As we move through the bumps, jolts and obstacles of life, we can use them to justify our own “rightness” or choose to see through the eyes of compassion. When seen most clearly, any person who hurts us is merely a person who is suffering himself or herself. When we choose to see others in this way, it opens up a door to a more expanded way of being. This does not mean that we should put ourselves in harm’s way or simply accept harmful behavior. That would be a cop-out—a way to bypass our own responsibility. It is a way that we can get trapped in a kind of pseudo-compassion. This false compassion is a trick of our ego and a way to feel important through our own victim-hood.
Instead, we can make choices that both offer others compassion and takes care of ourselves. Compassion requires that we be able to stand in another’s place and understand where they are coming from. It asks that we feel another’s motives and empathize with their plight. Respect and love for ourselves and others helps us put boundaries in place, say no, or simply remove ourselves from harmful situations. Both compassionate understanding and self-care are essential. Goddesses, such as Quan Yin, Yemanja, and Mary, show us the way to unconditional compassion for others. They overflow with deep acceptance of the natural evolution of the soul—marked at times by oversights, limitations, and ignorance. They know that no one escapes these challenges and that each one is doing the best they can at any given moment. In their strength and with compassionate grace, they show us how to emanate light in the face of all of life’s challenges. They do not exalt or negate suffering—they simply offer it compassion. Compassion toward another is, in the end, a gift to us. It releases us from the shackles of judgment. It creates the space for us to learn and grow. It sets us free to live and love more deeply.
We may look around our lives or the world and see many things that are wrong—politicians who are power-hungry, friends who are self-absorbed, or family members who are stuck in limiting belief systems. These clear problems may invoke in us frustration, judgment, or even deep sadness. To protect ourselves, we may feel the need to make these people bad in some way.
We might believe that they are harmful, lost, or just wrong. We might feel that, if they continue to act in this way, it will be infringing upon our ability to be ourselves or have the kind of life that we desire. But what if, instead of blocking our path, they are signs pointing the way? Do not go that way—that is not your way. What if, instead of negating our way of being, they are helping us see how to be with all aspects of ourselves and of life? What if they are deepening our ability to trust in the divine unfolding of things and more completely challenging our ego’s limited grasp of how things should be? Our compassion can be our teacher, showing us the way to deeper truth and happiness.
As with many things, the first person who needs compassion from us is usually ourselves. Many of us, especially those on a spiritual path, can forget to develop ourselves in our striving, forget that we are in a perfectly timed process of unfolding and that our mistakes and limitations are part of the process not keeping us from it. Cultivating compassion as a ground for our spiritual development ensures that we are approaching it from the healthiest and most beneficial direction—with honor and integrity rather than an egoistic need to be something other than who we are at any given moment.
My prayer is that compassion lives in your heart, that you remember to be compassionate when you have forgotten, and that you have the strength to feel compassion when it is most challenging. I ask that you feel compassion’s gifts and be open to its teachings. I ask that your life be inspired by divine compassionate grace.
As common (but not as tasty) as peanut butter and chocolate is the unhealthy bond between narcissists and empaths.
Narcissists are those people who are arrogant, lack empathy, and are ultimately self-serving. They manipulate to get what they want—not necessarily intentionally. Under this thick veil of ego is a very wounded person. However, the nature of the narcissist is to project blame while avoiding responsibility. As a result, they can be extremely destructive to empaths.
Empaths are sensitive people who feel the feelings of others and ultimately want others to feel loved, healthy, and good. They often mistake the feelings of others for their own feelings and struggle to put appropriate boundaries in place. The nature of the empath is to sometimes take too much personal responsibility in conflict situations. As a result, when they are relating to someone with narcissistic traits, they can end up taking responsibility in ways that are unhealthy.
It is challenging for the empath to see the relationship with the narcissist clearly. And the narcissist will be endlessly trying to make themselves look good, as well as to get the endless appreciation and love they so desperately desire.
The result is that the empath will begin to doubt themselves and their intentions. They will become imbalanced, and as a result, they will often act in ways that they are not proud of. The longer this continues, the more the narcissist will blame the empath for what is happening and the more the empath will believe that what they are doing is wrong, losing their center and their health in the process.
The following is from Bill Eddy’s article “How to Spot a Narcissist.” He shows how you can most easily spot a narcissist. While many writers have described the characteristics of a narcissist, he does so in a way that is accessible and clarifying.
The following are several hints you may pick up from a narcissist early on, using the WEB Method.
Watch for both extremely positive and extremely negative words, about you or others.
EXTREMELY POSITIVE (SEDUCTIVE) WORDS include: I love you, you’re so wonderful! I’ve never met someone as great as you are! You’re so much better than all the others. You’re the center of my life! I will give you everything you deserve. No one has treated you as good as I will treat you. The person you were with before was a real loser. I have this great idea that will make me really famous someday. Let me tell you about it. (Notice that much of this is very comparative—that’s a warning sign that you will compare negatively later on.)
EXTREMELY NEGATIVE (DISPARAGING) WORDS include: That person over there is a real loser. Let me tell you about him (or her). The people that rejected my great idea are some of the stupidest people I have ever met. They don’t know brilliance when it’s staring them in the face. My boss is really treating me unfairly. I’m thinking of going over his head and getting him fired. I can’t wait until everyone sees him being walked out of the office for good! He’ll be totally humiliated. (Notice the thrill of superiority and lack of empathy, even if the other person is a lousy boss.)
WORDS THAT SHOW LACK OF EMPATHY OR INTEREST: The following happens a lot with narcissists. If you tell the person about a bad experience or vulnerability that you have, their response will often begin with: Well, let me tell you what happened to me once! There’s often no recognition of your concern—or even your existence, sometimes. They lose interest quickly, once they think they have you.
VICTIM WORDS: Narcissists perpetually see themselves as superior, but also perpetually as victims. When they are exposed as not being so superior after all, they suffer what is often called “a narcissistic injury.” Maybe they were turned down for a job promotion in favor of someone else. After such an “injury,” they will become obsessed with proving how bad the other person is and how wonderful they are. They may go on a long rant: It’s so unfair what they did/said/are. I will show them! They’re punishing me for being better than they will ever be!
Now pay attention to your own emotions. How do you feel around the person?
FEEL TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE? This person is so nice to you, you feel extremely loved and flattered. You may have a euphoric feeling. He/she almost seems too good to be true. That’s a warning sign, because people who intensely and endlessly flatter you are often not who they seem. Their charm for you is a warning sign. Sometimes, they are simply charming and not a narcissist. But sometimes it means you are being seduced in the moment with lovely words by a narcissist, who will say them soon to the next person or organization they meet. They like winning more than having.
FEEL STUPID AND INADEQUATE? Some narcissists are so busy puffing themselves up that they don’t realize that they are putting you down in the process—it’s so automatic for them. You may not even notice it consciously at first, but soon you may be filled with self-doubt. I wonder what he/she thinks of me? I’m not really that smart, talented, attractive after all. I’m certainly not in his/her league, am I?
FEEL LIKE YOU CAN’T BREATHE? It’s common for narcissists to “suck up all the oxygen in the room.” Other people start feeling like they can’t breathe, because they can’t get a word in. Whatever someone else says, the conversation gets steered back to the narcissist somehow.
Notice what they do, more than what they say. Narcissists have lots of words to distract from and make up for their insensitive behavior. People constantly confront narcissists and constantly are frustrated. Rather than reflecting on their past behavior, narcissists defend it and attack you for criticizing them. (“How dare you, after all I’ve done for you!”) So just become aware of their behavior and ignore their words excusing or distracting from it.
For example: Instead of saying: “Why were you late?!” You could say: “I’d prefer if you would let me know ahead of time if you’re going to be late, so I can make other plans.” Then, just leave it at that and notice if they fulfill or ignore your request. If they try to fulfill your request, that’s a good sign. But if there’s an unchanging pattern of disregard for you and your requests, then you may consider ending that relationship, since you’re not going to change that person. If you feel taken for granted, remember that narcissists like winning relationships, not having relationships. He/she may be on to the next conquest.
TARGETS OF BLAME: If a narcissist also has a high-conflict personality, that means that they will look for a Target of Blame when something goes wrong for them. They may intensely blame you for something minor or nonexistent or done by someone else (perhaps even by themselves, which is called “projection”). When they mess up, they often look for someone close by to blame. “It’s all your fault that I didn’t get that promotion! You should have spoken to the boss like I asked you to. Now what are you going to do about it!!”
As with all of the high-conflict personalities, they tend to blame people in close relationships with them (girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, kids, parents, close friends, close neighbors, etc.) or people in authority positions (supervisors, business owners, police, government agencies, etc.). They often get stuck in a cycle of attacking a Target of Blame and defending themselves, rather than getting any work done or paying attention to their family: such as making angry phone calls, writing long email rants or engaging in social media meltdowns.
Notice if they have ever done something that 90% of people would never do (“The 90% Rule”). Something that you would never do. If so, regardless of their excuses, it usually means there’s a pattern of high-conflict behavior under the surface which would support such extreme behavior. For narcissists, this often includes humiliating a partner or child in public, sabotaging a co-worker or verbally attacking a colleague or employee in a meeting for something the narcissist actually did.
Empaths are particularly prone to getting involved with narcissists due to their failure to spot their games—it is just too different from their own personality. During the initial phase of the relationship (the positive phase), the empath will likely feel positive feelings unlike those received from being with anyone else, and will take this as a sign that this is a special relationship. Because all the empath wants to do is help, and all the narcissist wants to do is take, the empath will end up in a game that cannot end well.
If you suspect that you have a narcissist in your life, you may benefit from distancing yourself. With some people, you may be unable to do this—in which case, you would benefit from a plan that helps you minimize their effect on you while not alerting any of their conflict behaviors. Maintaining objectivity is key to your success. The more perspective you can get, the easier it will be to see what is going on. Make some space for yourself and enroll the support of other people who can help you see things more clearly. You can still empathize with the pain that is the root of the narcissist’s behavior without putting yourself in harm’s way.
Empaths often are exploring self-love within the context of relationships. I invite you to read more here >>> “7 Reasons to Love Yourself First.”
Even if you have spent a significant amount of time on your own healing, you can end up in a relationship so toxic that it takes its toll on your otherwise healthy life. This is particularly true of our romantic relationships or our other closest relationships.
Elucidating contributing factors to our experience of unhealthy relationships been approached in a number of different ways.
One of these is through the discussion of the activation of our defenses in accordance with our attachment styles. There are four different attachment styles: Secure, Anxious, Avoidant, and Anxious-Avoidant. In any relationship that is not securely attached, there is the potential for deep activation of attachment issues that can lead to dysfunction. In the book Attached, Amir Levine discusses the crazy-making downward spiral of unhealthy attachment. This book helps to provide insight into how otherwise healthy people can become very unhealthy when there attachment wounds get triggered.
Another important angle is taken by Harville Hendrix in Getting the Love You Want. In this book, he talks about it as “the turtle and the tiger.” The turtle retreats from conflict and the tiger appears to be the aggressor. While this is not a direct correlation to attachment styles, there is some overlap. Overall, the retreat and attack dynamic can be found in many relationships where two people are struggling.
Codependence literature, on the other hand, can help us clarify unhealthy boundaries and how they affect us. By looking at where we have become immeshed with the people around us and learning new skills, we can learn to untangle ourselves from some challenging relationship dynamics.
No matter how we slice it, once we get into an unhealthy pattern things can go downhill fast. And, as messy as this can be, relationships can actually get worse. When we, for example, add attachment issues, which are a part of many relationships, to some deeper personality issues, we can enter into some very challenging relationship territory that is very difficult to extricate ourselves from. Add in an issue like addiction and things get even worse.
The very nature of the problems that get created in these problematic relationships can cause us to doubt ourselves, and also make it so that we may not know what we should do or where we should focus our efforts to make things better.
There are two parts to getting yourself out of an unhealthy relationship. The first is understanding what got you there. The second is your plan to get free.
Understanding how you got there:
Your Attachment Style: When you understand your attachment style and how it got activated, you can begin taking steps to get back on track. You can lean into healthier attachment bonds, you can more directly ask for what you need, and you can depersonalize the other person’s behavior.
Assessment Skills: When you can assess healthy versus unhealthy behavior and recognize truly pathological behavior, then you can understand how and when to put certain boundaries in place. You will be able to see if the person you are struggling with is a narcissist, sociopath, or some other personality that cannot be safely negotiated with.
Healthy Boundaries: When you are aware of your over-involvement in toxic relationships, you can begin to put healthier boundaries in place. This sometimes includes cutting off all contact with the person who is triggering you in such a deep way or who may simply not be safe.
Your plan to get out:
Once you understand the cause of all the dysfunction, you can build a plan to either work on or leave the relationship. If you need to leave, here are some steps that you can take.
Gather Support: Perhaps the most important part of an exit strategy is getting the support that you need to make it successful. This means establishing people to be on-call with assisting you during the transition. Immediately after leaving the relationship, the emotional volume can get turned up and the other person might escalate their behavior. Planning on this happening can help to make sure you have the right people to see you through these difficult times.
Meet Your Needs: Know that your attachment needs will be activated. Because of this, you will want to establish multiple ways to take care of these needs as part of your plan. If you need to be held, who can do that for you, safely? If you need distraction, how can you divert your attention?
Be Patient: The deeper the activation of your issues or the more pathological the relationship, the more likely it is to take a few tries to get out of the relationship. Be kind to yourself. You will get there, but likely not until you are really certain why this is an unhealthy relationship for you—which is why it makes sense to understand what is going on before you try to separate.
Stay Clear: No matter how bad the relationship, there are usually good parts that can leave you wondering whether you made the right choice. To help you stay the course, it is helpful to clearly remember the reasons for leaving the relationship and the damage that it has caused.
While it is not always essential that we leave a relationship that appears to be unhealthy, there are plenty of times when it is in our best interest. To determine whether or not we need to leave, we will benefit from understanding what contributes to these problematic relationships so that we can see what got us there in the first place. Then we can begin to set up a plan to leave that helps us transition away from the toxic relationship while retaining—or regaining—our sanity.
To explore what self-love has to do with your relationships, check out my post here >>> “7 Reasons to Love Yourself First.”
Relationships are the one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of our life. There are types of personal development that we are unable to do unless we are in relationship and there are ways that relationships push us to do work that we would not be otherwise motivated to do.
One of the greatest challenges in relationship can be our boundaries –maintaining a connection to our self, being open with another, and caring for the relationship that exists between us. We can run into challenges like losing our self in the relationship, over-caretaking, shutting down, passive aggressiveness, or saying things that are hurtful and can’t be taken back. Any of these sound familiar?
In the 1980’s Melody Beattie wrote about co-dependence. This is the pattern of behavior that a person develops when relating to a loved-one who has an addiction. However, Beattie’s writing hit a chord with most people whether they were in a partnership with an addict or not. Chiefly, she focuses on understanding what is ours to deal with and what is another person’s. This level of clarity is essential for other relational skills to develop. It is impossible to create healthy connectedness if we lack the ability to hold onto our self.
Holding onto our self is the ability to stay connected to what we think, feel and want while being in a relationship with another person. This is particularly important when that person is under stress or in a crisis. In intense situations, it is easier to get consumed by another person’s experience. Even sexual intimacy, as positive as it might be, requires not only that we can deeply connect and even merge with another but that we can come back to ourselves as well.
The truth of the matter is, when we do not know or understand something, our ability to be in relationship to it is limited. This means we need to be able to see our self ,or in other words be aware, to “hold onto our self.” The less we are aware of ourselves, the harder it is for us to know when something is us and when it is not. So, this is one of the many ways that personal development work serves you. The more that you know the easier it is to navigate relationships.
It is necessary to know our self to be open to a relationship in a healthy way. Being open in a relationship is both about the ability to connect and to disconnect. However, primarily it is about being able to choose when we want to connect and disconnect. This allows us to be consciously open or to consciously choose not put up a boundary when something is not healthy.
However, what I often hear people struggle with is determining what is healthy or not healthy for them. I have said that self care is anything and everything that is affirming of the entirety of who you are. It comes up here again because determining what is healthy or not healthy is guided by the same concept. Does it affirm or support who you are? If it does then it is healthy for you even if it is difficult. If it is does not, then it is not healthy for you.
Of course, the greatest gift that we can give in a relationship is our willingness to be as respectful with that other person as we have learned to be with our self. This desire to support another person in honoring and caring for themselves and learning and growing in their capacity to know themselves is a beautiful gift of a relationship.
The relationship is the third part of the equation. Relationships take care and time to be able to flourish. It is not enough for people to just invest in their own awareness and growth they also need to invest in the relationship. It becomes another member of the relationship and requires selflessness as much as anything else. What can you give to the relationship? How do you give to the relationship?
Developmentally, we are not able to give to the relationship until we have learned how to take care of ourselves. We are simply too immature to really be able to give what is required. That is why we need to start by doing our own work and understand what it is that supports us as we go through life. When we have done this work, the act of giving selflessly to a relationship is an additional joy rather than something that creates imbalance.
If you find yourself in a relationship and you are questioning your knowledge of your own needs or understanding of the different aspects of who you are, don’t worry too much about it. We are all in a continual process of growth. As you move forward in your relationship you will be called to focus on different aspects of the relationship: you, the other person, and the relationship itself. This process, if you choose to engage in it will be both challenging and deeply rewarding –ultimately offering you one of the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer.
Good fences make good neighbors, and nowhere is this more true than in your romantic relationship. But many people hide their stance on a subject, or at least soften it, to be more likable at the start of a new relationship.
“I like hanging out with your family every weekend.”
“Your vegetarianism is no problem for me. I hardly eat meat now anyway.”
“Sure, we can keep the lights off.”
Over time, it becomes too difficult to move that boundary back to where it feels right for you, whether you’re talking about how much time to spend with your in-laws or how much sex you want to have. And it’s confusing to your partner, who thought you liked things this way because you always went along with it before.
Perversely, you make your life less desirable in order to be more desirable to your partner.
Over the years, this can get messy and you might eventually complain that the love of your life doesn’t really know you at all. But if you aren’t stating your boundaries and desires up front, how could your beau know?
The Difference Between Walls and Fences
Walls are built to keep people out, figuratively and literally. You can’t see inside someone’s house unless they invite you in, and even within a home each room is blocked from view unless you enter it. When you hide something from someone, you are walling it off.
Fences, on the other hand, are built to maintain a peaceful coexistence with others. You can usually see right through a fence because it is simply a demarcation of the boundaries of your property. It’s a public statement on where you stand on issues.
Your fence keeps soul sucking people who would disrespect you on the outside. They will go find an unfenced property to do their damage, not willing to expend the effort to climb yours (soul suckers are nothing if not lazy).
Fences are also easily moved or enlarged when a property is expanded, unlike walls which mean a reconfiguration of the entire house.
Walls destroy a relationship. Fences make it stronger. Big difference.
How to Determine Your Boundaries
1: Know Where You Stand
The key to setting your boundaries lies first in identifying them yourself. If you don’t know what you want, how in the heck will anyone else? This is no time for guessing games, with yourself or with your mate. And be very, very careful of the “I don’t really care” mentality because in truth you really do, about everything. You just don’t care about making a fuss right now.
It’s important that people should know what you stand for. It’s equally important that they should know what you won’t stand for. ~ Mary H. Waldrip
So give a damn now and you won’t be damning your partner in the future. Think about how you really feel about every new situation or question and answer honestly and thoughtfully. Because what you say and do now determines what kind of life you’ll be living later.
2: Identify Boundary Breaches
Sometimes it takes a while for a message to sink in. It’s not usually because your one true love doesn’t care. Your partner just needs firm reminders of your boundaries. You can do this gently at first with a pretty white picket fence surrounded by flowers and escalate all the way up to barbed wire and electricity if you need to (though at that point it might just be better to ask them to move).
Everyone pushes a falling fence. ~ Chinese proverb
Demanding the respect you deserve takes diligence on your part. Again, most of the time this is a simple and clear reminder to people.
No, I don’t want to do that.
It’s not okay for you to talk to me this way.
You said you would do this and I depend on you to honor your word.
When you allow your boundaries to be breached again and again you’re telling the other person it’s okay to be late, to not follow through on their commitments, or to otherwise disregard your feelings. But when people know there are consequences – “I’ll wait for you for 10 minutes, but if you’re later than that I’ll leave without you” – they can no longer breach with impunity.
You cannot control the actions of others, but you can certainly control your own.
3: Survey your property
When you live a life of experience, your boundaries will change because you will. You’ll grow and evolve, and so will many of your preferences. It’s important to regularly survey your boundaries to make sure they still fit. Your requirements for intimacy, communication, social activity, exercise, education, and entertainment will evolve with life and circumstances, and you have to be clear with yourself and your partner when they do.
Read more by Betsy Talbot here
Continually poking at your own boundaries will make it easier to explain them to others. How to Establish Boundaries Know where you stand on the important issues. When you know for sure how you want to be treated, it makes it easier to clearly state this to another person. Begin by asking yourself every day if you’re okay with what’s going on around you. If not, why? If it’s not clear to you, it won’t be clear to your partner. State your boundaries along with a consequence. “I understand you are really frustrated at work right now, but I’m not okay with you taking it out on me when you get home. I’m not your enemy here. The next time it happens I’m going to suggest you burn it off at the gym and I’m going to leave the room.” You can’t control the other person’s actions, but you can control your response. Test your boundaries. As you evolve as a human, your priorities and feelings will change. It’s important to question yourself on a regular basis to make sure the beliefs and ideas you hold are still true. When your boundaries change, it’s time to move your fences and let your partner know. (more…)
Today I made an important decision. It may not seem important but as some one who wants to live connected to community, it was an important decision for me. I decided to delegate a work task so that I could go spend a weekend at the lake with my friends.
That seems like a no brainer right? The reality is many times it’s emotionally easier for me to choose work, a night curled up with a book, or good activities to really spending time with people. I have a wall in my life.
In the quest to have good boundaries, we can easily confuse what we think are boundaries in our life with what are actually walls that we have put up.
I spent years working in ministry and much of that time leading various teams. Anyone who leads, particularly in a ministry setting, knows that situations are bound to arise that will hurt you very deeply. Sometimes I have processed those hurts well and other times I have let them build up walls in my life. In my particular situation, I never had the same team two years in a row – for eleven years! That’s a lot of people coming in and out of your life.
I realized lately that I have a wall that tells me not to get invest too deeply in a group because next year it’ll require the emotional energy to start all over again. That’s a wall – it’s born out of past situations that were hard and it sets me up to protect myself in unhealthy ways.
So how do we know the difference between boundaries in walls in our lives? The difference can be subtle. I try to think of it in this way:
Boundaries help us define ourselves. They define who we are and who we are not. They help us move toward healthy relationships because we have a healthy sense of ourselves.
Walls on the other hand are built up to protect us. They are an unhealthy response to hurtful or emotionally exhausting situations. Ultimately they will move us away from healthy community in some way.
So I would encourage you to look at your boundaries and examine them. Are they a healthy boundary or a damaging wall. If it’s the latter, what steps can you take to break down the wall and move toward healthy community.
Kathryn Taylor is a non-profit consultant and blogger. Read more by Kathryn on her blog http://projectspace.in/work/project/katelive/