The Empathic Nature of Our Boundaries by Ed Bonapartian

The Empathic Nature of Our Boundaries

“I think I give too much,” Val comments to me as we start an early morning long run up the Albany rail trail as part of our marathon training.

“I put a lot more energy into my relationships than I seem to get back. Not that I’m keeping score mind you, but it makes me wonder at times if I’m giving too much.”

I could feel her frustration with the world around her and that frustration was a byproduct of constantly going above and beyond.

Like most HSP’s, Val has the innate ability to bring compassion to people through the empathy of her words and actions.

During our last run, she stopped to speak to a frail elderly man slowly making his way down the rail trail with a walker.

“It’s great to see you out here,” she told him, “keep up the great work.” His smile lit up the place, and I knew over time he may not remember her face but he would never forget that moment.

“Val, boundaries are like fingerprints,” I reply, “Our boundaries are unique to each of us and we have different boundaries with different people.

For me, where the disconnect comes in, is if my boundaries don’t follow my values. Your actions reflect your values because you find joy in giving. What’s bothering you is that people around you don’t always have the same values you as you do with them. It doesn’t make them bad people; it just means we speak a slightly different language with life than they do.”

Our conversation reminded me of a lesson my meditation teacher taught me about the nature of giving or in his words, short term sacrifices.

I had been trying to lose weight at the time, and he often urged me to make the short term sacrifice of skipping a second portion of food for the long term gain of a slimmer waistline.

What he was pointing out is to look at the bigger picture; give in to that urge for a second portion and get the short term reward of eating more or sacrifice that urge for a second portion for the long term reward of a slimmer waistline.

As HSP’s our actions of going above and beyond generate an emotional appetite for immediate reward. So how do we recognize what are proper boundaries for ourselves in our relationships? For me, the key has been self-reflection through by myself the following questions:

  • First, is this action going to complicate my life or the relationship?
  •  Second, does this action follow my values?
  • Third, over time, am I getting a good rate of return on my actions?

I always trust my gut when reflecting on these questions; remember if it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t fit right.

Towards the end of our run, I noticed Val was starting to slow down. When I ask her if she is feeling ok, she comments she went to a blood drive the night before because her blood type is the type used for premature babies and she doesn’t have as much energy as normal.

“How could I not donate, when I know I can help those babies survive?” she tells me. I just shake my head and smile.

A great example of another HSP going above and beyond; a short term sacrifice of energy for the long term reward of giving a preemie a chance at life.


Photo credit by ElyPenner

Ed enjoys sharing stories highlighting the connection between Highly Sensitive People and their naturally intuitive nature. An avid distance runner, Ed loves to explore self-awareness through a good conversation.

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