Those in the helping profession can agree that we have a heart for people, sometimes to a fault. We give until we cannot give anymore, feeling that if we aren’t present someone will lose out. There is gnawing guilt if we don’t answer the phone call, the e-mail, the text, the smoke signal (just kidding on the last one) that somehow someone will suffer. We believe it will be our fault. Because we think that everything is on our shoulders, we lack healthy emotional boundaries.
We can learn a valuable lesson from Friedman’s Fables, written by a therapist and ordained Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman. One of his fables, The Bridge, gives us an important picture of the need to create emotional boundaries. To summarize, a traveler is given an opportunity of a lifetime. The traveler begins on his journey and reaches a bridge, where he notices a stranger headed in his direction. This stranger has a rope in his hand and asks the traveler to hold on to it tightly. The traveler follows the stranger’s instructions, and the stranger jumps off of the bridge. The traveler and stranger engage in dialogue, and the traveler is perplexed as to why this stranger decides to do this. The conversation carries on for quite some time until the traveler realizes he cannot bear his own weight and the strangers as well. The stranger tries to make the traveler feel guilty by saying he will “die” if the traveler doesn’t help him. The traveler decides to let go of the rope and encourages the stranger to make the decision that is appropriate for him and continues his journey.
When I first read this fable, I felt a wave of different emotions. I was confronted with the truth that in many situations, I had been the traveler holding on to the rope of others to prevent them from death when I was barely surviving beneath their unhealthy expectations and beliefs that I was their savior or the cause of their issues. I was the one headed towards a journey, and I allowed myself to be sidetracked by every possible emotional whim of others that (wait for it) God never asked me to address. Gasp! As important as it is to take time for ourselves, it is also essential to take care of our emotional wellbeing. Self-care is more than an exterior discipline but also includes internal discipline as well. We must include emotional boundaries in our self-care regimen.
If your availability is like a 24-hour diner and you are the only employee, it is only a matter of time before your diner goes out of business or burns down so to speak. You cannot possibly serve everyone well when you are trying to meet everyone’s needs emotionally. It isn’t humanly possible. In Exodus 18: 13-23 Jethro, Moses father-in-law reminded him that he couldn’t be all things to all people. Moses was listening to disputes, giving advice, teaching people God’s decrees and he was doing it alone. If the people were anything like they are today, which they were, this was too much emotional responsibility for Moses and Jethro could see the end result. His wisdom was to create a system where Moses could serve at his best and deal with “difficult matters” and appoint other people of Godly wisdom to deal with the day to day affairs of the people. This was a boundary and one that if we adhere to it could encourage longer longevity in our lives.
Before we can tackle a challenge, we have to admit that we have one. This is the step that we try to avoid because we don’t want to endure the pain of the process. As I have learned, it’s what we experience and what we learn from that experience helps us to grow—not things we avoid or pretend that don’t exist. As I write, please know this is a place that I continue to grow in as a daughter, wife, and leader. I have not arrived. My husband would agree that I am notorious for accepting emotional responsibility for things outside of my control. I quickly take on emotional weight for the decisions of others, and I even take on strangers who say that if I don’t rescue them, they will suffer. Sometimes I am confident in my “no,” and other days I grab the rope again and hang on as I bear too much weight for the emotional well-being of others.
For me, discussing the need to create emotional boundaries is realizing that I still have room to grow. It is even more important to develop healthy parameters as I embark on my new journey of becoming a counselor. If we don’t learn to create healthy emotional boundaries, we will not reach our highest potential because we will allow others to sidetrack our progress from moving forward. When we make a decision to operate from healthy emotional boundaries, we are making a decision to teach others, by our example, how they can create their own boundaries.
Today, we focus on being honest about where we are. As we continue our conversation, we will begin to learn how to put parameters in place so that our self-care regimen is well rounded.
Questions of the Day:
Do you see yourself in Friedman’s Fable The Bridge? Where have you held on to false responsibilities that are wearing your down in your journey?
How have you been drained emotionally by trying to serve other people at your own expense? What is your fear if you “let go”?
Do you know how to reach out for help or do you try to do everything on your own? What impact has that made on you emotionally?
What is one way you are committed to growing as it relates to your emotional self-care?