Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maintain Emotional Boundaries with this Gift

This, right here, is my 50th Honest and Gentle post. I'm feeling pretty excited about that. :) To celebrate, I'd like to offer you a gift, a small token of my appreciation for the time that you take to read these posts; something that I feel is particularly useful for folks who care about feelings and empathy (folks like you!). Here's the back story:

A few years ago, I developed a workshop for an organization who's employees were experiencing low morale. Their jobs involved supporting others through difficult times in life and, to put it mildly, it was emotionally draining. They were sometimes treated disrespectfully by the people they were serving. They were told how useless they were, when many of them felt this work was their calling. Even when they weren't taking on direct criticism, they felt bogged down by the emotional struggles of the folks they were serving and they were frustrated by the limitations of what they could do to help.

I think these struggles are fairly universal, especially for those of us who identify as natural helpers and those of us who practice empathy, opening ourselves to the perspectives and feelings of others. They require a shift from problem-focused solutions (something that natural helpers excel at) to more emotion-focused coping, or accepting the things that we cannot change (not so easy). Maintaining healthy boundaries to protect our own emotional health is the key to these struggles, but it's the kind of maintenance that requires ongoing work and diligence (much like staying on top of laundry when you have an infant who goes through at least three outfits a day). I think about this maintenance as falling into three categories:

1. Self-Care    

My working definition of self-care is doing those things necessary to keeping yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy (more on that definition in Self-Care 101). Once you know what those things are, the important thing to do is to commit to them. Make time for your self-care, putting it on your calendar. Keep it on your radar by keeping a reminder of this commitment in a prominent place that you'll see every day. Get the support you need to meet your self-care commitments - make space for self-care in your budget and talk to your family and close friends about what they can do to support you.

2. Regular Reality Checks

Sometimes the voices of others become so loud that they distort the way we see ourselves. We begin to buy into the negative messages or the belief that we are responsible for things outside of our control. Having something - or even better, someone - that reminds you of your value, of your true self, regularly, helps to keep you in touch with reality.

3. "It's not about you." - Maintaining Boundaries

Your feelings are your own and other people's feelings and opinions belong to them. These are clear facts, but they get muddled when you are in the process of helping someone, having an emotional conversation, or engaging in conflict. Keeping emotional boundaries in tact requires frequent reminders of their existence. And, here, finally, is where my gift to you comes in. When I first presented this material, I was inspired to create a guided visualization to help the workshop participants remember and maintain their emotional boundaries. I can remember how the participants looked when the visualization was over and we all opened our eyes: relaxed and happy. My workshop reviews consistently mentioned the visualization as one of the most useful pieces of the workshop and something that would be useful going forward.

I want to pass this gift on to you, now. Simply click here to go right to the visualization audio - enjoy! (And let me know how it works for you!)

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