Note to self: you can walk away if you want to.
As children we’re taught from a young age to not talk to strangers, and to look twice before crossing the road. But very few of us can say we were taught to remove ourselves from a situation that made us uncomfortable.
But for writer Erynn Brook, knowing when to walk away from unwanted social situations is something that she’s been encouraged to do since she was a girl – and she wants others to do the same.
“I want to tell you a story about how my mum taught me that I’m allowed to leave an uncomfortable situation,” Brook tweeted.
“I was maybe seven, I think it was my first sleepover at someone else’s house. I don’t remember the girl’s name. But before I left Mum told me that if I was uncomfortable at any point, for any reason, even if it was in the middle of the night, I could call her,” she explained.
Brook’s mother was very in clear: if she was uncomfortable she was to call her – even if her friend’s parents had gone to bed. And she did call her.
“The girl’s mum tried to discourage me. She said it was late, I said my mum didn’t care. She said I could sleep on the couch. I said I wanted to go home. She said I was upsetting her daughter, I said she was mean to me,” she wrote.
She continued: “And my mum showed up on her doorstep in pajama pants and a coat. The girl’s mum kept apologising for me calling, my mum put up a hand and said ‘don’t apologise for my daughter. I want her to know she’s allowed to leave and I’ll be there for her at any time.’”
It turned out to be one of the greatest lessons of Brooks’ life because thereafter she learnt the importance of creating her own personal boundaries – including leaving a job not worthy of her time or her.
“I remember her coaching me through a speech on how to resign and leave from a hostile work environment when I was in the middle of nowhere at a camp for the summer, and she offered money to get a cab to pick me and my friends up,” she wrote.
In a matter of days, Brook’s tweet has been shared nearly 30,000 times – with 13,000 retweets.
Although Brooks admits that she’s “not always” followed her gut on boundaries, and that sometimes she has stayed in a situation to “make others feel comfortable”. But her mother’s lesson – that she learnt years ago – is still “radical” today.
“Three things I think were really, really important in what she did:
“1. She always explicitly said “you can leave if you want to.”
“2. She never questioned why, or whether I was overreacting.
“3. She showed up.”
Reminder: you can walk away anytime you want to. You decide your own boundaries.