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Over the past few weeks, I’ve frequently used the terms ‘imposing’ and ‘imposed’ and it clicked that you always know that there is a major breach of boundaries and that you’re dealing with somebody who just doesn’t gel on the core values front, when they introduce something in a fashion that directly or indirectly communicates that you must do it ‘or else’, or where they try to force you to accept their inappropriate or downright shady behaviour, and when they combine these efforts to attempt to take advantage of you.
I don’t like being imposed upon and I know that I’m not alone in this.
Many of the stories that BR readers share where they often feel powerless, intimidated, blindsided, anxious, or struggling to understand why they feel so compressed by someone who is smiling to their face and telling them that they care or that what they’re doing is for ‘the best’, are about dealing with person who in their quest to meet their needs, expectations, and wishes, will see little wrong with trying to force people to do what they want.
I’m often asked, Natalie, how do I know if I’m dealing with a boundary buster? Sure, I can give you lots of signs but when it comes to discerning whether you are dealing with a person who has problem respecting your line, especially when you’ve said/shown no, just look for where they’re trying to force something through, possibly with a smile on their face that doesn’t meet their eyes.
Any situation where your self-esteem and boundaries cannot co-exist with their position is a flush and go situation.
‘Imposers’ dress up their boundary busting behaviour and demands as ‘requests’. Strangely enough, when you decline, it becomes apparent that they took it as a foregone conclusion that you would comply but also had the backup plan of laying on the emotional blackmail and guilt trip with a trowel. It makes you wonder, Why make out as if you’re offering me a choice when you’re going to attempt to do what the frick you want anyway?
Of course you do have a choice, it’s just that the Imposer has decided that you ‘should’ only take up their preferred option. When you decline, suddenly they’re overriding your no, rebuffing any concerns, or in fact belittling anything you’ve brought up.
Imposers also have a very annoying habit of crossing the line while claiming that they’re not doing it. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’, they claim while they have their proverbial foot in your back. ‘I’m helping/supporting you’, they claim even though it’s actually the opposite of helpful or supportive. You can quickly flush out an Imposer who claims to be helping you by telling them that you appreciate that they’re trying to do X but it’s actually Y that you need. You’ll see how quickly you’re met with the resistance that comes with passive aggression, or you may even get straight up aggression.
They don’t take you at your no and will just attempt to find another way to proceed with their original intention so it ends up feeling as if you’re playing Whack-A-Mole or more like Whack-An-Assclown.
When you’re dealing with an Imposer, you end up gradually getting drained out by them. Some of them actually get off on the challenge and almost ‘charge up’ on you right before they try again and others, will sulk, strop, and even malice in an attempt to get their own way. Think stonewalling, silent treatment, blanking you and general hostility that they may actually deny when you call them out on it. ‘I don’t have a problem with you! I like you!’ and you’re thinking, ‘Erm, you just blanked me however many times and gave me the side eye and you only started pulling this BS when I wouldn’t capitulate to your demands’ or, if they’re the very deluded, they’ll actually admit to having a problem with you but use the funkiest reason. It will never be for an actual misdemeanor and instead it will be a variation of, ‘You didn’t do as I wanted’ followed by their crazy making justifications for why you ‘should’ have or they’ll go down the petty route and accuse you of something untrue or blow up something minor or completely innocent.
Imposers love to combine their efforts to push through what they want with a put-down or few,which is where they slip in covert, critical remarks delivered with a smile, humour, or even deadpan. There are a lot of Imposers online – just read the comments on newspaper websites or on Facebook pages. Or think of that person who seems to want to make disliking you and letting you know about it, their vocation. Some people can’t just have an opinion; they want to force-feed it to you as well and ‘make’ you agree with it!
Some Imposers love a grand ‘ole discussion and even an apology but then – yep, you guessed it – soon revert to attempting to impose the very thing that you’ve made patently clear is a no-go. If they’re quick with an apology, it soon proves to be a hollow one because just cross them again by not submitting to their demands and soon they will come out with stuff that completely contradicts the apology and/or promises.
And when it comes to people imposing themselves upon you, this is where you can learn a great deal about inferred meaning: A person doesn’t have to come out and say, ‘I am disrespecting you’ or ‘I am resisting handling this in a mutually respectful fashion’, for them to communicate that they don’t respect you. Sure, there are some people who will come out straight and tell you that they don’t like or respect you (or even that they want to break up with you…), or that they don’t want to do something, but some people will show you (while denying that it’s what they’re showing you because they’re so skilled at wearing a mask that hides their resentment and anger), and you should ignore the signposting at your peril.
If you don’t recognise when you’re being imposed upon or you do but you think, What did I do to make this person react this way?, you will start trying to make sense out of nonsense and so end up normalising shady behaviour and/or you’ll make an incorrect correlation between this so-called transgression of yours and the fact that they are imposing themselves upon.
Newsflash: Only people who have respect issues impose themselves upon you. It is never a good sign and you’re not the only person that they do this with. They may not even recognise their behaviour (although you won’t be the first to have objected), but they have so little empathy and concern for people who are in their way – because that’s what it boils down to – that they’ve either never truly considered things from your position or they have, but they don’t care or they feel that the end justifies the means. On some level they’ll argue that they take care of themselves and ‘handle their business’ so you should too. And that’s where you flush.
- If you’re dealing with an Imposer, start keeping track of what they say and do because it’s like daylight and garlic to vampires.
- Be factual in any dealings and they will soon back off because often, people try to appeal to their emotions with emotional descriptions which can be a waste when you’re dealing with someone who has little or no empathy in their tank. Imposers will use your emotions against you and claim you’re ‘dramatic’, ‘needy, or ‘too sensitive’.
- Do use a hard no – a soft no will be taken as a green light to do whatever the hell that they want and you’ll be marked as ‘weak’ for actually being halfway decent about things.
- Don’t personalise their bullsh*t. It’s not because you’re a ‘soft touch’ – they do this stuff in any situation where they want to get their own way.
Some people mistake your unwillingness to climb into the gutter with them or your ability to pick and choose your battles, for weakness. Don’t let people take liberties. No one has the right to impose themselves and their wishes upon you. You’re not going to harm these people by standing up for yourself but you will harm you by remaining silent. Don’t green light code red behaviour.
One of the issues that many people who have felt burned by a relationship experience, especially those where the other party unfolded into something dramatically different to what they’d envisaged or believed, is that sense that due to having misjudged this person, they don’t feel that they can trust themselves. They worry that they’re going to invest trust in someone else who turns out to be a heavyweight bullsh*tter or who just quite simply cannot live up to the picture that they’ve painted in their minds. They relive the experience over and over again and beat themselves up for not being a good judge of character, but if what happened was actually based on assumptions, then they’re actually beating themselves up for something that they didn’t do.
There’s a big difference between judging character and assuming or should I say, guessing character. They are not one and the same thing.
When we make a guess, we estimate or assume something without having enough information to be sure of being right.
This means that with a guess, we might be right, we might be wrong, we might be close. By understanding that we made that guess though, then we accept that we’re working with estimated/assumed information. My five-year old sometimes estimates how many items there are. If she wanted to be sure of being right, she’d count them. Em has this grating habit of saying, “Guess who I bumped into today?” It’s not as if we know three people between us and so I start suggesting names and he’s giving me a look that says, I can’t believe you haven’t guessed it yet. I’ve started asking for clues…
If you’ve ever met somebody and jumped in head first with very little information, that’s guesswork. If you noted one particular quality or attribute or even a few of them and then assumed the existence of others, that’s also guesswork.
Sure, there’s potentially an element of ‘judgement’ there in the sense of glancing at the information in front of you and then estimating or assuming what you’re dealing with, but it’s not the type of skillset you would use for judging a person’s character or situation, after all, if you were doing that, you would be working with the knowledge that people unfold, you don’t know them at a glance, and it takes time and experience for you to able to gather knowledge that would help you discern their character and/or the situation.
I’ve witnessed a lot of tensions and conflicts between people due to the expectation that they should have got an immediate or fairly swift reply to text messages. When a person perceives a reply to be ‘slow’, it can trigger a spiral of anxiety where they wonder what they did wrong or start berating themselves for not being “good enough”, or they deem the person to be a bad friend or inconsiderate person.
Do we have the right to expect an immediate or swift reply to our texts?
I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’m not always Mrs Speedy with the ‘ole replies but most people I know aren’t. If I happen to be beside my phone and it’s straightforward, I’ll likely reply but if there’s a question in it or I know it’s going to potentially descend into text tennis, I tend to think, I’ll respond in a bit, and then get distracted. Nia messed with my phone recently and I didn’t see that my mother had tried to call three times. She called the following day to say that she was worried that I’d been murdered… Clearly not!
Is it worth whipping ourselves up into a frenzy of anxiety about all of the potential things that are wrong with us or that person, that may be influencing the speed of their reply?
It’s tricky to have hard and fast rules about when we think that others should reply. We can only speak for what we will do and even then, we have to be careful of imposing our way of doing things on others in an, Well, if it were me… fashion. When we examine the basis of our expectations and even what our motivations are for doing or expecting certain things, some of the things we’re doing have a people-pleasing, IOU generator vibe to them. It’s not so much what we do but why we do it. If we make a habit of being an eager beaver replier because not only do we perceive it to be a form of appealing behaviour that reflects a ‘good’ person but also because in doing so, we hope to create a tipping point and have them reciprocate to the same degree, we then have to admit that we expect the immediate or certainly very swift reply because we need the validation (we think it means something about us) and we are also trying to influence people’s feelings and behaviour. This quickly leads to resentment.
I feel for the men and women of this world who are bagged and tagged as ‘nice’ – a very vanilla term incidentally – and either discarded for not being ‘exciting’ (this is often fear, uncertainty, drama, ambiguity, and anxiety mislabeled ), or are held on to as passing time candidates aka fallback options. “I don’t really feel that interested in him/her and I don’t feel the chemistry / fireworks that I did with [the unavailable ex who may even have mistreated them] but I’m going to keep dating them in case I start to feel it soon and/or no one better comes along”.
It’s the scarcity mentality: in a situation where we’re trying to figure ourselves out at the same time as trying to date, we’d rather collect people and put them on layaway than be willing to delve into our own feelings and thoughts and make a decision.
We think that decent people are in a short supply so we’d better hold onto someone we regard as decent even if we’re not interested for fear that if we let this one go, not only will somebody come along and snap up this person, but we’re also afraid that we’ll be left empty handed and regretting not settling. We only look at things from our perspective and forget to consider whether we would want to be treated and regarded in this manner. Ironically, we’ve likely experienced a Mr or Miss Unavailable’s ambivalence but don’t recognise it in ourselves.
I hear from so many people who go on 0-3 dates saying stuff like, “They seem really available” or “We have a lot of shared values”. Now of course this may be true in the long run but it says a lot about our previous partners when we can go on a smattering of dates and are going on about how ‘available’ they are. What kind of exes did we have?
Availability is about whether that person is emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually available for a mutually fulfilling relationship. People unfold. Most of us are ‘available’ for all sorts in the beginning – it’s what comes next and consistently that matters.
A few weeks back, Em and I shared the school run together. With just under twenty minutes before we were due to leave, I hopped into the shower and he was surprised when not only was I stood at the door with the kids ready to go, but that he had to go and get himself ready…. He claimed that based on “historical data”, he hadn’t expected that I would be ready on time. My ears pricked up immediately.
Historical data is something he deals with in risk software where they use the past to forecast the future including where they’re potentially exposed to risk. Based on his experiences of me getting ready, which wouldn’t necessarily be based on the school run…, he hadn’t expected me to be as ready as quickly as I was. Now of course, he could have written this off as an anomaly but instead, he’s had to adjust his understanding of the ‘data’.
This got me thinking: Aside from us using what we regard as historical data about ourselves to then predict potential negative outcomes and to cap our potential, we misuse, misread or just straight up disregard historical data that we hold on others by marking what we’re experiencing as an anomaly, or by deducing that whatever it was occurred due to a set of conditions (real or imagined) or deciding that we are that condition.
Now, when we experience something, it might be an anomaly in the sense of, this is what we perceive as being our first experience of it. We may decide that it’s an anomaly because we also think that it’s going to be our only experience of it. We may come up with all sorts of rationalisations for why whatever it was occurred and based on plans to people-please, work out that we can eliminate the possibility of it happening again. Or, we may genuinely believe that it really is anomaly. Of course if and when it happens again, that means that it wasn’t and it’s at this point where we need to heed that information.
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