“Boundaries are those distinctions that we make between ourselves and the world, between ourselves and significant others, and between ourselves and different types of situations–that is, different contexts.”
– Anné Linden, Boundaries in Human Relationships: How to be Separate and Connected
Boundaries are important for our well-being. However, there are people who do not seem to understand this and trespass–intentionally or not. Sometimes it’s an insensitive comment, and at other times, actual interference in matters that do not concern them. These are just examples. We’re sure you can think of so much more.
How should we deal with people who forget this and leave us stressed with their behavior?
Often, there are those who won’t utter a word, bottle it all up inside, and try their best to endure everything, reminding themselves to “just be patient” or “don’t stoop to his level”. The problem is, these are also the same people who have a higher probability of just suddenly exploding–or at times, imploding. Remember: we all have our limits–and limits are affected by so many other factors, specifically stressors we’re facing. What if they all pile up? What if you suddenly can’t take anymore but you got used to keeping it all to yourself and have forgotten that there is a better way to make things work?
Then, there are also those who’d engage the person in a ‘talk’ right then and there, telling oneself that “if I don’t fight back, I will always be this sore loser.” Perhaps they have a point, but we also know being reactionary–especially when our emotions are high–often makes things worse. “Do not be angry,” the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said.
We see that the extremes won’t work. A balance is needed. The middle way.
Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.
And if an evil whisper comes to you from Satan, then seek refuge with Allah. Verily, He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
– Noble Qur’an (Al A’raf) 7:199-200
The above verses from the Qur’an give that perfect balance:
Forgive — yes, there’s no point in weighing ourselves down with other people’s actions, replaying what happened again and again in our mind. Remember: the longer we hold on to what they did, the more we are subjecting ourselves to pain.
Enjoin what is good — forgive, yes, BUT we should also consider discussing with the person what would make relationships better in a peaceful way. This is especially important when we see the person on a regular basis (a co-worker, for example) and the act that angers us is something that happens repeatedly. Peaceful communication is another topic on its own, but just to give you an idea, it always is best to avoid making use of “You” in our statements. The healthier way is to share how you felt about what the person did: “I felt hurt when you said… maybe it will be best to…”). Of course, when emotions are still heightened, the best is to control our own selves first by following the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Discussing things when we’re at the peak of our emotions and our logical side has been muted will almost always not lead to good results. Once we’ve calmed ourselves down and we feel we are mentally and emotionally prepared to initiate a healthy conversation, let’s do so with the intention of compassionately helping the person see a better way of doing things for the sake of Allah. Let’s also practice what we preach by modelling good behavior ourselves. When discussing alone with the person is not enough, part of enforcing what is good is seeking other people’s help–an elder or a close friend of that person to whom the latter might be more open to listening. But, let’s always check our intention for doing things.
Turn away — when we’ve finally done our part but the person refuses to listen or accept, then limit interaction to only what is necessary to protect ourselves from being subjected to unnecessary stress. Patiently forgive, yes, but make sure to distance yourself, too. That’s part of caring for and protecting one’s wellbeing. Remember: “Allah guides whom He wills” and we can only pray that one day the person will change for the better.
Seek Allah’s protection to control oneself even more — let’s admit it, after an encounter, a part of us may want to confront the person or talk bad about the person behind his back. Our own egos or satan may lead us to replay the incident again and again in our minds, and before we know it, a whole new story has been written there which makes us angry even more. Let’s not give in to it by asking The Almighty’s help. Take deep breaths and utter a prayer–not just for the other but more importantly for our own selves. After all, we may be weak, but we have an All-Powerful Protector.
May we all find the courage and strength to
Pause, Pardon, and Patiently Persevere on the Straight Path.
Note: This is a general rule as a reflection on the verses mentioned. More serious actions are needed if the toxic behavior legally constitutes harassment or abuse.