Over the years, a close friend of mine has come to me for advice on setting boundaries with people who overstep hers on a frequent basis. Read this article I wrote for the gist of what I said to her:
Another article I wrote answering a reader’s question on boundaries you may find helpful:
If you need a primer on how to deal with a text stalker, read my friend’s hilarious, and yet informative story with some great tips on how to nip this problem in the bud.
Boundary-Setting with a Text Stalker
“You get what you tolerate.”
– Henry Cloud
If life is a classroom, then I seem to be having tremendous difficulty grasping the lesson of setting and enforcing personal boundaries.
As embarrassed as I am to admit the fact that it took me FIVE years to finally muster up the courage to deal with an obsessive texter, I am sharing my experience because I suspect I’m not alone in my on-going struggle to set and enforce healthy boundaries.
Here’s what happened:
I have a work acquaintance who slowly became a friend over the years. In the early days, we would e-mail to book a time to talk on the phone once every six months or so, as we lived in different cities. Then we switched to texting…and let’s just say, communicating via text once every six months would have been fine by me.
Her- not so much.
For the first few years, she texted me every couple of weeks. Then it became every 4 or 5 days…then every 2 or 3 days. Now that might not be too many texts for you. But it sure is for me…and that, I am finally realizing, is the whole POINT of personal boundaries! We all have different lines in the sand and I had found mine with this texter!
Her behavior was negatively impacting me. First, I tried to change her behavior by changing mine. When I received a text (which would often be a question), I would wait 24 to 48 hours to respond, hoping she’d get the hint to ease up.
Nope. She would wait 24 to 48 hours to respond to my text and then send me another text (usually with a question).
Okay, so the subtle approach wasn’t working…
But instead of dealing with her directly, I just got more and more angry at her for continually texting me. I felt harassed, manipulated and controlled. And I didn’t know what to do about it.
The situation came to a head a couple of months ago when I tossed and turned all night. I knew the time had come to DEAL with the matter (instead of just getting angry and complaining about it) and I had to admit to myself that I did know what to do about it…I just didn’t want to do it. Why? Because I was terrified.
I knew the time had come for me to tell her directly to stop texting me so much. But why would that terrify me? Oh, let me count the ways! Perhaps you can relate:
- Fear of confrontation
- Fear of hurting a friend
- Fear of not being liked
- Fear of someone thinking less of me
- Fear of losing a friend
- Fear of negative repercussions at work
- Fear of feeling like a failure because I couldn’t handle an obsessive texter
Interestingly, it was my dear friend, Esther Kane- who if any of you know her, tends to be a straight shooter- whom I thought of that sleepless night. As I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m., I asked myself “What would Esther say?”
And I heard Esther’s answer clear as a bell in my head: “You need to tell that woman to STOP texting you. And if she doesn’t respect your request, then you block her texts. Done. Move on.”
Then I fell sound asleep. When I woke up the next morning, I immediately sent the woman an e-mail with a polite but simple request to please stop texting me so much.
And let me tell you, the FREEDOM I felt after finding the courage to speak my truth was phenomenal. I felt like a bird that had been let out of a cage. I wasn’t scared to look at my phone anymore in fear of yet another text from this woman.
Mostly, however, I felt empowered. By saying no to what I didn’t want, I was making space for what I do want.
And you know what? That woman did stop texting me so much. Two months have now passed and yes, she does still send me the occasional text, but they are functional (as in setting up a time to meet) versus just checking in to see how I am doing or asking me a question that could be asked via e-mail.
Lesson learned from this experience:
The precious time and energy spent being angry at someone for repeatedly asking more of you than you are willing or able to give, in addition to the time and energy spent worrying about how to deal with the situation, could be FAR better utilized on activities and relationships you actually want in your life.
Simple yes, easy no. But that’s okay…the Universe is a very patient teacher. If setting and enforcing personal boundaries were easy, we’d all be doing it.