We send subtle and not-so-subtle messages to people every day about how they can treat us. We teach others how to treat us. Of course, that’s not to say that we’re responsible for bad behavior on the part of others. But we do illustrate how we are willing to be treated by what we accept again and again without protest. When we have clear boundaries and set limits, we actually are able to create more intimacy and love.
Its well documented, and I’m sure many teachers and parents can attest to the fact that children and teenagers are constantly testing limits and figuring out what the boundaries are. I believe we continue this testing of the waters in adulthood and do it subconsciously in our relationships. We test for many things — the level of trust and closeness we can develop with someone, if and how we can rely on someone, if we can reveal our twisted sense of humor and be accepted, if we can reveal our truest sexual desires and be accepted, and on and on.
And of course, just like teenagers, we test what we can get away with in our adult relationships. Anytime we know or someone knows about us that they can dish out heaps of bad treatment and we still will never leave them, we’re on very dangerous ground in a relationship. People respect people who respect themselves. When you start to send the message that you don’t really respect yourself — through evading your own boundaries, through putting up with bad treatment from people, and by not honoring yourself first and foremost — other people lose respect for you as well.
Knowing your bottom line is another way of saying, knowing what you are willing and prepared to accept in a relationship. It can be helpful to make a list of your bottom lines, especially if you have a history of troublesome relationships. Be aware of what you consider to be unacceptable behavior in a relationship with another person — and stay true to yourself when someone crosses your lines.