Standing in line at the grocery story, you notice the gentleman behind you is leering. When he attempts to start a conversation, you feel the hair on the back of your neck rising. This situation is not unique. There are plenty of other variations where the people you encounter in life may make you uncomfortable -- from a creepy stranger to an annoyingly pushy neighbor. Learning how to react in these situations can help you become more at ease when confronted by the people you can’t help feeling uncomfortable around.
Recognize Your Limits
Psychologist Dana Gionta advises people to spend time reflecting on their own personal limits. Consider the interactions that make you most uncomfortable in life and how often you are faced with these situations. Make a point of acknowledging the times when your boundaries are being pushed as well as the unique circumstances surrounding each situation. For instance, you might have to exhibit a bit more patience with a family member who makes you uncomfortable than you would with a stranger. Take the time to determine where your boundaries are, however, and practice self-awareness in all interactions.
Deflect Uncomfortable Conversations
There are certain people and situations you will not always be able to avoid, like a nosy neighbor who has a habit of asking invasive questions. Jill Spiegel, author of “How to Talk to Anyone About Anything,” recommends instituting topic changes when necessary. If your neighbor begins inquiring about the cost of your new car, mention you don’t quite remember what you spent before asking what you can bring to the upcoming homeowner’s association meeting. Remain polite, but work on steering conversations away from topics that make you uncomfortable.
Practice Being Direct
Gionta notes that in certain situations, personality and cultural differences might make being direct the most effective way of maintaining healthy boundaries with certain people. If a co-worker you cannot avoid contact with has a way of pushing your buttons, reflect on whether he is intentionally making you uncomfortable, or is just unaware of how his behavior may lead to that result. If you suspect it is the latter, enter into an open discussion about how certain topics of conversation are better off avoiding in the workplace. Give him the opportunity to respect the boundaries you have no made clear by first being direct.
Let Go of Guilt
Licensed clinical social worker Karen Kleiman, founder and director of The Postpartum Stress Center, explains that above all else it is important to let go of your own guilt when setting boundaries. Remember that you are allowed to assert yourself in certain situations, and that saying “no” to someone who is pushing your limits is acceptable. Don’t let personal guilt lead to your continuing uncomfortable interactions longer than necessary.
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Living in Alaska, Leah Campbell has traveled the world and written extensively on topics relating to infertility, dating, adoption and parenting. She recently released her first book, and holds a psychology degree (with an emphasis in child development and abnormal child psychology) from San Diego State University.
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