How I Set Boundaries

If you're a highly empathetic person, it's almost impossible to get through a day without feeling trampled - - unless you create and maintain proper boundaries for yourself. 

Boundaries are essential now when distant family is reunited and holiday parties are common.

We pick up the ability to read people in childhood. It keeps us safe. When that trait is overdeveloped and if we never learn how to have healthy separation from others, we can quickly sink into anyone else's misery, fear, or angst.

We might mistakenly believe that it's our job to make other people happy. It sounds silly, but it's automatic for a lot of us. We feel a heavy failure when we don't succeed. We tell jokes, make grand gestures, and give of our oil instead of our light.

We're left drained and devoid of the desire to be around any other humans for a while. (Cue the furry pet snuggling, a novel, and pajamas.)

As a mother, a grocery shopper, a friend, or a neighbor, I can pick up on the slightest anxiety. I can take it on as my own, believing that suffering with them is somehow helping them. Except when I do that, I have to help myself out of it, as well.

I finally understood a few years ago that I needed to remain outside the problem to most effectively guide another person. So as a woman who tends to blindly step into the abyss with a pained soul, I need constant reminding that I'm not that other person. I'm not responsible for their problems or their feelings. 

I might help them as a listener, and maybe even a guide, if they're willing. But I should not embody their situation and fix it for them. (See my many references to the need for control in other posts.)
When there is no distinct line between another person and me, it clouds my judgment, drains me, and enables other people's negative behaviors.

How do I remind myself 
that I'm a separate person?

1. I have to be constantly and highly self-aware. Since I have a lot of practice juggling mania and depression, I have a plan in place when I feel like I'm not fully present in my body.

2. I identify the signs that tell me a person is anxious, sad, empty, angry, etc. Sometimes that means being able to deconstruct feelings and look beyond someone's words. Even if the words are aimed at me and meant to hurt, I remember:

  This is about them, not about me.

3. I change the topic of conversation gracefully.

  I'm not responsible for their happiness.

4. If there's no way to change the topic, I try to remain grounded in my own skin. Therapists teach panic attack sufferers to feel deep into the ground. I turn into a processor of sorts. I shut off the "feeling" energies in their presence. 

5.  Later, I'm grateful that I handled the situation without crumbling if that's true. I translate any new data into opportunities for my own personal growth.

6. I'm aware of the topics that are nearly impossible for me to discuss objectively. They're the subjects that cause me to wave my hands around in the air wildly and talk in a shrill voice. 

That might change, but there's still some healing to be done. 


  1. "I'm not responsible for their problems or their feelings." Thanks for this reminder today. I needed it.

  2. Such a truism, as we can only control our own reactions...


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