Have you ever gone through boundary training at a place where you work or volunteer? If you haven’t (and I think many more people need this kind of training), boundary training deals with learning what is appropriate and inappropriate in the workplace setting. It usually deals with what touches are appropriate, what language and types of discussions are appropriate, what things are questionable, and which things should be avoided completely.
We talk a lot, though not as much as we should, about the physical boundaries we each have. Some people have a very good understanding of physical boundaries. They stay out of other people’s space. They don’t stand too close when they speak to someone. They do not cross into another person’s physical space without the other person’s permission.
Physical boundaries are fairly easy to understand, at least in concept. There are circumstances, such as in a crowded elevator, when we may have to give up our physical boundaries, just for a little bit, for the duration of the ride. Once the ride is over, you can go back to the standard boundaries you have.
For lots of reasons, many people have their boundaries set too low. They do not know how to appropriately protect themselves from others. Many other people have their boundaries set so high that almost no one can get close to them. It is very hard to set appropriate boundaries, especially for survivors.
But what about emotional boundaries? We have written here previously about energy vampires, people who get too much in your emotional space and drain your energy. What about other layers of emotional boundaries?
In conversations with spouses, friends, colleagues, people we meet on the subway or airplanes, we have different emotional layers and allow people in at different depths. With your partner, you should be able to let that person into your very deepest emotional layer. He or she should honor and respect all the emotions you share and you should be able to share most of your emotions with that person.
With friends and close family, you should be able to allow the person into another layer of your emotional sphere, not as close as a partner, but not as distant as a colleague or even a new friend.
What about those people with whom you should be able to let down your emotional boundaries, but who have shown you usually time and again, that you can’t?
Those are the people we have to learn to protect ourselves. There are circumstances that force us to be in the same physical space as these people, but for our own sanity and protection, must be thousands of miles away emotionally.
This is hard. So. Hard. It is self preservation, but always feels a little bit off because these are people you should be able to trust. But, if you know these kind of people and have tried to let them back in, hoping that “this time it will be different.” It probably won’t, no matter how much you want it to be and how much work you’ve done on yourself to change it.
Chances are high that this person will not change. They do not wish to do the hard work to change. Their actions benefit and feed them, even if they don’t realize it.
For your own health and safety, you sometimes have to learn to dance within that space. You have to, because of circumstances, be in the space of someone who wants to live off your emotional energy. They want to know your emotions and thrive off of them. And yes, sometimes the people do not realize what they are doing, but they benefit from it anyway. You have to learn to set your emotional boundary so that you can be in the physical space that you must, but allow your emotions to be absorbed or sucked out by the other person.
It would be a lot easier to stay away from these people all together, and sometimes, you can do this completely and totally. There are circumstances beyond your complete control, so you have to learn to say, even if just to yourself, “you’re in my spot.”
Have you experienced people like this? What do you do in these types of circumstances?