No time? Listen to it instead
I’ve been thinking about boundaries lately, and a few recent experiences made me realise that there’s a sort of encroachment that happens with personal boundaries. It doesn’t happen immediately, but it builds up, just like a person would encroach upon some land, slowly shifting the boundary until it doesn’t exist. That’s Comfort Encroachment.
The way I define comfort encroachment is this,
Comfort Encroachment happens when allowing a behaviour, tacitly or actively, often makes the other person feel they now have a Free Pass to any action over time: yes once is yes to everything and forever.
Before we dive deeper, though, let’s talk about some examples.
Let’s Talk About You
Who is that one person you continually and almost always text when something goes wrong? Does your first message begin by asking them if they have the time? If not, well, you may be texting them at the exact minute when they finally sat down to crack open a nice pint of beer after a long week. As they took their sigh of relief, there’s your text and another and another. You get the idea.
Let’s Talk About Colleagues
So, this one-time Bill from work asked you if you had time to help him with his finances. Of course, as a good colleague, you agreed out of professional courtesy. Suddenly, though, Bill now talks to you about his relationships, his friends, and whatnot during non-work hours. Now, unless you and Bill are exceptionally close, this is going to feel odd to you. Bill has actively encroached upon your comfort. It is also highly likely that Bill doesn’t realise that.
Let’s Talk About Family
So, your cousin loves sending you memes. It’s an occasional meme every now and then, you laugh, reply, good times. Over time, though, one meme becomes forty. You’re continually getting memes from them while you’re working, chilling, sleeping, walking and whatnot. Just a constant stream of memes which well, if you wanted, you could’ve gotten it yourself. However, now your phone is buzzing throughout the day. You put them on mute.
Let’s Talk About Roommates
Ever had the roommate who asked for something as a one-time thing, say, your laptop but now suddenly wants it each time they sit down to work on something? Not only that, over time, but they also pick your stuff up, take it with them, and just use it however they want. Then, over time, “your” becomes “our”, and before you know it, they’re asking for your electric shaver or toothbrush, which is gross.
Let’s Talk About Strangers
So, you and your local grocery store’s cashier sometimes talk about the weather as they’re billing or you’re frantically collecting all that change. Just to, you know, fill that blank void. The other day, though, they asked you how work was, and you said okay, and then they ask, “So, how much do you make per month?” Boundaries, Nick.
Let’s Talk About Mentors
Ever reached out to someone when you needed advice? They responded, you asked your questions, you had a great conversation, you thanked them. Now, every time you publish a work or a piece or anything else, you get unsolicited feedback from them which is okay, but now, the tone has changed to a power struggle. Suggestion territory is over, it’s all about what you’re doing wrong.
All of those are scenarios of Comfort Encroachment where over-time, the relationship shifts to a zero respect for your boundaries or preferences.
How To Deal With It
So, after talking to some friends about this, and just thinking about it, I figured there are two ways in which you can deal with Comfort Encroachment.
The first is prevention.
This is the better option overall where your boundaries are continually and verbally stated. This approach will make a lot of people uncomfortable because every time you see the behaviour creeping up, instead of shrugging it off, you’ll reinforce the boundary.
In my experience, inserting a compliment or a joke or just a lighter tone can work wonders.
Here is an example.
“While I appreciate your feedback and I highly respect your expertise, I felt this was slightly unsolicited and came across as condescending. I cherish your help, and while it has helped me immensely in the past, I feel the advice works best if it is slightly constructive.”
Or, perhaps, it’s grocery store Nick in question.
“Hahaha. I think that is a very inappropriate question to ask a customer now, don’t you think? I love our rapport, but I’d prefer it we stayed off salaries, and you know, just keep it light and breezy.”
The second is halting.
This happens when the comfort encroachment has happened already. You feel the situation has progressed to an impossible-to-deal-with threshold. So, your tone has to be stern.
A trick I’ve learned here is to give the other person a hypothetical situation that may happen because of their current situation. This puts it in perspective for them.
It makes the thing about them instead of you. So, they have better chances of understanding.
Let’s take the cousin and meme situation.
“Hey, man. Don’t take this the wrong way but you keep apologising for spamming me with memes and yet, repeat it all the time. Can you dial down on the memes? I enjoy a few every now and then, but I can’t have you sending me sixty memes every day. If there was an urgent text from you someday, it’d be one of those ‘boy who cried wolf’ situations, and we don’t want that.”
Or let’s take the roommate situation.
“Bro, I really don’t think sharing electric trimmers is a good idea. It makes me uncomfortable. For one thing, it’s not hygienic at all, and I didn’t know people did that. That’s okay, though. More importantly, I get a lot of allergies, and I would not want to pass them over to someone else. So, unless you want a rash every now and then, nope. I can’t give it to you.”
What’s The Difference
When you’re preventing the encroachment, you can be calmer and introduce a compliment or joke in between. Also, since these are shorter, you can do these often to drive the point home.
When you’re halting the encroachment, you have to be slightly stern, address how you feel, and also tell them why this behaviour will negatively impact something — you, them, the relationship — eventually.
Thing is, most people don’t realise what boundaries are, so approaching it with anger is rarely going to work. You could squeeze in a compliment, a joke or even a situation as I did with the last examples.
However, it’s important to restate your boundaries if they are being encroached upon. It’s usually immensely helpful to notice and deal with it before it happens. However, stating a boundary is always better than never stating it, no matter how early or late that may happen.
Comfort Encroachment in personal boundaries is just like how encroachment works with physical ones. Gradually, the boundaries start to dissolve, and before you know it, they stop meaning anything at all. You allow something once, and almost every other behaviour or topic becomes open season for the relationship. This can also happen unknowingly. So, it pays to evaluate the situation, and reinstate the boundaries if comfort encroachment has happened.
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