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Note #58: ask for what you want
Let’s talk about setting boundaries
This is coming rather later than usual, I know: I went bowling with friends in London yesterday after a rather crazier week than usual, so I didn’t get around to setting things up properly. It was a lot of fun, though and the music was amazing—we (and many others in other lanes) all danced a lot while waiting our turns to bowl, which was as fun as it sounds!
Did you do anything fun this week?
Terms and conditions (essay)
Do you know what it’s like to hope people treat you better but keep finding it somehow elusive? That’s what I talk about in my essay this week. It’s my story of how I stopped being a pushover and learned to be assertive instead of hoping people would treat me well only to keep getting disappointed.
I used to be very shy.
Many people who know me now find that hard to believe but it’s true. I was a pushover growing up, for both physical and psychological reasons. Physically I was thin, and for a boy in 80s Nigeria that was bad news: for me that meant being literally pushed over during football games. I often got pushed around because I was didn’t look like I could take most people on in a fight. (I couldn’t.)
But that was nothing compared to the way I felt inside.
You can read the rest of the essay here: Living on your terms
Firm, not confrontational
Any job that has you interfacing with people puts you at that much more risk of abuse from some of them. In healthcare that’s gets even more because you’re often dealing with people on their bad days—they often wouldn’t be seeing you if they could help it. And working in psychiatry on top of that means they’re more likely to have their filters off and to be acting very different from how they normally act.
All that said, abuse simply isn’t acceptable, even if the person doing it (as if often the case) would be very apologetic when they’re much better. Early on in my psychiatry training in Nigeria, though, I learned something I’ve never forgotten: to think in terms of being firm but not confrontational when engaging people.
And I’m not just talking about patients: tense situations happen in all kinds of settings. I just happen to maybe get a bit more practice than most.
That means being clear—assertive—about what I expect or would like (the firm part) but without undermining the other person’s autonomy or dignity. I learned from watching others do it, but I think knowing what I was aiming for made it easier to recognise. So I’ve learned to stay calm when the other person isn’t, to keep my voice level when they’re raising theirs, to listen without interrupting when they’re talking, but also gently but firmly stop them if they just keep going.
As an example, I’ve found calling people by name and asking, “Would you like me to respond to your concerns?” can be pretty effective at getting them to take a breath.
Roses and red flags (quote)
This week’s quote is from one of the characters in the Netflix show, BoJack Horseman. It struck me the first time I read it because it’s a little cheesy, and yet it’s precisely true (which is basically a description of the show itself).
You know, it's funny. When you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.
— BoJack Horseman S2:E11
Moon limits (Yoruba proverb)
In the spirit of this week’s essay…
The moon knows its limits—that’s why it doesn’t appear at noon.
Or as the English proverb goes: good fences make good neighbours. It’s just unfortunate that sometimes you do have to remind people where the fences are. Have you had to do that recently?