Tag Archives: boundaries

How To Deal With Peculiar People


by Lillian Csernica on March 27, 2019

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The Younger Boy (TYB) and I were out running errands the other evening and we stopped in at our favorite pizza parlor. There are six, count ’em, six big flat screen TVs. We’re regulars, so the staff lets us have a remote and watch whatever we like while we’re eating our food. Most often we watch cooking shows or paranormal investigations or whatever YA show TYB prefers at the time.

On this particular evening, I witnessed the ritualistic behavior observed by another regular patron. I’d seen this woman two, maybe three times, but I hadn’t noticed the details that would have cemented her in my memory. That was about to change.

For the sake of both anonymity and clarity, let me call this woman Barbara.

We were sitting in our favorite booth eating pizza and watching a show TYB chose. Most of the flat screens in the pizza parlor are set on sports games, so I’m in the habit of making sure the close captioned subtitles are on. That way I can keep the volume down and still know what the people onscreen are saying. This is important. Bear it in mind.

Barbara comes in, sees us sitting there, and stops dead in her tracks. She looks up at the screen we’re watching, looks back at us, then goes to the register to place her order. She keeps glancing over at us, then chooses one of those bistro tables where the chair and table legs are extra long. From the bag she’s carrying, Barbara takes out a seat cushion, plumps it, sets it on the chair, adjusts the angle, plumps it again. She moves on to the napkin dispenser and pulls out several paper napkins, unfolds them completely, then takes a long time making sure there’s a solid layer covering the tabletop.

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This particular pizza parlor is kept in a good state of tidiness. I’ve seen it messy only during the lunch hour all-you-can-eat buffet when turnover is rapid and the staff are busy making more food. The floor is always clean. If I ask, somebody comes out right away to wipe down the table where we like to sit.

Even so, Barbara takes extreme pains to prep her chair and her table.  Then she looks up at the flat screen across from her. It’s the one designated #3. TBY and I are watching #4. Barbara comes around the railing that divides the bistro tables from the booths. She ignores me completely and greets TBY by name. She’s vaguely familiar, so I figure she must be somebody we knew from the years my boys went through the local school system. TBY doesn’t recognize her, and has no interest in doing so. This makes no difference to Barbara, who begins explaining how she’s going to watch a certain show now, she really likes that show, so would that be OK with him? He gives her a polite yes. This is making him uncomfortable. Barbara goes through it again, still not making any eye contact with me.

At that point I realize what’s really going on. When I want to change the channel on #4, I ask anybody who’s sitting in that area if that’s OK with them. Most people aren’t even paying attention, but they do thank me for taking the time to check first. Barbara wasn’t trying to be polite. Barbara was telling TYB what she was going to do. There was a script running inside her head and we weren’t giving her the replies she was after. I suspect we were watching the flat screen Barbara usually watches. The disruption of her ritual might have caused her the predictable rise of anxiety in someone who has OCD or OCPD, which are two separate and distinct diagnoses. I could be wrong. This might have been nothing more than one more garden variety control freak with territorial imperative, which is a lot more common than clinical OCD or OCPD.

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Barbara had crossed the line into Bothering My Child, so I gave her a smile that didn’t reach my eyes and told her we understood. Translation: Thank you, now go away.

I thought that settled the matter. Nope. The staff brought out Barbara’s order. That prompted her to scurry back to her table and begin the process of arranging her plate, drink, plastic cutlery, etc. OK fine. None of my business. Barbara was in my line of sight, so watching her was something I couldn’t really avoid doing. That’s what helped me spot the problem when it happened.

Barbara’s show came on set #3. She cranked up the volume so high it intruded on all the other sets and on general conversation. Other people started giving Barbara annoyed looks. To say she was oblivious is an understatement. The way she sat in her chair, leaning forward and hanging on every word spoken by the main characters, told me this show was really important to her. Again, OK fine. We had the close captioning on our set, so TYB kept watching his show and didn’t seem to mind. He did turn the volume up a little bit.

Barbara aimed the remote she was using at “our set” and dragged the volume down to nothing.

Not OK. Trying to be a grown-up about this, I let myself assume Barbara did not know that each remote can affect the other sets. TYB set the volume at the polite level.

Barbara promptly turned it down again.

When this happened a third time, I was more than ready to tell this woman off.

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Fortunately, I’ve learned to take a breath and weigh my options. TYB was done eating. It was time to move on. This particular TV show seemed to be very important to Barbara. Maybe I was witnessing what amounted to a Big Night Out for her. It’s also possible she did not connect turning down the volume on #3 with having any impact on us. Keeping these thoughts in mind, all I did was return the #4 remote to the guy at the register. He glanced over my shoulder at Barbara, sighed, and rolled his eyes. Clearly this was a regular event.

People do have issues. Sometimes those people are also rude. Is it worth it to call them on it? I could see Barbara had a genuine problem of some sort. In all fairness, I must say she did make an effort to be polite and reasonable. Now I know what might happen if and when we cross paths at the pizza parlor again.

Times are hard. In the big picture, this incident was odd and irritating, but really no big deal. It costs me nothing to be charitable to people who are probably just doing the best they can.

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Filed under autism, charity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Food, frustration, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, Special needs, therapy

As Jumpy As A Wired Kangaroo


by Lillian Csernica on July 24, 2016

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I really don’t like it when people sneak up on me. I have enough anxiety issues as it is. My son John once crept up behind me, poked me in the ribs, and said, “Boo!” He suddenly found himself staring at the floor with his arm up behind his back. I didn’t do it with much force, but I did it, leaving both of us surprised. I turned him loose and apologized, but I made it clear to John not only is it not polite to sneak up on people, it can be very dangerous.

This also explains why I almost never braid my hair. Every time I’ve ever done so, somebody will come up behind me and yank on my braid like it’s some sort of bell pull. My instincts say I’ve snagged my hair on something, which tends to kick off my fight or flight response due to that time way back when I was four years old and my long hair got caught in a floor fan.  Nothing got cut off, but it took a long time to untangle and it hurt a LOT. What is the deal with this braid-pulling? It’s up there with people being compelled to pat a pregnant woman’s stomach. I don’t care if you “just really had to do it.” Hands off!

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On a recent trip to the local Dollar Tree, I was standing there trying to remember one of the items I’d come to buy. Suddenly, right behind me, a man cleared his throat quite loudly. I shot up into the air as if I’d been stabbed with a hat pin. I jerked around and almost tripped over him. What on earth was he doing that close to me? He made some attempt at courtesy that still didn’t explain why he was standing well within my personal space. I got away from him, and nothing else came of it, so I didn’t feel a need to tell the manager. I remember his face. If I see him again, he will not have another opportunity to sneak up on me.

Tonight I was out buying groceries for the week. Put everything on the moving belt, pushed my cart forward a half step at a time as the line progressed. Out of nowhere there’s a guy leaning over my left shoulder.  Turns out he was a cashier trying to decide which check stand to close next. So what? He could have taken three steps around me and get a better look at the situation! At the very least, a polite “Excuse me” was called for. What is wrong with some people that they just treat others like objects to be ignored or pushed aside?

I’m jumpy to begin with. I will freely admit that.

However, I’ve been given reason to develop a high-strung temperament due to sudden shocks of a physical and auditory nature. That tends to make one prone to being jumpy.

This is a bit of a psychological Moebius strip. Where does one part end and the other begin?

These are tough times. Caution and courtesy should be our watch words. There are a lot of people suffering from PTSD because there’s a hell of a lot of trauma happening, both visible and invisible.

How do your experiences compare? Do you see this kind of disregard for personal space? Let me hear what’s happening to you.

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Filed under Family, Food, frustration, Lillian Csernica, perspective, Self-image, therapy, Writing

Please Fence Me In


by Lillian Csernica on January 20, 2015

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My adventures in mental health care have taught me the importance of having boundaries and maintaining them.  Some people have a hard time establishing their own boundaries for themselves, the limits they place on their own behavior toward other people.  Some people know what their own boundaries are and where they lie.  The trouble they have comes in maintaining those boundaries in the face of behavior from people who can’t recognize and/or do not respect those boundaries.  A tall redwood fence standing on the property line establishes a very definite boundary.  When it comes to the more intangible or figurative boundaries of etiquette, personal space, trigger subjects, and more serious issues, it can be much more difficult to make that fence line clear.  Some boundary issues fall under the heading of “unwritten rules.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trying to find a copy of The Book of Unwritten Rules ever since I started kindergarten.

The Japanese have two concepts that are very useful in establishing boundaries between people. These concepts are uchi and soto.

Uchi means inside.  Uchi means Us.  Our family, our house, our team, our business, our class, our club, our circle of friends.

Soto means outside.  Soto means Them.  Anybody and everybody who is not part of uchi is by definition soto.  Outside.  Outsiders.  Not us.  This does not mean such people are enemies.  It just means they are not part of the intimate grouping of relationships that make up the family, team, class, etc.

Uchi People are treated with a degree of familiarity and intimacy shown to no one else.  In Japan, everyone in the same household refers to each other by the form of address used by the youngest member of the household.  Mom is called “Okaa-san” by everybody, even Dad.  Dad is referred to as “Oto-san,” even by Grandma.  The culture of Japan is very good as an example of why boundaries are so essential.  Even among Uchi People, in fact especially among Uchi People, there are important limits.  For centuries the houses in Japan have been built of wood and paper.  When Oto-san and Okaa-san are sleeping the room right next to the room where their eldest son and his wife sleep, people get very good at not hearing what they’re not supposed to hear.

Soto People can ignore each other on the crowded train, for example, and remain isolated in their individual walls of privacy.  Common courtesy does come into play, because the Japanese are nothing if not polite.

Boundaries give rise to expectations about other people’s behavior.  Little kids are taught the basic rule of polite social interaction: Keep Your Hands To Yourself.  At least one hopes they’re taught that by responsible parents who want to pass on their own good manners.  We all know children and indeed adults who can’t seem to get the hang of keeping their hands to themselves.  They have to be reminded again and again.  In the case of some adults, if those reminders don’t work, it’s time to call the law enforcement officials.

Another basic lesson is Clean Up After Yourself.  I have a bad habit of putting my hand wash in to soak and then forgetting it’s there.  I use a plastic wash tub that I set in the bath tub.  There have been times when my sister has wanted to take a shower and my wash is still sitting there.  That’s just thoughtless on my part, so I try harder to make myself use a timer.  The idea of taking care of one’s own mess may begin with something as simple as the dinner dishes, but it can extend to something as complicated as one’s own emotional problems.  A friend of mine has gotten herself roped into being used as a cheap therapist by someone we both know.  Me, I think that someone just wants to be a Drama Queen and needs an audience.  Maybe I’m wrong.  My friend is a grown-up, so if she chooses to put up with this, that’s her privilege.  If she doesn’t want to go on putting up with it, she’s going to have a hard time establishing the boundary and making the Drama Queen respect it.  The bottom line here is simple: don’t expect other people to clean up your mess.  You made it, you deal with it.  (When it comes to people who do need professional medical or therapeutic assistance with their psychological difficulties, I fully support that.  I should.  I’m one of them.)

Boundaries are tricky because they can be flexible depending on the person and the circumstance.  I hate being interrupted while I’m writing.  The adults in the house know this.  At the same time, if Michael or John needs me for any reason, I will stop what I’m doing and go see what’s needed.  I’m not at all interested in hearing some personal saga from a sales clerk, but I will put up with listening to my mother tell me the ongoing plot of her favorite TV show.  Context is everything.  Personal context, social context, family context.  Age, gender, race, educational, and financial contexts.  They are all part of the warp and weft of the social fabric.  We make intuitive choices moment by moment, adjusting up and down the scale of intimacy and formality.

The expression “mending fences” means to repair a friendship.  To me this indicates the fences were broken somehow.  The boundaries were crossed.  By re-establishing those boundaries and rebuilding those fences, the relationship is put back on course in a healthy, clear, and respectful direction.  Sounds like a good policy to me!

 

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Filed under Depression, Family, Goals, Japan, marriage, Self-image, Special needs, Writing