Empath ≠ Doormat
As empaths, it is easy for us to merge with other people and take on their emotions, problems, expectations, and issues. Often to the point that we think the emotion, problem or issue is our own! One of our greatest gifts is our ability to feel what others are feeling, understand their circumstances deeply, and see things from their perspective. More than just sympathy, more than just empathy, we can pluck ourselves out of our own body, plop ourselves in the middle of someone else’s existence, and know what it is like to be them. Compassion is our superpower.
But when we are operating as an “unconscious empath” (one who doesn’t know they’re an empath yet), our superpower can seem more like our kryptonite. For many of us, this quality means we lived (or might still be living) highly codependent lives with nary a healthy boundary in sight.
Without understanding where we end and the next person begins, it is practically impossible to distinguish what is ours from what isn’t ours.
It’s probably an obvious conclusion that if we excel at merging with other people, taking on others’ emotions, and feeling responsible for what isn’t ours…then we pretty much can’t even spell b-o-u-n-d-a-r-y. It is the bane of most empaths’ existence and I have yet to find a sensitive soul who hasn’t gone an internal ten rounds with their lack of boundaries.
So what do I mean by boundaries? Saying no and asking for what you need are two major partners in the firm of boundary and boundary. If we don’t know where the line is between who we are (including what we want and don’t want, what we like and don’t like, what we value don’t value, etc.) and who the other person is (along with their wants, likes, values, etc.) then there’s a good chance we will acquiesce to the other person’s wishes. If we’re deep in the pattern, we might not even know it’s happening. Do any of these sound familiar?
“I’d love to go fishing with you this weekend.” (I hate fishing.)
“Yes, I’ll marry you!” (I need more time to decide and don’t want to rush this, but I feel how much this means to you so I’ll say yes.)
“Sure, it’s no problem for me to watch your kids tonight.” (I have three projects I have to get done by tomorrow.)
“Sex sounds great!” (I have a migraine and haven’t slept well in two nights and really need to rest.)
“I’m so sorry. It’s my fault. I didn’t mean to upset you.” (You were being a total asshole and I really wanted to call you on your crap, but I’ll just be quiet and let you think you’re right because it’s not worth standing up for myself.)
I could give a lot more examples, but I imagine you’re getting the idea. I acted this way for decades so I know what it’s like to be swimming in everyone else’s expectations, beliefs, desires, and dreams. I was highly codependent for the first 2/3 of my life and I am undeniably a recovering people pleaser. But know this…there is definitely hope.
The first step towards change of any kind is acknowledging the issue. You first have to admit that you don’t know how to draw good boundaries. Then, there’s the work of:
- learning to identify your triggers (what circumstances drops you back into codependence or lack of boundaries)
- pausing to assess what really works for you in the situation (instead of caving to the pressure you feel to make a decision now or the pressure to make decision x), and
- having the courage to speak it.
I wish I could tell you it was easy and happens overnight, but it takes time to undo years or decades worth of unhealthy habits and establish consistency in the new behavior. But it is so worth it. And, so necessary.