Boundaries: building up your boundary muscles
This is part 3 of a 3-part series by Dana Nygaard, LPC. Before reading this blog post, we suggest you read part 1, Boundaries: why they matter, and part 2, Boundaries: violations, confrontations and unsolicited advice.
The way to get good at setting boundaries is to practice, practice, practice. The only time you are actually growing is when you are uncomfortable. Self-improvement is not created in a vacuum but is a result of your efforts, your work. The good news is that no one dies from feeling uncomfortable!
Family gatherings Interacting with family members can be emotionally challenging during one of the most difficult seasons of your life. Seeing nieces, nephews and little cousins may be a painful reminder of what you long for. Keep in mind that your family members won’t be able to totally understand what you are feeling and experiencing. This holds true even with relatives who have experienced infertility because your journey is unique. Within the context of closer family relationships, it can also be an open door to have a deeper conversation if that’s what you need. You may say, “We haven’t considered the suggestion you are sharing with us. Is there more you can share about the idea?” Baby-related happenings It does not get any easier when family and friends announce their pregnancies and baby shower invitations fill your mailbox. Such events necessitate a balance between managing your feelings and becoming isolated. You may be wondering what your options are. Limit social media Personal news feeds may seem to be flooded with painful reminders that those in your social circles are growing their families, leading you to dread checking your social media and yet feeling compelled to do so, likely being overcome with feelings of jealousy, anger, bitterness, guilt and shame. This push-pull dynamic is a hard one to avoid, but it may be time to disconnect temporarily. You are just a phone call or email away if someone needs to reach you. Attend, but put a limit on it So you’ve been invited to an in-person event. Relationships can be a painful and repeated reminder that you are in a different season than those around you, but they can also bring support, encouragement and hope. If you’d love to attend but want to protect your heart, consider arriving late and/or leaving early. This limits the amount of time you have to put on a brave face and allows you to show support for the expecting couple. Don’t attend - skip it Give yourself permission to turn down invitations to baby showers or any event you worry will be too much to handle. People who care about you should want what is best for you and would not desire you to go beyond your mental and emotional endurance. You could respond with one of the following:
“We are working with a fertility specialist because we are having trouble growing our family. Baby-related gatherings are terribly difficult for me at this time. Please keep me in the loop because I’m excited for you and our friendship means the world to me.”
“My wife and I are currently coping with a really difficult situation and are not ready to talk about it yet. I’m sharing this with you because I value our relationship and wanted to give you some insight in understanding my behavior.”
“What a lovely invite. I wish I were able to attend this special event but I look forward to meeting your bundle of joy once he arrives.”
Build up your boundary muscles
There may be times when you want to vent your infertility struggles. One way to avoid drawing unsolicited advice is to let others know up front what you need from them. You might say:
“What I need most right now is for you to sit by my side and listen as I share what’s on my heart, without trying to solve the problem.”
“We have concerns about our fertility that we would like to share with you. Are you willing to listen with compassion and without offering advice?”
Let’s explore approaches to use when bombarded with unwelcome conversations, in a way that gives the offender the opportunity to correct their behavior. Before responding, take some deep breaths and count to ten, countering “Diffuse Physiological Arousal” (the state that a person goes into when they have started to emotionally flood and they are starting to shut down emotionally and physically). This self-soothing technique sends a message to your brain to calm down and sharpens your focus.
Utilize facial expressions
A feeling can be expressed through body language without having to utter a word. You may choose to graciously smile, which may invite more commentary on their part; alternatively, you could employ a smile that doesn’t quite reach your eyes.
Refocus the conversation
You might say:
“I’d rather talk about you and your big work project.”
“How is your husband/wife/kids/parents, etc?”
If they continue with their line of questions then you continue with yours until they get bored. Reject the lie Some audacious individuals speak as if they have insider information from God by espousing statements such as, “The truth is that you will never have children.” St. Paul teaches that prophecy builds up, encourages, and consoles (1 Corinthians 14). Sister Constance Veit, L.S.P. states: “we [women] all have a life-long vocation to motherhood, whether physical or spiritual.” To repudiate their words, lest you fall into despair, you can respond by saying, “In the name of Jesus, I reject the lie that we will never have children.” Opt out of the conversation It is within your agency to not engage in dialogue you find noxious. Instead you might say:
“Please excuse me, my drink needs refreshing.”
“I simply must run now, I have another engagement.”
Exercise silence Just stop talking. Embrace the awkward without saying a single word. The offender created an uncomfortable situation which does not require you to ease with a response. Your deafening silence will signal that your fertility is not up for discussion. Delineate your boundaries Be prepared with some one-liners to overcome in-the-moment pressure. Take into account the importance of discerning which response fits a particular individual. You may respond one way with your boss and another with your nosy neighbor. Review the below options to find those that not only fit the situation but also your personality.
“I’ll let you know when we have an answer.”
“That’s a really great question, I wish I had an answer.”
“We are doing our part by trusting in God’s providence.”
“We aren’t really sure, but we are still trying to figure it out.”
“Only God knows, and He hasn’t told us yet.”
“I need a minute to regroup. Let’s pick this up after dinner, Mass, etc.”
“I need time to process my thoughts and will let you know if I want to talk further.”
“That’s not something I care to discuss, though I acknowledge your concern and interest.”
“This isn’t something I care to discuss right now. I’ll let you know once I have news to share.”
“At this moment, I am just pouring out my feelings; I’m not looking for solutions.”
“Right now, I’m not looking for feedback but would appreciate your lending an empathetic ear.”
“We appreciate your desire to weigh in on our fertility struggles, but we are not looking for any input at this time.”
“While we value that you are always so helpful; what we need at this time is for you to trust us to figure this out on our own.”
“We believe you have the best of intentions, it’s just that we are in need of prayers/novenas/mass enrollments, rather than criticisms.”
“That seems like good advice; however, we are hopeful with our current approach using NaProTechnology.” (Acknowledgement of advice does not equate to agreement.)
“We are acting in accordance with the values of our Church rather than outside influences. Thanks for your understanding.”
“Unfortunately, your suggestion goes against the teachings of our faith and is not something we are interested in investigating.”
“We acknowledge and appreciate your ideas, but with God’s grace we will figure this out on our own.”
“I’m not comfortable being asked about that.”
“Oh my, that’s a rather personal question - what can we chat about instead?”
“I’m not in the habit of discussing personal issues at work/church/baseball games etc.”
“Why would you need to know that?”
“I feel incompetent and upset, and need you to offer advice only when I solicit it.”
It’s worth noting that you may experience some push-back from the offending party after you set limits. Your responsibility is to hold firm by being a broken record. This is an important part of protecting yourself from egregious interactions that disturb your mental and emotional health. Final thoughts
Whew, we covered some tough situations in this blog post! You have what it takes to maneuver insufferable fertility conversations with a balance of grace and grit. Focus on your progress, not perfection. Boundaries are a process.