because I was typing this out in a very generic sense, and I had to go back and make myself go back and add the specifics like “sister” and “nieces”. Why would I be afraid that they might read this? What else could they do to me that they haven’t already done?
    Thank you.

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