“What’s that about?” We think.
And while there are some caveats, for many people, we treat people in whatever way is easiest for us unless we realize something different is needed.
For many people, the easiest way includes general kindness and respect bestowed to everyone but that’s not true for all people. Some people’s easiest way is to be an asshole. Unless they learn that they cannot be.
So, today, we’re talking about setting boundaries, teaching people how to treat you– especially those people we talked about on Wednesday who are taking their crap out on you– so that you don’t have to deal with as much assholery in your life because we all know that’s not fun.
Boundary work is really rooted in this essential truth: You have to teach people how to treat you.
Now the thing about setting boundaries is that we never really know when we might need them. Aunt Edna is sweet as pie 75% of the time but, every now and again, she likes to get in a real zinger. And while we think that we’ll just deal with it when it happens, the truth is that it is so surprising when it happens, that we are immobilized if we did not bother to prepare for it beforehand. So today is all about preparation.
What do you sometimes hear from family members, friends, co-workers, etc that results in a little (or big) wound?
“Are you ever going to finish that degree?”
“Isn’t it time to start dying those grays?”
“That baby is five years old; shouldn’t you be rid of the baby fat?”
“Did you really think it was a good idea to wear that to work?”
Now, before we go any further, I want you to take a deep breath and remember those comments are not about you. If someone feels the need to comment to you about your looks, your station in life, anything, really, it is not about you. Those comments are a mirror into that person’s life and the challenges he or she has with the issue being mentioned. I promise.
After you have an idea of the stuff you hear that you don’t want to hear from folks any more, I want you to come up with two comebacks.
#1 The comeback that would most satisfy you if you could just say whatever you wanted to say which might look a little like this:
Your mom: ”Honey, don’t you think you would just be so much happier if you just lost 20 pounds?”
You: ”Mom, don’t you mean that you would be so much happier if I just lost 20 pounds?” or “I would actually be happier if you didn’t always think my body was up for grabs.”
#2 The comeback that you can legitimately stomach giving– one that will set a boundary, one that will teach the person how to treat you, but one that will not send you to the bathroom for the duration of the get-together because you are so nauseous over delivering it.
Your mom: ”Honey, don’t you think you would just be so much happier if you lost 20 pounds?”
You: ”I actually don’t think you have to lose weight in order to be happy” or “This isn’t a productive conversation for us to have.”
Sometimes, comeback #1 and comeback #2 are the same but what I have found is that if you are a person who has spent your life receiving these barbs, it is very hard to go from receiving them and not saying a word to really strongly zinging the person the next time he or she says something. Moreover, a big zinger isn’t the key difference maker. Just identifying the boundary for the person you are interacting with and letting he or she know it has been crossed and you won’t be quiet anymore usually goes a very long way. Very rarely does it take more than just a handful of times of setting that boundary before the person leaves you alone and either chooses to deal with his or her own stuff or moves on to, unfortunately, another victim.
Boundary setting is hard, hard work. But it is important work. Not just because it teaches other people how to treat us, but because it also shows us that we can take care of ourselves. And when we begin to understand that, everything changes.