We are inherently social creatures. And so, by nature, we have a desperate need to share with each other our problems, worries, failures, along with excitements and accomplishments. With any relationship, be it intimate or familial it’s often hard to navigate processing our own lives, let alone being there for one another.
Some of us have a tendency to take on more of the problems of people around us, yea, I’m talking to you empath! And that’s okay, but knowing how to guard yourself from allowing these issues in other people’s lives to consume your own life is important not only, for your personal joy and peace of mind, but for your health.
I know so many friends who have relationships where they tell me that just talking to certain people in their life is stressful, negative or gives them anxiety. They love them, but this relationship feels incredibly taxing.
It’s important to identify then, what it is that is actually draining about these relationships, is it conversations, is it the length, the negativity, constant complaining? What about these relationships makes them so tiring?
It’s likely, that you have a loved one in your life like this. You’re drained from trying to be there for them and all of their problems, but you can’t deal with it much longer, even if you love them. I too have had people in my life like this, and have learned (in very hard ways) how to make sure I am not being dragged down by these extra challenging relationships. So I am going to give you some ways to set boundaries with people you love (in any relationship) so that ultimately you can help them more, and keep yourself sane along the way.
1) Assess your energy.
Before doing anything with another person, whether you’re spending time or chatting on the phone, check in with yourself. How’s your current mood? Are you feeling vibrant and positive? Are you feeling exhausted and depleted? Knowing how you are already feeling brings some perspective to the situation. Likely if you’re already tired, being around someone who is draining is not going to be a recipe for clear communication. Make sure you know where you’re at before engaging with someone else.
2) Focus on the positive.
What is going great in this persons life? Talk about that! If they change the subject and negativity streams out like a geyser, refocus, do something different or change the subject on them. If it persists, and you’re feeling fatigued fall on these next few on the list.
3) Know your role.
You cannot fix their problems. No matter how much you want to. You can support people you love but you absolutely have no part in actually fixing their problems. They are the only ones who can make the choice to continue leading the life they are currently in or not. Know who you are in the relationship. Are you the child in the situation with your mom and dad? Are you the best friend, or wife or husband or significant other? What is your relationship to that person and then what are the dynamics of that. Unless your relationship is, therapist, coach, spiritual guru etc. then your role is defined less by being an aid to them in solving their problems. This may sound like “tough love” but really this is about you identifying the best way for you to help them.
4) Leave responsibility where it belongs.
Going along with number 3, you are not responsible for this other person. Be it their actions, words, mood, perspective. They are responsible for themselves and you need to remind yourself of that. Yes you love them, but offering to carry their burdens will do neither of you good. You can meet them where they are at, feel for them and support them but you absolutely cannot offer to carry their shit for them. If you did that, and then became so exhausted because of it how would you then continue in helping them? In order to really be there for someone we have to be emotionally available, and taking on someone’s problems doesn’t actually serve them, it only hurts you both.
5) Set time limitations.
Whether you’re talking on the phone, or spending time together in person get clear with yourself on a time when you’re maxed out. At what point do you start feeling drained? That’s your cap. It’s okay to say that a 20 minute phone call is all you have time for because if that’s all you can truly offer, and the conversation lasts an hour, that other 40 minutes wasn’t helping them or you in the long run. Be honest about this, you don’t have to say “I can only talk for 20 minutes because you exhaust me.” No instead try, “I’ve got 20 minutes to chat today and can’t wait to catch up.” That way it’s clearly set on how available you are to this person.
6) Lead with compassion.
This one can be tricky. We can have a tendency to dive into to situations that are emotionally overwhelming wanting to help the people we love. Empathy, is being wonderfully vulnerable enough to meet someone in their problems and show them you understand. But it’s important that we don’t over exhaust it. I know because I have been there. Leading with empathy is like jumping in after someone who is drowning in an ocean current, you’re right there in the thick of the storm with them, and now you’re not so sure on how to get the two of you both safely out. Compassion, on the other hand is throwing out a life-saver and helping them onto your boat. You’re still in your own world, and can tap into your resources to better help them. Lead with compassion first, embracing empathy from there can happen gradually and more controlled.
7) Don’t back down.
Feel strong in these boundaries you are setting for yourself. It can be really difficult to feel like you’re making these decisions for you. Fear will tell you that you’re insensitive or don’t love that person enough. But that’s not true. In fact, you love them so much that in order to really have a great relationship with them you’re taking care of your own needs which will better serve them in the end.
8) Replenish your reserves.
What in your life already feels incredibly nourishing to you? Perhaps it’s yoga or maybe it’s another relationship that’s incredibly nurturing, or perhaps it’s unplugging out in nature. Whatever it is, do more of that. As a chronic giver, I know firsthand how quickly you can lose time for yourself. The rapid decline in giving to yourself will directly result in compassion fatigue. Make time to fill up your tank. Then when you’re involved in these relationships you can give from a place of plenty, and not scraping from the bottom of depletion.
You may have heard this one before? Yeah okay, I know, it’s everywhere. But even I still need the reminder. At times I’ve thought of getting it tattooed on my wrist, so that I can see it all the time. But a simple post it note works just as effectively. At any moment where you’re feeling exhausted breathe, deep and slowly. You can even make an “sh” sound with your breath. Imagine a waterfall and notice how relaxed you begin to feel after 10 breaths. Breathing out, relaxes the parasympathetic nervous system and signals everything in the body (including the mind) to calm down. On the flip side breathing in rapidly will increase your stress response. So focus mainly on breathing out slowly and notice as you feel more secure and centered.
10) Love yourself.
This may not seem like a boundary – but it’s really all encompassing of everything I’ve mentioned previously. Value yourself enough to know that your wellbeing is vital to these relationships functioning to begin with. Without your effort they’d probably turn into a shattered kaleidoscope disaster. By loving yourself, I don’t mean necessarily loving the way you look, no instead I mean caring enough about your personal happiness so that you can execute the above boundaries. And, a nice side effect may be setting an example for your loved one to follow suit.
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