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 the 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, and 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 spread the wealth and 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? Or are you feeling exhausted and depleted? If you’re already tired, being around someone who is draining is most likely 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 person’s 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, don’t give in! Read the following, and you can thank me later.
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 a 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 furthermore, 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 in reality you’re simply identifying the best way for you to help your loved one.
4. Leave responsibility where it belongs
Going along with number 3, you are not responsible for this other person. He or she responsible for their actions, words, mood and perspective, and you need to remind yourself of that. Yes you love that person, but offering to carry the 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. 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, and you know you can end the conversation feeling like you helped but didn’t ruin your positivity in the process.
6. Lead with compassion
This one can be tricky. We can have a tendency to dive into 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, I’ve 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 how you’re going to save the both of you.
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, then when you embrace empathy from there it can happen gradually and in a more controlled manner.
7. Don’t back down
Feel strong in these boundaries you are setting for yourself. It truly is difficult to put ourselves first and be a little selfish, especially when 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 to better serve them in the end.
8. Replenish your reserves
What in your life already feels incredibly nourishing to you? Maybe it’s the long walks you take on your commute from work, perhaps its yoga, 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, and the rapid decline in giving to yourself is a direct result of compassion fatigue. Make time to fill up your tank, that way when you’re involved in these relationships you can give from a place of plenty, rather than 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, I’ve even thought of getting it tattooed on my wrist, seriously.
At any moment where you’re feeling exhausted breathe, deep and slowly. You can make a “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 the hell 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 previously mentioned.
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 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 ones to follow suit.