‘Empathy: if you have done your work and set your boundaries, you can tread that water forever and not get tired. Amen’.
Yes. Empathy in the sense Brené is exploring does not deplete us, nor does it sit with our accepting behaviours that harm us/others – despite the many Facebook posts that would have you believe otherwise.
Boundaries is one of those words we hear used widely – as if we all agreed on its meaning, when in fact the meanings are diverse. Our own definition is the same as Brené’s, and sits like hers in the context of compassion and empathy. There are a number of key elements, which she identifies, and one of them is a valuing/respectfulness for BOTH people – no matter what the behaviour. Saying ‘no’ does not require a dismissal or diminishing of all that someone is (or all that we think they are).
Boundaries are not fixed – what is okay for me right now is not necessarily what was okay 10 minutes ago or next week. They are not the same for everyone, and they are not rules. They are, in essence, an authentic communication by a person in relationship, moment by moment, of what and what is not okay for them. In order to be able to offer that in relationship, we need to have clarity within ourselves about what we really feel – our organismic experiencing – and we need to love ourselves (and the other person) enough to put authentic communication before people-pleasing or gaining approval.
And this is challenging work, of course – requiring a personal journey into the deep.
Thank you to Brené, and The Work of the People on Facebook.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling in Exeter since 1994