If you have told someone that something they do makes you uncomfortable, and they keep on doing it, then it is up to you to terminate the relationship.
That may sound harsh.
But it is as if you’ve put up your feelings for a vote. Who wins? Their needs or yours? Ideally, you’d both win. Ideally, everybody would be happy.
But if they feel they need to continue doing something that you have said is distressing or harmful to you, then they have voted. Their needs are more important than yours.
I went to a gathering once and I brought a jewelry project to work on. It is like a security blanket to me. I like having projects because it makes me feel more comfortable. I feel more exposed when I have nothing to work on.
A lady there wasn’t comfortable with me working on a project. I wasn’t right next to her. The project wasn’t loud or big. It wasn’t like I was taking notes. But she felt that in order for her to share her thoughts she needed me to not be doing anything and to look right at her.
She didn’t ask me directly. She mentioned casually, to the air it seemed, that she would rather each person pay full attention and not work on anything. It took me a little bit to understand that she meant me, she was so vague.
So I had a choice. Make her feel comfortable, and me feel uncomfortable, and stop working on my project. Or, pretend I didn’t hear her and keep on working. I’d feel a little comfortable because I’d have my project, but a little less than before she spoke because I would know that I was making someone else feel uncomfortable.
But really, I wasn’t making her feel uncomfortable. That was her choice.
I put my project up. And I developed a small amount of resentment to her, and a little bit to myself. I was upset that I didn’t stand up for myself. I was upset with her that she confronted me at all, and that she did it in such a passive-aggressive kind of way. It was my choice not to tell her how I felt. It was my choice to let her needs be more important than mine.
I had a coworker who thought it was funny to hit me on the back of my head when she walked by. She wouldn’t hit hard – she would often just catch my hair. That is an invasion of my personal space. That is a violation of social rules – we don’t touch each other unless it is mutual.
Now, I hate having people walk behind me anyway, but there is nothing I can do about it at work because of the arrangement of the desks. I don’t have an office. I don’t really even have a desk. I have a space that I usually work at when nobody else is around. It is a little discomforting to work in a place for many years and not really have a “place” to be, but that is for another post.
I first thought she was getting a rise out of it, out of getting in my personal space. So I dealt with her like I dealt with my big brother – pretend that I liked it. I figured that she’d stop because that works with big brothers. Don’t let them get the satisfaction of seeing you upset. Pretend it doesn’t bother you. It didn’t work. I had to tell her to quit, and in telling her I learned something very telling about my boss.
She laughed at me for telling this lady to quit hitting me. I should have seen that as the sign that it is. Hindsight is 20/20 they say. I learned this lesson later – don’t trust her with anything real. She isn’t really human.
I knew a guy in college named Carson who hurt me badly. He and I were sitting in a friend’s dorm room. I was sitting on the bed and he was sitting in a chair facing me. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but at some point in the conversation he reached over and pushed me sideways. My back was against the wall, and being pushed sideways meant that my head caught the part of the doorjamb where the doorknob was. It hurt a lot. I pulled forward, turned around, and saw what had caused the pain in my head. I told Carson to be careful – I’d gotten hurt from his shove. I figured it was an accident.
The second push wasn’t an accident. He took my shoulder, pulled me back to see where the doorjamb was, and then shoved my head sideways into the doorjamb.
Without thinking, I hit him as hard as I could right between the eyes. Every bit of energy and force I had in me was directed into that punch. I’m grateful that I didn’t hit him anywhere where it could have caused actual damage. I could have bloodied his nose, broken his teeth, bruised his eye. I could have killed him if I’d hit the right spot with that much force. It was an instinctive punch, and it did the job.
We stared at each other for what seemed like ten minutes. I’m sure it was only a minute, but time had slowed down. It does that when crazy things happen.
He broke the silence. “Don’t ever do that again.” He glowered at me.
“Don’t ever do that again.” I responded, indignant. He’d hurt me intentionally. There was no reason for it. I’d never done anything to him to deserve that. I’d never done anything to anybody to deserve that.
The first time is free. The first time is an accident. Once you’ve been told that you’ve harmed me, and you do it again, everything is over.
If they hurt you and you don’t tell them, then it is on you. If you tell them and they continue to hurt you, then they have made their choice. It is on you if you stay after that.