Why Set Yourself on Fire? How to Practice Self-Protection

I posted a quote the other day that still resonates with me: “You don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm”. It’s a sobering and comforting thought that liberates us from being wholly responsible for others. It frees us up to set limits on how uncomfortable we allow others to make us, to limit how deep our back bend will be for someone else. So what do you do when a “friend” repeatedly disappoints you or hurts your feelings when you have a running tab of legitimate offenses and a scroll of hurt just waiting to be dropped at their feet? Self-protection is key for peace of mind.



1. Tell them how you feel: This is not your cue to hit them with “I just think it’s funny how…” This is a 3 step process: Step 1) Rant to yourself, husband, co-worker, whoever. Get that initial layer of pisstivity off in a safe space. Get all the pettiness out. Once you do that, Step 2) is to jot down some quick notes about specifically what’s bothering you. This will help you to stay on track during the discussion. Writing will help you process your feelings, which will enable you to keep your discussion concise and solution oriented. Step 3) tell them exactly what’s bothering you. I prefer either a phone call or a face to face conversation over an email or text message. Tone and inflection are often lost in the latter form of communication. Be polite and assertive, but speak your peace.


2. Observe their response and their actions: We have all heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words”… Well, assuming they acknowledge their wrongdoing and make an effort to change, here is where we will give them the time and grace to make the shift. Change is slow and incremental so we have to give people some grace during their process. We will use gentle reminders and encouragement to support the change (read: do not stick your finger in their face and chastise them if they slip up).



3. Adjust Accordingly: Still seeing the same pattern? It’s perfectly acceptable to love people from a distance. This does not require an announcement or an explanation. If the interaction with someone is frequently causing discomfort, anxiety, stress, disappointment, etc, it may be time to move on. A friend’s uncle once pointed out that you may have known someone your entire life and feel that they would always treat you right. What you don’t know is how their adult life may impact their loyalty or decision making. Maybe they can’t loan you money, no matter how dire your situation is. Maybe you can’t stay in their spare bedroom. Maybe they can’t offer much emotional support during your crisis. Maybe they can’t give you their free time. Life changes people in ways that make them less available to you. This could be the physically, financially, or emotionally. At some point, we have to accept people for who they are, are protect ourselves.



What do you do when you are wronged by a friend? You tell them how you feel, give them time to correct it and leave them alone if it continues. I know it sounds easier said than done. Just remember, you have two choices: continue to keep them warm, or extinguish your own flames.

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