Brené Brown - How Boundaries Increase Our Empathy & Compassion 

By Kris Deichler, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International

"Empathy is not feeling for somebody. It's feeling with them." 

~ Brené Brown

Know where you stand with people, but assume they are doing the best they can.

If you haven't at some point in your life felt hurt or angry at somebody for letting you down, taking advantage of you, being rude, judging or criticising you, or just not being there for you when you hoped they would be, then you're probably not human. That, or you've lived in a cave all your life! 🙂

One of the hardest challenges I believe we all have is dealing with how we feel in response to people's negative attitudes and behaviour. A lot of the time, many of us silently let people say things and get away with behaviours that are very negative for us; while allowing ourselves to become angry, resentful and even hateful in return.

How can we stop the negative or hurtful attitudes and behavior of others from affecting us? How do we stay open and compassionate - while preventing ourselves from feeling emotionally trampled on by those around us?

"Empathy acts, sympathy doesn't." Paul Waugh, Head Mentor, Lighthouse International

Setting Boundaries For Ourselves & Others

The key to this, according to the human scholar and researcher Brené Brown, is to set boundaries for ourselves with people - or more simply put - to know what is OK and what is NOT OK, what we will accept and what we won't accept from others. She says that the most shocking part of her research was actually finding that the people who did this the most, were also the most compassionate and loving people.

It's a discovery that surprises a lot of us when we realise that sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to let someone know when they are out of line; to have the vulnerability and courage to confront them and let them know where they stand with you. It's not easy but it's very healthy, for you and for them.

Why Are Boundaries So Powerful?

Because with this perspective comes a compassion and an understanding. We respect and care enough about ourselves to not become somebody's trampling mat; we also understand that most of the time people don't do and say 'bad' things on purpose.

Very often there are things happening in other people's lives that we don't realise or know about and the reality is they're simply struggling under the weight of it, trying to do their best.

In the video interview below, I think  Brené Brown sums this up really well - albeit with a bit of help from her husband! 🙂

"When this thing came up from my therapist, 'what if people are doing the best they can?' I thought my husband had the most beautiful answer to that question. He said, 'I'll never know whether people are doing the best they can, or not, but when I assume people are, it makes my life better'." 

The reason this is so powerful for our relationships is because, when we allow ourselves to get caught up in or consumed by our own anger and resentment towards someone, we deny ourselves the chance to understand them and the situation properly; to understand more about what they might be going through or feeling... and to then act with compassion.

"Boundaries are frickin' important. They're not fake walls, they're not separation, boundaries are not division, they are respect. They are here's what's ok for me and here's what's not." 

~ Brené Brown

At the end of the day, most people behave negatively towards us because they are going through something painful or challenging - not because they want to hurt us. The more we can come to understand this, the better our relationships will be, and the more they will trust and respect us. Often, what might feel like an attack or insult from someone, is really a hidden call for help, understanding, and compassion.

To help you, here's an adaptation of a powerful question Ms Brown mentions in her interview;

Q: What boundaries do you need to have in place for you to keep your integrity and still make the most generous assumptions about other people?

If you'd like more help with this subject, please email me here and enjoy the full interview below...

Click here for another article by Brené Brown about The Power of Vulnerability...

Or click here to hear how model Cindy Crawford learned to deal with the bad things in life, as well as the good, to become a better and more balanced person...

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