This does not mean you should not set boundaries. This is why it IS important to set boundaries. What it means is that you should set boundaries and learn strategies to appropriately handle any kick back that occurs.
I will give you an example.
Joanne had two dogs she took regularly to a groomer. The dogs were coming up due for a groom so Joanne rang her groomer to organise an appointment and was directed to voicemail and left a message. There was no response. Joanne was used to this, the groomer was not good at returning calls. She rang again a week later, and again a week later. Finally she visited the groomer in person. As soon as she walked in the door, the groomer said she was all booked out for two months.
Joanne was annoyed at this, but felt she needed time to think about an appropriate response, rather than snap at the groomer in anger.
After a few hours, Joanne was ready to discuss this with her groomer. She rang and no surprises it was voice mail again. So Joanne left her message in a calm, friendly but matter of fact voice. She said she accepted that groomers are busy in summer but she had spent two weeks ringing her. Instead of looking for another groomer, she had persevered out of loyalty to the groomer. She was disappointed the groomer had not rung back or even sent a text message. She explained she had not spoken when she came into the shop because she needed time to think. Her issue was not the groomer’s availability, but the fact she had not responded to the initial call and Joanne had spent two weeks trying to make an appointment. She had made the decision she would not come to that groomer anymore because of this.
The next day she received a phone call from the groomer. The groomer pretended she had missed a call but no message had been left. Joanne started to give the groomer the message. The groomer jumped in and started abusing Joanne. Whereas Joanne’s issue had been only about the fact the groomer had not returned her call. The groomer just sent out a spray of anger. She accused Joanne of making appointments at the wrong time, of having vicious dogs. It was an uncontrolled reaction which left Joanne determined she would never recommend that groomer to anyone else.
Joanne found herself starting to get caught up in this woman’s accusations then suddenly remembered. These accusations were “red herrings”. They had nothing to do with Joanne’s issue, which was that the groomer did not return her call. She realised the woman was going to keep her abuse going, so she said nothing and quietly hung up. She knew the woman was in the wrong, but her anger hurt. So Joanne and I unpacked it together.
Joanne’s first reaction was to kick herself for not realising immediately this woman’s abuse was red herrings.
What is a red herring?
It is a term often used in discussing communication, especially conflict resolution. When someone doesn’t want to address the issue being discussed they will throw in other things to try to distract the other person from discussing the issue.
In this case, Joanne was happy to discuss the fact the groomer had not returned her calls. She had no other issues. The groomer felt guilty and shamed by the fact she had failed to return calls to a loyal customer. She felt uncomfortable and did not know how to deal with that discomfort. So she threw red herrings into the mix to try to draw Joanne into a fight with her. I congratulated Joanne on her self control in realising what was happening and quietly hanging up.
Why is it important to quietly hang up? If you slam the phone down it sends a message you are angry. If you quietly hang up, the message is you have made a choice to walk away.
It is easy to fall for red herrings, which is why it is important to remain calm and focused on the issue. If possible you can say this is not the issue we are discussing. It is unlikely that you will be able to do that so the best response is to just hang up.
Yes the other person may say they won the argument because you hung up. Let them. They know they actually have lost the argument because you walked away from their fight and did not give them the satisfaction of getting angry back and saying things in anger.
A good way to describe what happened is to use a counselling theory and method that was very popular in the 1970s. it is still referred to in communication training. It is called Transactional Analysis.
Very briefly, in transactional analysis people are referred to as having three approaches to others in a conversation. It may be one of mutual respect referred to as I’m OK, You’re OK. It may be one of lack of respect for other, referred to as I’m OK, You’re not OK. Or it may be one of lack of respect for self. I am not OK, You’re OK. The conversation with Joanne and her Groomer was one where Joanne respected herself and the groomer, but the groomer did not respect Joanne.
Another aspect of Transactional Analysis is that we communicate to others from different aspects of ourself. We can be the Adult (I’m OK, You’re OK), The parent or the child. The child can be subservient or rebellious. The subservient child doesn’t think they are OK and will acquiesce. The rebellious child doesn’t think you are OK and will try to bring you down to their level so they can win the fight.
Joanne was the adult with the groomer. But the groomer was not being an adult. She was being a rebellious child and was trying to bring Joanne down to her level. You can’t have a discussion with someone who is trying that. So Joanne’s response to hang up was the correct one.
Maybe you are thinking that it is not worth setting boundaries? What does it do to you if you allow people to do what they want to you? To come into your house and help themselves to your things. To talk about your deepest secrets to other people. To expect you to stop what you are doing to do what they want? To feel worthless and unsafe because you never feel you are in control of your life.
People aren’t always going to try to punish you when you set a boundary. Healthy people accept boundaries and will also set boundaries with you. As for those who kick back the first time you set a boundary. They will think twice about crossing boundaries with you in the future. And if they want to create a hostile situation with you, yeah that hurts, but they would have done it anyway.
It is important to explore what is happening for you when there is unpleasantness about setting boundaries.
You have the right to feel upset at the other person’s lack of respect.
After the groomer sprayed her negativity at Joanne, she determined she was not going to allow it to stick. She stated to herself that the situation was unpleasant. She had a good physical shake to shake off the negativity the groomer had thrown at her. She put her hands on her heart and comforted the part inside that was upset.
At times, when the negativity of the groomer came up, she put her hands on her heart and asked herself what was hurting. She took those answers and explored them in our counselling session.
She expressed gratitude at realising she needed to make the decision to stop using that groomer.
She was grateful she had not reacted to the groomer and got into a fight with her.
She was grateful she had communicated as a healthy adult.
She was grateful for all the people in her life who were healthy adults and would not behave like the groomer.
By the time she finished being grateful she had let go of the hurt from the groomer.
If you grew up in a family where you were not allowed to set boundaries then setting boundaries is difficult. It takes time to learn how to do it. I often work with people who are trying to learn their boundaries and how to set them.
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with you learning to set boundaries, please contact me on 0409396608 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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