Having dinner with my aunt recently forced me to revisit my boundary issues. You know the boundaries I am talking about, the lines that should be drawn in situations you aren’t comfortable with, like say uprooting your family of five to help someone else with their vacation plans.
“I need you to live in my house and take care of my cat while I go live in Europe for two years.”
My aunt threw this at me after her second glass of wine. I think I made a choking sound and swirled pasta on my fork as I decided how to respond. Time stood still. She wasn’t joking.
This moment of silence was huge for me.
“You want me to what?” I asked, to clarify that I heard her correctly. (Yes, I said it rudely.) A change in how I normally handled these life requests from loved ones.
“Oh honey, it will help you out too. You can live there for free, the kids will have a pet, and my house is so much bigger than your tiny one anyway.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Hmmmm… that is interesting.”
Not knowing how to respond further, I took another deep breath. Irealized that in that moment, I wouldn’t be taking care of my family by helping my aunt. This woman, whom I loved but had a complicated relationship with throughout my life, had no personal boundaries or the ability to create them. She was expecting me to respond in the same dysfunctional way.
Having lunch with someone that doesn’t have boundaries when you weren’t taught them either is a meal of disaster.
So I used the only life tool that works for me in these situations. I pulled out my life tool for dealing with the crazy that you can’t walk away from. These are the relationships that you want to maintain or need to maintain, but you MUST practice self preservation in order to do so .
“Hmmmm… that is interesting,” I said again.
THIS is my tool. Pause and respond without commitment by acknowledging that you heard the request, the ask, the blurring of relationship lines. This simple line almost always works.
I am honest enough with myself to know that I should be an adult. I should be able to say, “No.” I should be able to tell her she crossed the line. I should be able to say, “That doesn’t work for me.” I should.
However, there will always be people in your life that can’t hear you even when you say those words. It isn’t worth it. Saying no to them doesn’t mean “I don’t love you.” Unfortunately, not everyone understands that. They feel hurt. They hear something else.
Instead of dancing with crazy, you can use soft boundaries and still respect yourself.
Saying, “Hmmm… that is interesting,” gives you the space and the distance to think. Believe me, the quiet you create will be filled. People without boundaries can’t help but fill the silence.
We all have to live in the world of complicated relationships but having tools, even simple words, to survive some of them make a difference.
“Hmmm… that is interesting.”