Drawing Lines

Mehr was distraught that her mother in law was such a big bully. Instead of helping around in the house she would find mistakes in house management, criticize taste of food prepared and fault her conduct and dealings with others. Sometimes the comments were mere taunts while at times they were actual pointed barbs.

This had been continuing for almost 3 years since her marriage and Mehr would get overwhelmed with such pervasive negativity. She would complain to her husband and though he would listen attentively he couldn’t do much about it. Couple of times that he did speak to his mother, drama had ensued. She would cry, throw a fit and accuse him of being unsympathetic to his own ailing mother.

An example of her inflexibility was her devotion to God. She would pray daily and house discipline was that no one could eat till offerings were made to God, non veg could not be brought or eaten in the house, as well as, she had a troika of friends who would gather in evenings for Satsang and then tea and other snacks had to be religiously served.

One day when the maid was on leave and mother in law as usual was in her room praying to her gods, doorbell rang. It was Mehr’s maternal aunt who had come avisiting. A lady of considerable experience and even temperament, she was somebody that Mehr really looked up to. She had stayed with her aunt for close to three years in her college time and she had really looked after Mehr as another mother. Mehr’s face brightened on seeing her beloved relative.

Though Mehr did not explicitly complain but within two days of her stay, aunt understood the dynamics of the entire situation. On the afternoon that she was to board her train back, aunt took Mehr aside and asked:

“So I see that your MIL (mother in law) is not supportive and she pushes you all the time”.

Tears welled up in Mehr’s eyes. This was the beauty of the relation. She did not have to say a word to her aunt for her to understand . As her tears trickled down her cheeks, aunt was reassuring:

“Baby that she does this is also your fault. A victim of bullying is as much responsible for any assault as the bully is. Why do you accept this behavior from her”.

“What can I do. She is so overwhelming and so demanding all the time. Even if I compliant to my husband she ensures that peace of our house gets disturbed”.

“Niceness Mehr, is a good thing but only in small doses. It is a handicap if you do not know how to draw boundaries. Haven’t you heard that story where on advice of a saint a snake gave up biting. The village children then got after him and started to pelt him with stones. The Saint returned to find the snake weakened and exclaimed I had asked you to give up biting not hissing menacingly”.

So is it with human relations, you should draw firm boundaries of dos and donts to deal with others else they will always hitch a ride on your back”.

“But she will not follow my boundaries. She is far too pushy for that”.

“See whenever you draw boundaries others will test them to check if you would defend them. If you do stand firm, you and the boundaries will be respected. So when you draw them with your MIL she will test them too and not follow them. Create a big deal on those violations. Sulk for days or confront her, but do not let it pass. She will soon adjust to them and fall in line. If she still dosnt baby, you will not be left with a choice but to arrange for an alternate accommodation for her”.

“What do you mean Aunty”?

“Well some bullies call them Type 1, are chancing their luck and once challenged agree to negotiate on relational boundaries. Those who do not negotiate, call them Type 2, must be lost to avoid negativity. You must either totally withdraw from them or let them go. They leave you with no other choice. So let’s hope your MIL is Type 1 bully and will ultimately see value in you.” Aunt concluded while holding Mehr’s hand.

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