Editor’s note: This is part 36 of Marie’s story.
Today was a therapy session day…
Prior to the session, I emailed Carl my status report. In the email, I mentioned I would like to talk to him about “a situation that came up with a client that involved setting boundaries.” I indicated I would like to get his input on the situation as to how effectively I handled it.
I also mentioned in my status report that I had experienced an “eye opening conversation” with my eldest sister that validated some of my more hardcore memories of my parents. I told him I’d like to spend a few minutes reviewing that conversation with him.
So, we started out the session with those two agenda items—first addressing the situation that had occurred with Father Jim. I asked Carl to read through my journal entries concerning Father Jim, which he did. When he finished reading, he asked…
Carl: Are you pleased with the ultimate outcome?
Me: I am pleased with how things ultimately worked out. I am pleased that I protected myself against having to hug someone I didn’t want to hug even if it meant losing out on some business. I’m mostly wondering if I could have handled it differently—better—more effectively.
Carl: If you had been as effective as possible, in what way would the outcome have been different?
Me: I don’t know that the outcome would have been different.
I don’t think he would ever agree to not hug me. For whatever reason, he is not willing to take responsibility for keeping his hands and his body to himself. So, I don’t think the relationship could have been saved. But, I’m wondering if I could have protected myself more effectively. I don’t like that I ended up telling him the details of my history.
Carl: So, why did you disclose that much information?
Me: Because I thought he would be more empathetic and cooperative if he understood the reasons behind my boundary. I thought it was unreasonable for me to expect him to “just know” why the boundary is so important to me.
There was no way I was willing to allow him to bring fear into my studio—my sanctuary—by pressuring me to hug him when I don’t want to hug him.
(The thought of Father Jim crowding me—causing me to feel trapped—was very triggering for me and I started getting emotional. It took a minute for me to catch my breath again and to be able to continue.)
Carl: Do you think he would be more likely to honor your boundary if he thought you have good reasoning behind it?
Me: Yeah, I do. I’m used to people—my dad, the guy I married, etc.—telling me that my sensitivities are “silly” and unimportant. Sometimes I have been able to get them to be careful of my sensitivities after I explained why some things bother me so much.
Carl: Do you think people should honor your boundaries only when they believe your reasons for setting the boundary are important and valid?
Me: No, I think they should honor my boundaries regardless.
Carl: So why did you try to convince Father Jim your boundary is important and valid? Why didn’t you simply insist he honor it regardless?
Me: Oh… I see… hmmmm… wow…
I guess because I hadn’t realized that’s what I was doing. But, now that you have said that, I can see how I don’t have an obligation to give reasons or to convince people to see things my way.
On the other hand…when I’m in a dating relation or a co-habitation situation and the other person expresses a preference or a boundary, I usually want more information. I usually want to better understand what is underneath the matter so that I can follow the spirit of his or her wishes, not just the letter.
And, I want to know how big of a deal it is…is it an annoyance or is it a deal-breaker? If it is a really big deal, I will probably go above and beyond what he or she has requested because I want to steer clear of causing problems on any level, even when it is difficult for me to do. If it is just an annoyance, I know I can toe the line a bit more—when I need to—without causing huge issues.
Carl: When you want more information, do you ask for it?
Me: Well, yes, of course!
Carl: Do you think other people—for example, Father Jim—will ask for more information when they want it—when it might make a difference in their behavior?
Me: That has not been my experience. Most people with whom I closely associate won’t seek out more information; I have to hand it to them, maybe even push it onto them.
Carl: Is that what you did with Father Jim?
Me: (Small laugh) Yeah, I did. And that is not necessarily effective …
Carl: When you have pushed information on people, has it made the situation better?
Me: Not usually.
Carl: Why do you think that is?
Me: Probably because I have been closely associating with people who are not interested in honoring my boundaries.
Carl: How can you change that?
Me: (Another small laugh as the puzzle pieces started coming together) Choose different associates…
Carl: (With a slight grin) Yeah, that would work.
Me: So… can we look at the situation with Father Jim specifically? I mean, this is a situation in which I was not looking for a close association. I was looking for a clear-cut business association. Recognizing that it is not appropriate to disclose intimate details of my personal life to a purely business associate, how could I have set and protected my boundary without disclosing those details?
Carl: Sure, we can look at this situation specifically…
May I tell you what underlying message I saw as I read your journal entries?
Carl: I heard you saying that you didn’t want to do business with him.
Me: That is true.
Carl: So why didn’t you simply decline to do business with him?
Me: Because I didn’t yet have a good reason. He didn’t give me a good reason until late into the conversation.
Carl: I disagree. Let me read to you what you wrote in your very first journal entry: “…my gut says I shouldn’t quite trust him to be aware and observant of my organic boundaries.”
You said that about him before you ever wrote that first email to him. That is a very good reason to not do business with someone.
Me: Hmmmm… but how do I explain to him my reason for declining to do business with him? Do I say to his face, “I don’t like you” or “I don’t trust you”? That doesn’t seem like a good way to do business, especially when he hasn’t actually done anything “bad” yet.
Carl: You could say, “After meeting with you and reviewing our mutual needs and expectations, I have come to the conclusion we are not a good fit for each other. I’d be happy to provide a list of other piano teachers in the area with whom you could interview.”
Me: Wow. You can do that? I mean, does that meet the reasonable person standard?
Carl: Sure! You have as much of a right to say, “No, thank you” as the client does, and you have no obligation to justify your choice.
Me: Hmmmmm… that really messes with my mind! Had you felt that we were not a good fit after our initial interview, would you have said something like that?
Carl: Absolutely! But, I felt we would be a good fit for each other, so I invited you to join me in establishing a business association. I wanted the opportunity to work with you.
Me: Wow… thank you! That makes me feel good!
So, then… if Father Jim had come back and asked for more information because he wanted to better understand where I was coming from, how could have I responded? How would I respond without giving out too much information?
Carl: You could provide a general reason like you are currently processing the after affects of abuse… and leave it at that. You wouldn’t need to describe what kind of abuse. A general statement would be sufficient information—it would be enough for him to understand the gist and the extent of your need for cooperation.
Me: Okay—that helps. I can see a different way of handling something like this in the future.
[Continued in the next post… ]