As I sat there, politely listening to my friend’s vent to me about their problems, I realised an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I was guilty because I couldn’t bring myself to listen any further, I was guilty because I also wanted to share, I was guilty because I couldn’t do anything, and I was guilty because I was exhausted. I wasn’t expecting the words, “Okay, I’m going to have to ask you to stop there because this is a lot to take on,” to come out of my mouth but at the time it felt right. I wasn’t going to allow myself to take on more than I could handle.
The term “emotional boundaries'' is when you start to learn to separate your own feelings from someone else’s. Often, these emotional boundaries are violated as a result of oneself taking responsibility for another person’s feelings, letting someone else’s feelings determine how you should be feeling, trying to please other people, and blaming others for your own problems when things get too difficult. Having emotional boundaries is something which is often overlooked for those who receive a lot of emotional baggage or have gone through emotional trauma in some way. An example could be having to deal with overbearing parents from a young age or even being a young career. These examples can result in you feeling to take responsibility for the emotions of others’ as you are trying to please everyone around you.
I realised I had weak emotional boundaries I was taking too much on when I was being blamed for not being able to make someone else happy. The guilt that I continuously felt as a result of not being able to help someone I truly cared about pained me so much, I felt like I was suffocating. Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of people older than me. I was a young carer for my mother due to her frequent nervous breakdowns and so I began to mature a lot earlier than the kids around my age.
The act of maturing faster than others caused those older than me to use me as a confidant rather than those their age as they found it easier, so I was exposing myself to a lot of emotional baggage that I could not carry. Carrying the weight of all of this made it harder for me to speak up about my own issues as it felt like it was insignificant in comparison to their own stories. I forced myself to become a people pleaser with the mentality “if I can’t be happy, I’ll make everyone else around me happy.” Being the obviously inexperienced child that I was, I was unable to help or provide support to all of these people who were expecting so much of me. Becoming so frustrated with my own incompetence, I became angrier within myself. Even with this self loathing, I started to lash out on others over miniscule problems. My mental health began to decline and I didn’t know who to turn to.
In reality the fault went to both parties. I could have been more vocal about the fact that I could not take all of this information, however those older than me at the time definitely should have known not to put so much pressure on a developing mind. No matter how mature I may have seemed to the public eye, I was still a child and thus that made it harder for me to realise when things were too much to handle.
Not having clear emotional boundaries can prevent you from having honest and open relationships with other people, cause you to take on more than what is capable of you, and can end up affecting your mental health.
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to say no. Telling someone that you’re not good at taking on so much information is okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person,it doesn’t make you care any less and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re a bad listener. Have you ever felt like some things are better told to a particular person rather than someone you’d usually talk to? It’s the same principle. Some people may be better suited at taking on the information provided, others not so. There’s always so much someone can take before they break and if you aren’t prepared to take on the emotional baggage of someone else, then please don’t feel guilty. There are people more qualified than you to do so. Therefore, if referring them to someone who can actually help is your best way of helping them, please do so.
This is also related to those who are sharing. There must be a level of consideration put in place when knowing who to talk to about your problems. You don’t want to overwhelm the person to the point that they feel like they can’t talk to you about anything anymore, and you wouldn’t want them to do the same to you. Everyone is different and therefore handle things differently. Your friends will always be there to support you but there is a difference between being supported and receiving the help that you want/need. Don’t expect someone else to pick you up when you fall.
Another point to remember is that you can’t help everyone and you can’t fix everyone. Feeling like it is your duty to fix someone else’s problem or life causes you to have such high expectations of yourself, you’ll begin to blame yourself for someone else’s feelings. It is unrealistic and impossible to attempt to fix the lives of every person who expresses their emotions to you. Only they can do that for themselves. Putting yourself in this position can result in you feeling overbearing guilt which will certainly affect your mental health. It is vital to separate your feelings from someone else’s in order to know what is best to do given the situation.
Having strong emotional boundaries is a difficult thing to achieve, especially if you’ve struggled with doing so for a long period of time. It's okay to let people know that you're not emotionally prepared to take on their problems. Not everyone can manage that amount. It doesn't make you a bad person to have boundaries from time to time. Not everyone is going to have the energy for it, it can be draining. It doesn’t mean you don't care and those who are willing to respect that will understand. Always put you yourself and your mental health first.
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