At Stop Giving It Away we talk a lot about boundaries and how important they are for a well-balanced life. If you’re feeling the squeeze of boundary pushers and crossers, it might help to try what I call the Firewall Strategy.
Build your own firewall — a strong mental boundary.
A firewall separates your stuff from someone else’s malevolent intentions. Computers use a firewall to protect against virus attacks. It works much the same way in encounters with out-of-control people.
Let’s say someone starts honking at you and screaming because you didn’t turn right on a red light fast enough. You hear the driver yell, “Hey idiot! What’s your problem?” Clearly, you don’t have the problem, but having a strong mental boundary protects you when someone’s issue, bad day or judgment threatens your positive emotional state, as in the above example.
A simple visualization or behavior can help you mentally define and see where someone else’s boundary ends and your firewall begins.
Meet Give Away Girl Martha.
She finds that whenever her husband comes home, he is in a seriously bad mood. He grunts, pouts, sighs, criticizes and complains. She tries to be empathic, listen to how he’s doing, ask him about his day, cook him a nice dinner, massage his shoulders. But after being home all day taking care of three kids, the agitation starts to rub off on Martha. “Bad mood?! What are YOU talking about? I’m fine!” Martha becomes agitated and they fight.
Bad moods are contagious. Martha sees the problem regularly, despite expressing how she feels and making requests for him to stop this behavior. It’s not getting better. So she decides to build a firewall, a strong mental boundary between his stuff and her space.
Solutions at Work
With her firewall in place now, Martha has new strategies for protecting herself from her husband’s bad moods. She leaves the room and takes the kids onto the porch, or she puts peanut butter sandwiches in a bag, and she and the kids go for a walk. You got it, Martha puts a literal wall in place so her husband can stew by himself. His behavior is neither useful nor good for her or the kids. His frustration becomes their frustration. And since he won’t talk things out, Martha decides it’s better to just leave the room and focus on good things.
I have another client who uses the Wonder Woman stance: She crosses her arms just like she saw beautiful Lynda Carter do on the 1970’s TV series. She says no one knows what she is doing, but it makes her feel strong, that she can deflect bad feelings effectively that way. (She says it’s really useful in her car — but not while she’s driving of course!)
And a third client, Annie, told me she pictures herself in a phone booth, protected by glass. It helps calm her down and allows her time to decide how to respond.
Boundaries As Tools For The Give Away GirlI’ve spent some time on boundary tools because I think that these represent the easiest-to-grasp, effective strategies Give Away Girls can use to win back their depleted selves. I owe a debt of gratitude to “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” a book by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Zondervan, 1992). This helpful guide contains excellent examples of how people can be deeply affected by a lack of boundaries and is written from Christian perspective with Biblical support. For those whose religious beliefs sometimes make boundary setting even more difficult, I recommend reading this text for guidance and support.
How do you protect yourself from the frustrations, hostility and bad moods of others? How do you stop those feelings in yourself? I’d love to hear from you.