Setting Empathetic Boundaries

There is a lot to unpack here. During this pandemic, physical boundaries have been forced upon us, to keep each other safe. This has resulted in unwanted isolation, as well as unexpected cohabitation. For example, our daughter has lived on her own for the last four years and finds herself in lockdown with me (and her dad, his 87-year-old aunt, and her cousin of similar age). My husband and I have been empty nesters for four years, and both work from home, so we have created routines that work for us.

All of us are grateful for our circumstance and where we find ourselves in this extraordinary time. We miss loved ones that we can only connect with over FaceTime or weekly Zoom calls. The isolation of our loved ones saddens us. All of us will benefit by setting empathetic boundaries. I offer some reflection points as you contemplate creating the perfect amount of space and grace for all involved, including yourself.

This plays out in several ways. Let’s start with the empathy we feel for those who are far from us. Here are some considerations. How will these answers inform your empathetic boundaries?

1.     What is the right amount of connection? Not burdensome or intrusive, but helpful and supportive. Perhaps discussing this openly with loved ones is best.

2.     How do we provide this support without feeling helpless, or overwhelmed with sadness, or fear of the unknown (i.e. when we will see them again)?

3.     Who else can share in the support of the loved one who is far way and/or isolated?

4.     In what creative ways can we connect (beyond Facetime)? Family picture sharing, weekly story sharing (via email), game playing on an app, weekly sing alongs, simultaneous movie watching with intermission call…endless possibilities.

Now let’s look at empathetic boundaries for those cohabitating. The best place to start is to acknowledge the uniqueness of this situation and all potential benefits. From there, we can explore the challenges – truly identify and own them. Here are some questions to consider.

1.     What are the benefits of this arrangement?

2.     What should I acknowledge and how often with others in my space? Ex: one thing each day that another in the space did that brought you joy.

3.     What might I learn from this unique time with these specific people. Ex: family history and anecdotes from an elder.

4.     What actions can I take each day to honor the space of another?

5.     What do I know about the daily routine of the others? How do my routines affect theirs?

6.     What do others do that irritates me? Why is that? What do I perceive their intent to be? Is that true? How do I know? How can I reduce my irritation?

7.     Have I shared the feelings that I own (and keep experiencing) with the others? What my needs are, and which ones are not being met. Have I provided clarity about how I can adjust to our circumstances?

8.     How do I cope with what I cannot change? Am I leveraging the learning – about myself, about relationships, about individuals, about my responses? Do I have routine times to self-reflect and for self-care: exercise, quiet time, a bath…etc.

This pandemic is further defining each of us. Make it a refinement of yourself – the best of you for the greater good of all. Practicing empathetic boundaries is a step in this direction. A step that will lead you toward your own brilliance. Shine brightly and stay well!

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