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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Anthony

Boundaries for Empaths: A Reflection | Elizabeth Anthony

Our physical body is an example of a boundary. We are spirit but we’re in a container, an anchor that ties us to this physical world.

I’ve been reflecting on boundaries a lot lately. Ironically, what’s been stopping me from sitting down to write this is my own lack of clearly defined boundaries with others. I’ve been holding a lot of space for other people before I’ve held space for myself. I found myself wary of interaction with others and in a state of awareness to the point of distraction. As I’ve deepened into new spiritual practices I’ve become so aware of energies and emotions that I’m getting absorbed in them- there’s no focus. In almost every single conversation I’ve had over the past week, the topic of boundaries keeps coming up. Empathic people who feel drained and depleted, myself included, because we weren’t saying no. I’ve been struggling with how to be compassionate without honoring the vibration of fear and lack in others. Listening and holding space but not absorbing.

If others are on a different wavelength or vibration than me, I can simply close that door or energetic connection if it’s causing me to feel out of alignment. I can observe how they are operating and acknowledge what they’re experiencing without taking it on myself. I am not responsible for anybody else’s emotions or experiences aside from my own. If erecting boundaries causes disharmony or conflict, that is not a cause for fear or resentment. That intention alone can be the boundary but creating physical boundaries is important too. Closing a door, turning off my phone, not being constantly available are all boundaries I’ve had to set for myself in the way that I interact with others. I haven’t been doing it gracefully but I’m learning to have more compassion for myself around that. I’m starting to understand that communicating those boundaries clearly and compassionately when the other person is in a state to listen and receive is equally as important as stating the boundary. Stating my boundaries in a proactive rather than a reactive way saves a lot of time, energy and conflict.

I’m learning to have greater discernment around who I trust and with what. In the past, I’ve tended towards extremes- going through waves of isolation, over socializing and oversharing, then depletion. This comes from not honoring my limits and boundaries. I know that I have a social battery that gets depleted quickly from small talk and too many energetic exchanges. I’m a very sensitive and empathic person so I know that it’s necessary for me to have a lot of baseline alone time.

When I’m in a living situation where I’m constantly interacting or emotionally supporting others I have to consciously take time to discharge that energy and recharge. When I don’t honor that truth I start to become resentful and passive aggressive which isn’t a reflection of the other person but a reflection of my inability to either state or enforce my boundaries. If it feels like a constant battle for my boundaries to be respected then perhaps the relationship is unaligned. It’s not a good or bad thing but maybe we’re just at different moments in our journey. Contrary to what my ego would like me to believe, this journey is not linear and there are very few people, if any, who will be present for every single phase.

Containers with Doors

That’s where boundaries come in. Boundaries are like guidelines, containers of a sort. I was talking to someone recently about boundaries and she felt like boundaries were harsh because there is an inherent rigidity and finality to them but I’ve been thinking about them a little differently. A closed door is a good illustration of a boundary but the thing about a closed door is that it can always be reopened. I can decide that yes I am aware of that energy or that memory or that fear but I don’t want it to control me in this moment so I am closing the door. Boundaries enable us to function in this world. Our physical body is an example of a boundary. We are spirit but we’re in a container, an anchor that ties us to this physical world.

Each time I activate someone an energetic connection is opened and I start feeling the ascension symptoms all over again. I’ve already experienced those feelings and breathed through them and I know I have the tools to handle it but I don’t have to continue experiencing it over and over again. Yes, I have an incredible capacity to adapt and grow but I can take a moment to rest in my new awareness before stretching into the next experience. I am a growth oriented person but I want to be grateful for all of the expansion I’ve witnessed in myself so far.

My Energy & That of Others

Over the last year I was evacuated from the Peace Corps in The Gambia, I became certified as a yoga teacher, moved to a new city, and had my reiki one attunement in the midst of some heavy personal shadow work. All of this occurring alongside and inside a massive collective energetic shift. At times, I don’t know what’s mine and what belongs to the collective. I take on other people’s pain as my own and then feel like I can’t be around anyone. Or I feel that I can’t be in relationship with others unless I’m serving them in some way. But those aren’t the kinds of relationship dynamics I want to participate in anymore. I don’t want to think of my relationships in terms of colonized power dynamics- that one person has the upper hand and the other person has to make themselves smaller. Or that one person is the expert and the other person is the receiver. I want to be involved in exchanges where we’re both giving something and we’re both receiving something. I am capable of meeting all of my needs but I want to be in community and partnership with other individuals who prioritize balance and exchange.

With this new level of spiritual awareness I find myself reaching back trying to pull others up with me and I feel all of this resistance and then a degree of sadness. A sadness born out of attachment. Rather than clearing my eyes and looking around me at the beautiful new reality I’ve created for myself, I’m panting and exhausted but inexplicably looking for the next hill to climb. I’ve facilitated a lot of shadow work in others through my own. Sometimes I trigger people and they want me to hold their shadows for them. But I can’t, just like how nobody could hold mine for me. Something I’ve noticed this year is that I’ve been actively pursuing my triggers because I like growing, I like changing; it’s what I’m good at. I’ve come to recognize this as a form of attachment to my suffering. So a balance must be struck between avoidance and constant emotional triggering. Through the yoga and breathwork I’ve been practicing I’m noticing that I’ve been holding my breath- being “brave” and plunging into extremes with my eyes shut tight and body clenched. When I finally relax I feel the weariness in every cell, every bone of my body and that scares me so I start moving again.

At times I retreat so deep into the inner world and it’s serene and quiet there. Time is suspended and I sink into a thick, dreamy golden honey. Eventually I look up at how much time has passed and I feel a flicker of fear. So I launch myself back into the outer world and land in strange and beautiful places with little intention- motivated only by the rabid desire to keep moving. I’m choosing now to relish in the freedom and independence I’ve fought for so fiercely and I encourage you to do the same.

Allowing the Walls to Melt Away

I’ve been practicing yoga nidra lately and it’s added a new dimension to the way that I think about boundaries. There’s a point in the practice where the guide says to allow all boundaries to melt away. The more I practice the more I allow all the walls to melt away, the walls that separate me from source, that delineate dreams from memory from fantasy. A rush of colors and images and faces from my subconscious and conscious mind all mingling together to create a warm hazy tapestry. Time doesn’t exist in this space. As lovely as it is to feel that complete loss of control, eventually the practice ends, I open my eyes and I’m back here in this body. I have to bring my attention back to my physical sensations and what’s immediately surrounding me.

Then I have to choose. What am I going to do next?

Sometimes all of the boundaries have to be violated and melted away revealing a chaotic and incomprehensible mess so that we may choose.

What am I going to create from this?


Image by Matt Flores
Image by Juno Jo
Image by Julianna Corbett
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