One of the major lessons of my adult life has been setting boundaries. Whether they be emotional, financial, physical, spiritual or mental. I am such a keep-the-peace type of person by nature that I have given over control of many aspects of my life to circumstances or people because
- I am not clear where the line is between them and me. I’ve been fuzzy about what’s my responsibility and what’s theirs
- When I do realize I need to set a boundary, I haven’t wanted to deal with the anticipated “conflict” of doing so.
Thus, over the years, I’ve owned other people’s emotions. I’ve allowed money I earned to get spent unwisely by other people. I’ve enabled other people to atrophy in their own responsibilities and character, over-invested in relationships that weren’t at a commitment level to warrant the investment, and not taken enough care of my own health.
I have learned that when I allow one area of my life to swell beyond boundaries, other areas suffer. For example, when I was a workaholic, my family suffered. When I’ve over-invest in relationships, my work suffers. When I own other people’s negative emotions, I become drained and don’t have the energy to be there for the other people who need me. When I don’t take enough time for sleep and exercise, I get sick and stressed.
It’s a delicate balance.
Creating an Energetic Buffer Zone
For me, as an empath, one of the first boundaries I learned to set was between my emotions and someone else’s. I’m still not perfect at that, I still have a knee-jerk feeling of responsibility for easing other people’s upset emotions. Yet, I have developed somewhat of an energetic buffer zone where I create a shock absorber between other people’s emotions and me.
If I am, for example, in a room full of highly emotional people, I can use this buffer to mute my empathic abilities. This way, I can withstand the intense environment. Then I can reduce the size of the buffer and connect emphatically when I work with a client or want to be emotionally responsive to my significant other. If the environment was extremely intense, it may take a bit of alone time to rejuvenate, but I give myself that time and honor the need for it.
Another way I’ve prevented one or more areas of my life from getting out of balance is to use a schedule. I used to avoid schedules like the plague. I love spontaneity and going wherever the Spirit leads, but I have learned that a schedule is my friend. When I set clear work hours, free-time hours, and time for uninterrupted sleep and exercise, my life goes more smoothly.
I still struggle with boundaries. I still take on responsibilities that are not mine. I still have a tendency to make excuses for other people as to why they can’t step up or contribute. As a result I tend to take on their part. But I’m learning that the clearer I am about where my boundaries are and the more clearly I communicate that to other people, the more I take back my personal power. I have come to finally realize that not setting and communicating clear boundaries is giving away my power.
It would be easy for me to blame other people and say they are trying to control my time and my life. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not their fault when I have not clearly communicated my boundaries. It’s not their fault when I don’t enforce my boundaries.
For example, as a work-at-home entrepreneur with teenagers, I set the boundary, “When my door is closed, please do not come in.”
In my romantic relationship, I’m setting boundaries like, “I work from 9 am to 3:15 pm every day. You’re welcome to text me, but please don’t expect a swift reply. If I have a moment I will reply during the day or perhaps it will need to wait until after I pick up my son at 4pm.” Or, “If you wake up thinking of me at 3 am and want to text, you are most welcome to do so, but please don’t expect a reply til morning.”
As wonderful as boundaries are, life happens. There are special circumstances.. Loved ones go on vacations to tropical islands and want to touch base with you in (what for you) is the middle of the night. Elderly parents get sick and need your help during your work day. Schedules may need to be adjusted. Don’t be afraid to ask other family members or your church to assist you in such cases.
What areas of your life are causing you stress? Which areas feel out of control? Perhaps it’s time to get clear on setting boundaries. When you get clear with yourself and clear with others, you take back the power in your life and reduce stress significantly.