Last night I had dinner with two of my friends. The main topic of the conversation was the dilemma of being the person who is there for everyone. While I was listening to my friend, I thought about the past. I too, used to be that person.
I would be there for a colleague who needed money for a family emergency, until she ends up not paying. I was there for a friend who had big problems in her personal life, I would sit with her until 5 AM just to make her feel better and I would lose sleep for her. When my best friend broke down I would drop everything that I was doing and be there in a whim. In my past relationship, I would cancel on a prior commitment just to be there when he was in need. I was the person who would bend over backwards for anyone even if it means I would lose sleep, get sidetracked, and lose myself in the process. I was too much of an empath. I was too helpful, too kind, too compassionate.
I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought that always being there for someone is a basic human characteristic that we all should possess. Over time, I noticed that I would get sad randomly, and that I was absorbing the emotions of my friends. I was conflicted because I want to be a good friend, but constantly being there for others was taking a toll on my mental health. I found myself in a really dark place, for quite a long time. Can’t I just be present but not get dragged into the loneliness? Am I a terrible person if I establish boundaries on who gets to access the empath in me?
It took years of practice for me to not absorb the sorrows of the person I am talking to. I realized later on that I can both be be there for them but not be engulfed in their pain and sadness. I started establishing boundaries. I decided that my energy should now be intentional. Since I have a limited amount of energy, I have to be mindful of where I place it. I can be a good friend without suffering the side effects of being the reliable one.
I learned how to say no. I learned how to protect my time. I became more mindful when the energy starts to take a toll on my psyche. I now have an internal alarm system that tells me to take a step back and not go further, or just stay on my side of the fence. “Just listen, Kate. Be the knowing presence. Be present. It doesn’t mean that I should feel every single heartache. I can just be present. My friend’s story is not about me. What my friend needs is someone who will hold his or her hand while they are going through this painful process.”
When I started doing that, it was like a certain warmth came over my body. I felt at ease. I now know that I shouldn’t be losing sleep over someone’s suffering. I am an effective problem solver when I have a full night’s rest. I can still choose to keep my internal peace even if a close friend is going through a difficult time. My friend can count on me but I am now careful to not let other people’s state, affect my wellbeing. I still have people that I will run to on a heartbeat, however, I have limited that to my sisters and my partner. The rest would need thought before I bend over backwards to attend to them.
I can only give when my cup is full. I cannot give from an empty cup. This is one lesson that I have learned from Oprah. I am just one human being. I can’t save the entire world’s problems. But what I can do is be present in every moment and offer every person that I interact with that presence. I attentively listen to a person who is talking, I now keep my phone whenever I’m in a conversation with someone. I try to improve on being a better human, day in and day out.
I hope that you, reader, can also learn how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries with your friends and family. Our energy is limited, so we can’t go around and let everyone take from our limited energy pool. We have to be mindful.