In DBT, observing limits is the process of noticing whether someone else’s behaviour is acceptable to you in the short or long-run. As mentioned in the previous blog, in DBT, we err on the side of observing rather than setting limits. In therapy, the therapist pays attention to whether the client is calling too often or engaging in some other behaviours that the therapist would have a hard time tolerating either in the short or long-run. In every day life relationships, it can also be really helpful to observe limits. We’ve all had friends or family members who push our buttons in one way or another. Perhaps they call or text us too often, criticize us about various things, make comments about our clothing or appearance, give unwanted advice, and so forth. These are all opportunities to practice the skill of observing limits. Simply allowing behaviour that you find intolerable to continue can be a recipe for resentment and relationship burnout. To observe limits, you first have to notice that someone is pushing your limits. When someone pushes my limits, the first signs that this is happening are that I start to feel frustrated and irritated with the person and become less willing to be around her or him. I find it helpful to use these emotional reactions as a barometer for what’s happening in the relationship. Then, the next step is to figure out how to bring it up with the other person. In DBT, we emphasize the importance of being honest about your limits and compassionate toward the other person. It can be really hard for some people to hear that they are doing things that annoy us, calling too much, or asking for too much help, and so on. Therefore, while it is helpful to be honest and direct, it’s also important to empathize with the other person and try to understand their perspective. I also find it helpful to always assume the best. When someone’s engaging in behaviour that I find frustrating, it’s very easy to assume that the person is being rude, inconsiderate, selfish, or even malicious. I don’t find these assumptions to be helpful in most cases. Instead, I try to always remember that we are all doing the best we can. This makes it a lot easier to maintain compassion toward people who are pushing my limits. Give some thought to how you might notice if someone is pushing your limits. Do you tend to ignore these warning signs and just keep going? When you do that, what happens to your relationship? Would there be some value in taking heed of the signs that your limits are being pushed and finding a kind, direct way to bring this up with the other person? Incidentally, some of the previous blogs have focused on interpersonal effectiveness skills that we can all use to observe limits, such as the DEAR MAN skills in the interpersonal effectiveness section of the DBT skills manual. It might be worth checking those out. ~ Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.