Being an empath is something you like about yourself? You should like it! You’re able to show compassion and you deeply care about other people. You practically feel other people’s feelings as your own. When they are worried, you’re worried. When they need help, you’re the first one to offer everything you have to give. But is that an entirely good thing? When you don’t set healthy boundaries with other people, extreme empathy can be a problem. Think about it: what if a doctor was entirely consumed by the feelings of his patients? He wouldn’t be able to focus on his own life. What if a social worker who deals with extremely poor people wouldn’t set boundaries between her professional and personal life? She would have no personal life at all.
Boundaries are needed. You can still care about other people. You can still help them. When you set healthy boundaries, however, you’ll be able to work on yourself, too.
Why You Need Healthy Boundaries
Remember this once and for all: you need space for yourself.
You will make contributions to this world only when you’re healthy, both physically and emotionally. When you let other people drain all your energy, you’re left with nothing. By the end of the day, you’re exhausted, sad, and incapable of self-love. When you have an empathic vibe in you, people feel like you understand them. They always turn to you when they need help. It’s like they are competing for your attention. When you get them so used to you, it’s hard to set boundaries.
Your mother calls you five times a day to tell you how worried she is about your brother. She calls you when her best friend hurt her. She keeps talking about her financial struggles. That’s okay; of course, you’re there for her. But sometimes you’re not in the mood to listen to all that negative talk. You want to laugh. You want to enjoy the only half hour of free time you get through the day, and she’s taking that away from you.
The inability to set healthy boundaries is not only due to empathy. It’s also about “what will people think about me if I don’t help?” Let’s take Mark as an example. He’s a college student with a great talent for academic writing. His essays are the bomb! He also has a lot of friends and he’s known as “the good guy who always lets people copy his homework and helps them write essays.” So Mark’s closest friends always bug him about their essays. He is so worried about maintaining these friendships that he stays late nights to complete their papers. Sometimes there’s so much work to do that his own writing and studying suffer because of his inability to set boundaries. If Mark could simply say no, those friends would still get through college. That would help them improve their skills. Mark is not helping them to improve their skills. He’s just offering an easy solution for them while sacrificing his own time and peace of mind.
Your partner often invades your boundaries, too. You want to practice yoga, but they keep interrupting you because they are bored. You want to spend some time reading, but they are bored so you have to amuse them. You want to have dinner with friends, but you have to bring them along because they have no idea what to do alone.
Do you get the point? Not setting healthy boundaries hurts you. When you’re drained, you can’t really help other people much. That’s why you need to practice some self-love and set the boundaries.
How to Build These Boundaries
Okay; now you’re aware of the fact that personal boundaries are needed. The only question is: how do you set them?
1. Recognize the Verbal Violations of Boundaries
“I can’t do this without you.”
“I absolutely need you to help me.”
“You’re the only one I’ve got!”
“I know what’s best for you.”
Verbal violations of boundaries can come from anyone. Your parents and your partner are the usual sources, but you can also recognize them in the attitude of your friends and your boss. Sometimes the person violating the boundaries will raise their voice, trying to sound more convincing. They will make you feel guilty if you even think about refusing to do what they are asking you to do.
Recognize these moments. Process them. Think: what do you want to do? If you can help this person without violating your own freedom and convenience too much, do it. If you feel like it’s time to set some limits, just say no. Practice saying no! That little word will literally change your life for the better.
2. Recognize the Emotional Boundary Violations, Too
These boundary violations are more subtle. It takes a lot of strength to recognize them and finally do something to stop them. Some people will do or say something to lower your self-esteem, so they will make you do everything they want you to do. You’ve seen this in movies: the sergeant tells all kinds of horrible stuff to the soldiers, so they will start obeying commands. They want to make them so tired and so miserable that they will lose their own will.
That’s an emotional boundary violation, and it can come from the closest people around you. They will manipulate you, make fun of your ideas, and make you think you’re worth nothing. They are trying to make you feel guilty about anything bad that happens to them. They are practically bullying you, and you have to stop this! Be stronger! Be your own person. Stand up for yourself. You’re great and you know it! You just have to be stronger.
3. Protect Your Personal Space
This is especially important for your boss, colleagues, your doctor, and other people you don’t want to be too close with. Some people have a way of violating your personal space and you’re left with a horrible feeling, but no courage to stop it. They will be too familiar. They will move too close to you. They will touch your hand or even your knee when talking to you. This doesn’t have to be a sexual predator. Maybe it’s just their way of communicating. But it’s wrong and if you don’t like it, then you have to stop it.
Your personal space is important. Keep those boundaries. When someone moves too close to you, step away. That’s usually enough to show them that you have no intentions of getting physical with that person. If they keep pushing, be more drastic. Just make that stop and leave.
4. Know Your Priority
You are your priority. That’s not selfish at all. Do not waste your time and energy on people that drag you into their mess. It’s okay to be a friend and someone who’s always there to help. That shows you’re a good person. But when these people are hijacking your life with their negativity, you’re the one who loses the most. You lose your peace of mind and you lose yourself.
Make yourself the priority. That’s the deepest expression of self-love, and that’s how true love towards anyone else starts. When you make that choice, you’re not doing anything against other people. You just let them fight their own battles while you fight your own.
Remember: you can make other people happy only when you are happy. So work on these boundaries. You’ll feel like a whole new person when you start setting them!
Guest post courtesy of Hillary Hope. Hillary is an avid learner of everything related to life. She loves animals and she keeps adopting homeless dogs, one after another. In the meantime, she’s offering assignment help to students who need a push with their college projects.