I have spent the majority of my life feeling like it was my job to help everybody and fix their problems, even if at my own expense. This characteristic has not only gained me many interesting, if not sarcastic, nicknames over the years, but also several wounded wild birds, a beakless parakeet named Shaq, a one-eyed cat, a hedgehog, a cross-eyed kitten, an abandoned iguana and the somewhat adorable need to peel acorns for the squirrels as a small child.
As I grew up, these tendencies followed me into most of my friendships and relationships. I refused to see peoples negativity, and instead always chose to focus on the good things hidden deep underneath of the surface. I felt, in many ways, that it was a gift that I had been given, and wore my compassion proudly, like a badge of honor. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with compassion, what I failed to realize in my youth, is that without my own boundaries in place, I was much more likely to end up hurt and confused without a clear understanding why.
Brene Brown said that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” Over the past few years, I have done a lot of deep digging, not only to extricate the source of this need to save everybody but also to start to find healthier ways that I could use this gift of compassion to benefit others without beating myself up in the process. As I have looked back through the scenarios mentioned in the first paragraphs, I began to notice that in many of these instances, my compassion backfired. The birds would inevitably fly out of their shoebox nests in the middle of the night and scare the crap out of me, causing a whole-house effort to catch them and re-release them into the wild. The parakeet constantly bit at me with it’s half-beak as I tried to convince it to climb on my hand, the one-eyed cat hated me, the hedgehog was terrified of me, the iguana tore my screened-in patio without remorse (and with no intention of paying for it when my lease ended) and the squirrels were probably bored as all Hell all throughout the winter due to my odd compulsion. I began to realize that:
- The need to save everybody/thing (without them asking) began from a place of selfishness. By saving others, I was able to make myself feel better.
- 99% of the time, I was putting in my two cents where it wasn’t necessarily solicited.
- By being irrevocably there for others, no matter how many times or in what ways they hurt me, I was actually hurting us both by supporting their negative behavior and therefore, discouraging their growth.
- That there are other, more positive ways to be present for people (and animals) through their times of struggles.
- By giving my energy away to those who would rather do without it, I wasn’t saving any of that love and compassion for those around me who really did want it.
I set off to find balance, and I am just now at a place where I feel like it’s starting to settle in. Of course, I want to remain open and compassionate to others who need it, but I have also begun to put boundaries into place that are unshakeable. I’m realizing that to be supportive does not mean dealing with other people’s abuse or negativity. It means living from a place of good intention and teaching others to shine out the brightness that they have within them…IF they want to be taught.
I have made a few very hard decisions in the past months, some of which, unfortunately, have caused me to close the door on relationships that have proven to be toxic to me in this moment, with the promise that if/when they choose to get healthy in their own boundaries, I will gladly reconvene. I feel freer, lighter and more alive, not being weighed down by the energy of trying to save somebody who doesn’t want to save him/herself. I think there is a misguided, yet well-intentioned belief in Spirituality (of all faiths) that in order to be “good” you must be a doormat, but that is not true. You do good by teaching the weak to be strong, by teaching the sad to find their happiness, by teaching the poor to focus on all the things they have to feel rich about and yes, by searching for the good in everybody, even when they can’t see it for themselves. The best way you can do that is to be a living example of strength, happiness, richness, and kindness and by putting up boundaries that teach other people how to treat you, with the unspoken understanding that they can teach others how to treat them as well. It doesn’t mean that we have to turn our backs on people the first time they hurt us, but it does mean having open and honest conversations about how we are feeling when we have been hurt to avoid the same thing happening throughout the course of our relationships.
Just like everything else, our boundaries or lack thereof are a byproduct of the beliefs we have picked up along the way and what we have come to “know” about ourselves and our roles. This doesn’t mean you are destined to be the doormat forever. It means that right now, in this very moment, you are being given an opportunity to create healthier and happier boundaries within your existing relationships. Start teaching others how to treat you now, and you may be surprised to find that you begin to attract much more positivity, love, joy, and honesty into your life. Cheers to that!
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