Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Boundaries

Sometimes it's tricky pinning down people's boundaries and knowing if it's okay to say something or if you're just about to overstep the mark and get them fuming.

Some people's boundaries are very flexible. You can be as controversial or teasing or flippant as you like and they'll take it on the chin and respond in kind. I guess they're self-confident enough not to feel too threatened by something "excessive".

Other people have such tight boundaries it's very easy to cross them with a chance remark and find you've somehow gone too far, broken some unstated expectation and caused sudden offence. Often they won't tell you what you said wrong, they just quietly rage and seethe and you wonder what's going on.

They discreetly rebuff you and distance you and you keep rerunning the sequence of events wondering what it was exactly that triggered the negative reaction. Was it that criticism of their favourite author? Was it that coolness about their job? Was it some impression of over-familiarity? The more you think about it, the more puzzled you get.

My father's boundaries were very rigid, and I was forever incurring his abrupt wrath. Sometimes he would point out the offending remark, and usually I was mystified. The remarks seemed harmless enough to me. So harmless I can't for the life of me recall any of them. Maybe I was enthusing about socialism, or lambasting one of my teachers, or being sniffy about some TV programme. Who knows?

But it's always odd when an apparently cordial relationship inexplicably turns frosty. You just think "So what was all that about? Was it me? Was it them? Was it something in the air? Was it global warming?"

Who put the fly in the ointment?

24 comments:

Rummuser said...

I am often accused of being unpredictable with my idea of boundaries in relationships. Take for instance, someone who newly joins our well set group that meets everyday, and starts to take liberties, like the rest of us do with each other, I get 'frosty' too. The other guy has to have a sense for the boundary too, don't you think?

RT News said...

I believe there is no one or another person's boundaries. There is always ONE boundary - between you and another person. And it is mutual. So much depend on you :)

Nick said...

Ramana - Uncertainty about another person's boundary is fair enough, but some people seem to have no sense of boundaries at all and happily come out with one offensive remark after another.

RT - Yes, the boundary is mutual but you still have to work out exactly where that boundary is, and the more rigid that boundary the more likely you are to accidentally cross it.

Scarlet Blue said...

I'm too offended to comment.
*Flounces out in a huff of scarlet*
Sx

Baino said...

Ah very timely. My brother has decided that I have breached all boundaries since we decided to lower the price on our property. Not my decision but I've clearly touched a nerve and he's sent me to coventry,hasn't spoken a civil word to me since November. What was a cordial and fun relationship has turned to frost over money. At least I know what the cause of his wrath is.

e said...

As one often accused of being stroppy, it bothers me when people seem to have no boundaries at all...they can't manage one shred of common sense and then they wonder, if they've any intelligence, why others are irritated...

Nick said...

Scarlet - Ooer, was it something I said? I only asked if you were a bottle blonde....

Baino - Sorry to hear that. Doesn't he realise property prices had become totally unreal? I hope you manage to repair the rift before long.

e - I'm baffled by people who seem to have no sensitivity whatever to other people's reactions. Do they live entirely in a world of their own?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

In American culture, much is made these days of NOT having firm enough boundaries, which I think is evidence that people everywhere are confused over this issue and have no clue at all about where they should be.

Megan said...

My sister-in-law has a hard time of it. There are four of us and there she is, an only child, and she just doesn't quite get that we are never entirely serious when we insult each other. It's impossible to "kid" her - she immediately goes on the defensive.

And then there is a long, wearying time explaining that "so-and-so really didn't MEAN it."

Nick said...

Heart - It's interesting that Americans want firmer boundaries. But yes, just how firm should that be, and does firmer mean more intolerant?

Megan - I've known similar families where playful joshing goes on all the time. Easy to misinterpret if you haven't come across it before.

kylie said...

it seems that i dont often accidentally cross a boundary because i dont seem to get the frosty treatment. then again, the people i work with reckon i'm oblivious to lots of stuff so maybe i'm always getting the silent treatment and dont notice!

my hubby gets shitty with me and i ask whats up and his answer is "you should know"
that baffles me, if i knew i wouldnt have done it, would i?

Nick said...

Kylie - Exactly, if I knew I wouldn't have done it. I don't get the frosty treatment often, which I guess is why it's so baffling when it does happen. I mean, I'm generally quite a cautious person....

Wisewebwoman said...

You touched a chord with me, Nick, in that I am the one pulling a hissy on a long time friend.

We agreed to be companions on a trip and I incurred extra charges by flying to the city of her origin, which I didn't mind. Imagine my surprise on the long trip back when she decided to, without warning, abandon our seating together and go off to a window seat further away, thus leaving me fuming as to the extra money I spent when I could have taken a separate (and far cheaper)flight home.
I have checked with others who find her behaviour appalling and insensitive and I am having huge trouble in moving beyond it as she refuses to discuss it.
I honestly feel she doesn't care about our friendship anymore.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Very strange behaviour. I wonder what prompted her to do something so standoffish as to sit somewhere else? As you say, if she won't discuss it you're none the wiser and you can't correct whatever is the (supposed) failing.

niamh said...

It's a tough call. I often find it easier to transgress with people who're closer to me - maybe we all let our guards down a little too much sometimes! But it's easier to apologise to them and sort it out than with new friends.

Nick said...

Niamh - Yes, easier to sort out gaffes with friends, I guess. Though a touch of frost is not unknown between me and Jenny!

Los Angelista said...

I know I frequently don't enforce personal boundaries with family members because I just want to keep the peace - but as I get older, I'm less willing to do so.

tattytiara said...

I've had people with hair trigger boundaries in my life. I am respectful of people's boundaries, but there also comes a point of sensitivity where the things I say are interpreted with more suspicion and/or too negatively than is respectful to me, and that's where I gotta draw the hard line.

Nick said...

Liz - This is it, do you overlook something to keep the peace or pull someone up and create a bad atmosphere? I must say I tend towards the first.

Tattytiara - Good point, when does someone's behaviour undermine respect/ self-respect. And yes, some people are habitually suspicious or negative about quite innocent remarks.

Liz said...

I know people like that. There's one particular lady I'm frightened to do more than say hello to, and yet she's highly regarded in general.

Scarlet Blue said...

Apologies... that was me. Getting in a muddle!
Sx

Nick said...

Welsh Liz - She may be highly regarded, but clearly there's something going on under the surface....

Scarlet - I accept your apology. You've been a very naughty girl (not).

Kate said...

How right you are... I remember many years ago a friend admiring my teaset (it had been part of a wedding present from a china wholesaler as my husband was a caterer and they were his customer.

I mentioned to the wholesaler how my friend had admired the teaset and he sent me another one (free of charge) to give to her.

The lady would not accept it and gave it back to me - she never spoke to me again other than to tell me I shouldn't try to 'buy friendship'.

???????

Nick said...

Kate - I'm as mystified as you. Surely one tea-set wouldn't negate the whole history of a friendship? She must have had some sort of chip on her shoulder.