When I used to travel for work, I visited quite a number of car rental booths. While renting a car on one of those trips, a man walked up behind me and got very close. Then he stood right next to me and started asking questions to the agent (the same agent I was talking to).
He was so close I could feel his body heat! I felt as if my personal space was being violated and started to wonder if he was ever going to back off. Not only that, he was interrupting my conversation. I just wanted to rent a car and leave, but now I had this man getting too close and being quite inconsiderate.
I was faced with a decision: To confront or not to confront.
I had spent most of my life not confronting people because of fears that I made up in my head. I believed that confronting someone, or telling them what I was thinking, was a bad thing. I believed that the outcome would always be bad news for me so it was better to “play nice” instead of express my truth.
The problem with that is that the other person will not know your boundaries and they will violate them time and time again. And soon you will be upset with them for not honoring you when ‘they should know better!’
Wait… how should they know better if you’ve never expressed your boundaries to them? If that’s the case, then they probably don’t know better, you just assume they do. Or maybe you did tell them but when they crossed the line, you didn’t make them accountable.
Either way, they are likely to repeat their behavior because there are no repercussions to their actions. Time and time again over the years I chose to not confront because I believed I would get yelled at or be disliked or something else. I thought a lot of things and because of those thoughts, I chose not to tell people when they were crossing the line.
When those around you don’t know where the line is, they will cross it over and over again until you are so tired of their behavior that you develop a huge resentment against them. Good people can seem to turn bad when they don’t know what your boundaries are. Not necessarily because they don’t care, but because they assume you’re okay with their behavior. That’s why it’s so important to express what’s okay and what’s not okay for you so that people know where to stop. Then when someone crosses your boundaries, you can hold them accountable.
What is accountability though?
It’s anything you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be ‘getting back’ at them, it could just be you leaving the situation, or ending a relationship. It could be that they are disciplined in some way. It can mean anything you want it to mean, but accountability has to be enforced if you want people to know you’re serious.
Your boundaries are how you determine your level of happiness, believe it or not. I know this because if you were to get exactly what you want and avoid exactly what you didn’t want in life, I think you’d be pretty happy more often than not. It won’t be a 100% perfect system (some people will still make their way through your walls), but you’ll be much better off than not honoring yourself at all. And that can take off a lot of stress.
When that guy was standing right next to me at the car rental counter, very much in my personal space, I had to make a choice. I was nervous for sure because I never made the choice to confront a stranger like that in public before. But I changed my focus from what would happen to what I wanted, and that changed my attitude completely.
What I wanted was for him to give me some space. It didn’t matter to me what would happen because I chose not to think that far ahead. So I turned to him and asked, “Would you mind not standing so close to me, it makes me feel uncomfortable.”
He looked at me for a second, looking a little confused. The gears were turning in his head as if he had to process what I just said. Then he took a step back and stood about three feet away from me. That made me happy, and I felt great!
What I feared could have taken over but what I wanted won.
I kept my cool and asked nicely. I showed respect as if he didn’t realize how close he was, and I asked him to step back. In that moment I could have chosen to perceive him as rude and impolite. Instead I decided to adopt the belief that he wasn’t doing anything purposefully against me. I just chose to assume he didn’t realize he was being rude.
Whether this assumption was true or not didn’t matter. The belief that it was true allowed me to approach the situation calmly but sternly, honoring my needs and making it clear that his behavior was unacceptable. When you confront someone, they won’t always respond as cordially. And I certainly wouldn’t have said it to someone I felt physically threatened by (I think), but at least I know I can express my boundaries in most circumstances.
Your boundaries are how you show the world what is acceptable to you. If people cross them, take advantage of you, or walk all over you, maybe you just haven’t been clear enough with them where you draw the line. And maybe if you are clear, you’ll get a little more of what you want every day.