Are you an empath or a highly sensitive person? Then I know you have had this experience. A dear friend is always in need. When the phone rings, you cringe, knowing that after speaking to them you will feel sucked dry. And yet, you pick up the phone because you really care.
Or perhaps you are in the supermarket and a complete stranger comes up and tells you their life’s entire, horrifying story. You listen because you actually care.
Maybe as you are hanging out at your kid’s baseball game, someone asks you to join yet another committee or volunteer group. Even though you have already joined ten others, you say yes because, of course, you really care.
Each of these moments is an excellent opportunity to very appropriately and usefully set a boundary. In my work training sensitives, empaths, and healers, the number-one thing I teach is boundary setting—because it is so hard for us to do.
Empaths are the psychic sponges of the world, so we spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed by the energies of other people. Crowds, social engagements, traveling—anything that has a lot of people and sensory stimulation—can crash the circuits of empaths and send them into empathic overload.
A non-empathic person has an innate sense of boundaries: “This is me and everything else is not me.” But empaths don’t have a built-in boundary, rather we have finely tuned antennae that are always feeling other people’s needs, pains, and desires. So we need to learn about stepping back.
With good boundaries, we feel our unique sense of self and our separation from others. This comes from being able to say “No.” With a sense of self and of our own worthiness, we can prioritize ourselves over the needs and wants of others. This is an alien concept for most empaths because we have very big hearts and generous natures—we really care!
Since we feel what others need and how much pain they are in, it’s very difficult to say no. It requires us to be very honest about when we feel a “yes” or a “no” in our lives. A great way to tell when you feel “no” is to watch for resentfulness. Resentment is the red flag that lets you know you are in a situation with an energy imbalance, where you are giving more to a situation than you are getting back.
Here are the three steps to take for stronger boundaries.
- Write a list of everything in your life that you feel resentful about: every relationship and every aspect of your work, social life, chores, and home responsibilities. Everything.
- Spend some time contemplating where you need to say no and set a boundary.
- Then renegotiate your commitments, like stepping down from the extra committee you are on, speaking to your boss about responsibilities, or getting more help at home.
Not everyone will respond in a positive way when you suddenly start saying no when you have always said yes in the past. Allow those people to have their feelings and then stick to your guns. Children, friends, spouses, and employers will all eventually get used to your new boundary. And the biggest bonus about having good boundaries is that they engender respect in other people. Suddenly you will go from feeling like a doormat to having the respect of those around you.
It can be tough to learn how to say no when you are not used to it. Here are some tips that can help you practice and make the transition easier.
Don’t Agree to Anything in the Moment
I am a sucker for a person in need and will always say yes in the moment. I have learned instead to say, “I need to check my calendar, let me get back to you tomorrow.” I give myself some time away from the person who is asking me. Then I contemplate my level of availability. Do I really have time? Does it serve my greater purpose? Does it bring me joy? Is it the best use of my time? Only after I answer those questions do I respond.
Find a Few Kind, Compassionate Ways to Say No
As an empath, it’s hard to hurt other people’s feelings. It feels mean to say no! But there are soft ways to say no, such as:
- “I would love to help you, but I am overbooked right now”
- “Thank you for asking, I just don’t have the availability right now”
- “I admire what you are trying to do, but I don’t have the resources to do it justice”
- “No thank you, but I love that you asked me”
Use Technology to Assist You
Your tech can make things much worse or much better for you, it’s up to you. Make your phone, email, and social media allies in setting your boundary. Don’t make yourself overly available: Let your phone ring to voicemail. Set it to “Do Not Disturb.” (I once set mine and forgot about it for days! It was so peaceful.) Get in the habit of only checking your email once a day and turn all your notifications off. Wait 24 hours to respond to anything, unless it’s fun and energy giving. This is another way to train people not to expect immediate responses from you, which will give you space and time to feel your yes-or-no answers.
I am constantly learning and my boundaries change with the phases of my life. I consider this to be a work in progress, an experiment. If you practice using these tools, you will have a strong, flexible boundary that will help you be in the world in a powerful way.
Lisa Campion is a psychic counselor and Reiki master teacher with over twenty-five years of experience. She has trained more than one thousand practitioners in the hands-on, energy-healing practice of Reiki, including medical professionals, and has conducted more than fifteen thousand individual sessions in her career. Based near Boston, MA, she specializes in training emerging psychics, empaths, and healers so they can fully step into their gifts—the world needs all the healers it can get!