When we think of the word boundary, what comes to mind? A wall? A barricade? Isolation? Too often, we hear the word boundary and automatically think of harshness and rejection, sending us into a panic-based isolation bubble. There is nothing harsh or rejection-based about building boundaries for empaths; they are to protect ourselves and the people in our lives.
One of the reasons boundaries are so important to empathise with is that they create a safeguard from taking on the energies of situations and other people. An empath – and even highly sensitive people (HSPs) – have an overwhelming emotional correspondence with outside energies. Even a regular activity, such as riding in a crowded bus, can be an overwhelming experience for an empath. It is common for empaths to ‘absorb’ the energies of those around them, even those of strangers. So, creating boundaries can be a critical survival technique for those who experience high empathy or sensitivity levels.
WHY IS BUILDING BOUNDARIES SO IMPORTANT?
As with most human interaction, some thresholds might be higher for one person than others. When it comes to empaths and highly sensitive people, the threshold can be much lower than for a person without a highly empathic nature. My late father used to say, ‘If you don’t show people where the line is, you can’t expect them not to cross it.” If we don’t create boundaries for ourselves (and this goes for any person), we can expect people to push those buttons and cross those limits – particularly when they don’t know they’ve pushed or crossed anything. Boundaries are a constant reminder that we only have control over aspects of our inner self and little to no control over anything outside us.
BUILDING BOUNDARIES FOR EMPATHS
Firstly, to build boundaries, we must understand that this is a right all living creatures possess – you have the right to sovereignty and protection. There are three main components to assess before building boundaries for daily living.
- Work on self-awareness. Knowing what a person can and can’t / will or won’t be capable of authentically doing is paramount to building boundaries. A critical piece of boundary creation (and living harmoniously as an empath) is hyper-aware of strengths and weaknesses. One of the best ways to develop deeper self-awareness is mindfulness work, such as meditation and reflection, journaling and re-evaluating your life story/narrative. Research has shown that mindfulness can create changes in our brains that impact anxiety and panic to calm and strength when an individual engages in a consistent, dedicated mindfulness activity.
- Evaluating our life story/narrative can clarify the places in our lives where we feel disconnected and challenge the validity of our accomplishments and capabilities. Ask which people, events, or places throughout life have significantly impacted our lives. Which challenges and setbacks defined our strength? Where does the most passion in our lives exist? It’s astounding how many of us get through decades without knowing what we can do and which areas of our lives could improve our resilience. A strong foundation built on knowing ourselves can never lead us astray.
- Ask someone! Gary Vaynerchuk spends a lot of time discussing the connection between self-awareness and reaching goals. Vaynerchuk often says that one of the most significant issues people face is being clueless about the differences between their strengths and weaknesses. When asked, most people feel incredibly uncomfortable stating what they are great at and areas of their lives where empaths could make the most improvement (hello, every awkward job interview ever!). Sometimes the best way to understand yourself better is to gain a trusted outsider perspective. So, ask someone you trust and tell them to be constructive and honest about what they see as areas you thrive in and where you could use some more work. Be open to this feedback. To arm ourselves properly, we need to know a) what we’re capable of and b) if we will get in over our heads.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
One thing empaths and highly sensitive people need to discover is what they find tolerable. If a specific scenario causes a person to recoil and turn inward with fear and anxiety, that situation likely requires a boundary.
Think back to when a situation turned from an ordinary event to a crisis simply because the tools to adapt and transform the situation were not in reach. We all have limits, but many don’t know what they are. Maybe that guy sits beside us during meetings and tells us his most inner feelings and thoughts without considering how they make us feel. Or it could be someone who calls us every Saturday to tell us how terrible their week was and wants us to advise them on what they should do about it.How to build boundaries for empaths and highly sensitive people #empaths #holistictherapies #growthmindset Click To Tweet
An empath can sense the energy required from a person within seconds – often before saying one word. Using that gauge is a critical survival technique for identifying situations where a boundary is necessary. Identifying these situations is the good old-fashioned ‘learn when to say NO’ tactic.
Empaths have a challenging time saying no to people because they feel the pain and stress of others in the air around them. It can be incredibly tough for an empath to tell the person calling up on Saturday to complain about their week that they cannot have these conversations with them any longer. Remember, we cannot control what happens outside or how others react to our communication. It is our birthright to protect ourselves in all ways, which applies to all of us.
For those who struggle with saying no, try easing into things. For example, our college friend calls us weekly to complain about her kids and husband. Her calls always impact our mood and energy levels for the rest of the day. To create a boundary, try saying, ‘I know that it must be so challenging right now for you with the kids being home all day long, but I think we should spend only a few minutes on this and then let’s focus on something more productive.‘
Our friend may be hurt, angry, or even react in a way we tried to avoid, but not telling her that her weekly complaints are not only dragging them down, but they are impacting our mood. Remember, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice by not speaking up — we are doing our friend a disservice as well.
Learning to say no expands our capacity to connect with others, not the other way around. Once we put these practices in place and create boundaries, our lives will open up in new and exciting ways.
The mirror of our inner world creates our human experience. If we live from a place of fear and resistance, we will attract a reality that draws more of the same and barricades us from experiencing true happiness.