This compassionate but firm technique will help you set boundaries in difficult relationships.
Much like me, my daughter struggles to emotionally disengage from people. Not just some people — all the people.
We’re both extroverts, and we thrive on social connection and interaction. But we both have a serious streak of sensitivity, perceiving slights where they don’t exist or magnifying ones that do exist into disproportionate insults. That sensitivity makes the social interaction that we crave fraught with potential hurt and injury — and a lot of it is imaginary.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned (slowly, oh so slowly) that I can’t control the way other people see me, or the way they feel about me. Sometimes people just don’t love me, and all the quirky personality traits I have that my friends and family laugh at seem obnoxious or childish to them. It took me a long time to learn that that’s okay — I can’t make people like me, nor should I try. If I get that vibe from someone, I just keep my eyes on my own paper and go about my business, knowing that whether they end up liking me or not is on them, not me.
Other times, I meet people who get all up in my business from the get-go. You know who I mean — people who thrive on conflict or control, who like to assert a position of power and hold onto it through any means necessary. They’re not bad people, they just can’t handle feeling out of control in much the same way that I have trouble feeling unliked. I’ve found out the hard way that I can’t form relationships by trying to change my personality to gain someone’s approval and appreciation — and I’ve also learned that I can’t let myself get swept up into drama by someone who thrives on creating or maintaining conflict.
But knowing your boundaries is a lot easier than enforcing them. It’s hard to know what to say to someone who puts you on the spot or pushes your boundaries, especially if (like me) you don’t like to alienate people. Lo and behold, the good people at Out of the Fog have a gift for us — the simple, subtle, and effective art of what is called “Medium Chill.”
Medium Chill is disengaging emotionally and giving neutral responses to what someone does or says. The focus is on you, your feelings and needs, not the other person or their feelings and needs. Someone using Medium Chill is assertive without being confrontational. They will give no appearance of withdrawal, and they will maintain a pleasant and calm tone of voice and demeanor.
There are two key components to Medium Chill:
1. Don’t share any personal information …
2. Don’t get involved in another person’s chaos or drama …
The website gives specific examples of both these components, like redirecting conversations that spin out of control to neutral topics such as the weather or the news, and like refraining from offering advice or opinions when people try and bring you into their personal life. The suggested responses are a gold mine of polite, neutral ways to end or redirect uncomfortable conversations.
It’s important to remember that Medium Chill is not appropriate for healthy, functioning relationships, y’all. I don’t recommend using Medium Chill with your spouse, for instance, unless your goal is to splinter your relationship and cause your spouse all kinds of hurt.
Medium Chill is appropriate for relationships that are testing your boundaries to an extreme disproportionate to the importance of the relationship. For example, if you’ve got a colleague at work who endlessly wants to engage you in office snark and baits to you take part in the Mean Girls water-cooler crowd, medium chill is perfect. Giving non-committal responses and not divulging personal information (such as your feelings about workplace dynamics) keeps you in a safe place to maintain neutrality in the office, and puts distance between you and the Mean Girls without coming across as insulting.
This can also be an invaluable tool for maintaining polite but appropriately distant relationships with in-laws who might have a tendency to get over-involved or pushy, and can even be helpful in navigating a relationships that’s going through a tough phase or one that has become manipulative or emotionally abusive.
Staying calm and emotionally disconnected is essential if you need to protect yourself from a destructive relationship — and it’s equally essential for the other party, as it’s the single most compassionate yet firm way to protect them from destructive attempts to manipulate or control others. You’re not freezing someone out of your life — you’re just putting things on Medium Chill for a while, for both your sake and theirs.