- The pressure to SHARE personal stuff.
- The pressure to say YES (when you should probably say NO).
- The pressure to be ON.
I told you that today, I'd talk a bit about how I manage this.
First, I need to tell you: I'm still working this out. In my psychology life, I know how to do this. But when I became a writer? Whew! I had to work it out again.
This is Edward Hall's diagram demonstrating personal reaction bubbles. The radii are listed in feet, but they're meant to be subjective, heavily influenced by culture and personal preference.
In the largely online world of my writing career, personal distance is kind of an abstract thing. But I use this concept nevertheless. I think it's useful, because so often, it's just me and my computer. Pretty intimate kind of thing, my fingers on the keyboard. Easy to forget that it isn't just me, my eyes, my brain. Easy to allow my personal space bubble to become permeable--much easier than when I'm at a cocktail party, for example.
But I have to remember, because it helps me decide when to say NO, when to turn OFF, when to keep myself to MYSELF. Examples:
Goodreads: As an author, Goodreads is PUBLIC SPACE. Any place where readers congregate and review my book is considered the same. Like I don't walk up to strangers and butt into their conversations, I don't hang out on Goodreads and interact with people talking about my book. I have made the decision not to review or rate books on Goodreads; I find other ways to promote books I love, namely on Twitter or here on my blog. Not every author has made the same decision--that's because this stuff is subjective. For me, though, it helps set some boundaries around my role as an author and helps me stay out of trouble.
Blog: I consider this blog a SOCIAL SPACE, along with Twitter, which is one of my favorite online places to be. Whether fellow writer or reader or blogger, if you meet me there, you can interact with me. You won't get my most personal thoughts, but you will get content, both intellectual and emotional. I share my ideas and respond to others'. HOWEVER, if I'm super upset or have private stuff going on ... it's not going to show up here. One rule I have: venting is strictly forbidden in the SOCIAL SPACE. But also: I don't talk about my personal life much. My political and religious views, private relationships ... no. The SOCIAL SPACE is for friendly banter, not intimate conversation. Of course I'm tempted to cross this line sometimes, particularly when my emotions run high--but then I force myself to wait until I'm calm before I decide whether or not to share. I usually decide against it.
Email: Online, email is my PERSONAL SPACE, though obviously not always personal. But email is largely 1:1, and I have a few close writerly friends with whom I share triumphs and frustrations. I trust them to maintain confidentiality, and they trust me with the same. We do vent in this space, but it stays there.
My skull: INTIMATE SPACE. Yep, not all my thoughts find their way to another's ears, and I think that's necessary and good. I'm extremely introverted. Some people like to share themselves and draw energy from that, but I'm the opposite. That's part of avoiding burnout--knowing that I can keep things that are just for me, and cherishing that privacy.
When it comes to saying NO:
- If someone's in my PUBLIC SPACE, I owe them civility and respect, and that is the extent of it. I accomodate requests when possible and not draining, and, frankly, when I see a practical and concrete advantage in saying YES.
- If someone's in my SOCIAL SPACE, same. If we interact regularly and they ask me a favor, I will do it even if it involves some of my time and little-to-no benefit for myself. If I can't, though, given other demands, I'm going to say NO with kindness but not guilt. After all, I have my limits.
- If someone has been an established friend within my PERSONAL SPACE, I'm going to go out of my way to help, because I care about them deeply.
This means I do say NO, and it's not a rare thing. I don't think that's bad. Especially when the alternative is me feeling resentful, bitter, used, burned out, etc. Ew!
When it comes to turning OFF: I have to rely on what I know about myself--I need to reside in my INTIMATE SPACE sometimes, or else I won't be able to meet my responsibilities. If I don't recharge, I'm going to burn out. Or possibly lose my mind. I turn OFF by reading and writing and oh, actually interacting with the external, physical world. THIS, turning off instead of being plugged in 24/7, is the one I'm still working on--the one I haven't quite figured out. Ask me again in a year.
All of this is different for each person. I think the key to maintaining healthy boundaries is actually thinking about it and making some decisions (and, yes, rules) based on what's best for you. Better to be proactive now rather than impulsive and regretful later.
So how about it? Do you have online personal space bubbles? How do you maintain boundaries?