If you are polite and considerate, you are undoubtedly very good at respecting other people’s boundaries and rights. But how good are you at maintaining your own boundaries?
I went on a course for the best part of a year at a facility where the director was also the trainer. The class was small and everyone got to know each other.
After the course finished, I started receiving invites from the director to student evenings. My replies were always acknowledged. A bit later, I started getting unsolicited newsletters and sales pitches on their other courses. No unsubscribe options on the emails so I unsubscribed by replying directly to the emails which happened to be the director’s own personal email.
The unsolicited emails kept coming. Not so many that they clogged up my inbox, but enough that I’d be annoyed every time one came through. You know how it is… you know the person so you assume they must have a good reason. So you let it go. Then you let it go again… and then again… but you know that what they’re doing is not right. But you know the person…
Mostly I deleted these emails but every now and again I’d fire off another unsubscribe email to the director.
Roll on four years and those emails are still coming! And don’t I feel more annoyed when I realise how long it has been. When the last spam email plopped through, all I could see was his face looming 10 feet tall in front of me telling me he knew I really wanted the emails even though I was saying I didn’t. Blatant disrespect and arrogance oozing from every pore.
It’s only spam email; hardly crime of the century. Anonymous spam is a modern-day fact and it’s fairly dismissable. But when it’s with someone you know, other factors come into play – factors like how you expect to be treated in the context of that particular relationship and why all the effort you’ve made yourself isn’t being reciprocated.
To me it smacked of disrespect and unfairness but what to do? I’ve studied with this man and bear him no ill will but really do need him to respect my boundaries.
I ended up reporting him to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). It was a difficult decision but afterwards I was relieved. I had acknowledged my right to my personal space and done something about it.
Setting boundaries should not feel evil but it so often does feel very difficult and awkward.
Without boundaries you live on someone else’s terms. With boundaries you accommodate in a way that suits your own goals and ambitions.
Which all brings me to the question of values.
There’s a “What’s in it for me?” angle in all the choices we make, even the bad choices. If I chose to put up with the annoyance of these spam emails for 4 years then it’s because my value system placed a higher importance on not potentially upsetting my once-upon-a-time teacher than on insisting that he respect my own personal space.
When you find yourself putting up with something for far longer than you should, what’s really behind it?
PS: The ICO let me know that they’re guiding him on how to comply with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.