Have you ever been so occupied with helping other people feel better that you have trouble getting in touch with what would help you?
As many of us have spent extended amounts of time with those we live with over the past year due to quarantine, it’s possible at times to feel that our sense of self has become blurred with someone else. Knowing where our emotional self ends and another person begins can be a process of identification. We may not know where that line is until we are in the middle of a situation that forces us to think about it.
In my work as a therapist, I often assist clients with identifying when they are taking on too many of others’ emotions and responsibilities. I can often tell if this is happening because a client may feel extremely frustrated and overwhelmed toward someone, and perhaps angry, that the other person is not doing something my client thinks they should. The individual feels helpless and stuck. Being able to emotionally take a step back from the situation is hard to do at times, but it is necessary when you are feeling burned out.
One of the main ways that I know I’m emotionally burned out and need boundaries is if I start to feel like I don’t care anymore. Apathy is a clear indicator that something is amiss, especially if it is regarding a factor that you previously felt very passionate about.
Identifying your goals and whether certain activities help support those goals is a good place to start when improving self-care and personal relationship boundaries.
Most of us know what groupthink is—when a group of people tend to hold the same opinions without anyone offering a different viewpoint. When this happens, everyone goes along with what one or two people directly without objections. Some people may not want to upset the group by offering a different opinion, so they don’t. Some people may not have thought of their authentic opinion, so they go along with the group by default.
If we become influenced by groupthink or overly occupied with others' feelings over our own, we are not only cheating ourselves, we are cheating the world out of a variety of views, including that of the real you—a person whose opinions, interests, and life experiences are unique. Ideally, we want the strength to be comfortable in our own skin, even if no one around us agrees with our opinions.
Serving others in the right way requires not losing touch with what we are called to do ourselves.
If you are concerned you may be losing touch with your own emotions, you can ask yourself some questions.
Does participating in a particular interaction help you use your emotional energy well, or would it be better to disengage and save your energy for something more important?
If another person wants to discuss something they need your help with, are they doing the bulk of the emotional work/processing for the issue, or are they expecting you to do it for them?
Would you feel personally responsible if the other individual does not follow through on a goal you are “helping” them to achieve?
If your emotional energy is being spent more on other peoples’ goals than your own, it can be challenging to break the cycle, but it’s possible with intentionality. Start by considering how silly it would be if you expected someone else to devote more time and energy to your goals than you spend yourself.
Ultimately, it is most fair to yourself and the other person to say, “I can’t work harder than you for you to achieve your goal.” This might sound mean to you at first, but in actuality, it’s not. Why? Because it involves identifying what is truly within our circle of control and what is not.
This approach—being aware of what’s within our control and what’s not—helps us to empower others to work toward their personal goals and takes us off the hook for the result.
Some of the ways I enjoy empowering others in my work as a therapist include asking questions about what the other person may want to work toward, the specifics of the steps needed in that process, and how to manage expectations if the process or goal changes along the way (which it often does). I’m able to take myself out of the equation because I know that I am only responsible for me. Even though I’m their therapist, the client is responsible for making changes in their life, not me.
This concept is very helpful for me in my line of work. I came to this conclusion early on in my counseling career due to my own experience as a counseling client for many years. I know what it’s like to sit opposite a counselor every week and work toward—and achieve—long-term emotional growth. I know how bumpy and arduous of a path it can be, and that it is well worth it. I’m grateful for that challenging experience because it helps me now to better empathize with my clients and how difficult working toward change can be.
What is a goal you’ve felt inspired to pursue but have been neglecting? Take some time to write out some small steps you can take, and consider beginning today. I encourage you to consider how you can best care for your emotional self today, this week, this month, and this year.