Hey everybody! How are you doing? I’m awesome! It’s been a really busy week for me—actually, June has been a really busy month for me, but I’ve had some great experiences with meeting new people and learning a lot about my business and so it’s been amazing! I also launched my new book, SEVERED: A Memoir of Hope and Healing a couple of weeks ago, and it has been extremely well received. It’s a true story that was written to read like a novel and it’s been getting great reviews. If you want a good book to read this summer, you can grab your copy on Amazon or at my website, sandrajarviscoaching.com. I hope you’ll check it out. I’ve also launched this new podcast, and I’m really excited about it. I hope you’ll enjoy the things I have planned and that you’ll be inspired by the people I’ll be interviewing. I’ve got some great episodes lined up for you during the next few months! I can’t wait!
So, today, I want to talk to you about the Rules in Your Head. And I’ll tell you why I chose this topic today…
I had an experience this past week where someone close to me—someone I love—did something that was really annoying. The more I thought about the incident, the more annoyed I became! I felt violated and inconvenienced and I couldn’t believe that this woman would come into my home and be so inconsiderate. The thing is, the situation is likely to repeat itself on a regular basis, so it’s not something I can just ignore.
I woke up this morning and found my brain trying to figure out a way to handle the situation. As I watched my thoughts, I discovered that I was blaming this woman for crossing my boundaries and making me uncomfortable. Although the situation was annoying, I realized that what my brain was trying to figure out was a way to avoid the situation in the future without having to confront the woman about the issue. I was literally trying to come up with LIES I could use to avoid the situation in the future because—well, the truth is that confronting the problem will be uncomfortable and I don’t really want to be uncomfortable!
And then I realized just how crazy that is!
I mean, I’m already uncomfortable and having negative feelings toward this person. Right? And because I know the situation is going to happen again, I have to do something to deal with it. And the other truth is that I have this boundary—this rule in my head—that I’ve never even expressed to this woman, maybe because I didn’t know it existed until she crossed it, but still, I am expecting her to know the rule and follow the rule without ever even verbalizing the rule.
Have you ever done something similar? You have a rule in your head that gets violated, and suddenly, you become very aware of the rule! Maybe it was something you were aware of before, or maybe not, but whatever the case, you are aware of it now. And you are really upset that everyone around you wasn’t aware of it, too!
But once the rule is violated and becomes an issue, you have a couple of choices:
- You can totally ignore it and hope it never comes up again.
This might work if it’s really something that was a one-time event—like a total stranger who violates a boundary and it’s likely you’ll never deal with them again. But even then, I don’t recommend you employ this solution. There’s something about setting clear boundaries that’s empowering and reminds you that you are in charge of you. If it’s really a stranger, you can kindly correct them and then move on, knowing that you took care of yourself in the moment.
If it’s not a stranger, then ignoring it is just setting you up for failure in the future.
Here’s an example. One of my clients is a physical therapist. We’ll call her Jody. Jody recently came to me with a problem kind of like this that she didn’t know what to do about. She said that a few days earlier, one of her patients came in and sat down at one of the therapy tables, and while she was waiting for a technician to get her started on her exercises, she removed all of her rings, slipped her feet out of her sandals, then dipped her hand into the pot of medical grade lotion that’s used for massages and began rubbing it all over her hands, arms, legs, and feet. Jody was pretty upset—this lotion is expensive and not only do they use it sparingly, but the office staff knows not to dip their hands into it because it is a medical product.
In the moment, Jody didn’t know what to do, so she didn’t say anything, but as soon as the patient walked out the door, the entire pot of lotion was throw away because it had been contaminated. In the 20 years she’d been practicing, Jody said she had never seen anyone do that, so although she was annoyed, she figured it wouldn’t happen again.
But the next time this patient came in, she did the exact same thing, and this time, another patient saw her doing it and dipped in as well. The same thing happened. Jody didn’t stop them or say anything. But that night, she made stickers and put them on all of the pots of lotion that said, “For medical use only.” Hoping that would fix the problem, she kind of forgot about it. It was a week later before the same patient was back, and as soon as she was seated, she began removing her rings and preparing to put lotion all over her arms and legs. This time, however, Jody noticed what was happening and she lost it. She actually yelled at the patient, something like, “Can’t you read? The lotion is for medical use only!” And then she immediately felt bad. The woman was offended, probably because she’d been coming to this office for 2 weeks, doing the same thing, and no one had ever verbalized this “DO NOT USE THE LOTION” rule, so she didn’t know she had done anything wrong. But now, she felt stupid because she had been reprimanded in a not very nice way in front of everyone.
In my opinion, ignoring something like this is not really an option at all—although it’s actually a pretty popular way to deal with boundary issues. The problem is that if you ignore it and the situation repeats itself, all of the anger and frustration from the first time comes back—and with it will be all of the new feelings of anger and frustration. And if you continue to bury all of that, then next time it happens, the anger and fr
ustration will be even more intense. And eventually, someone will cross that boundary and you’ll explode because the build-up will have become too much to hold in. The person who ends up getting all your wrath from all the things that have built up—well, they’re going to be totally confused and they may not like you very much.
Yeah…ignoring it is really not a great option…
The second option is:
- You can create some story that will prevent the person from ever crossing that boundary again—a story that will probably come back to haunt you later.
The problem with making up stories is that you have to remember the stories and get everyone around you to remember the story, too. Another client was having issues with her mom stopping by the house to visit unannounced almost every day. It became an issue because it disrupted their family schedule and because she felt like her mom was just “checking up on her”. It drove her crazy, so she st
arted making up reasons her mom couldn’t come over, or she didn’t answer the door and then she’d lie about being gone or not hearing the doorbell. The problem was that her six-year-old son didn’t understand why they were lying to Grandma and sometimes said things that were clear indicators that my client wasn’t telling the truth.
Lying in order to avoid boundary issues is probably not the greatest option, either.
The third option is the most difficult to do—but the most effective and the most adult-like!
- You can be straight forward with the people who violated the rule, set a clear boundary going forward, and avoid future issues by enforcing the boundary you set.
The problem with this option is the discomfort. No one likes to be confronted. It brings up all kinds of negative feelings for the person who is being confronted as well as the person doing the confronting. It’s not fun.
But the thing is, none of these options are fun. And if you think about it, no matter which option you choose, you’re going to experience some discomfort. So why not employ the option that has the best chance of actually fixing the problem.
If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout my life, it’s that no one will ever thank you for setting boundaries, especially if it is a boundary that they’ve already crossed. But if you never verbalize the rules you’ve decided on in your head—the ones you just expect everyone around you to follow—then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Plain and simple.
Yes, it can be difficult to set boundaries.
Yes, it can be uncomfortable to enforce boundaries.
Yes, other people may get upset when you insist that your boundaries be honored in your own space.
But here’s the thing. Unfiltered words when coming from a place of anger are extremely powerful in a negative way. When you allow your boundaries to be crossed repeatedly, you’re setting yourself up for an ugly confrontation at some point in the future. It’s almost guaranteed.
On the other hand, carefully thought out words when coming from a place of love for yourself and those around you are equally as powerful in a positive way. It may be uncomfortable initially to call someone out and set your boundary, but it might also be the best thing you could do for your relationship.
You can’t assume that people know what’s going on in your head. You have to tell them. You have to lay out your expectations and then enforce the things that are yours to enforce.
I’ve actually found that I can avoid a lot of these situations by simply paying attention to my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, we feel yucky inside, but we can’t really pinpoint the reason. When I feel that way, I like to sit down and get all of my thoughts down on paper so I can examine them
and see what needs to be addressed. Early on in my marriage, I recognized that I had this knot in the pit of my stomach quite often. I didn’t really know what it was, but it nagged at me in the back of my mind and made me feel uncomfortable.
After months of this, I finally sat down and examined all of the thoughts. I thought of my brain as a cluttered closet that needed to be cleaned out. I pulled out each thought, one-by-one, making sure they were cleaned up and folded neatly, then placed back on the shelf. I discovered some interesti
ng thoughts through that process, but more importantly, I found the source of the knot in my stomach. And once I understood what was nagging at my brain and causing me problems, I was able to deal with it and make the knot go away. Since then—and it’s been nearly 30 years—when that same feeling happens in my stomach, I know exactly which thoughts to examine to see what’s wrong. It’s a powerful thing to understand because I can fix things immediately, rather than waiting until a problem grows so big that it comes crashing down around me when I open the door—the closet analogy again…
So, when you’re feeling weird or when someone has crossed a boundary, check out your thoughts and see if there’s a rule in your head that you’ve failed to communicate to the people in your life. Don’t ignore the discomfort, address it. Allow your thoughts and emotions to come, own them, and do what you need to do in order to create peace for yourself and within your relationships.
The truth is, if you’re feeling discomfort, it’s all up to you to fix it. You can try to ignore it, you can try to blame others for crossing your boundaries, or you can simply admit that you’re not managing things well and figure out what you need to do to create peace once again.
In my situation, I’ve decided to address the situation head-on. I’m going to call this woman and let her know what she did that violated my boundaries and ask her not to do it again. It won’t be easy. But I’ve realized that the entire situation can easily be avoided in the future if I simply verbalize the rule in my head that I expect to be followed in my own home.
So, pay attention to what’s going on inside of you.
Don’t place the blame for your discomfort on other people.
Own your thoughts, verbalize the rules for your space, and clean up the nagging feelings that keep you stuck! Facing the truth is always better than dealing with lies!
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