Imagine this scenario:
Your friend or family member is going through a separation, and you know they’re having a hard time. You empathize with their struggles and offer them support, reminding them that it will get better again. They start to lean on you more, needing more time and asking for more favors. You begin feeling resentful, but you don’t want to hurt your loved one’s feelings, especially when they’re struggling so much. This goes on for a couple months, and you become more and more frustrated. Of course, you have your own life and struggles to manage! One day you snap and say, “I can’t keep doing this! I don’t have time to keep talking to you about your break-up. You have got to get over it, and move on!” Your loved one is hurt, taken aback, and says they had no idea they were bothering you. You feel guilty for getting angry but part of you is relieved that things will change.
Sound familiar? Ever find yourself doing something you don’t want to do out of guilt and then getting angry about it? I have! And, so have many other highly sensitive people. We care so deeply and want to help so much, but sometimes that leads us to give too much—too much of our time, energy, emotions. And, as sensitive people, we have to be especially thoughtful in preserving all of these!
Believe it or not, setting and holding boundaries can actually help you avoid situations like this one. Often, we may feel like we’re being “mean,” “selfish,” or “unhelpful” if we set boundaries. However, the reverse is actually true—not having boundaries can lead us to act in all of these ways. Interpersonal boundaries serve to protect us and other people by drawing lines around what is okay, what isn’t, and by allowing the flexibility to shift when what we’re okay with changes.
When you’re considering whether to establish a new boundary or hold a boundary you’ve already created, you might ask yourself these questions:
Am I feeling drained, frustrated, resentful or angry in this relationship? If so, what is happening that is contributing to me feeling this way? What am I doing or not doing that is contributing to these feelings?
If I snapped my fingers and this relationship suddenly changed so that it feels good most of the time, what would be different?
What are the action steps that I need to take to create or maintain the kind of relationship I want?
What small step can I take today?
Even if it feels uncomfortable (and it probably will), setting and maintain boundaries is so important. As a sensitive soul, you’ll likely feel guilty and worry about hurting someone’s feelings and will have doubts about whether you’re overreacting. That’s all normal, AND you should set boundaries anyway.
I don’t always like the way it feels either, but if I’m feeling irritated, overwhelmed, or just plain unhappy in a relationship, it’s a pretty good sign for me that something has gone awry. Usually, that something is that I haven’t been clear with the other person about where I need/have to/want to draw my lines. If you find yourself in a similar position, I invite you to think about how boundaries could help improve, and even save, a relationship you care about. You deserve this consideration, and so do those you care about.
Very best wishes,
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
PS--Want more support for living life as an HSP? My next round of Online HSP Support Groups starts up in January. I'd love for you to join us!