How many of us can confidently admit that we have been successful at defining boundaries? In the Indian context, given that the extended family system continues to prevail, it is often hard to do so. We may have evolved from the joint family scenario to a nuclear family concept and yet very often we struggle to define boundaries that work for us.
This again stems from growing up with the outdated belief that it is rude to turn down a request from a friend, family member, spouse or sibling. So often, despite wanting to say a firm ‘no’, we end up obliging the concerned person even at the risk of feeling exhausted mentally, physically or emotionally.
And while this may earn you brownie points as being an unselfish and giving person, the concept itself is very skewed. If you are being repeatedly exploited for your kindness and compassion, then it is time to stand up for yourself. There is no need to feel guilty about expressing your inability to commit to a situation if you don’t feel instinctively good or are unable to offer the kind of support required.
You may be drained out after having a long day at work. Or perhaps you are coping with a loss or disappointment of some sort. Someone close to you reaches out for a conversation. The person does not bother to ask you how your day went and decides to pour their heart out, talking about their woes, unwilling to pause and check whether you are in the right frame of mind to listen. Often, we brush aside our own feelings, assuming that we must be there for the other person and end up feeling drained out. Stop right there! If you are not in a good place yourself, listen to the person for a few minutes and politely intrude by saying that you are not in a positive frame of mind right now and will get back to her/him when you are able to offer support. Instead, if you feel the situation is serious, ask them to seek out a therapist. And if you feel the person just needs to vent, request them to reach out to another friend who may be open to that conversation.
This is a tricky area as it involves people close to you. Often, you may have a family member or a close relative or friend barging into your personal space, be it your home or perhaps your bedroom, without asking for your permission. We assume if we are related to people by blood or by deep bonds, it is okay to walk in unannounced into someone’s home at odd hours, without checking if they are free or are willing to play hosts. Politely but firmly indicate that they need to enquire in advance if you are comfortable with the timing of their visit. And, no, you are not obliged to allow people entry into your bedrooms or private areas no matter how close they feel they are, unless you desire to do so.
This can be a challenging step. It is about ensuring that people you share a working relationship with do not cross the line or have unrealistic expectations from you. It could be as simple as getting overfamiliar in terms of how they address you or the demands they make. Sometimes it is about not getting into your personal space or asking you intimate questions that you are not obliged to answer. The best step is to make it clear that you do not welcome such overfamiliarity and expect a more professional approach.
This is the most sensitive scenario as it involves monetary transactions that can impact your relationships. Often, it gets challenging to turn down requests for financial help if you earn well or perhaps contribute majorly to household expenses. If you are the breadwinner, there’s always the possibility of family members having innumerable demands that you may not be able to fulfil. The best thing to do is to be as honest as possible instead of pushing yourself into a corner or ending up taking debts to meet your loved ones’ needs. In case you have friends or extended family asking for financial help, if you are in a position to help out, do so. If you are struggling yourself, then there is no point in adopting a false sense of bravado and lending money when you have expenses yourself. Understand the situation carefully before you take a call.