An Empath's Guide to Boundary Setting
Well, it's officially fall. The maple trees are turning hues of cherry and burnt orange, littering the streets with subtle reminders that transition is in the air. It may still be sunny out but doesn't it just beckon you to pull the cozy sweater over your head and keep the kettle perpetually boiling? (Just me?)
Fall is the season for reflection and inwardness. It's also a time to re-evaluate what is and isn't working any longer.
One thing I have been re-evaluating for many months now is boundaries. Boundaries as a helper, as a coach, as a teacher, as a business owner, and in many other roles in my life. What is a healthy boundary? Why do they matter? Do you struggle with them as much as I do? Then keep reading...
"Won't people think I'm unhelpful?" "What if I come across as rude or closed off?" "If I set boundaries, no one will want to be in my life." These are a few of the common questions and comments I hear when I bring up setting boundaries with my clients.
I also happen to coach and support highly sensitive people who are givers. They spend their days with their arms stretched out wide, metaphorically speaking.
These are people who feel giving is a way of life — that it's not just something to "do," but something that's become part of their identity, their way of being in the world.
To set a boundary when you feel like you are built not to — well, it rarely goes over well. Especially if we assume that setting boundaries are about closing off who you are. If we think setting a boundary requires that we don't give, help, or that we shut down, I wouldn't set them either.
We think of boundaries as these hard stops, as lines in the sand that give the impression of, "Do not come any closer. Do not come any further. You are not welcome here."
We think if we set a boundary we are saying to people: "Do not trespass. Wrong way, do not enter. Beware." But the power of a boundary is that it gives you space, respect. and clarity.
A boundary allows both you and others to understand what your actual capacity is. It isn't just the thing that keeps energy that isn't yours in check; it also keeps you safe.
Before I get much further I need to insert a small disclaimer: I personally don't buy into the idea that we can cloak ourselves and be protected from "toxic people." I don't believe we can wear an energy shield or imagine that there is distinct separation between us.
This may be unpopular thinking because as an empath it's a common belief that we can "self-protect." But in the quantum reality, there is no separation. Zip. Zero. The lines aren't blurry, there simply aren't any lines!
Which means, as poetic as wearing an energy shield sounds... I want to offer a different perspective. One that empowers you and reminds you that setting a boundary isn't about protection.
It's about being your fullest self and feeling safe to do so.
How do we create, uphold, and appreciate setting boundaries if we're just walking around in one big pot of emotional soup? With intention and self-awareness.
Saying “no” or feeling "no" in honor of my boundaries is a daily practice. One I don't always get right. I never want to let someone down, but what I find to be true every single time, without fail, is this — when I say yes to something that crosses a boundary for me I end up feeling resentful, disengaged, and annoyed.
And I don’t want to represent my work or my life from this place, ever.
Boundaries are NOT a shield to keep people away.
Boundaries ARE about authentic connection.
Setting a boundary is how we connect most authentically with people. If you take all your triggers and baggage out of the equation, what’s left over is your most authentic self. Your most authentic self can easily connect with others because you know where your line in the sand is and YOU don’t cross it.
Boundaries are NOT hoarding your time or being unavailable.
Boundaries ARE about sharing yourself freely.
Setting a boundary is letting someone know what congruency looks like and feels like to you. This is you honoring your needs — your energy needs, your emotional needs, your support needs, and your self-care needs. When we take away from our own needs to make space for others this isn’t a boundary, it’s being a martyr.
Boundaries are NOT designed to bolster self-importance.
Boundaries are about self-respect.
Setting a boundary is not about self-righteousness or self-importance. It is about honoring, respecting, and taking a stand for what helps you feel and act your best. Only when you put yourself first can you show up fully for someone else.