Empath Does Not Equal Doormat

So let’s examine these three steps in a little more detail. What do I mean by identifying your triggers? Well, ask yourself this: Who is the person you can’t say no to? Is it your child(ren)? Your spouse? Your boss? Your mother? Maybe there are several people? Under what circumstances do you immediately give into or say yes to whatever the other person wants? The can’t-say-no yes response is usually followed by remorse, guilt, shame, regret, resentment and/or justification. For some people these are consciously experienced, for others, they are deeply buried reactions that aren’t allowed to surface into consciousness.

If you can recognize the people or circumstances that cause you to acquiesce when you really don’t want to, then congratulations! Whether you can catch it immediately as it is happening or even if you identify it hours or days later, that is progress! It means you can move on to the next step.

Take a deep breath…pause…whenever you are in one of your can’t-say-no trigger situations, you don’t have to answer immediately! Really! It’s okay. The world will not blow up if you don’t answer right away. (It took me a lot of years to figure this one out.) Pausing gives you that precious time to re-center yourself, separate yourself from everyone else’s influence, and check-in with your authentic answer. It is perfectly acceptable to say something like:

  • I need some time to think about this, when do you need an answer?
  • I’d like to consult my calendar first before I answer you.
  • I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, let me get back to you when my head is clear.

If you already said yes and didn’t catch yourself until days later, I’ll tell you a secret…you can say no after you say yes! Of course, it comes with a tiny bit of crow-eating, but it can absolutely be done (as an adult too, without regressing into childlike behavior). Saying no after you say yes might sound like:

  • I need to apologize to you; I said yes to your request, but as I thought about it, I realize I can’t do a good job (or) I don’t have the time (or) I felt how much you wanted me to do this and I didn’t want to disappoint you.
  • I can give you two hours to _____, but I don’t have the time to do all of what you asked.
  • I looked at my calendar and realized I am completely overbooked. Can we reschedule for ____?

By the way, if you find these examples of what to say helpful, I cover this subject in great detail in my book The Evolutionary Empath.

Finally, once you recognize the triggering situation and take a pause to determine your true answer, all that remains is to speak it. For some, this can be terrifying. If your fight, flight or freeze response gets turned up to arctic, then I recommend you start practicing with rather innocuous statements that won’t ruffle too many feathers. Things that don’t have much consequence if you don’t agree. For example, do you want another helping? “No, thank you. I’m full.” Do you want to watch XYZ show on TV? “No, but I don’t mind if you do. I’ll read my book.” Or, do you want to go with us after work to get some drinks? “I appreciate you asking and would love to hang out, but I need some downtime tonight.”

In all of this, remember, it is a process. In learning to draw boundaries, you are most likely undoing decades worth of hard-wired patterns. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to experiment, to make mistakes, and to (gasp!) even risk someone else not being pleased with you. Boundaries, at their essence, are an act of radical self-care. Most of all, don’t forget to apply your compassion superpower to yourself!

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Rev. Stephanie Red Feather, Ph.D.
Rev. Stephanie Red Feather, Ph.D.https://www.bluestartemple.org/
Rev. Stephanie Red Feather, Ph.D. is the author of The Evolutionary Empath: A Practical Guide for Heart-Centered Consciousness. As an ordained shamanic minister, her passion is to help fellow empaths embrace their soul’s calling to evolve humanity to the next stage of consciousness. Stephanie is the founder of Blue Star Temple where she has led experiential workshops, initiatory processes, and private facilitation since 2007. Through specific focus on embodiment, masculine-feminine balance, boundaries, energy hygiene practices, shadow work, radical self-care, and inner authority, Stephanie holds space for spiritual seekers to remember their divine nature and heal their human wounds. Stephanie is dedicated to providing a wide variety of tools, resources, and products to help empaths thrive in the world. Click here to check out her articles, video home study programs, workbooks, meditations, and podcasts, and be sure to download your free Evolutionary Empath Activation Manual. Stephanie is a contributing author to the inspiring book Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change.


  1. What an excellent article, Stephanie, especially for those of us who got trained in childhood by boundary-less adults who often cruelly shamed us, who bullied us into thinking we had no voice, no right to worth, respect, or dignity. You’ve outlined excellent ways to begin to untangle from these patterns. For some who got caught in trauma bonds, breaking free takes great courage, professional support, and deep inner work.

    As someone who has invested half of my lifetime into healing and transforming work, I can promise you this process takes commitment, perseverance, persistence, will, courage, strength, focus, and great determination. This especially can be the situation for those us of raised by deeply wounded/mentally/emotionally unhealthy adults. You must be willing to brave the wilderness, to throw yourself out of the nest (thousands of times), to risk rejection, to bravely stand completely alone to find out who you really are, to discover your own true voice, heart, guts, dignity, self-worth. This journey may take a lifetime. Self-awareness, expanded consciousness, freedom are all worth the effort this will require.

    Thank you for writing such a thoughtful article on a very important topic that impacts many.

    • Hi Laura. I want to commend you on your courage and commitment to your own growth and healing. This path is not for the faint of heart, for sure! A few years ago I read a book called “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” and it was so validating for me, as I had some similar experiences as yours. In shamanic terms we often say “our greatest wounding becomes our greatest medicine.” It sounds like you have found your way through and are offering beautiful medicine to the world!

      • Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much. You bring a great deal of wisdom to this topic. I can tell you also have lived experiences. I celebrate our evolutions. The two watershed books I read were Christine Lawson’s Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship and Surviving a Borderline Parent by Roth and Friedman. Somatic work became critical in my healing, evolving journey. I often shy away from labels but these books finally described my experiences in ways that utterly resonated. I chose to break free- An unconventional path with many benefits for the soul, heart, and well being. Grateful to be able to share so honestly. Thank you, again, Stephanie! I look forward to reading more of your articles!!

  2. Stephanie, your ideas about knowing our triggers is excellent and important! It’s one thing to get caught off guard; it’s another to not think ahead to situations where we are often saying yes when we know we want to say no!

    And your examples are wonderful, along the lines of something I learned years ago about saying no but also saying yes.

    I know you would like me to ____________ and I can’t/won’t be able to. (No explanation unless it’ll really help. Explanations can lead us down a rabbit hole we didn’t want to discuss.)

    What I could do, though, is ___________ or ____________. (The second thing you mention is the one you REALLY prefer to do.)

    Which would you prefer? (Or something along those lines.)

    The two takeaways for me were using “and” and not “but,” which keeps the conversation moving along more positive lines, and always stating what we would prefer to do second. We very often go with the last thing we heard, as long as it is something we can accept.

    This works best when we’re expecting to be asked something we don’t want to do; it could be tougher if we aren’t. Your examples cover those times wonderfully, so thank you! I’m sure you helped a lot of us here today.

    • Thanks so much Susan! Yes, I agree with your points. I have been conscious of the “and” instead of “but” as well and it is a subtle but important distinction. Coming back to people with options is a great way to support their request and yet do it in a way that works for you and keeps you in a state of grace instead of frustration. Blessings!

  3. Stephanie, your writing has impact with clear examples and suggestions for empathy and boundaries. I really like your awareness around triggers. I appreciate you sharing your story and the reality that this is a life skill that takes time and practice. I so agree. Have a lovely day and my sincerest appreciations!