Clients often tell me about neighbors who drop-in uninvited. Or children (or worse yet, adults) who can’t keep their hands off of your property. Do you have friends who call and expect you to be available to talk — with no concern for what you might be doing at the moment — and they won’t take no for an answer?
Though your first reaction might be to blame your neighbor, the child, or your friend, the problem most often begins with ‘ you guessed it ‘ you! What these people all have in common is a lack of boundaries. It’s up to you, as a courtesy to them and to yourself, to set those boundaries for them. Think of a boundary as a fence around your life: Crossing it is a privilege, not a right.
Most of us have been taught from childhood to be ‘neighborly’ and ‘tolerant.’ But, when neighborly and tolerant turn into annoyance, boundaries must be set. Chances are that your neighbor’s ‘dropping in,’ your friend’s frequent calls or the child’s unrestrained curiosity are not intended to annoy, so what kind of friend would you be to continue letting them impose on you? The polite setting of boundaries makes for genuine relationships without make-believe.
So how can you set limits on others without hurting their feelings? The secret is to put the boundaries into play before people get into the habit of crossing them. For example, you might tell your neighbor, ‘I take a nap in the afternoon, so please give me a call before you drop by so I can enjoy our time together.’ Or, when your friend calls, you say that you’re busy, and suggest another day or time to call, so ‘I can really enjoy our conversation.’ Suggest to the uncontrolled child’s parent that you worry about his safety because many of your knick-knacks are breakable and could hurt him.
If these people truly value you as a friend or neighbor, they’ll get the hint. If they continue to impose, then it might be time to evaluate the role you play in their lives. True friends want to respect your boundaries and maintain your friendship.
If the friend acts resentful after you set the boundary, she’s telling you she doesn’t really care what you want. The phrase ‘It’s all about you’ applies to anyone who has no boundaries.
Do you really want to be in the good graces of somebody who feels that your time and property just don’t matter all that much?
I know this sounds like strong language, but nobody is entitled to steal your time. People steal your time by holding you on the phone in spite of numerous hints to the contrary, or by being habitually late. Do they really mean to steal? Not likely — but that doesn’t change the fact that this is what they’re doing. When someone shows up late (not just once, but all the time), then they’re stealing your time — time you’ll never get back.
I’m not encouraging you to get angry, but try thinking this way: ‘I’m LETTING her keep me on the phone.’ Or, ‘I’m PERMITTING him to annoy me by dropping by.’ Or, ‘I’m ALLOWING myself to be put into an awkward position as her child scurries through my house unattended.’ Recognize your part in the problem, and it will start to go away.
When setting boundaries, be calm, polite, and direct. ‘It’s been great talking to you, Mel.’ Or, ‘Murleen, our house isn’t child-proofed. I’m worried about little Emil hurting himself.’ Or, ‘I know you’re busy, Tatiana, but it really throws me off when you’re late. Do you mind calling when you’re running behind?’
Yes, much of this runs counter to what many of us were taught; to never, ever risk hurting anyone’s feelings. But when I look around the world, I see a lot of hurt feelings anyway, because ‘sucking it up’ just leads to resentment and anger. Doesn’t it make sense to be honest from the start?
Your time is your own. Treat it like your money and your possessions. Because when it’s gone, it’s gone.
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