Without a conscious effort otherwise, a crisis like a divorce, loss of a job, or an illness can take over your thoughts and spill into your conversations, relationships, and activities—oftentimes to the point that not a moment in your day is free of your crisis. This can happen at a time when, more than anything, you need to find ways to recharge and take care of yourself.
It can be frustrating to be unable to go grocery shopping without having to talk to every well-meaning acquaintance about this very personal, emotionally-charged situation. It is also draining and unproductive to have to discuss it with people who are not good at being supportive or who leave you feeling more confused, overwhelmed or insecure.
But most of us are too kind to say, “It’s none of your business,” when someone asks how we are doing.
So, how can you protect yourself from these unwanted interactions? The key is determining ahead of time exactly what you will say to create boundaries without hurting people’s feelings.
Drawing these kinds of boundaries is a three-step process:
First, you have to identify when, where and with whom you will talk about the situation and when, where and with whom you will not.
Then, you have to get clear about what exactly you will say to the various people your wishes will affect.
Finally, you have to communicate your wishes.
The first step is simple. Get out a piece of paper. At the top of the page put the following headings for two lists: “WILL talk” and “will NOT talk.” Under the “WILL talk” heading, list all of the people with whom you are comfortable talking about this situation. Under the other heading, list the people with whom you would rather not discuss it.
Then add to the two lists the activities during which you are fine discussing your challenging situation and those during which you would rather not talk about it. You might not want to talk about it at work or at the gym or even at the dinner table, for example.
The second step is very important, because if you haven’t thought about what you want to say before you come face to face with someone, it can be awkward—to say the least. On the other hand, a good answer can make everyone feel better. Here is an example:
If someone asks how you are doing and you would rather not discuss it with them, you might say: “Thank you for asking. I appreciate your concern. I have realized that talking about it all the time makes me feel upset, and sometimes it’s better to be distracted from it. Would you be one of the people who helps me keep my mind off this by talking about other things? That would be a big help to me.”
Most people are happy to talk about other, less emotionally-charged things and will be relieved to know what you want. People want to help and they want you to know they care, but they often have no idea what would actually feel supportive to you. So, when you tell them what would feel good to you, they appreciate the information.
Crises, by definition, take over our minds as well as our lives. Creating boundaries that allow some crisis-free time is the way in which we take our lives back.
While it can be difficult not to think about the things that are causing you anxiety, you can control whether or not you talk about them.
Take control of when and with whom you have conversations about difficult subjects, and make sure the people with whom you are speaking feel supportive and leave you feeling empowered or at least validated and heard.