This morning I was reading an advice column where the inquirer had told their family that, even though they hosted every year, because of the pandemic there would be no Thanksgiving gathering this year.  Yet that Thanksgiving morning family members showed up, each with an excuse why it was okay for them to be there. The inquirer wanted to know how to “lovingly” shut the door to uninvited guests who are putting you at risk.  How you can still be setting boundaries, effectively and without damaging relationships.

The responder, quite accurately, got to the point that there’s a difference between caring about others’ feelings and assuming RESPONSIBILITY for said feelings, and we should set our boundaries according to our needs and safety. Check out this article for the details.

The responder states the answer is patently obvious, which is true.  You could say (and I am paraphrasing and expanding what the responder wrote), “Cousins, Happy Thanksgiving!  What brings you here?  I already told you we weren’t having our usual gathering. Why would you come anyway? I am very much looking forward to a time when we can again safety be physically together.”

But what is also obvious yet unstated by the responder is the long-term effects of socialization, expectations, and fear of facing negative emotions.  Not to mention lack of support from others in the family.  Setting boundaries in families are among the most challenging interactions we can have.

It would have been another step for for responder to go into a bit about socialization, where certain people are expected to put others’ comfort over their own safety. When I ask, many students say they have not set boundaries in the past because they did not want to damage a relationship (note they didn’t seem to be as concerned with the other person’s actions in damaging the relationship). Second common reason was not wanting to deal with others hurt or angry feelings.

This is a lot to unpack for setting boundaries, and it is crucial to understand and deal with your own discomfort if you are to successfully set boundaries.

You may know this site as Strategic Living Personal Safety and Self-Defense Training. But today, for this post, we are Strategic Living Personal Safety and Selectivity Training. Because recognizing and selecting when to say YES or NO is an important component of your personal safety. As a bonus feature, an important component of your peace of mind.  You make choices every day, selecting whether to say YES or NO to requests.

That includes when someone wants your time. They may be a stranger, a co-worker, client, acquaintance, exercise buddy, family member, BFF; could be live, could be on some webinar platform such as Zoom, could be on Facebook or other social media. Maybe they want advice, or want to give you advice, or tell you about their day, or make sure you know their opinion. Maybe they want a discussion, or pick a fight, or are testing your boundaries to see what they can get out of you. Maybe they just need to connect with another human.

By all means take that into account, and consider what you want. Much of the time, you can select whether to engage or not, and at what level. Recognize when you can make that choice.  Think of it as selectivity training.

Perhaps because I’m a bit older, I take measure of my time. I’m at the age where I’ve lived more years than are ahead, and my use of my time has more urgency.  (If you are younger this is still true, but you may not think about it with the same sense of urgency.)  My time is valuable. Once spent, I can’t get it back. So I choose to spend more time on people and events that I will enjoy, or from which I will benefit, or that will result in a sense of accomplishment or feeling that I was able to help, or it’s sustaining and self-care. If somebody wants to waste my time, I probably don’t need to let that happen. I can select to end the conversation, say no, walk away.  Perhaps they will consider me rude; oh well, that is their prerogative. And that’s it. Move on. Live your life. Stay safe, and live life.

Lilith and Pookie were my first two cats. They were littermates. They came to live with me when they were only five weeks old. Alas, Pookie passed onto her next life over a decade ago (inoperable tumor), but Lilith will turn 18 years old next month (and she doesn’t look a day over 13).

They were close even as they grew out of kittenhood into adolesence and adulthood into middle age. Whatever her age, though, Pookie never outgrew her love of chasing tail. Mostly it was her own tail (her preferred perch was my bicycle seat. which still bears her clawmarks), but sometimes Lilith’s was the target. Pookie would be mezmerized by the sight of Lilith’s tail swinging over the edge of the couch and begin her stalking routine. She would crouch and wiggle her rear end ever so slightly. Then she would pounce. But the tail would be gone.

Lilith the Clever

Lilith the clever had deliberately positioned herself on the couch edge. Then she would slowly swish her tail in clear sight of Pookie, drawing her attention. Lilith would pretend not to notice Pookie, but her timing gave her away. As Pookie pounced, Lilith snapped her tail up and out of reach. Without fail.

Lilith and Pookie were two cats at play. The ramifications of Pookie being lured into chasing Lilith’s tail were, well, non-existent. But for us people, it is a very different tail, er, tale.

People who mean you harm will often use desirable lures to distract you from their real intent. Some can be quite clever at discerning an unfulfilled need, and holding out an offer. The idea is to physically isolate you after they’ve gained a small measure of your trust. When you are alone with the perp, they will make their move quickly, and you will be surprised and in denial. In many instances the assault will be over before you realize you’ve been assaulted. In fact, you may never even name your experience as assault.

The lesson of this tale is something you’ve heard again and again. If it’s too good to be true, if it’s too perfect, listen to your gut’s reservations. Because, unlike Pookie and Lilith’s tail, your consequences may last longer than 5 seconds.