I will never forget my first reading of Drs. Cloud and Townsend’s book Boundaries. I was in my early thirties and had never understood the part I played in my boundary-less life. The unrealistic expectation that my people-pleasing ways would bring relationship and that if I was just “nice enough”, people would respond positively, had lead to some pretty difficult disappointments. So being given permission, from a faith-based perspective, to advocate for myself was freedom I had never experienced!
I wish I could say that all it took was that one read-through to cure me of my rejection based wounds. But as anyone who has done extensive counseling for “woundedness” that stems from a fear of rejection, it is not that easy. Being a natural Empath, I struggle with over-identifying with other people and therefore lose sight of what my needs are until I am feeling really taken advantage of!….Can you identify with this?
As our greatest struggles often become our passion, I find myself counseling people who are also high on empathy and low on advocating for self. My clients need encouragement to stand strong with spouses, bosses, children, and friends. A problem that can become a hurdle is that the energy that it takes for an empath to stand up for his or herself, even once, can leave them exhausted and then they fall right back into that line of thinking where they assume others will see them, hear them and then respond with the same level of commitment.
I realized recently that boundary work is always a work in progress for the hardcore Empath. Here are three guidelines to use when navigating relationships:
- In relationships meant to be reciprocal, if you do not have expectations on the table, you will feel misunderstood and eventually will get burned. Setting expectations is important no matter how secure you understand the relationship to be. Assuming that you will be valued and respected is what gets empaths in trouble! Learning phrases like, “I have been more than happy to help but going forward, I have some expectations as well” and “I enjoy working toward our shared goals but not at the cost of my own”, will alert the person not as high on the empath scale that they are close to crossing a line with you.
- Mirror the level of commitment you are getting in return and there is less chance of feeling used in a relationship. High-level Empaths tend to work harder when they sense the other person pulling away, leading to an even greater investment and more to be disappointed about.
- All information is good information. When you learn that the other party has less of an investment in the relationship than you do, don’t let that feed your rejection-minded tendencies. It is important to embrace being your own greatest advocate! You can choose to protect yourself rather than get punched in the gut and no one will think less of you!
As a general rule, Empaths tend to want to help and encourage. They share easily and have a Mi Casa Es Su Casa mindset. What they do not often want to admit is that they expect reciprocal actions. This is where that Su Casa mindset stuff is really important because those who are not so Empathy-leaning are surprised when they are asked for a reciprocal response that was not spelled out for them.
Living emotionally healthy lives is a lot of hard work. Keep swimming!