How far should you let people push? How much should they get away with? How much should you be accommodating them? And how are your feelings about them playing into that? Would you put up with as much from your neighbour as your boss? Or what about your children or a spouse?
May I suggest you begin by setting some limits on the idea of setting limits? Because we’re talking about how long (how much time) we should put in before it’s too much. So can you see that the very idea of setting a limit traps you in time? You’re upset because of what’s happened again which means there must have been a before and you’ll be worried it will keep on happening which means by setting a limit you’re trying to alter your future. It’s like your mind colours in a section of your life stretching from a point in your past to a point in your future and you call that your relationship.
Fortunately one thing that actually does impact the future is what we do today. And even if we live in the moment we still have access to all of our knowledge. So we can make a decision today that we’re going in a new direction, but as soon as that person approaches us again we either have to re-make that same decision or we cave in and double back to our old decision. You can use the moments of now to plan your future but that future will still happen one moment at a time.
This isn’t to diminish what’s happening in people’s lives. This can get serious. If you’re dating a drug addict or someone that gets violent then these can be some of life’s most important decisions. But important and unimportant decisions are all made the same way. You can say whatever you want but your life is ultimately made out of what you do.
We all have those friends who keep going back to the same agonizing relationships over and over like a drug addict visiting their dealer. And it’s a good analogy, because the person really is addicted to the source of the drug they want (anger, sadness, victimization, whatever). So they see this person and they make them react in this predictable way and voila–they get the brain chemistry they came for and you have a perfect co-dependent relationship.
If this is something small it’s easy. You decide you don’t like this person or that activity or whatever and you just quit. You’re not setting a limit so much as realizing something doesn’t suit you. But setting a limit implies that we want to be close to a person (remember–be wary of that word want), but the person’s behaviour makes being close to them impossible or difficult. If it’s not something small and easy like an acquaintance or co-worker–if it’s a child or a spouse–then you still have to make your decisions one at a time and your only recourse between decisions is to accept your situation–which means don’t re-think a past choice.
In the end the closest thing to setting a limit would be to continue to make that same decision, each time, for the rest of your life. But of course many of you will end up waffling. You’ll set the limit and then have a low day or a high day where you’re a little needier or a little softer and you’ll let whoever it is close enough to hurt you again. But don’t beat yourself up for that even if you do end up with a broken heart. Because that’s what the you in that moment felt compelled to do–otherwise meaning you’re living your life wisely and in the moment because both decisions are equally fine, they each just match the state of mind of the thinker at the time, as they should.
Either accept people for how they are or you are doomed to a life of vainly trying to get them to be the way you want them to be. No one owes us any sort of behaviour so we certainly shouldn’t get attached to what we perceive as good behaviour. Other people live in moments too and they are always in a state of change. But it’s also very important to remember that we too are always changing. And as we change ourselves we also naturally change our idea of just what our limits really are. 😉
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.