“Compassion does not exist without boundaries.”
When I first heard this statement from the incredible Brene Brown, I remember feeling surprised and incredulous. Say what? What did boundaries have to do with compassion? It seemed like the most compassionate and empathetic people were “boundless” with their compassion and empathy.
Upon hearing Brene out, I was in full agreement with her assertion. Sing it, sister.
Brene notes she was also shocked to discover her research revealed the most compassionate people were the most boundaried. She defines boundaries as parameters for what is and is not okay.
According to Brene, establishing solid, defined, firm boundaries allows us to be compassionate and empathetic but not resentful. This is key! Having those boundaries prevents us from feeling drained, taken advantage of, and unappreciated.
Think about it! Tell me if the following scenario sounds similar to something you’ve experienced:
Someone asks you for a favor. Maybe it’s baby-sitting their kids, or lending your tool. You agree, only to have them stay out two hours past their expected return time, or totally trash your tool.
If you’re not straightforward about your boundaries, including acknowledging when someone crosses them, this will affect your capacity for compassion in the moment. Whether you realize it or not, it affects you. Even by justifying their actions (“Oh, they’re just stressed - they needed some extra time” or “That’s okay, things are just things”) you repress your true emotions that naturally arise from having boundaries crossed. And repressed emotions don’t just magically melt away. No, that shiz stays with you and manifests itself eventually, and never in a good way. If you repeatedly repress emotions, they just fester and snowball. Notttt a good situation. You’ll likely experience physical AND mental AND emotional symptoms as a result.
So do both yourself and others a favor by speaking your truth. Define your boundaries. Let others know what is and is not okay. There’s no need to be abrasive and aggressive about it; you can be gentle yet firm.
Brene also offers the question: What if rather than trying to anger you/hurt you/use you/etc, people are doing the best they can? She shares her husband’s beautiful response powerful response to the question:
Brene avers now she is not as sweet as she used to be, but she is far more loving. She states her question is B I G: What boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my integrity to make the most generous assumptions about you?
Brene declares generosity can’t exist without boundaries, but acknowledges boundaries are not easy. We want people to like us/we don’t to disappoint people/etc. Brene asserts boundaries are the key not only to self love, but to treating others with loving kindness.
If you’ve done your work and set your boundaries, your empathy is infinite.