Coronavirus has challenged us on many levels: physical, emotional, financial — and the list goes on. A common personal issue through all of these challenges is how to go about maintaining one’s own boundaries.
Asserting ourselves can be challenging in and of itself, but it’s even more confusing in our current environment. In fact, even our government officials are in disagreement about how to lift stay-at-home orders while also reopening businesses and schools.
On top of this, everyone and their uncle has their own personal opinion on the best way through this. Dealing with these conflicting and sometimes even hostile conversations makes standing up for one’s own physical and emotional boundaries during — and beyond — this epidemic quite complicated.
For instance, some people wear masks everywhere they go, some refuse to, even in grocery stores. Some people who can afford to stay at home are hunkering down without stepping a foot out their door (except to open it for deliveries); some people think it’s okay to get together with a group of friends for an overnight cabin party.
And, unfortunately, now as never before, other’s opinions are affecting us in ways we never had imagined and had never had to so often confront. It can happen when we merely go for a walk and some maskless runner thuds by, huffing and puffing within feet of us. What do we do? Yell at that person to cross the street? Turn our backs as quickly as possible? Ignore it, because we’re already too stressed out to deal?
It can also happen with the very people we live with. I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve talked to where one person is taking all the precautions and the other feels as if their partner’s requests to always wear masks in public and to stand six feet away while talking to friends is overdoing it.
So… what to do? It’s a tricky balance, that’s for sure. I know, for one, that when I dared yell at a jogger to stay six feet away, he, well… he “flipped me the bird” after he flew by. I realized later that even though the guy was beyond rude, he was probably also just as stressed as I was — and, as my husband pointed out later, the way I visualize a “six foot” distance is sometimes more like eight, especially when I’m worried about the virus. Yet even though we all have different perspectives on how to stay safe during and after this epidemic, it’s still important to assert ourselves.
In the book 5 Steps to Assertiveness: How to Communicate with Confidence and Get What You Want, author S. Renee Smith discusses the importance of certain communication rights. These rights include honoring both your own and other’s opinions, disagreeing with other people in a respectful manner, and expressing your own needs while acknowledging the fact that the other person’s needs may be in direct opposition. It’s easy to see that the common thread here can be boiled down to one word: respect.
When we decide to assert ourselves, then, it’s helpful to maintain a non-judgmental stance (as hard as that can be sometimes), remember to accept the other person as they are, and, of course, be as honest as possible — all great ways to maintain a respectful discourse.
While asserting ourselves in this current environment, it’s especially important to remember these general guidelines, perhaps employing an even bigger dose of calm, thoughtful — and respectful discourse. Especially with strangers. One never knows, of course, what hardships a particular person is going through — epidemic or not. However, we are all dealing with an extra layer of collective anxiety right now, an anxiety that may make people yell at joggers instead of crossing the street themselves or make joggers flip the bird, instead of ignoring the stressed-out lady whom he would have laughed at in the past!