As a child, I was brought up to instantly obey my elders, to never question them (at least outwardly) and to take whatever they dish out. This mentality set me up for victimization and it took me years to change.
But, change I must. I found I was attracting predators because I was tolerating bad behaviour. There’s nothing more attractive to a predator than someone who has been continually brainwashed to think that the interests of others always took precedence over hers.
So I got to work on establishing boundaries. The book on Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend was pivotal in my life; so was some coaching on confrontation by my counsellor friend, David Blakely. I would be tested on my boundaries, time and again, by young and old.
One day I was sitting across from a much older lady who had invited me for lunch. We chatted, but I noticed that whenever I glanced away from her to reflect on what is said and to formulate my response, she would immediately tap her hand on mine. After three or four times, my annoyance was rising. She was giving me no personal respite. Whether she was conscious of it or not, she was tugging at me emotionally like a puppet on a string. And no one likes to be controlled.
I took a deep breath and countering cultural expectations — we have been taught to never be “rude” to hosts, even more so, to an older person — I said, “Would you stop touching me, please?”
This was the litmus test for a friendship.
In my culture, if we rebuke someone, there’s a high probability the other person would take it as a put-down and find ways to take revenge, whether passively avoiding you or aggressively badmouthing you. The cultural “unforgivable sin” is to cause someone to “lose face” (i.e. be embarrassed), especially in front of others. So inappropriate behavior is rarely confronted.
That day, my friend was shocked and taken aback; I could see the emotions rolling across her face. Subsequently, she caught herself trying to tap my hand, and stopped.
To my relief, she didn’t take offence. We still have a good connection.
But I took a 50-50 risk. It could have gone either way.