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2021 Feb

Setting Covid Limits

Why the pandemic can be a useful way to reinforce our boundaries.

In everyday life, setting boundaries usually doesn’t come down to life and death. Most of us can skate around our incompatibilities, with nary a collision in sight. We give each other room to live life as we see fit. But the pandemic has turned up the heat under our differing worldviews and made it hard at times to be respectful adults with each other. This can be especially difficult when people close to you don’t see things your way.

During a pandemic, what do you do when friends or family members don’t see as much risk as you do? What if what makes you feel safe is disregarded or even dismissed? What if you feel pressured to tolerate more exposure than you want? It may be hard to hang onto a friendly attitude when the other person not only disagrees with you but acts as though you’re being unreasonable or even ridiculous. That’s hard to take when the issue is as crucial as safety and survival.

Pushy people lack the empathy to see things from another person’s point of view. They are very self-focused, so it’s often impossible for them to see someone’s opinion as worth taking seriously. Some of them will take it personally if you disagree with their position, seeming affronted if you hold differing beliefs about Covid safety measures. Instead of respecting your different tolerance for risk, they react as if your concern is an unnecessary and baseless impediment to what they think you should do.

This would be an easy issue to solve if explaining your position were all that was needed. Many people try to do just that—giving information, citing statistics, and otherwise defending that their worries have merit. But this approach usually doesn’t work with judgmental people because they find it hard to imagine other people’s inner experience. It doesn’t seem possible to them that a differing opinion could be as valid and respect worthy as their own.

These individuals focus on their wishes first, see themselves as right, and use emotional pressure to get their way. For them, disagreement is not about differing viewpoints, it’s about loyalty or betrayal. For opinionated people, love means giving them the last word. Attempting to talk it out with them—while a sensible first step—doesn’t usually budge them from their objections about your limits or refusals.

Such situations are excellent opportunities to practice sticking to your position without becoming defensive or angry yourself. You may be in the habit of avoiding confrontations with judgmental people because you find them intimidating or because it’s frustrating not to be respected for your own position.

But in this case, you know you’re not going to be pressured out of what you believe to be safe, right? The pandemic has created a uniquely justified situation wherein you can say no repeatedly, with clear resolution, to anyone who pressures you to compromise your comfort level.

Under pandemic conditions, you have external validation for whatever limits you want to set regarding social events. It’s a great time to get stronger in stating your preferences, with explanation but without apology, and tolerating some tension and discomfort without rushing in to smooth the other person’s ruffled feathers. You get to practice upholding your preferences without taking responsibility for the other person’s disapproval. You can just let yourself be, well, different from them.

The pandemic is giving us all the opportunity to stand up for ourselves and see what it feels like to state our preferences and beliefs even when someone might take it personally. Pushy people expect others to be chastened by their distress or disapproving judgment. But the pandemic can teach you that the world doesn’t end just because you have to say no to someone who doesn’t agree with your reasons. You may find yourself setting limits in ways you never did before. You may discover that even if pushy people are unhappy with you, you still have the right to your no.

If you have been intimidated by an opinionated person in your family or close circle, setting limits for Covid may give you quite a workout. But the unexpected benefit from this pandemic might be that you end up a stronger individual than you were before, someone who feels perfectly entitled to see things differently.

Lindsay Gibson

Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in practice in Virginia Beach. She is the author of Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents and Who You Were Meant To Be. Visit www.drlindsaygibson.com for more information.

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