[disc/gen adv] Asserting boundaries

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[disc/gen adv] Asserting boundaries Empty [disc/gen adv] Asserting boundaries

Post by nearly_takuan on Mon Nov 10, 2014 7:35 am

I remember this coming up once before on the precursor forums, but I don't really remember what came of it. (I guess I didn't do a very good job practicing what we talked about there.) While I'd like this thread to be fairly open for a discussion of boundary-enforcement in general, I do have a somewhat specific thing to start off with.

I usually think of myself as a fairly assertive person IRL; the relatively few times I've been aware of someone saying or doing something I strongly objected to, I've confronted it directly. Otherwise, though, the range of tolerance around any boundaries I have tends to be pretty loose. When there's well-meaning teasing aimed at me or something along those lines, I detach rather than confront. Sometimes there are other behaviors or expectations I'm not happy with, but I just put up with them anyway and don't count them as pushing against my boundaries. Is that reasonable, or am I actually failing to enforce boundaries after all?

For instance, a friend once texted me asking me to meet them "tonight" in some bar 90 minutes away by public transit, and then left the bar as soon as I got there and invited me to ride with them and a couple of people I didn't know to go to someone else's house for a beer-and-rock-music party instead. I mean, actually thinking about it, I'm pretty sure that's a weird, not-normal thing, and it'd probably be okay for me to consider that a Boundary and say no, actually I'm just going to ride the train for another 90 minutes to get back home, and maybe you should plan things out a bit better and more in advance if you want me to come do things with you another time. However, at the time, I was just mildly uncomfortable/annoyed with each little step, and my apprehension about seeing a bunch of strangers I didn't think I would like was somewhat muted by the possibility that I might find a couple of people I did like, with all the opportunities implied by that potential.

Most of the things (in meatspace) that would be most likely to rapidly provoke a negative reaction from me are of the Don't You Dare Pity Me strain; in those cases I consider it more important to temper that reaction with pleasantries and patience and polite excuses.

I've heard/seen myself described as reserved, aloof, or standoffish. In my day-to-day life, I don't come anywhere near most people's boundaries and they don't come near mine. Several months ago one of my friends made a casual remark that indicated that she thought I was too "nice" to say anything if she'd done anything to bother me. I've talked to her specifically about that since then so I think/hope things are a bit clearer now, but her behavior around me and that of our general friend-group hasn't changed much so I'm left wondering if everyone else is seeing me the same way.

It seems weird that I'd have to somehow prove I've got enforceable boundaries. It also seems next to impossible to actually do so when people are already afraid to come anywhere near them.

I still don't know what I'm actually doing to give that impression in the first place.

Thoughts?
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[disc/gen adv] Asserting boundaries Empty Re: [disc/gen adv] Asserting boundaries

Post by kath on Mon Nov 10, 2014 12:00 pm

I tend to think of asserting boundaries when people are pushing them insistently - trying to get you to do something you don't want to. I think some of what you're talking about is feeling OK with saying no to something you don't want to do, when the other person is just asking if you want to do it. I would approach those situations differently.

nearly_takuan wrote:
Otherwise, though, the range of tolerance around any boundaries I have tends to be pretty loose. When there's well-meaning teasing aimed at me or something along those lines, I detach rather than confront. Sometimes there are other behaviors or expectations I'm not happy with, but I just put up with them anyway and don't count them as pushing against my boundaries. Is that reasonable, or am I actually failing to enforce boundaries after all?

I think how you feel about this is what determines reality. If you are happy detaching rather than confronting and that works for you (sincerely, I'm not trying to characterize that as avoidance or anything, I can totally credit that detach can be a very good strategy and it's one I use too), then it's fine. If it's bothering you, you can try something else. I think it's fine if there's something that bothers you that people do - whether they are clearly trying to get you to do something you don't want to, or they just assume you'll like some behavior you don't like - you can say "Please don't do that" - and with a "I know you're not trying to bother me, but I'd really appreciate ... " if you think that would help. Sometimes the person will be offended, and then detach is all you can do.

nearly_takuan wrote:
For instance, a friend once texted me asking me to meet them "tonight" in some bar 90 minutes away by public transit, and then left the bar as soon as I got there and invited me to ride with them and a couple of people I didn't know to go to someone else's house for a beer-and-rock-music party instead. I mean, actually thinking about it, I'm pretty sure that's a weird, not-normal thing, and it'd probably be okay for me to consider that a Boundary and say no, actually I'm just going to ride the train for another 90 minutes to get back home, and maybe you should plan things out a bit better and more in advance if you want me to come do things with you another time. However, at the time, I was just mildly uncomfortable/annoyed with each little step, and my apprehension about seeing a bunch of strangers I didn't think I would like was somewhat muted by the possibility that I might find a couple of people I did like, with all the opportunities implied by that potential.

I may certainly be misreading this, but my interpretation of this is that the friend was like "hey, we'll invite Nearly along and see if he wants to hang out" and he wasn't even thinking about whether you'd have a good time, be able to get their conveniently, etc. If you are feeling cranky about the invite and it will be a huge imposition, you can totally say no. I don't think this person was trying to push your boundaries or trying to make you come to this social gathering, and that you saying "no, just not feeling it" would have been an response that would not have surprised or frustrated them. If they still tried to make you come, then they are being coercive and you'll need to continue to assert that (and maybe require some behavior change), but them saying "hey you want to come do something?" and expecting you'll say "yes" if you do and "no" if you don't is clear communication. Sounds like you decided "yes" and went, and then the outing got more frustrating, and you can say "nope, I can't go on this other stage of the adventure" at any point. And ask that they tell you their plans more clearly in future, of course.

nearly_takuan wrote:
Most of the things (in meatspace) that would be most likely to rapidly provoke a negative reaction from me are of the Don't You Dare Pity Me strain; in those cases I consider it more important to temper that reaction with pleasantries and patience and polite excuses.
I don't think "assertive" and "polite" are mutually exclusive, so I think you can be patient, pleasant, and polite and still say in no uncertain terms that you do not appreciate that sort of talk about you. You may have to be less pleasant and patient if your initial request is ignored, of course.

nearly_takuan wrote:
I've heard/seen myself described as reserved, aloof, or standoffish. In my day-to-day life, I don't come anywhere near most people's boundaries and they don't come near mine. Several months ago one of my friends made a casual remark that indicated that she thought I was too "nice" to say anything if she'd done anything to bother me. I've talked to her specifically about that since then so I think/hope things are a bit clearer now, but her behavior around me and that of our general friend-group hasn't changed much so I'm left wondering if everyone else is seeing me the same way.
I'm not sure what this means. So you said "no, I will let you know if you do anything to bother me. You just haven't" - so that's why you think the situation is clearer - but she still says things like that?

We don't know how your other friends see you. Probably very differently. Some may share that impression with your friend, some may not, some may not have thought about your boundaries. Would you be willing to talk about why it matters if people do see you that way? As soon as they do cross one of your boundaries, they will be disabused of that incorrect notion that you don't have them. Are they encouraging other people to cross your boundaries? Are they talking about you as though you can't assert your boundaries?

nearly_takuan wrote:
It seems weird that I'd have to somehow prove I've got enforceable boundaries. It also seems next to impossible to actually do so when people are already afraid to come anywhere near them.
One person making an incorrect assumption about you doesn't mean you need to prove you have boundaries. When she or someone else crosses them, they will find out.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Mon Nov 10, 2014 5:39 pm

kath wrote:I may certainly be misreading this, but my interpretation of this is that the friend was like "hey, we'll invite Nearly along and see if he wants to hang out" and he wasn't even thinking about whether you'd have a good time, be able to get their conveniently, etc. If you are feeling cranky about the invite and it will be a huge imposition, you can totally say no. I don't think this person was trying to push your boundaries or trying to make you come to this social gathering, and that you saying "no, just not feeling it" would have been an response that would not have surprised or frustrated them. If they still tried to make you come, then they are being coercive and you'll need to continue to assert that (and maybe require some behavior change), but them saying "hey you want to come do something?" and expecting you'll say "yes" if you do and "no" if you don't is clear communication. Sounds like you decided "yes" and went, and then the outing got more frustrating, and you can say "nope, I can't go on this other stage of the adventure" at any point. And ask that they tell you their plans more clearly in future, of course.

Yeah, that was how I read it—they weren't trying to force me into anything, they just decided on a whim to invite me somewhere, and then from their point of view I took a really long time to get there so they got bored and wanted to go somewhere else. I was making my own decisions the whole way through, and so were they.

kath wrote:
nearly_takuan wrote:
I've heard/seen myself described as reserved, aloof, or standoffish. In my day-to-day life, I don't come anywhere near most people's boundaries and they don't come near mine. Several months ago one of my friends made a casual remark that indicated that she thought I was too "nice" to say anything if she'd done anything to bother me. I've talked to her specifically about that since then so I think/hope things are a bit clearer now, but her behavior around me and that of our general friend-group hasn't changed much so I'm left wondering if everyone else is seeing me the same way.
I'm not sure what this means. So you said "no, I will let you know if you do anything to bother me. You just haven't" - so that's why you think the situation is clearer - but she still says things like that?

I used almost those exact words, yeah. She hasn't said anything along those lines again, but... Well, she's a touchy/flirty kind of person, especially when drunk, toward both men and women. I don't get the sense that this is something she normally waits for a prompt to do or is usually careful about; she's pounced on new guests (practically strangers) before. Now, I actually think I would be pretty uncomfortable if she tried that on me, but I haven't even needed to discourage her because she just automatically keeps her distance.

kath wrote:We don't know how your other friends see you. Probably very differently. Some may share that impression with your friend, some may not, some may not have thought about your boundaries. Would you be willing to talk about why it matters if people do see you that way? As soon as they do cross one of your boundaries, they will be disabused of that incorrect notion that you don't have them. Are they encouraging other people to cross your boundaries? Are they talking about you as though you can't assert your boundaries?

Part of it is that it does feel like people might not trust me to stand up for myself, or might be stereotyping my persona/lity as prudish or sheltered or naive (which is particularly odd because I'm hardly the only bookish nerdy type in our group). There's also, in a more general sense, some feeling like I'm being treated differently for reasons I don't perceive or understand. Even when the assessment, e.g. "nearly is uncomfortable with spontaneous pouncing", is close to accurate and saves me some trouble, it feels like it also comes with "nearly is not like other people", and that part I don't like so much.

It's hard to describe but I get a vaguely similar sense of weirdness about the ways certain other people interact with me; there's just nothing explicit I can really point to there. So I don't know if I'm just seeing something that's not there and extrapolating too much from a few interactions with a single person, or if there's a pattern that only one or two people are less subtle about. I have my doubts that I could tell the difference, in any case. But you're right—since I can't know, it's better not to assume the worst.
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Post by kath on Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:12 am

Hmm. So, if it helps, I think I have that sort of thing happen to me too. I think there are ways you can bend it / consciously send other signals if you want to. I will talk about them later.

I think why you are getting this is that people - probably particularly people who are particularly flirty - try to mirror the behavior they get from others. So, a flirty person, figuring out a new friend, might try some of their more generally-acceptable, casual, unlikely-to-offend flirty behaviors and see how you respond. If you respond with flirty behavior back, they might ante up over time to whatever level of flirtiness they are most comfortable with. If you don't respond badly, but also don't respond flirtily, they probably will assume you don't particularly like the flirting and not do it. So that's why they treat you differently - you don't seem to like flirtiness or touchiness because you don't respond in kind, so they don't do it.

You can only ask if that means you are "not like other people" - and they may not have even thought about it. For one thing, you may not be particularly "like other people" and they may have reached that conclusion without a values judgement attached. Additionally, unless you feel like they intentionally push your boundaries, maybe they think you are very good at asserting them, especially if it's only one friend who's said anything else. If they do think you are a prude, sheltered, or naive, all you can really do is show how you are not when you get authentic opportunities to do so (or possibly bring them up, like inviting all of them to a non-prudish/sheltered/naive event you think would be fun). And they still may think that, and they may think that incorrectly and want to be your friend anyway, and may go on having that misapprehension and you might have to decide if you wish to speak with them directly about it, if it's a friendship dealbreaker.

As for ways to signal you aren't what your general air of reservedness or standoffishness without all of a sudden becoming a major flirt, here are some strategies. I have tried some, but not all:

- sometimes you can do it by copping a certain look. If you look like X, Y, or Z, people will tend to assume you are hip to whatever that vague, nebulous group might also be hip to. This works particularly well if you are one of the group, just more reserved / whatever than the archetypical representative. I was an art student, I still look like one, it can be easy to assume I'm as jaded (or whatever) as the "archetypical art student" you have in your head. In fact, I am quite earnest.

- you can do it by how you talk about things. These don't have to be how you engage in whatever activity - but in being open to hearing about other people's enjoyment about something you aren't super jazzed about, they know you aren't naive to whatever and aren't prudish about it, even if you don't share your stories.

Any other suggestions from others?
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