Sandboxing People

Sandboxing People

That sounds rough, doesn’t it?  It’s not quite what you think, is it?  Allow me to explain.

In computers, the term sandboxing means to take a program and run it in a protected environment where it can’t hurt or alter the rest of your system. It is commonly done by developers who are testing out beta software, or even system administrators who are concerned about an old, buggy, or malicious piece of code.

When you sandbox, or virtualize a program, as it is more often called, the system provides a pretend set of hardware on which the program runs. Instead of directly letting it access drives, video cards, or even the internet, it passes those commands through a filter. Sometimes it performs the desired actions, but other times it modifies these commands to make them safer or more compatible. The system can even lie to the sandboxed program and tell it that it has less memory than the physical system actually has.

To the sandboxed program, it thinks it is running on actual hardware, but in reality it is operating in a safe space that cannot harm anything else if it misbehaves. The program doesn’t need to be changed – it can simply carry on as is. Instead, the reaction of the system to its commands is altered.

Sandboxing seems like a sensible precaution in the IT world, but is it really an appropriate thing to do with people? It most certainly can be.

If someone is abusive or causes you harm, excluding them from your life is a good thing. But sometimes good people, people that are worth keeping in your life, can exhibit behaviors that might be challenging, difficult, or problematic for you to deal with, or that might cause problems in other relationships. By sandboxing them, you can maintain the relationship without it damaging other parts of your life.

Sandboxing a person can be done simply by putting them, and your interactions with them, in a separate mental space that is isolated from the rest of your mind. I do not mean keep their friendship a secret, but rather keeping it out of the sensitive areas of your life – areas that affect your happiness, livelihood, and even safety.

For an example of this, consider a person who frequently talks negatively about others. You can be certain that just as often as they are talking to you about someone else, they will talk to others about you. It is just how these people tend to operate. If you discuss you or other people in a negative light, that information will probably be passed around and eventually get back to you. These people are not councilors, they are dumpers. They live in the past and are stuck in a loop of relaying what happened to others.

To handle this person, I suggest never discussing other people with them, at least never in a negative light. Any information you provide them about yourself or your own circumstances must be carefully considered as it might be divulged. Don’t share anything you aren’t comfortable with everyone (and their proverbial brother) knowing about you.

In doing so, you will isolate yourself from the negative effects of being in a close relationship with this person, yet still reap the benefits of being in contact. The gifts that contact with others brings to us, and our understanding of the universe, are not always obvious. Keeping as many opportunities of communication and understanding open is a positive course of action.

I am not suggesting to be dishonest with people. While sandboxing does require some effort, and often a distinct lack of engagement at critical times, it should not require one to lie. If you are finding that keeping someone in a safe position in your life requires you to be dishonest, it is probably worth evaluating the communication you are engaging in with them, or perhaps not engaging with them at all.

Now this technique requires, in some cases, with some people, more trouble than it may be worth. And since I’m not a psychologist I can’t really say that this comes from professional or educational experience. But I have noticed that some people are worth keeping around. There is a genuine connection there. It seems silly to throw that out the window without some serious due consideration. And since every situation, and person, is unique, the technique of sandboxing someone may be a better course of action.

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