I’ve always been a people pleaser, especially when it comes to people I love. I like to be the helper and to be there for people when they need it the most. I take pride in my reliability and loyalty. I’m also an empath, and the combination of these two things often leave me feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. I ultimately end up spending too much time and energy worried about how everyone else is doing instead of taking care of my own needs.
At some point, I have to ask myself, “Would they do the same for me if the roles were reversed?”
If the answer is “no”, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship all together. If the answer is circumstantial, the relationship still needs to be reevaluated. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to walk away entirely, it just means that the scales are unbalanced and that needs to be rectified. I have no problem using my cup to fill yours, but I should never feel obligated to empty mine into anyone else’s, especially without any reciprocation.
Setting boundaries is hard. Saying “no” to the ones you love when all you want to do is take care of them is hard. Walking away from relationships or projects or places that no longer serve you is hard.
And I understand wanting to be compassionate and caring about someone, but to what extent do I need to accept unequal terms as a standard for the relationship until it finally starts to take a toll on me? Or until it’s finally acceptable to say something? And when I finally do say something, will it actually even change anything? Will it make them mad? Are they going to leave because they don’t like what I have to say?
I personally have an especially difficult time setting boundaries because I seek validation through my relationships—familial, platonic, and romantic. This is something I’ve been struggling with since I was young. When I can’t do something for my loved ones or help them, I feel like a failure or as though I’m unworthy of their affection because I’ve disappointed them. I’m fearful that they’ll get angry with me, that they’ll go and find someone else who is better and they’ll leave me behind in the process. It is quite the hateful narrative of self-doubt that I’ve mastered in my head, and it’s because of this narrative that I almost always end up settling for lukewarm, dissatisfying, insignificant relationships that do not serve me the same way I extend myself.
I realized that in order to protect myself and my energy, I needed to become clearer on where I stood in all of my relationships—with acquaintances, coworkers and bosses, my parents, my friends, any love interest that comes my way, and especially my relationship with myself. I realized that I need to take responsibility for my own projections, recognize when I’m being taken advantage of, and decide whether it’s best for me to cut the cord to the relationship altogether or if setting boundaries could salvage it.
Some things to consider:
What are my expectations from this relationship? Are my expectations too high? What do I feel they expect out of me?
Do I feel as though the scales are balanced or is one of us giving more than the other? In what areas are the scales unbalanced: financially, energetically, emotionally, etc?
Are there outside variables that are affecting this relationship in any way? Am I willing to make adjustments in order to make this relationship work? Am I willing to sacrifice anything in order to make this relationship work? (It’s okay to say yes. Just be honest.)
Does this relationship more often leave me feeling loved and fulfilled or confused, hurt, and frustrated? Can I communicate these concerns to this person?
Am I ready to walk away from this relationship if it no longer serves me and my highest good? (It’s okay to say “no”. Just be honest.)
Is this relationship disrupting my routine and/or priorities? Is this relationship propelling me toward my goals or hindering me? Is this relationship aligned with my highest self?
Is this person just a manipulative asshole taking advantage of my empathy?
If I set boundaries, either for myself or for the person(s) involved, will that improve things or should I walk away from this altogether?
The actual act of setting boundaries sounds very simple in theory. Setting boundaries is the purest form of self-care. It’s saying “no” when I don’t feel like doing something or don’t have the energy; putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb”; asking for someone to give me space; not allowing anyone to talk down to me (especially myself); not allowing myself to lurk on their social media; limiting the time that I spend around or talking to certain people that I know drain me; not picking up that extra shift when my boss asks, and so on and so forth.
But it’s really deeper than that. Setting boundaries is also using my voice and speaking up for what I want and need. It’s deciding what I deserve. It’s not allowing others to manipulate me into shifting my standards because they refuse to rise to meet them. It’s valuing myself and my energy in the highest regard. It’s honoring my needs. It’s signaling to the Universe what I’m accepting in order to uplevel.
So ultimately, even if I do have to cut someone off or if they do decide to leave once the dynamics of the relationship change, is it actually a loss?
It’s okay to be sad, but I won’t get stuck there.
The people who actually value me will want to see me value myself and I refuse to accept anything less.