August 28, 2020

How to Set Boundaries & Detach: A 3-Step Process for Introverts & Empaths.


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Next up on your non-attachment reading list:
Letting Go of Attachment to People—the Buddhist Way.
Letting Go with Love: how Detachment Improves Relationships.

I know for many, the pandemic has imposed an alienating retreat from ordinary life. 

Most people cannot wait to get back to normal. True to my nature, I feel just the opposite. Many of the qualities that made me feel ostracized, and glaringly highlighted how I didn’t quite fit in with the hustle and bustle of today’s society, have served me well during this time of social distancing. I have happily hunkered down in my “enhanced” home life, as I like to call it, for the past months.

I am an INFJ. 

“An Advocate (INFJ) is someone with the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging personality traits. They tend to approach life with deep thoughtfulness and imagination. Their inner vision, personal values, and a quiet, principled version of humanism guide them in all things.” ~ 16Personalities

They are typically an empath and Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). The end of my day requires retreat because the bombardment of human interaction and office politics quite honestly just sucks the life out of me.

I seamlessly transitioned into detachment during the pandemic because that’s what I was born to do! Time for quiet contemplation, unraveling of thoughts and ideas with the luxury of space and time to indulge them, the ability to retreat after any interaction, being able to write, text, and read at my whim. But, alas, my safe cocoon will disappear all too soon as I return to in-person work and am thrust back into the harsh reality of the loud, overwhelming, demanding world.

I’ve come up with a three-part plan to help me cope with the onslaught. I hope it can help you, too, even if you are not an INFJ, empath, or HSP:

1. Detach from other’s expectations. No matter what your personality or habits, life can be overwhelming. The pandemic has made everything harder, more uncertain, and scarier.

The first thing to do is to set your boundaries. Know them so that you are already comfortable with how you will respond and react if someone challenges them. This can be anything from someone approaching you at work, mask etiquette, an invitation to a social event, or anything else that pushes past your boundaries.

The key is to have your script in your head—a calm, factual, succinct statement that emphasizes your boundaries. For example, “I am practicing social distancing, so I am going make sure we are six feet apart,” is better than “Oh my God! Stay back; you’ll spread the virus standing so close!” (This applies to non-virus related boundaries too.)

2. Detach from your desire to be everything to everyone. We all want to belong, even us INFJs. It is hard to confront, to push back, and to disagree. But whether we are confronted with a COVID-19 related conflict or just a regular interpersonal interaction, recognize you can say “No.” I know in the past when I’ve had to say no to someone, it was followed by conciliatory body language, a whiny over-explanation of why, and a pit in my stomach. 

If I was pathetic enough, they might not be upset at me for not saying yes. Again, the tone can be kind but don’t make excuses. If you don’t want to, just say so, politely and graciously (unless your boss is saying you have to do something. In that case, you might have to suck it up). If pressed for a reason, you can give a real explanation.

For us INFJs, an honest answer might look something like this:

“I really appreciate the invitation/confidence you have in me/the opportunity, but I need my downtime tonight/don’t feel I am the right fit for what you are asking/don’t share the same passion for…” (This can be used for whatever it is they are asking of you.)

Make eye contact, have a steady voice, and don’t back down if they insist. You may want to practice this with a trusted friend (or in the mirror) so that when saying it to a person who will potentially be disappointed, you are comfortable with a firm and calm denial.

3. Detach from the day. This is the hardest one. If you are like me, once you get home to your safe place of retreat, your mind has a trick saved up for you. As soon as I relax, suddenly, all the thoughts and actions from the day come rushing back to rehash how I could have handled tough interactions or issues better. I let those thoughts invade my sanctuary. But, I’ve been working on that. If the thoughts are eating at you, stop where you are, close your eyes, and just feel. 

Let the feeling from the interaction or issue wash over you like a tsunami; let it overwhelm you, drown you, wash you away. Open your eyes. You are still standing. You let the feeling bounce through you, tear you apart, and you survived.

Now, reflect. Sure, there probably is something you could have done better or differently. There always is in hindsight. Think of one thing (or more if you want) that you will change next time the situation arises.

Now for the important part: move on—detach. You are in your safe place. This is where the magic happens, and you can truly do your thing. 

Exercise, meditate, cook a wonderful dinner, play with your pet, write, sing, knit, paint, or just sit and be still. Take this time to recharge—and then repeat tomorrow.

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