Lately, I’ve written a lot about minding our own business and leaving others to mind theirs. But what can we do when someone else is in OUR business?
I had an experience with this recently when I visited a friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time. She talked over me, gave me unsolicited advice, and lectured me about how I should or shouldn’t be thinking and living my life.
Now I know my friend to be a loving person. After all, that is why I’m friends with her. She was not intentionally being hurtful or insensitive. However, within a short period of time I started feeling annoyed. I got tired of being interrupted and I didn’t like being judged or told what to do.
I especially didn’t appreciate being told that there was a right or a wrong way to be, which in this case, was her way. Generally, our thoughts and values overlap to a fairly large extent. However, she doesn’t know what it’s like to be me. Without being curious or deeply listening to me, she couldn’t possibly know what I’ve been experiencing.
At first I shut down. I found her approach to be intrusive and unwelcome. I didn’t have the energy to push back, and I felt like I’d been run over.
Have you ever had an experience like this?
When it does (and doesn’t) make sense for others to be in our business
Family members, friends, coworkers, and even passing acquaintances may overstep our boundaries. They may even tell us that they are only intruding because they love us and that it is their job to tell us what they think we should do, whether we ask for advice or not.
However, we are responsible for ourselves and our decisions. Most of us do not like being told what to do. I sure don’t! I didn’t like it as a child and I’m not looking to be told what to do as an adult.
Let’s look at some situations where it may make sense for others to give us advice (or for us to give someone else advice!) and how to handle it when someone crosses a line.
When we ask for advice
I’m perfectly capable of seeking out advice. I’m also careful about who I seek advice from.
Sometimes we want advice from our friends. We want to hear others’ thoughts and opinions, especially if those friends have experience or expertise we could benefit from. But there is a difference between having a consultant and a boss.
But I don’t ask others what I should do in a situation. I may solicit advice, but not orders. I discourage telling others what they should do because none of us can completely understand what it’s like to be someone else. And no one else bears the consequences of my decisions. In the end, the decision is mine.
If someone is in danger
A time when it may make sense for another person to get into our business is if we are endangering ourselves or others. Suicidal behavior, drunk driving, or violence are examples of when our business becomes everyone’s business. For the safety of others, it may be necessary for someone to step in and intervene. This is especially true when we are impaired or otherwise unable to make sound decisions.
But if we are taking a risk that could lead to embarrassment, failure, or heartbreak, that is up to us. Sometimes our decisions can look like wrong decisions to someone else, but they still might be an important path for us to go down, even if it leads to unpleasant outcomes.
We’re allowed to take risks in our lives. Often, this is how we learn and grow. No one else can know the effects of our actions and choices for sure, even if they believe they do. No one can see the future.
What can we do if someone is in our business?
As always, the first step to any sort of change is noticing. You might realize that somebody is in your business if you’re feeling reactive. This may elicit feelings of frustration, anger, and defensiveness. You might feel like a child who is being told what to do.
Once you notice this, you are now in a position to make a decision about what to do next.
Most times, the next step depends on how close we are to the person, and how much we value the relationship. If this comes from a casual acquaintance or a stranger, you may simply decide to walk away or brush it off.
However, if this comes from someone we are closer to, we may want to ask ourselves if this person is likely to change. If your elderly aunt has told you that you should go to church every time you’ve seen her in the past 20 years, you’ve probably realized that she is unlikely to change and that her behavior isn’t personal. You may love her dearly and choose to say to yourself “Oh, that’s my dear aunt just being herself.” No need to react.
But if you feel like your relationship is being damaged by their overstepping your boundaries, it may make sense to be more direct.
For example, I sat down and had a talk with my friend who I mentioned earlier. I said to her, “I love you. I know you to be a loving person and I know you’re not trying to be hurtful. I feel like you’re not listening to me or putting energy into understanding what I’ve been going through. I don’t like being interrupted and I’m not looking to be told what to do. The way that you can show me you care is to be curious and open to what I have to say.” After that, we had a long overdue talk and cleared the air between us.
It might feel uncomfortable to be so direct and honest, but if we do nothing about the situation, we may end up harboring resentment that can weaken our relationship.
Remember, we have the right to set boundaries and ask for our autonomy to be respected.
When others push back
In many cases, the other person will push back and get defensive, insisting that they are only acting out of love.
They might say “I’m concerned. I’m worried about you. I’m just saying this because I love you.”
We can acknowledge this, but also be honest about how we feel. We can say “I get that’s what you think you’re doing, but it doesn’t feel loving. I’m not receiving it well. I don’t feel respected.”
The person may respect our wishes and back off. And they may not.
When someone’s behavior crosses our lines
What can we do if someone is so in our business that it negatively affects the relationship, even after we have asked them to stop?
At this point, we must ask ourselves to what degree we are willing to tolerate the behavior and our differences in opinion.
This is true of any differences in a relationship. It’s normal to see things differently. We will all have our unique view of things. We also have different opinions about what is appropriate in a relationship and what is not, and we get to choose where we draw the lines in our relationships. There’s no right or wrong here, just things we can figure out for ourselves.
For some people, they have pretty loose lines and can be friends with lots of people. Others are more particular. That’s okay. We can choose our friends. That’s how friends work. You may want to make some decisions about the relationship and decide what level of connection you want with that person.
Do both sides respect differences, and are both sides willing to maintain a relationship in spite of those differences? You can limit certain topics, try to understand different views, and see where that goes.
But if there’s a lack of respect for the differences, like if you’re being treated poorly or someone tries to control, shame, or guilt trip you, that’s out of bounds.
You may want to share less information about your life and your thoughts with that person. Maybe a more superficial relationship would be more manageable. This may mean seeing that person less or talking to them less often. In extreme cases it might mean cutting off the relationship altogether.
In the end, you are in charge of you and your relationships. You can choose the level of interaction and intimacy you want with the people in your life.
To learn more, I encourage you to read my article, Everything You Need to Know About Boundaries so you can consciously set boundaries with people in your life.