The Progressive Boundary Setting Matrix

Nothing is certain in life except for death, taxes, and boundary setting. Most human interpersonal and societal relationships are based on some variation boundary setting. So unless you are a lifelong hermet, you have been using boundary setting since early childhood.

While boundary setting is a natural action that people do in various ways. Effective boundary setting is not instinctive. It is a learned skill that takes practice and continual evalution of feedback.

Despite the importance of boundary setting in everyday life, particularly in reference to conflict management, this skill is not well understood. Most people think that boundary setting simply refers to their  personal “space bubble” and that’s about  as deep as it gets. While in fact,  it spans from personal space to parenting to policing to politics and beyond.

The purpose of the Progressive Boundary Setting Matrix is to provide you with a framework for understanding the concepts of boundary setting in an organized manner. It allows you see how everyday occurances described by common phrases such a “draw a line in the sand”, “create respect for the law”, “set an example”, “a disporportional response”, “set a precedent”, “teach a lesson”, “too permissive”, etc are all boundary settng concepts.

The Matrix allows you to better organize your thoughts, opinions, and experiences regarding boundary setting. It is a tool to enhance performance. And like most tools, if it doesn’t work for you, then you don’t have to use it.

The Progressive Boundary Setting Matrix is based on several basic ideas.

Most actions can be categorized under the Goldilocks Principle of Too Little or Just-Right or Too Much for the situation. This is the concept of balance and appropriateness. It is also the described by the inverted U-Curve.

When it comes to human beings, every action doesn’t always result in an equal and opposite reaction. Actions that are either Too Little or Too Much, many times result in a greater response creating escalating consequences.

The purpose of Boundary Setting is to control and limit unwanted behaviors in order to create trust and security in society and for individuals.

Boundary Setting is a fundamental aspect of civilization. Boundary Setting occurs in most areas of people’s lives from families to employment to international relationships and more.

Boundary Setting starts with the creation of the Rules of behavior. These Rules must be clearly COMMUNICATED to others. Clear communication of the Rules avoids violations of the Rules by people misunderstanding the Rules. When all people understand the Rules, those that violate the Rules, are the ones that don’t RESPECT the Rules.  Those that respect the Rules also follow the Rules.

Violations of the Rules require the use of JUST-RIGHT ENFORCEMENT in order to create respect. Appropriate  enforcement serves as a deterrent for future violations. But Over-Enforcement of the Rules is Too Much. It creates a Backlash against the Rules, which increases Lack of Respect for the Rules. This reaction is human nature at work. If the Violator believes that a Rule has been Over-Enforced, he or she will feel unjustly treated. As a result of this emotion, the Violator will now feel less respect for the Rules. And he or she will now be more willing to violate.

If the Violator feels that a Rule has been or will be UNDER-ENFORCED, then there is insufficient deterrence to change the Violator’s behavior. The Violator will feel Contempt for the Rules. As a result, he or she may continue his  unwanted behavior.

An important issue is that what constitutes the appropriate level of enforcement needed to create respect is mainly in the eyes of the Violator. The systemic application of Just-Right Enforcement requires that both the Violator and the Enforcer agree on what level of enforcement is appropriate for any given level of violation.

This agreement results from clear communication regarding the rules of behavior, violations, and associated  punishments. Structural disagreements and miscommunication about these issues will cause the boundary setting to fail regardless of the actual appropriateness (as deemed by outsiders) of the enforcement.

Common causes of miscommunication are emotional thinking and pre-existing bias. When people in a conflict become emotional their ability to send and receive communication becomes impaired. Alcohol has the same  detrimental effect. People with fixed cultural, gender, and ideological bias see the world differently than those with other belief systems . These are all causes of miscommunication which leads to boundary setting failure.

The Progressive Boundary Setting Matrix shows that effective Boundary Setting systems must contain a Just-Right  level of Respect, Communication, and Enforcement. Any other combination will cause the system to become  unstable. It will not control unwanted behaviors. Each of the three fundamental components of Respect,  Communication, and Enforcement can be subdivided into three separate categories of Too Little, Just-Right, and Too Much.  Ineffective Boundary Setting systems invariably apply Too Little and/or Too Much.

The world consists of overlapping boundary setting systems. Within all these systems, there are those that work well, and those that don’t.  Systems that work use a Just-Right combination of Respect, Communication, and Enforcement.

Secure, Insecure, and Violating Cultures - Part I

 The Security Trio: Respect, Communication, and Enforcement

Secure Culture is one in which anti-social behaviors are limited and controlled. These unwanted behaviors range from bullying, harassment, sexual assault, to murder and mayhem.  A Secure Culture relies on the Security Trio of Respect, Communication, and Enforcement. The rules of behavior are clearly communicated. They are respected by the majority. When necessary, the rules are enforced.  Respect is created by enforcement that is just right, neither too passive, nor too aggressive.

An Insecure Culture is characterized by the Insecurity Trio of Under-Respect, Under-Communication, Under-enforcement.  They signify minimal respect for the rules of behavior. These rules are not well communicated and they are not well understood. The rules are under-enforced which leads to apathy and contempt.

A Violating Culture is one in which anti-social behaviors are the norm. These unwanted behaviors are the result of the Chaos Trio of Disrespect, Threats, and Violence. In a Violating Culture, the rules of behavior are not respected, they are violated. Communication is done by threats . Violence is commonplace. The rules of behavior are either not enforced which leads to chaos and mayhem, or they are over-enforced which leads to resentment and revenge.

Secure Cultures are created when the majority of individuals, organizations, and institutions follow the Security Trio by respecting the rules of behavior, clearly communicating the rules of behavior, and enforcing the rules of behavior via appropriate responses. Violating Cultures, by contrast, are riddled by the Chaos Trio. Individuals, organizations, and institutions are disrespectful, use threats, intimidation, and violence. Non-enforcement in the form of apathy and/or over-enforcement in the form of draconian responses are widespread.  Insecure Cultures are characterized by a general lack of respect for the rules of behavior.  There are many interpretations and variations of these rules. The rules are enforced in a sporadic and inconsistent manner.

A Secure Culture uses Progressive Responses in an escalating manner as a means to determine the Just Right Response or appropriate response to disrespect and violations of the rules of behavior. Government relies on the power of the institutional authority (The Institutional Fence) to command respect, communicate, and enforce the rules. Insecure Cultures are filled with entities that are powerless to enforce the rules.  The typical response to unwanted behavior is passive. Violating Cultures are dominated by people and institutions that exhibit anti-social behaviors, and use violence to enforce personal desires and wishes. Fear and mayhem is commonplace.

It is the collective actions of individuals, organizations, and government that makes the difference between Secure, Insecure, and Violating Cultures. Responses that limit anti-social behaviors and control the Chaos Trio of Disrespect, Threats, and Violence are ultimately what determines the type of culture. For Secure Cultures the appropriate response arises from the Three Pillars of Respect, Communication, and Enforcement.

Secure, Insecure, and Violating People - Part II

The Security Trio of Respect, Communication, and Enforcement
A Secure Person is one who is able to limit and control anti-social behaviors both by himself and by others. These unwanted behaviors range from bullying, harassment, sexual assault, to murder and mayhem.  A Secure Person uses the Security Trio of Respect, Communication, and Enforcement.  He or she clearly communicates the rules of behavior. These rules are respected by the majority or other people. When necessary, he or she is able to enforce the rules.  Respect is created by enforcement that is just right. It is neither too passive, nor too aggressive.

An Insecure Person is characterized by the Insecurity Trio of Under-Respect, Under-communication, Under-Enforcement.  This person is receives minimal respect for the rules of behavior. He has trouble directly and clearly communicating these rules.  Frequently, communication comes in the form of complaints, passive aggressive actions, or silence. He considers himself powerless to enforce the rules, leading to feelings of apathy, passiveness, and victimization.

A Violating Person is one in which anti-social behaviors are not controlled. These unwanted behaviors are the result of the Chaos Trio of Disrespect, Threats, and Violence. This person doesn’t respect and violates the rules of behavior.  He uses threats as his means of communication. He uses violence as his means of enforcing his own personal wishes and desires. 
A Secure Person uses Progressive Responses in an escalating manner as a means to determine the Just Right Response or appropriate response to violations of the rules of behavior. Individuals create Progressive Responses through use of the Progressive Fence of the Visual Fence (body language), Verbal Fence (assertive phrases), and Physical Fence (physical actions).
Violating People use the Insecurity Trio of Disrespect, Threats, and Violence for the purpose of obtaining either social or resource goals. Social-Based Violating People have goals that usually involve increasing the person’s social standing within his or her social group. Or they may involve using violence as a means to enforce the person’s and/or Group’s own set of behavioral rules.

Resource-Based Violating People use the Chaos Trio for the purpose of obtaining asocial resource goals. These goals may involve obtaining money, drugs, or other material resources. Process-Based Violating People engage in the Three Cancers because the behavioral process of these violations is the goal. Some examples of these people are serial rapists and serial killers.

Insecure People that exhibit the Three Signs of Under-respected, Under-communication, and Under-enforcement are potential targets for Violating People because of their difficulty in creating effective responses to violations.

Parking Lot Dispute

Wheelchair User's and Society's Paradigm

Lines communicate society's rules for parking.
Biker has a lack of respect for this rule and violates it.
Wheelchair User communicates society's rule to the biker.
Biker communicates to wheelchair user to F$ck-off.
The Just Right Response for the wheelchair user is to now communicate with the police.
The police are in the most appropriate position to enforce the parking rule.

Biker's Paradigm

Society's parking rule doesn't apply to me, or to my motorcyle.
He communicates to the Wheelchair User his own rule of "Do not bother me with the rules of society" by using threatening language.
The threat implies use of violence to enforce the Biker's behavioral rules.


The Biker is a Violating Person who combines Disrespect, Threats, and Violence as a means to establish his own behavioral paradigm.

If the Biker moved his bike, then the Wheelchair User's would have engaged in both communication and enforcement of society's rule. If the police needed to be called, then he would have engaged in only communication, and the police would have engaged in enforcement.

Whether or not the Biker moves his bike is a direct function of his respect for society's rule and his respect for the wishes of the Wheelchair User.

Women's Self-Defense, Violence Prevention, and Community Policing

The common foundation of women’s self-defense, violence prevention, and community policing is respecting, communicating, and enforcing behavioral limits through the use of Progressive Boundary Setting.

Progressive Boundary Setting Forms the Building Blocks of Civilized Society

Progressive Boundary Setting forms the building blocks of civilized society. It promotes respect and the purposeful communication and enforcement of pre-determined actions that are designed to limit unwanted behaviors. It depends upon escalating responses by successively more powerful entities, starting with individuals and ending with government. The failure of Progressive Boundary Setting is a clear signal of a breakdown in civilized behavior.

Goldilocks and the Three Villages

Once upon a time there was a young woman named Goldilocks who lived in the mountains with her family. One day, Goldilocks decided it was time for her to learn more about life and move to one of the three villages below.

The next morning Goldilocks hiked down from the mountain to visit Toolittleville also known as the Village of Fear and Submissiveness. The first thing Goldilocks noticed was how quiet it was in the village. People walked silently down the street with their eyes downcast and shoulders slumped.

No one greeted or talked to each other on the sidewalk. It was as if they were all afraid of interacting with each other. When someone appeared to need some type of help, the residents of Toolittleville would simply walk on by without acknowledging the situation or offering assistance.

When Goldilocks looked closely at the Toolittlevillers, it appeared that a few of them seemed to be hiding their true nature. These people gave Goldilocks an uneasy feeling. Even through Goldilocks had been encouraged by her parents to be confident and speak her mind, she too felt herself becoming fearful and passive as time progressed. Goldilocks was happy to leave.

The next day, Goldilocks hiked down to visit Toobigville also known as the Village of Anger and Overreaction. Toobigville was loud and noisy. Well before Goldilocks arrived at the outskirts of the village, she heard cars honking and people yelling.

The people of Toobigville walked around with aggressive facial expressions and body postures. They were quick to take offense at any provocation or perceived slight. As a result, it was common to see men and women arguing and fighting on the street. Goldilocks was happy to leave.

On the third day, Goldilocks entered Justrightville also known as the Village of Progressive Boundary Setting. She instantly realized that she had found her new home. People were either purposely going from place to place or engaging in friendly conversation. The villagers were all very clear and direct with each other. Conflicts were resolved quickly and without yelling.

If a visitor from Toolittleville seemed to be having a problem, a Justrightviller would step in and offer assistance. Goldilocks also saw visitors from Toobigville. If they resorted to their aggressive behavior, the Justrightvillers would immediately intercede and voice their disapproval.

Having been raised by her parents to be confident, to speak assertively, and to respect other people, Goldilocks felt perfectly at home in Justrightville. She vowed never to leave.

Understanding Progressive Boundary Setting

WHAT is Progressive Boundary Setting?

Progressive Boundary Setting is a strategy for limiting unwanted behavior. It consists of respecting, communicating and enforcing behavioral limits through progressive responses. Progressive Boundary Setting is done by individuals through visual, verbal, and physical means. It is done by society through social pressure, rules, and laws. Progressive Boundary Setting determines the “just right” response to almost all situations of interpersonal conflict.

Visual boundary setting is done primarily through the use of body language. Verbal boundary setting is done through assertive use of the voice. Physical boundary setting is done through physical actions. Therefore, the majority of conflict resolution and self-defense techniques, tips, and advice for interpersonal conflict may be viewed as a piece of Progressive Boundary Setting.

For individuals, Progressive Boundary Setting is not an instinctive reaction. It is a learned behavioral response that must be learned and practiced through trial and error in order to be effective.

WHY is Progressive Boundary Setting fundamental to both individuals and society?

Respecting behavioral limits is the defining factor the separates civilized societies from uncivilized societies. It is also the defining factor that separates social people from anti-social people. In a situation of interpersonal conflict Progressive Boundary Setting is the most effective pro-active method for determining whether a person respects the limits of civilized society and will not use violence, or is anti-social and may use violence to satisfy his or her needs.

Progressive Boundary Settingis used by the society as a whole to maintain respect and order. Every social structure whether private or public has some method of communicating and enforcing behavioral limits. Private organizations use rules, regulations, and penalties. The government communicates through legislative agencies and enforces through the police and the court system.

WHEN is Progressive Boundary Setting used?

When there is a conflict between fundamentally social people, the use of ineffective methods of conflict resolution such as passiveness or aggressiveness will most likely not lead to violence due to the adherence to behavior limits of the people involved. But these methods are ineffective and may escalate the situation towards violence when dealing with an anti-social person.

Progressive Boundary Setting has the flexibility to both handle social conflict and to provide the conviction needed to deal with the violence associated with conflict with an anti-social person.

The use of Progressive Boundary Setting provides the “just right” response during situations of interpersonal conflict.

WHO uses the concepts of Progressive Boundary Setting?

Everyone from children to adults uses the concepts of Progressive Boundary Setting in some form to limit unwanted, unacceptable, and anti-social behaviors. Progressive Boundary Setting applies to individuals, peers and bystanders, and to the policing agents. It applies to interpersonal conflicts ranging from bullying, harassment, dating and domestic violence, random violence, instances of self-defense, and to everything in between.

WHAT entities use the concepts of Progressive Boundary Setting?

All organizations and governments also use the concepts of Progressive Boundary Setting in some capacity to limit the behaviors of the people served for the common good.

Examples of Progressive Boundary Setting can be seen through the communication and enforcement of rules, regulations, and laws in every aspect of organized society.

Learning and Applying Progressive Boundary Setting

While the underlying concepts of Progressive Boundary Setting may be universal, the effective application is not.

Individuals are not born with the inherent ability to effectively use Progressive Boundary Setting during situations of conflict. Progressive Boundary Setting is a purposeful and systematic method of communicating and enforcing behavior limits through the use of

  • visual means,

  • verbal means,

  • physical means.

Progressive Boundary Setting is a learned pro-active strategy and response. It is not an emotional or instinctive reaction.

The younger in age individuals learn to use Progressive Boundary Setting, the more effective and practiced they will be as child socialization conflicts mature in to more dangerous adult conflicts and situations.

The Progressive Boundary Setting System™

The Progressive Boundary Setting System™ is made up of series of educational tools and techniques designed to teach students:

1. The definition of Progressive Boundary Setting. How to identify it. How it is used by people and society to control and limit unwanted behaviors.

2. How Progressive Boundary Setting is executed by individuals as well as by bystanders and policing agents.

3. How Progressive Boundary Setting is relevant. How it is applied by students in everyday social situations, and against harassment and bullying. How it is used to de-escalate conflict and to deter the onset of aggression.

4. How Progressive Boundary Setting is the foundation of conflict resolution, personal safety, and self-defense.

5. How students can improve their execution of Progressive Boundary Setting by using the techniques and tactics of PBSS.

6. The definition and use of proprietary concepts and terminology: The Progressive Fence™ The Visual Fence™ The Verbal Fence™ The Physical Fence™ The Progressive Response™ The Just Right Response™ Confirmation of Bad Intention™ The Trigger to Act™ 7. How to relate Progressive Boundary Setting to pre-existing knowledge of conflict resolution, assertiveness, and physical defense.

Presentations and workshops involve instruction though demonstration, discussion, and role playing using proven techniques and tactics that adhere to the principles of Progressive Boundary Setting.

For Law Enforcement Only: Teaching the Progressive Boundary Setting System™

The ideal instructors for the Progressive Boundary Setting System™ are those that apply the concepts and principles of Progressive Boundary Setting on a daily basis in either their private or professional lives. Community Policing Officers, School Resource Officers, Defensive Tactics Instructors, and other active duty law enforcement officers are excellent candidates for effective instructors of the Progressive Boundary Setting System™. Instructors will be Certified on to teaching the Progressive Boundary Setting System™.

Instructors will be provided with written materials to handout to class participants that summarize and explain the use of Progressive Boundary Setting.

Instructors will be provided with core teaching points to use during workshop sessions that explain the use of Progressive Boundary Setting and that stimulate discussion.

Instructors will be provided with specific exercises and drills that illustrate the use of Progressive Boundary Setting.

Instructors will be provided with a set of specially designed multi-person progressive role playing scenarios that will illustrate how Progressive Boundary Setting is used in real life. situations.


1. Overview of Teaching the Progressive Boundary Setting System

2. Overview of the Progressive Boundary Setting Presentation for Middle and High School Age Students

3. How to Bring Progressive Boundary Setting to Your Community

4. Sample Presentation Flyer: Civilization and Preventing Mayhem: The Power of Progressive Boundary Setting

5. Trifold Broshure: Progressive Boundary Setting

6. Civilization and Mayhem: Why Today's Youth Need to Develop Progressive Boundary Setting Skills.

CASE STUDY: Bullying and Progressive Boundary Setting

Progressive Boundary Setting is designed to:

1. Limit unwanted behaviors such as bullying.

2. Provide Just Right Responses that are neither too passive or too aggressive.

3. Provide a strategy in the form of the Progressive Fence to de-escalate and deter the onset of aggression.

This video demonstrates lack of Progressive Boundary Setting in response to bullying.


This video demonstrates how situations of bullying can quickly escalate into violence.

The goal of teaching Progressive Boundary Setting is to provide the Target of aggression with a framework for dealing with a physical confrontation without resorting to violence. The framework is the Progressive Fence. The Progressive Fence is designed to de-escalate and deter the onset of violence by providing Just Right Responses.

In this video, it is clear that the smaller boy is the Aggressor of the confrontation. He begins with verbal abuse followed quickly by a punch to the Taget's head. Despite the obvious threat, the Target maintains a passive stance. The Target's the lack of retailiation to the first punch only encourages the Aggressor to escalate his attack.

The Target needed to engage his Verbal Fence of strong assertive phrases to get the Aggressor to back off. The Verbal Fence must also haven been combined with use of the Physical Fence of raised arms and a defensive stance to limit the Aggressor's ability to strike. In this situation, the Target's passive response was "too little".

Given the nature of the attacks exhibited by the Aggressor, the Target's Physical Fence should include a shocking backward push to communicate that Aggressor needs to back off immediately and to enforce a safety zone from the Target.

Fed up with the aggression, the Target goes on the offensive and uses his superior size and strength to pick up the Aggressor and slam him to the pavement. Had the Aggressor stuck his head on the concrete or the nearby wall, the Aggressor could have easily have been seriously injured. Therefore, due to the high risk of physical injury, the Target's response was "too big".

This situation illustrates the importance of providing youth with an understanding of how to use Progressive Boundary Setting to create Just Right Responses to aggression.

Progressive Boundary Setting
is a learned strategy that empowers both Targets and Bystanders with a means to deter the onset of aggression.

CASE STUDY: Verbal Aggression Leads to Violence

These next two videos illustrate the same problem. In both cases, the targets do not want to fight the aggressors. The aggressors are not deterred by the targets unwillingness to fight, they are in fact encouraged by it. The result is violence.

The problem is that the targets do not execute a strategy of progressively escalating responses designed to deter aggression. Therefore, the end result is an unwanted fight.

Here passive body language and lack of strong verbal deterrence precedes the fight.

In this second example, the target attempts to talk his way out of the impending fight.

Effective use of the Progressive Fence by both of the targets in the above videos may have de-escalated the situations and avoided the fights.

Reality T.V: Why Today's Youth Need to Learn Progressive Boundary Setting

The youth of today are learning how to deal with confrontation and aggression from sources such as the Jersey Shore, The Bad Girls, and other "reality" based T.V.

The following videos provide illustrations of how conflict is dealt with on reality T.V.

The Jersey Shore

The Bad Girls Club

Teen Mom

Progressive Boundary Setting is a learned method to limit unwanted behavior. The actions and bad behaviors exhibited in the above videos are both learned and instinctive. As a whole, they are examples of ineffective ways to deal with confrontation and aggression. These ways usually escalate to violence.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil: Why Traditional Self-defense Instruction Doesn’t Work for Most People

The most commonly held view of a self-defense situation involves an “evil” attacker assaulting an innocent victim. As a result, the majority of self-defense instruction is based on the following two fundamental beliefs:

1. If you are able to inform people about the existence of threats to their personal safety, this information will then make them more “aware” such that they will be able to identify and avoid these threats.

2. If you teach people basic physical defense skills, they can apply these skills for physical defense in the event their awareness and avoidance fails.

In theory, these two steps seem logical and make sense. But they fail to take into consideration that the primary factor for maintaining personal safety is the ability to execute good judgment and make critical decisions. These skills are developed through experience, and a process of observation, trial and error, and evaluation.

As a practical and statistical matter, the average person is exposed to very few incidents of actual face to face violence in their daily lives. They don’t see, hear, or speak about “evil” incidents or personal safety threats in more than a passing manner. As a result, they don’t really think about “evil” or self-defense scenarios. In fact, “evil” incidents or violent assaults are commonly described as “the unthinkable”. Thus, they do not develop the judgment and critical thinking skills necessary in a time of personal danger.

As long as the image of self-defense and personal safety conjures up horrible and “unthinkable” situations, people will tend to not think about the subject regardless of any well intentioned attempts to make them more “aware”. It is not enough to be told about the importance of “awareness”. People need to be aware of “how to respond” to individual threats and that requires judgment.

The solution is for people to see, hear, speak, and ultimately think about the fundamental concepts of self-defense in common everyday incidents and situations. Think about how these concepts apply to themselves and to others. Not just in terms of the “unthinkable”, but in terms of everyday assertiveness and personal boundary setting. This process will enable them to develop their judgment and critical thinking abilities.

These fundamental concepts are respect, communication, and the enforcement of behavioral limits through the use of Progressive Boundary Setting. They are universal and used by individuals, organizations, and policing authorities in all aspects of personal relationships and society.