Boundaries and Abuse

I’m going to start with a recent pair of conversations in my life, and use that as a jumping off point to talk about who gets to define what abuse is, and who gets to set boundaries. People in my local community may well recognise the people involved from their behaviour, and while backlash due to that bothers me, it bothers me more that the abusive behaviour is tolerated.

Conversation one was a disagreement between someone I considered a friendly acquaintance. I disagreed with their characterisation of something, they responded with a ‘let me google that for you’ link (, to something I was already well aware of. At this point, I’m of the opinion that that kind of thing is just abuse (in many, not all, cases), as it doesn’t facilitate conversation. So I blocked the person in question.

Conversation two was another friendly acquaintance presuming to belligerently lecture me on how ‘several people’ view my behaviour poorly, that this ‘getting into disagreements with people, then blocking them’ is apparently problematic. And therefore I need to either not get into arguments with people, or stay off the internet.

The question really is: who gets to define what constitutes abuse? Who gets to delimit your boundaries?

Do people who are not you get to determine whether how other people treat you is ok, or not? Regardless of how shitty they make you feel? Regardless of whether their behaviour is condescending, or just mean? Do people who are not you get to tell you what your tolerance for that behaviour should and should not be?

It seems pretty clear to me that the answer to these questions is ‘no’. The only person who gets to define ‘it’s not ok to treat me like this’ is you. And sure, people are welcome to disagree with that assessment, and decide not to interact with you because of that, because they get to decide their own boundaries.

If someone is abusive to me, am I required to allow them access to my spaces if I talk about them, to allow to continue the abuse? Seems pretty clear that the answer to that is ‘holy shit, no’.

Yes, I really do consider posting links in the middle of a conversation abuse. How significant? Not hugely. If I were to rate it from 0 to 100, it’d probably be below 10. But I’m the one who gets to decide if a ‘1’ on that scale is something I want in my life, not anybody else.

To some degree, I think remonstration is an important aspect of friendship: we are, to some extent, our siblings’ keeper. We are known by the company we keep. Moreover, it’s necessary to police our own communities, to some degree. But the authority to remonstrate is given, not assumed. If I feel that someone’s behaviour is out of line, my attempt to remonstrate with them will fall on deaf ears unless they respect my judgement and accept my opinion, especially with regards to the relevant behaviour.

If someone who is pretty happy to abuse people they disagree with by posting, we’ll say, gifs mocking the people they disagree with thinks that their judgement regarding what is and is not abuse is going to be respected, then that, frankly, is a tragicomic in a very special way.

Moreover, the response to ‘such and such said something abusive’ isn’t (and should never be) ‘then don’t disagree with people’, should it? I’m somewhat at a loss to consider ‘hey, victim of abuse, you need to not do the thing whereby people decided to abuse you’ an appropriate response.

But hey, assholes gonna asshole. There’s very little one can do to change their behaviour, directly, except to utilise what limited blocking tools social media allows us, and remove ourselves from the circles in which they run in. Which sucks, but so long as abusive behaviour is allowed to run unchecked, these are the options we are left with when it comes to setting boundaries.

Comments are turned off on this post, for what should be blatantly obvious reasons.

Follow Brian on Twitter!


, , , ,