The answer is equal parts simple and challenging: get clear about what's important to you, understand what you need, set boundaries, and enforce them. Again, cool, but how?
I gift you a boundary setting tool that my trauma-informed coach gifted me: AIDE.
AIDE stands for a 4 step process of asking, insisting, demanding, and enforcing. These represent an approach to let people know that something is important to you, why it's important to you, what you need them to honour, and what the consequences of not following through with the request are. AIDE escalates over time based on the sense of urgency of the request while creating space for everyone involved to learn as they go. Here's a similar example to the one my coach gave me to better understand how to implement AIDE:
Ask: the sense of urgency is 2/10. For example, "could we please talk about y instead of x? It's important to me because of abc."
Insist: the sense of urgency is 5/10. For example, "please remember that it's important to me that we do not talk about x for abc reasons. Let's please talk about y or z or w instead so that we can keep chatting."
Demand: the sense of urgency is 8/10. For example, "if you keep bringing up x, I'm going to have to hang up the phone. Please respect that and change the subject in order to continue our conversation."
Enforce: The sense of urgency is 10/10."okay, I've asked you not to bring this up. I've shared why it's important to me. I've explained that I will not be staying in this conversation as long as you keep insisting on discussing x. So, I'm hanging up the phone now." *Hang up the phone* if the boundary is not respected.
You can start using the AIDE framework in low intensity situations first so that your nervous system can start to gather data and confirm that you will not die when you set a boundary. Depending on how you've been socialized, this may come more easily or this may make you feel like throwing up. Either way, practice makes possible. The more you practice in bite-sized situations with people you trust and/or in low-stakes situations, the more it will start to feel physiologically safe to set boundaries.
An important note here: setting boundaries is challenging for many, if not most, people. And. Receiving boundaries can also feel incredibly difficult. Depending on how you've been socialized, you may not expect others to put boundaries around how you can communicate with them. You may feel hurt by explicitly being told how to engage with someone you love and through what avenues.
Still, practice makes possible in this scenario, too. I invite you to start to notice the ways in which people interact with you and how they want to connect. Checking in is a great way of honouring another person's boundaries, as well as your own. For example, you can ask: "how can I support you?" or "how would you like us to talk about this?" or "what's the best way to reach you right now?" or "do you have the bandwidth for this at this time?"
And. This is a neurodivergent-friendly blog. So, if on top of that, for example, you're a neurodivergent human who like many ADHD-ers (like me) deals with rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD), then boundaries can feel like a visceral rejection. The Cleveland Clinic explains that "Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is when a person feels intense emotional pain related to rejection. [...] While rejection is something people usually don’t like, the negative feelings that come with RSD are stronger and can be harder to manage or both. People with RSD are also more likely to interpret vague interactions as rejection and may find it difficult to control their reactions."
If you also deal with RSD, my biggest invitation to us is to practice self-compassion, ownership of our reactions, and connection to the body. Tune in and give your body safe input by calling a trusted friend, going for a walk, taking a shower, and/or journaling, for example.
Ultimately, I invite us all, particularly during this season, to come back to this quotation by Prentiss Hill: "Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”
For neurodivergent-friendly coaching support and/or coaching support on being a human person with a human nervous system prioritizing your needs in the midst of competing expectations, book a Discovery Call with me today!