10/21/2014 06:30 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

The Challange of Invasiveness

In a counseling session with Polly, we explored the issue of invasiveness, and Polly suggested that I write an article on it because it can be such a difficult and sometimes subtle issue.

We are being invasive when we tread upon another's physical or emotional space without being invited. Sometimes we think we are being kind when we are actually being invasive. For example, Polly decided to clean up her husband Brad's office and move the furniture around as a surprise for him. Brad was surprised -- but not pleased. Taking it upon herself to move his furniture was invasive and Brad felt violated rather than cared for. On the other hand, Polly feels invaded by Brad when they would get into bed at night and Brad grabs her breasts. It is obvious to Polly that he is using her breasts for his comfort, and the neediness of it makes her cringe. He is not giving to her -- he is taking from her, and it feels violating rather than caring or sensual to her.

If our parents were invasive with us, we might not realize when we are being invaded. My mother was highly invasive in terms of being judgmental and telling people what to do. She was constantly telling me how to live my life, what was right for me, what I should do differently, and what was wrong with me. Since she had been doing this my whole life, I didn't realize that it was invasive until I learned to tune into my feelings. Once I started staying tuned into my feelings, I realized how much I disliked her judgments and invasiveness. I finally learned to stand up for myself by letting her know that I was not available for her opinions unless I asked for them. It was not easy for her to stop, but each time she tried to tell me what to do, I would hold up my hand and quietly say, "Stop." She finally stopped.

As a child, Madeline's father was sexually invasive -- giving her slobbery full-mouth kisses, telling her dirty jokes, and frequently grabbing her butt. This behavior continued into her adult life. It was only after being in counseling that she realized this was highly inappropriate. She had always hated it but thought there was something wrong with her for hating it. Her Inner work gave her the courage to speak with him about it and put a stop to his sexual invasiveness.

While on the phone with Sally, one of my older clients, her call waiting kept clicking. Finally she interrupted her session to answer the call. It was a very needy friend of hers ostensibly calling to check on her to make sure she was okay. Sally had told her friend that she had a session with me at that time, but her friend, not really caring about interrupting Sally, was being invasive out of her own neediness.

Invasion can be as minor as interrupting you while you are on the phone, standing too close to you, or hugging you when you don't want to be hugged, or as major as theft or physical or sexual violence. Invasiveness can be verbal, physical to your being, or physical to your belongings or space. When someone wants what they want from a self-serving place, and they disregard what you want or feel, they are being invasive.

I've discovered an interesting thing about invasion. The caretaker personality often has overly loose boundaries regarding being invaded, but is generally quite careful of not invading others. The caretaker personality tends to see themselves as invisible and others as important. The taker personality generally has strong or rigid boundaries regarding being invaded, while often unconsciously being invasive with others. The taker personality tends to see themselves as important and others as invisible. Both of these types need work regarding invasiveness: the caretaker needs stronger personal boundaries, while the taker needs to be more conscious of not being invasive with others. Both need to be doing their Inner work to develop loving loving adult self, who sets appropriate limits against being invaded and is conscious of not being invasive with others. Both need to learn to regard themselves and others as important.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, and join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships." Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

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