By Lily Owens
As a very empathetic person I have always struggled to set boundaries, with others but also with myself. The truth is, I don’t always know my limit and often I don’t allow myself one.
I often offer too much because I want to help out from a position of compassion for others, but without setting any limit or boundary. This can take a toll on me and my mental health.
I have set myself up to fail and, in many scenarios, the other person as well.
The lesson I have learnt is, you have to set boundaries, know your own limits and find an outlet.
Without setting boundaries and being aware of your own limit, you can burnout easily. If you are supporting someone, you can’t support them if they, are not aware of your boundaries or if you are not aware of your own limits.
We have to help ourselves first, before we can help anyone else.
When you’re supporting someone, you have to remember that if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone. Please remember to put your oxygen mask on before you help someone else. If you stop breathing emotionally this is just as life-threatening as if you were to stop breathing physically.
As part of our Hope in Depression course training, we share this analogy:
A woman is walking down a street when she falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, she cannot get out, it is dark, cold, lonely and scary.
A person passes by, and the woman shouts up, "Hey, please can you help me out?" The stranger stops and sits by the hole and they ask, "how did you get stuck down there, what did you do?" They start to feel hopeless as they stare into the hole. They try to think of ways they could get the woman out but they feel overwhelmed. They start to wonder what if they fall into the hole and they become fearful and anxious, so they leave quickly.
The woman starts to blame herself for why she is in the hole. She starts thinking "what did I do wrong to get down here?"
Another person comes along, the woman shouts up, "please can you help me." The person jumps in the hole. The woman says, " Why did you do that, now we're both stuck down here." The person says, "It's ok, I've been down here before, and I know the way out."
If we stay and sit by the hole, listening to how scared and lonely the person is, we only burn ourselves out.
Similarly if once, we are in the hole, showing the other person the way out, we have to be aware of our boundaries and limits and only show the way out, not carry them out.
Sometimes, it feels as though we are helping, but actually it can have the opposite effect. In some situations the best thing to do is to encourage and provide the right tools but not to "carry" them.
If you jump in the hole before you know the way out or show them the way out but stay in there with them, you'll get stuck. We can’t stay in the hole too.
I have learned that empathy is a strength but only if you know how to use it, otherwise it can be a weakness.
So set boundaries. You’re allowed to and we all need to. It doesn’t make you a bad person or any less empathetic, it makes you strong. Without them, you can’t help at all.
Know your limits. We all have different limits and that’s ok. I am still figuring out mine but being aware of your limits will help you set boundaries.
Find an outlet. When it gets overwhelming supporting the people you love, going through this incredibly tough thing called life. It is HARD but it can be beautiful and wonderful too! My outlet is running because, well, you can’t think of anxious thoughts and worries too much when you’re thinking “ow this hurts!”
Lastly be kind to yourself, think of yourself as another good friend, would you treat a friend, the way you treat yourself?