Exercising Your Boundaries—Even When You Have No Choice

You're never required to participate in a dynamic that's uncomfortable for you.

You’re Placed in an Impossible Situation

Imagine for a moment you’re in a conference room full of people—maybe you’re the only woman, an entry-level employee, new to the workplace, or in some way feeling slightly or perhaps overtly othered.

A colleague or manager addresses your performance in front of the entire conference room. Maybe you’ve been late the last few days, maybe your sales numbers are down, maybe a client complained. Regardless of what it is, addressing the matter in front of an entire group of people may not make the situation easier for you to digest or process, maybe it does not allow for open dialogue regarding the matter.

Once you’ve been put on the spot, a dynamic has been created. You may believe you have only two choices:

1) stand up for yourself and address the colleague or manager in a way others may deem aggressive or insubordinate, in front of this group of peers

or

2) not say anything except for an acknowledgment of the content and ultimately allow this behavior to go unaddressed

Scenario 1 can make you feel out of place, maybe it’s not your typical approach to be aggressive or argumentative. Being addressed regarding a problem at work, or an area of opportunity, can feel like an attack if it’s not presented in an open and authentic way that provides the opportunity for discussion.

Scenario 2 can directly reduce your own view of your self-worth and self-value. Allowing your consciousness to accept certain behaviors from other people communicates to your subconscious that those behaviors are acceptable and you are worthy of them, and therefore not worthy of better behavior.

Neither option provides the freedom for you to exercise your own personal approach. Once you’ve been forced into a dynamic, it can be difficult to find the footing that will help you exercise what feels right and authentic for you. But you don’t have to sacrifice your self-view or self-worth by operating within a dynamic you did not consent to participate in.

The third, but much less obvious scenario is to withdraw from the situation.

Scenario 3 allows you to reassess, and then find the confidence to express your needs. If you’re in a conference room of coworkers and your boss has singled you out and embarrassed you, it’s entirely appropriate to enforce your boundaries at that moment. It may not feel appropriate or welcome, but you always have a choice of whether or not you allow certain behaviors. Scenarios 1 and 2 force you to operate within the dynamic that was created, scenario 3 provides the opportunity to remove yourselve from the dynamic and regain equal footing in a different setting.

There will be consequences either way.

  1. You’ll convince yourself you need to endure this treatment to preserve your job and continue earning money/advancing in your career/caring for your family. Your subconscious will start to believe there is no point in telling anyone how you should be treated because sacrifices are necessary for survival—a protective but harmful fallacy.

    Or

  2. You’ll regain footing by withdrawing from the dynamic created and re-engaing in a different setting. You will demonstrate to yourself and your subconscious—through actions—that how you feel is important and how you want to feel is worthy of pursuit.

The manager initiated a power dynamic. You are, indirectly, reminded that your behavior in response to how you’re being treated will impact your standing in the company. Arguing is directly insubordinate and could result in disciplinary action. Allowing the behavior, when it feels wrong to you, diminishes your self-view and self-worth and your overall quality of life.

Not liking how you feel, in response to certain behavior, is worth your time and attention. If it’s not worth your time, you’re not going to allow it to be worthy anyone else’s time either.

It’s important to understand that you cannot protect yourself from the impacts of allowed negative behavior.

When you ok the passage of negative treatment, your self-worth will be impacted. Your conscious mind will easily blame your boss or the people who put you in the unfortunate situation, but your subconscious will hold you accountable because you are the protector, communicator, and advocate for your feelings, you are the exerciser of your boundaries.

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How do you handle it?

Express and request.

  1. Express how you feel- I was embarrassed, uncomfortable, felt singled-out, disrespected, etc.

  2. Request a reasonable remedy- can we talk about this in private?

If you’re able to speak at the moment, you can say, “You’re making me uncomfortable, can we talk about this privately/later?”

If you’re not able to speak at the moment, which is entirely normal, you’re allowed to choose to withdraw. You may be wondering if leaving the room would be considered insubordinate. Directly, no. Indirectly, a company acting in bad faith can make its own rules and definitions. As can any person. Operating within a dynamic is not specific to employment, sometimes friends or family or spouses force dynamics on us as well.

5 Hurtful Truths About Establishing and Enforcing Healthy Boundaries

You can explain your behavior by stating that you felt uncomfortable within the dynamic you were placed—having to either allow negative treatment in front of your peers, diminishing your self-worth and morale, or speaking out against an authority making you appear argumentative or potentially disrespectful—and did not want to operate within that dynamic so you chose to withdraw and readdress.

Your feelings deserve your respect first. It’s not always comfortable to exercise our boundaries or express our feelings to other people, because when we do, we’re allowing them to consent to care. This means they have the ability to choose to not care—and that can hurt. In an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt, we sometimes try to force people into caring, either overtly or subtly, by making statements about what we believe to be logical or fact-based.

People Have a Right to Consent to Care

Example: “Anyone would be embarrassed by being called out in a conference room.”

This statement is universally untrue, simply because we cannot sum up the reactions of all, or even most people, in an attempt to correct someone else’s actions that impact us on an individual level. Rather than addressing how we feel in return, they will argue the logic of that very point. Their argument will translate to us that they do not care about our feelings of embarrassment. Communication has then become obscured.

Rather try, “I was embarrassed when you called me out in the conference room and I didn’t feel comfortable engaging that way.”

The second statement expresses your feelings of embarrassment, allowing the other person to decide whether or not they want to empathize with your position.

If they do not want to empathize with your position or respect your request to move the communication to a more comfortable time and place or avoid that approach in the future, it’s up to you to decide when and how to exercise your boundaries.

A choice to not exercise your boundaries, whether it’s because you’re afraid of losing your job, losing an opportunity, or facing disciplinary action, or changing a relationship, will directly impact your self-view and self-worth. If your feelings are not worthy of action by you, you’re communicating to your subconscious that they’re not worthy of anyone’s time or attention.

  1. Indulge your comfort, it directly impacts your self-worthy and quality of life

  2. Try to recognize when you’re placed in a dynamic and you feel trapped

  3. Respect your needs, don’t shame them away

You are your own greatest communicator and biggest advocate.