The holidays can be a difficult and emotionally trying time for many of us; particularly if we haven’t learned to create emotional boundaries.
Many of us have learned to show up as caretakers at the ready; to give our energy away. In fact, after spending time with loved ones and extended family, we often leave feeling drained or drawn into someone’s drama. Creating and minding our emotional boundaries is important; as healthy boundaries help us navigate these often tender relationships from a place of strength and love, while learning valuable life lessons along the way.
Here’s How to Create Emotional Boundaries in 3 Powerful Steps:
Make the distinction between empathy, sympathy, and caretaking
Empathy is a gift we can learn to cultivate within ourselves and learn to share lovingly with another. Being able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to try and understand how and what they may be feeling, is a wonderful attribute which produces true compassion within us for the difficulty, suffering, or sorrow of another. We can use our empathy in powerful ways to relate to another and make them feel heard, understood and loved.
Sympathy is also in the realm of compassion, but it is too often flavored with sorrow or pity for another’s hardship. We aren’t really putting ourselves in another’s shoes. Instead, we feel bad for their pain and loss. Sometimes, we may even take away another’s power by diminishing them with comments like, “you poor thing.” We not only separate ourselves from their pain, but take away their strength and courage by not truly seeing them in all of who they are.
Caretaking is the most difficult response to recognize and often the one we’ve been taught. Caretaking is when we take on the emotions of another and run their emotions through our bodies. I’m not talking about allowing ourselves to feel what another is feeling; I am talking about taking on their emotions and allowing their emotions to, “set-up residence,” inside of us.
In caretaking, we try to alleviate the suffering and hardships of another by taking on their burdens; including their pain and sorrow. Soon, we no longer distinguish what is theirs from what is ours. Caretaking can also turn into a habit of doing things for someone else to lighten their “emotional load;” i.e., speaking on their behalf, or dealing with difficult issues that are theirs and not ours to remedy. In doing so, we are taking away another’s accountability and opportunity to grow, strengthen, and heal. We may be setting up a co-dependent relationship. Tread carefully here.
Remind yourself it is okay to be with someone and to be in a different emotional state
You can hold onto your joy while offering others the love and support they need during their difficult time. When we have strong empathy and compassion, we give ourselves permission to set a strong boundary between what is ours and what is theirs. To help us grow this “muscle” into memory, we may need to continually remind ourselves that it’s okay and healthy for us to create this boundary. In fact, it’s okay for us to be happy while someone else is sad. Understand here, that it’s possible for us to be with someone in our individual and intact emotional state and to simultaneously allow another to work through some tough emotions and situations.
We can be in different emotional states from others and still feel very connected to them. Most importantly, with a strong boundary around our emotional state, we are in a better position to extend love and compassion toward the other person.
I repeat; it is okay to be happy and to experience joy even when someone else is struggling. Staying within your true emotional state may lighten the state of another, simply by lightening the energy of the space you are occupying together.
Work to maintain healthy emotional boundaries and allow yourself to let go of preconceived expectations
All of life is a gift. Each and every one of us walks our unique journey through life. As we share our lives with others along the way and learn to navigate our way through, we continually receive valuable lessons in the shared witnessing of repeated patterns of struggle, response and outcome. It’s important to acknowledge that we can care about someone and even love them and still, they may not make the changes we’d hoped for, or move into the results we’d envisioned for them. The best thing we can do is love them, extend compassion, acknowledge it’s hard, let go of outcomes and take care of ourselves. The more we can do these things, the more we can be fully present to both ourselves and to those struggling. By fully showing up in our authentic self, we are in a better place to allow things to unfold as they are meant to unfold. This is the greatest gift of all.
A life well-lived bears witness to all of life; including all of its great beauty and its wrenching heartache. In the most challenging situations and times, we are often presented with something we can learn that just may be a hidden gift. This “gifted-learning” calls us to make different choices toward a future of greater happiness; or at the very least, allows us to alleviate our own suffering.
It takes a lot of practice to set and keep emotional boundaries. Often, it’s really difficult. With continued practice, however, it does get easier. So step into it again and again; each time remind yourself that even the smallest steps bring forward movement.
Above all else, be gentle and kind with yourself and allow joy to naturally arise within you. It’s there waiting to be received.
With love and a wish for Happy Holidays,