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Day 24. Coping With Other People’s Reactions

When you don’t have healthy boundaries, part of the issue is about being excessively concerned with other people’s feelings and behaviour. You end up over-feeling for them and so trying to control the uncontrollable by always trying to choose the right words or the ‘right’ amount of lack of boundaries to ensure that no feelings are hurt or that they don’t know anything uncomfortable. What results is chaos.

One of the things that embarking on having healthy boundaries does is open you up to experiencing different reactions, not because they’re ‘bad’ ones but because you have been entrenched in habits around having your boundaries that have secluded you from your own feelings never mind the actual reactions of others. If you look back at past experiences of conflict, criticism, disappointment and even rejection, there were things you’ve done in advance of these to try to ward off the possibility of these happening and to also shelter you from what you thought would be other people’s reactions.

It is good to be conscientious, as in to have a sense of what is right and wrong and to want to treat others with care, trust and respect. This is not the same as wanting to limit or avoid people’s reactions, though.

I am someone who has been terrified of confrontation in the past due to my upbringing. There were so many reactions in my childhood environment and one person’s feelings being bandied around like a weapon that I lived in fear of evoking emotions.

I’ve learned, though, that people are going to think what they’re going to think, do what they’re going to do and feel what they’re going to feel regardless of whether you have good or bad boundaries. The difference will be how much you’re impacted, plus avoiding reactions and boundaries is the fastest way to ensure that you’re in an unhealthy situation. That and people are not clones of whoever inspired your fear of confrontation.

None of us likes to be called out on our stuff, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be. If no one says anything, how are we supposed to know what a person’s boundaries are?

Other people’s feelings are other people’s feelings. No matter how much you try to control these, you cannot legislate for how they will react. You can say nothing and still have ‘bad’ reactions, and you can say something, and they react just fine. What you always know if you have boundaries is that you can feel good about knowing that you didn’t just lie down and say “Kick me”. You feel good knowing that you spoke up and showed up.

Stating what happened, your boundaries, etc., is not a criticism. You’re not criticising somebody by letting them know about something they did.

Unintended or not, they put the action out there so for someone to say that you’re criticising them, is to suggest that having boundaries is a criticism but staying silent about it isn’t. That makes no sense!

We don’t exist in a vacuum. We are not islands. When we do something that wholly and solely impacts us, we get to knock ourselves out. Once others are involved, we don’t get to shut ourselves off from the consequences, even if they’re unintended.

The person you’re addressing an issue with might not have intended for the specific consequences, including your response, but they had an intention of something, they just didn’t think about the moving parts. It is OK for you to let them know in a boundaried way what your line and your limit are, and as a result, it becomes about judging the situation as opposed to judging them.

You’re not character assassinating them, you’re not telling them who they are or psychoanalysing them.

You do not need to assume the worst (unless they’re shady) or that they have bad intentions but what you do need to assume when a boundary issue occurs is that for whatever reason, your line and your limit are unclear.

You will have to be vulnerable in order to have boundaries. Yes, a person might initially feel uncomfortable or even hurt or angry about whatever you’ve said, but that doesn’t mean that you should have kept silent. 

Hurt does not mean wrong.

 

If they get upset or angry, be firm about what you’ve said without being aggressive, because it will just descend into an argument. Try to keep your voice calm even if theirs isn’t and if they keep saying something that isn’t true, remind them of a key point. E.g. ‘As I said earlier, the reason why I’m upset is because ________ not because ___________.’ and ‘No, I didn’t say __________, I said ____________’. Also remember that some people get angry and upset as a diversionary tactic as the focus becomes on their reaction, not on the issue. Stick to the issue at hand. They can manage their own responses.

Just because they get angry or upset, it doesn’t invalidate your position or experience. That’s their response. Not all of us respond well to conflict or having our inconsiderateness flagged up to us. Empathise and remember that you feel a bit (or even a lot) defensive when people bring things up to you. Don’t try to own their feelings or response, and don’t project what might be your own fear of hearing what others have to say onto what they might fear.

Do listen. Sure, you may have been the one to bring up this discussion, but it’s not communication if it’s not two-way. Hear them out even if you don’t agree with it. If they’re aggressive and abusive, though, it’s time to bring the discussion to a close. E.g. ‘If you’re going to say stuff like ____________ then this discussion is over….. This discussion isn’t getting anywhere, so let’s both go about our day and let’s catch up when things have calmed down’.

Do not hold yourself hostage to a bad energy situation, not least because you’re not going to resolve anything and you’re probably going to back down.

Remember that you can be angry with someone and love them at the same time. A close friend and I had an argument on holiday, and she announced during it that if I was annoyed with her, then we might as well not be friends. As angry as I was with her (and very tempted to tell her to jog on), I pointed out that just because we’re having an argument, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love her or that our friendship has to end. She did calm down, and she went on to be my maid of honour.

Some loved ones (and not-so-loved ones…) don’t really do discussion and conflict very well. Please don’t take their reaction to conflict personal. Some will skulk off when you’re annoyed with them and then come back when they’re over their sulking session. Some will try and dodge you until you run out of energy to have the discussion. ‘It’s great to hear from you / see you, but we have to talk about what happened’, is something that you can say to the ones who press The Reset Button. You don’t want to keep having the same issue. You may have to force the issue, ‘I’m going to wait here until we can both sit down like adults and discuss this’, or, if they’re adamant at avoiding you, hurtful as it can be (I’ve been through this), step back and leave them to their devices and don’t own their reaction. Remember, you have had your own associations with conflict and criticism as well as your own negative beliefs. Others do too. You’ve done your best to address the situation with them – make sure you address it with you so that you at the very least are self-soothing and not self-blaming.

Once you’ve said all that you need to say, don’t stay there rehashing and rehashing in an attempt to get them to see your point. All that’s going to happen is that you’ll exhaust each another and possibly end up in an argument. Say your piece and step away. Let the dust settle for a few hours or days.

If you need time out or time to calm down, ask for it or tell them. ‘I really want to finish this discussion, but I need some time to calm down / gather my thoughts.’

The TAKEAWAY

  • The sky isn’t going to fall down. Being sensitive to people’s feelings doesn’t mean silence or backtracking; it means recognising that they have their own feelings to deal with. Just as you have your own experiences, motivations, fears, beliefs, ideas and associations, so does everyone else.
  • You could be word and action perfect about your boundaries but someone who has an issue with receiving no or with conflict or criticism is going to react how they’re going to react.
  • We are all chipping into the boundaries pot so if and when that person is ready, they will pick up on the feedback from their experiences and use it to increase their awareness and to be more mindful of other people’s boundaries in this area. This means that sure, they might not quite get it now with us, but life keeps serving us all up lessons until we heed whatever it is that we need to, so they will ‘get it’ with someone else.
  • Let the reaction be instead of jumping to conclusions or backtracking. Don’t try to fill in silence or cancel out their feelings; let them figure out their own. A lot of people need time to process. Often, when they’ve calmed themselves down, they are in a position to recognise what the issue was. The great thing is that by being factual rather than crossing into unnecessary territory plus not trying to own their feelings, there is an opening there for them to look for resolution, to make amends, etc.
  • If you didn’t say/do anything at all, or you backtracked after opening your mouth, neither of you would be keeping your integrity.
  • Loving relationships, as well as respectful relationships, need people who are open to the possibility of being hurt (being vulnerable) which includes being open to seeing how we’re perceived and noticing our own and other people’s behaviour.
  • A relationship is all the better for honesty – you each know where you stand.

    JOURNALING: How do you feel about reactions now? Write about the ways in which you can recognise that you can be conscientious without taking ownership of the other person’s feelings and trying to control the uncontrollable. What are you afraid of? What’s the alternative if you don’t have boundaries? For instance, do you want to continue feeling how you’ve felt? What are some supportive reminders that you can give you before, during and after a boundaries-related conversation?

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