Days 58 & 59: Putting Boundaries Around Other People’s Anxieties

One of the weirdest things about being laid off is the way others respond. People are, understandably, freaked out at the idea of losing their jobs, and have intense emotions upon hearing it’s happened unexpectedly to someone they know.

There is a natural desire to want these intense emotions to be soothed, and the most logical way of achieving that is to try to manage the behaviors and actions of the person who has been laid off.

In essence, they want to control the actions (meaning, the job seeking behavior) of the person who is out of work, because if they feel the unemployed person is doing all the things they deem as “correct” they will feel less anxiety about the unemployment person’s future. Which, at the heart of it, is not so much anxiety about the unemployed person’s future, but imagined anxiety about their own future if they were ever let go from their job.

Over the past week and a half, I have regularly succeeded in setting firm boundaries around this sort of behavior. It is not unique to any one friend or family member. It is amazing to me all the directions it approaches me from.

At it’s root is love for me, along with attempts to empathize with what I’m perceived to be feeling and a desire to contribute to my future success. I know this, and it’s helping me in my attempts to be patient with it.

It is a challenge, though. Because, as one might expect, I’m already emotionally taxed by the realities of my unemployment situation. Managing the emotions of others and enforcing appropriate boundaries requires energy and strength that is already in limited supply.

Dealing with the emotions behind suddenly being unemployed was relatively easy while everything was under my control. Creating task lists and executing on them without interruption was almost joyous.

I knew once that stage came to an end, when my resume was completed and it was time to start sending out applications, my anxieties about unemployment would surface. I was right. They did.

On Thursday, I finished updating my resume and started seriously looking at companies and job listings in my area. As expected, this is when anxiety about my future employment finally started sinking in.

I was aware of this and expected it, though, so was able to take a deep breath and figure out how to resolve those feelings and move forward. All I can do right now is identify the various causes of my anxiety and do my best to determine which are based purely on self-doubt and which contain action items I can pursue.

I am proud that, yet again, I recognized a problem and found a solution. I researched and, where appropriate, made contact and asked for help. The result is a path forward that’s been developed with the assistance of trusted professionals who are familiar with my work, my industry, job searches and unemployment, and the current job market.

Thursday’s achievement was that I figured out a variety of productive tasks into which I can channel my anxious energy, rather than just letting it stew and swirl. By the end of the day, I felt pretty damn good about things.

My confidence in the advice I’ve received and the strategy I’ve developed is making it far easier to manage the friends and family who so strongly believe I should do as they advise, despite their lack of expertise. I can say things like:

  • I feel good about my current strategy, but if I feel I need guidance I’ll let you know.
  • I appreciate you thinking of me and sending [whatever] my way. It’s not my preferred industry/role/etc. but it was kind of you to send.
  • It is up to me to make decisions about my career and my future. I appreciate your desire to help, but it’s important you understand and respect I might choose a path other than the one you would like to see me follow.
  • I know I can trust you will manage your emotions about my unemployment and my strategy without my assistance, because I know you understand I already have a lot on my plate right now.
  • I love that you care so much about me and that I can rely on you to appropriately manage your anxiety about the situation I’m currently dealing with. It’s very special to me.

The opportunities I’ve had to use these scripts and others over the past week and a half seem endless. It’s amazing how time-consuming and exhausting a part of my job search it has so quickly become.

I was only laid off a week and a half ago and I am impressed by all I’ve accomplished in that time frame. And yet, if I fell victim to the emotional needs of others it would be easy to believe I should be in a state of panic. I should apply for and accept anything I can find right away, regardless of my years of experience in my field and my industry, because…

Well, to be honest, I’m not really sure why. There seems to be an underlying tone of, “You’re probably not going to get what you want so just assume you’re going to have to settle for something and begin your search with that attitude.”

It is not a mindset I feel would serve me well, and is not one I prefer to act on.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want anyone to stop sending job postings or advice my way. It’s tremendously appreciated and there are plenty of things I’ve received that have been very useful. The issues only exist with a select group of close friends and family members, when I choose to not pursue the role or strategy they deem appropriate for me.

Establishing healthy boundaries is how we define the sacred space we call the “Self.” The clearer  we are about who we are, the clearer our boundaries become.

Grateful Texas Yogi, Teaching People How To Treat You… Setting Boundaries

They are, without stating it explicitly, telling me they believe they know what is best for me, and they do not trust my ability to make appropriate decisions for myself. It is upsetting to them that I stubbornly refuse to do what they want. They have an emotional need to control my behavior so they will feel less reason to feel anxiety about me.

It’s a complicated thing to address. On the one hand, they love me and want what’s best for me. On the other, they wish to supersede my decision making authority, and this is unacceptable.

Boundary setting is not a skill I have possessed until recent years, and it still astonishes me when I find myself able to implement it. In the past, I would have been far more emotionally impacted by the opinions of people around me and their intense desire for me to do as they wish.

Now, I have better emotional boundaries in place. I recognize I am confident in my course. Other people behave the way they do about my unemployment because of their own anxieties and their love for me. I can respect that and feel gratitude for it while continuing to do as I think best for myself.

Those that truly love and respect me will understand.

Pay attention when people react with anger and hostility to your boundaries. You have found the edge of where their respect for you ends. It’s a type of wake-up call really. Boundary setting tells you a lot about yourself as well as others.

Grateful Texas Yogi, Teaching People How To Treat You… Setting Boundaries