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January 7, 2022

How Boundaries Help us Detach in a Healthy Way from Other People’s Suffering.

 

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Editor’s note: extreme spoilers ahead from “And Just Like That.”

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My 2022 started with a profound statement from my husband.

“You are the one person I know who can be so happy for everyone and anyone’s success. You celebrate other people yet manage to detach yourself from them. How is it that you are unable to separate yourself from people’s suffering? How is it that other people’s pain becomes yours when you don’t do the same with their success?”

Pause. Breathe. Read. Let me give you a little background.

The other day, I finally sat down to watch “And Just Like That. ” While the New Yorker in me has rarely related to the four women in “Sex and the City” (How does a writer afford a life like that of Carrie Bradshaw and how do these four friends spend all their time together? Hello, boundaries and financial responsibility!), but I have enjoyed the show over the years. I have admired both the columnist as well as the fashionista in Carrie Bradshaw.

Spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t watched it yet: Mr. Big dies in “And Just Like That.” I knew this because I read about it on social media. People tweeted it out and shared their shock in Instagram Stories. But watching Mr. Big writhe in angst as he dismounts his Peloton…the pain in the left arm…the clenched fist in his chest…sweating profusely…being alone at home when the heart attack occurs. The sequence of events and his end felt too personal.

I know I am not the only one to be tripped by art or cinema. God, I found myself bawling and this is when I am not a crier. In case you are wondering, I wasn’t emotional about Mr. Big’s demise. It’s a show; he’s a character. He is not someone I know personally. But watching him die of a heart attack triggered me.

A few months ago, I lost a dear, childhood friend to a heart attack. He was young and fit. Didn’t smoke or drink. For a guy who was loved by all and had thousands of people in his network, in the end, he too died alone like Mr. Big.

We had to pause the television as I tried to catch my breath. The fictional loss felt too intimate. When Carrie asks Miranda, “What happens after this?” my mind went to my friend’s wife. How was she coping? Her entire life was snatched inside of a moment, just like Carrie’s. We all have our go-to strategies or stupidity (depending on the choices we make) to cope. I sat in front of Lord Ganesha’s statue and wept. I didn’t want to feel the pain, but I didn’t know how to not feel it.

Once I looked settled, my husband asked if he could suggest something. This is when he shared his poignant words.

“You are the one person I know who can be so happy for everyone and anyone’s success. You celebrate other people yet manage to detach yourself from them. How is it that you are unable to separate yourself from people’s suffering? How is it that other people’s pain becomes yours when you don’t do the same with their success?”

This wasn’t the first time I had become a gatekeeper of other people’s sorrows. I could be at the bank or in a grocery store and a stranger comes up to me and tells me their life’s entire, horrifying story. I listen because I actually care.

Just the week before, I felt the heaviness from carrying the pain of one of my best friends who lost her son in a car accident on New Year’s afternoon. My friend has made peace with her life-altering loss while I am still struggling to find answers for her pain.

Next morning as I returned to the yoga mat, I meditated deeply about my conversation with my husband. Where was my inexorable hunger, for helping those suffering, coming from? While suffering is part of existence, I don’t enjoy suffering. I don’t have a savior complex. My ego doesn’t feel fattened when I help others. It’s not about the recognition or “winner-of-the-best-friend award.” When someone is in pain, I soak up their pain. If they are someone I care about, I am unable to separate myself from their suffering.

I mustered the courage to continue watching “And Just Like That.” The word that jumped out at me: boundaries. The three friends, Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte have no boundaries with each other. In a different yet similar way, I lack the sacred balance when it comes to emotional osmosis.

I realized that I am an empath who needs more boundaries in her life so I don’t become other people’s stories and suffering. Between the many roles that I play—home, day job, business, clients, writing, school, and life—I don’t devote enough time to recharging and replenishing. Yes, I have self-care practices in place, but maybe they aren’t enough.

I have a built-in antenna where I am always feeling other people’s pains, desires, frustrations. Here is how I am learning to step back:

1. Learn to pause. Everything can wait. If you are an empath, you need to make time to take care of you between every single client appointment.

2. Build boundaries around yourself. It doesn’t mean lack of empathy or care. It’s not a wall. Boundaries don’t mean abandoning people; they mean showing up with a wholesome attitude.

3. Set daily reminders. Sometimes, we know things but forget to implement them. You cannot help others from an empty cup. You cannot be present for others and absent from your own life. If it takes Post-it Notes or posters or quotes on a mug to remember, go for it.

4. Meditate often. My twice a day practice to declutter the mind isn’t enough, I have accepted. During lunch break, I take 10 minutes to sit in silence. I close my eyes and observe what I am feeling on the inside. This makes the transition into the rest of the day a lot more seamless.

5. Find a compassionate way to say a no. As an empath, it’s hard to hurt other people’s feelings. But it’s okay to say a no with kindness. “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t have the availability right now.

We should be open to the idea of change and that it would impact our boundaries with others and self.

Remember: boundaries mean freedom. They help us own our personal and emotional space, so we don’t show up depleted. Boundaries don’t represent lack of compassion. They train us to detach in a healthy way from other people’s suffering.

They teach us to own our breath, space, and body.

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