The HSP World Podcast Ep. 26: How Do You Set Boundaries With People?

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Thomas: Hi and welcome to The HSP World podcast. With each episode, we invite a guest with the HSP Trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question they have. We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you. I’m one of your hosts, Thomas and your other hosts are;

Robyn: Robyn.

Rayne: and Rayne.

Robyn: Welcome back everybody to another HSP World podcast episode. With us today we are joined by Lucy. Hi Lucy. 

Lucy: Hi.

Robyn: How are you?

Lucy: I’m good. 

Robyn: Happy to have you here today. Thanks for joining in. 

Lucy: So, so glad to be joining you for today’s session. 

Robyn: Lucy, why don’t you get us started by telling us a little bit about your HSP story. How did you find out about having the Trait?

Lucy: Sure. I, I think, I think my HSP story and how I came close to the, to the term and HSP World is how I, I realized that I always had a deeper relationship with people and how I could always involve myself a lot. And, and it was always, like, all of my friendships were really intense for me and growing up.

And I had friends who were really in a kind of bad situations. And being there for them was really important for me, I felt like he was affecting me more than maybe some other friends that we had in common. And, and so, yeah, coming from that, I guess, it’s kind of the basic story. I just, Oh, I think, I think something is different about me.

Let’s Google it and find out and yeah, this is how I, this is how I found out about HSP people and  how much I related to it. And. Yeah. Short story.

Robyn: All right.

Rayne: Cool. 

Robyn: Thank you. So feeling different and Googling it, few HSPs, so found out about their trait that way I think. But it’s interesting what you said about friendships. I know that intense relationships and friendships is a theme that crops up for a lot of HSPs. And I believe you have a question about that today, right?

Lucy: Yeah. Yeah. So, as I said, I have had friends that tend to be in really bad situations. And I think, I think I’ve read that it’s really common by just these two then to, uh, attract people we can like let go of the problems with you. And, and I found myself several times to be so involved in those relationships that it was really hard for me to tell  how I was feeling at that point, because I was so overwhelmed with their feelings and how I was dealing with their feelings.

And so, yeah, I guess my question  for you today is, how can you set boundaries with the people and how can you preserve your emotional integrity too? Well, I guess in a way, the protect yourself for the many other actors.

 Robyn: Okay. Very important question.

Rayne: Yeah. I like how you brought up the word boundaries, Lucy.  I like how you brought up the word boundaries because I feel like it’s an important, it’s an important point. For me, as an HSP, we tend to observe more. Um, and that’s just our default, that’s, it’s part of the D.O.E.S.  acronym that Elaine Aron talks about and I feel like  you combine that with, you know, other factors like the current culture where sensitivity is, is, you know, a lot of people aren’t in touch with their emotions and that type of thing and projection, a lot of people can tend to project and so can HSPs for sure.

So I think it’s a really important question to look at and think about, because those kinds of things, they can drain your energy, right? They can really drain your energy.  When sometimes somebody, you know, all they really want is somebody to listen, not necessarily, you know, they don’t want to know how to fix it, they just want validation that they’re being heard, but then you get those people, in certain times in their life, where they’re just they’re trying to deal with something and they don’t know how to deal with it. And so it keeps coming up for them right? So what do you think, Robyn?

Robyn: Um, actually Lucy, if I’m not putting you too much on the spot here, before we recorded, I know that you mentioned a little bit a specific scenario that you had gone through. I don’t, I wonder if you could go into as much detail or as you like or not. But if you could tell us, give us a little bit more background information about what prompted your question.

Lucy: Yeah. Yeah. So, I, I’m not sure which one you’re referring to. I think I referred to two different experiences. One of them was, I think five years ago I had a friend who went through cancer and it was really hard for, for her. We were in high school at that time.

And at the beginning of the whole class was like, Oh yeah, of course we’re going to support her and like, I was able to be there for her and in the end like it was mostly two friends and I, uh, uh, two  friends like me and my friend were here for her. And I, I guess that other friend is also HSP she kind of joined in and yeah, like the, the way we were here for her, it was really like, I, I, we, we bonded in such a way and it was really intense from yet at the time it was, I was so flooded by her.

Like ideally my, her dealing with her impending best ended up passing from cancer and like being there for her and being, I think taking it’s all in was really overwhelming for me. And I ended up not, not being able to deal with those feelings because even, even when she passed, I had to support, be the emotional support for all of our friends were grieving and the, yeah, I ended up only being able to deal with that a few months later when everything was calmed down and it was, well actually I moved to college and, I was away from all these people and I, I dearly love them of course, but like, yeah, being away from it finally allowed me to be able to deal with my grief.

Robyn: Okay. Thanks for explaining. Yeah, I think what I hear in your story. Well, let’s start with, you know, why is it difficult for, for HSP these to put their boundaries, or why might they find themselves in a situation where they’re trying automatically to be the helper, above and beyond what is asked of them, above and beyond what is expected.

I think Rayne mentioned something, you know, the fact that we are taking in more information that we are noticing, things where, you know, where I be noticing more than other people, how this person needs help, how we might be of help, right?  And then often there’s a heightened empathy that will come along with high sensitivity.

So being able to really put ourselves in the shoes of the person who is in trouble or suffering or in pain. And all of these can really combine to put us in a position where we feel like, of course we ought to be helping, even to our own detriment right?  Some people for some people this may go back to their childhoods as well.

I have read a couple of books on this, some psychologists will say that, you know, when, if a child is more attuned to the needs of their parent, or if they’re put in a position where they’re, we could sometimes say parentified, right? Where the needs of the parent are coming across strongly, for example, the need for the child to just be well behaved because the parent is too stressed. Or the need for the child to take over child-rearing of their siblings, because again, the parent is overwhelmed, or sick, or somehow just not able to be there, right?  

So this is something that any child in this position may end up becoming more sensitive to the needs of others and automatically taking on a caregiver role, helper role.

But especially if you are an HSP child, they’re more susceptible to that. So again, I’m not saying this is a cause and effect, right?  This is another contributing factor.  So anyone who’s listening and identifies with this, kind of go back into your childhood and ask, like, was that something that may have been a factor here? Right?

And if not, okay. Just by virtue of being someone who is more attuned, you may again find yourself in that situation. But I think often there’s a combination of people who are highly sensitive already, and then may have been to varying degrees, if you’re highly sensitive, maybe your parents didn’t even put you in a strong situation where you really needed to help, right?

It may have just been a slight call for your attention to go one way or another. And because you were highly sensitive, you picked up on it very, very readily, right? But often these two factors coming together, may lead to people when they’re older often putting themselves very readily in that situation.

And there is a difference. I think we should be making a distinction and many things in your stories really did point that out. This is not just someone who wants to help. It’s not just, Oh, my friend needs help. I’m going to help them. Right? It’s helping the other person, even when you haven’t necessarily been asked to. When it’s not your, I don’t know, professional or social role to do so, right?

Going above and beyond what you’ve been asked to do. And the most important thing is that, as you said, Lucy, you help this person, and then the other people who are affected by the situation, to the detriment of your own grief and your own need to process what you were feeling.

So, what we’re talking about is, I mean, of course you want to help, help. Great. Right? That’s not, we’re not suggesting you shouldn’t be supporting other people. But the difficulty, I think the challenge is where you’re helping in a way that doesn’t leave room for your own needs.

So that’s where the boundary comes in, right? A boundary is being able to protect your need for emotional space or time or whatever it is that you need to take care of yourself and heal from what you’re going through.

Lucy: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That was a really well said. Exactly what it was, what was on my mind. Thank you Robyn. 

Rayne: Yeah. And it can come, it can, it can come down to beliefs, too, right? Like why, you know, why do I, why is it I feel like I have to put my emotional wellbeing on the back burner and support all my other friends, you know, after your friend passed, why is that my job? Right?

Lucy: Yeah. Yeah. Like you didn’t. Sometimes you don’t feel like you really asked for it, but also there, I, I, don’t know. I don’t know if it’s something other people can feel in that situation? I remember at the time, a lot of people like, Oh my goodness Lucy you’re so strong. And I was, I didn’t, I didn’t feel strong. I was just, I was just there and yeah. And…

Robyn: So sometimes, I think I’ve heard a few HSPs describe this, that they will naturally find themselves in a supportive or caregiving role. And it’s because they are actually very good at listening. They are good at attending to and leaving room for others. I mean, I’ve even heard some wacky stories where HSPs said that, you know, they went to, to therapy and they ended up listening to the therapist’s problems.

Which I mean, you know, now that that’s, uh, multiple boundary issues there. But, I think it, you know, there’s a certain logic to it, right? If you’re naturally good at something, if you’re great at throwing parties, you know, you’re the person that everyone’s going to come to and say, Hey, can you organize this party for us? Can you put this event together for us? Right?

And at first you may say, well, you know, sure. It’s easier for me than for other people. It feels normal. It’s something I believe in, it’s something I’m used to, why not? Right. And, and again, I, I think it’s okay to play to your strengths and to say, well if I can use what I’m good at, my natural skills to help someone, make someone’s life better, especially a close friend,why not?

So again, that’s not the issue, but I think I was actually talking about this recently with another friend and we were talking about how we do often when we see how we can help somebody, you know, in the past, I know I’ve often like tried to step in, even if it’s been unsolicited. And I’ve had to learn over time that that’s not a healthy situation to be in.

If someone has not asked for your help, or if there isn’t a reason for you to step in this particular role of help, then you’re kind of on shaky or even dangerous ground, right? There’s a reason people are paid to provide emotional support and therapy and care and all of these things.

Like there’s a reason why the caring professions are professions and why people go to school to be trained and then receive compensation for them. Because it is work. It is skilled work and it’s not something to be taken for granted, you know?

And I think we have to recognize, in the same way that like, although I could imagine this happening to an HSP too. But in the same way that you wouldn’t like build someone’s house for them and not expect something, some kind of compensation in return.

Although like, again, if your boundaries are really bad, I could see an HSP embarking on even a very concrete project where they give up their time and energy and materials that they’re not, you know, necessarily asking for fair compensation in return. But I think it’s sometimes easier to spot in the concrete cases and harder to spot in the emotional support cases.

Thomas: I just want to acknowledge what a wonderful gift you have Lucy, for being able to provide that to people, you know, to have that, that ability and that empathy to be with other people when, when they’re hurting, when they are going through difficulties. Because I know for myself, my, my sort of reaction is runaway, you know, for me.

And, and that’s because, I mean, part of that, that runaway feeling for me is like to protect my sensitivity. But it also is because when I grew up, I, I was not taught to be empathetic. And so for me, empathy is something that I’ve had to learn over many, many years to, you know, to really work at it. And it’s still, you know, something that’s not natural the way it sounds like it come, comes to you. 

So I just want to acknowledge that and just say, I’m really in awe of people who do that.

But there is that aspect where you do have to protect yourself and, I suppose a lot of that comes down to learning you’re your own signals. And sort of learning to listen to yourself and to start recognizing  those signs of overwhelm and those signs of, Oh, I need some stuff, I need something here. I need to. I need to step back. I need to take some time for myself. I need some quiet time or, or just some away time, so that, I can regain my strength and if I want to go back and, and continue helping, continue listening to people.

Thomas: Coming up. Robyn tells a parable to illustrate why we need good boundaries. We’ll be right back after this. 

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Robyn: I don’t know why I’m thinking of this right now, but there’s that parable of the goose that lays the golden eggs. Do you guys know this one?

Lucy: No.

Robyn: Well, I’ll try to I remember it. So I think it goes that, you know, a man happens to find a goose and he says, okay, I’ll bring it on my farm. And then one day the goose lays the golden egg and he goes, huh, that’s pretty cool. You know, it’s a solid gold egg. This is very valuable. He shows it to his wife.

She says, that’s fantastic. Let’s get some money for it. They do. And they’re like, wow, that was cool. That was really lucky. They go to bed. They wake up the next day and the goose has produced yet another golden egg. And they’re like, wow, this is really great! Okay. You know, two golden eggs. They sell it again.

And then, you know, it keeps happening the next day, another egg, the next day, another egg. And it goes on for some time and they’re like, this is great. We can buy a better farm. You can buy a better house. At some point where we can retire from farming. We get a little golden nugget from this goose every day. Isn’t that great?  

But as their standard of living increases and at some point they’re like, you know, if we want to keep upgrading and keep ourselves on our level of comfort to which we’ve become accustomed, we’re going to need more. And in many stories, it’s the wife, I don’t know if that’s a fair version, but in many stories it’s the wife who says, you know what we should do, we should open up the goose and see if there’s more eggs inside.

So the farmer says, okay, great. So he goes, he opens up the belly of the goose. There was maybe one egg in there, but of course to get it, he had to kill the goose. And as you can imagine what happens, well after that, there’s no goose, there’s no eggs.

So the takeaway of this story is supposed to be that if you have something that’s producing something of value or, if you have a way of producing something of value, you still have to work within the confines or the constraints of whatever you need to produce that thing. You can’t hurry up the process.

And often if we do try to hurry up or lean more heavily on the process, we’ll just exhaust the source and no longer be able to get it. And I do think there’s something analogous here for HSPs right?

If we’re naturally very good at listening and supporting and being present for others, if we lean too heavily on that, if we say, Oh, you’re good at that! Great! Now, you know, two eggs a day or more. And like, let’s try to mine ourselves for more and more caregiving. Uh, eventually we get to a point where we’re trying to open up the goose to get what’s inside and not being in a state where we can continue to produce that thing that everyone values.

Rayne: Yeah, that’s a good story. It’s a good story Robyn. And also too it’s not really readily identifiable at the time, like say, so Lucy for you, it was, your friend was dealing with cancer. You know, in most societies and cultures, death is feared. So people’s anxiety is quite high when it comes to that topic right?

So it kind of makes sense that things related to death, like grief and you know, all of those… sorrow, all those kinds of things. Those would be things that people wouldn’t feel capable of addressing those emotions within themselves right? But the thing about it is, is it’s part of life.

You know, it is natural part of life. You know, we may have been taught to fear it or whatever, but it’s just, it’s a fact of life.

And sometimes, we can actually stand in the way of other people developing their own tools and resources and ways of dealing with it. Because if they have to deal with it on their own, then they do, then they will develop those tools. You know, it’s kind of like, you take that experience away from them. I mean, you don’t in the long-term in the long-term, everybody has to deal with it, right? But, you wear yourself out and burn yourself out and it doesn’t do you any good and really it wasn’t doing them any good right?

Lucy: I think that’s a very good point. I think I never thought about it that way, that like, Yeah, like the, taking it all in a way you can, um, prevent them from being as bad, good point. Thank you Rayne.

Rayne: Oh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome. Just another reason  to kind of go, you know, is this really helping or hindering? You know, on the surface, it may look like it’s helping, but underneath  you know, it’s not. It’s a reflex thing. It’s something we’re good at.

It’s something other people know we’re good at. So it’s a, a reflex thing to do it, but you know, if you kind of stand back and look at it, it’s well, who is this really benefiting? Is it benefiting me? Is it benefiting them? You know, and number one, you have to look after yourself.

And sometimes in doing that, in saying, Hey, look, I’m sorry. I can’t be there for you, I’m trying to process my grief for my friend in my own way. And, you know, then you allow space. And are  showing them, you, however you, you know, is best for you to deal with.

That’s, you know, you can, you’re entirely capable of figuring it out.

Robyn: Yeah.

Rayne: You, you know, you have the strength within you to figure it out. I’m figuring it out for me right? Okay. 

Lucy: Yeah, that’s a good point. 

Rayne: Yeah, just kind of opens it up and allows everybody the space and the freedom to delve into their own feelings. Because it means something different to everybody. You know, death and sorrow and all of that type of thing. It it’s, it’s different for everybody. Everybody’s had their own experiences or non experiences with it, you know, as the case may be sometimes, right?

Robyn: That’s a really good point.

Thomas: One thing that I found incredibly helpful to me is to just have daily ritual. Whether that’s taking a walk every day by myself or doing just a little bit of journaling, like a check-in. Or even just sitting down and checking in, just sort of sitting down and saying, Oh, you know, how am I doing? What’s going on in my life right now? Is there anything that I need to attend to? 

But for me, at least it’s  that ritual part of it, that the fact that I do it every day.

One of the things that I do is I do a daily check-in and just a little bit of journaling, and I find that incredibly helpful just to write down and say, well, how are things going?

And it may be only three or four sentences. Typically that’s all, it is just three or four sentences, but I do it every day. And in that way I can sort of just gauge is like, okay, I am doing okay. You know, or maybe I need to pull back on something or whatever it might be.

Robyn: I really like that idea, Thomas. And I think in a previous episode we talked a bit about trying to establish a baseline, right. Establishing, like, what does it feel like when I am respecting my own needs and when I am giving myself enough time, or space or whatever it is that I need. 

And then if you have a routine or a ritual built-in where every day you’re able to come back to that and see, okay, how far am I off? Then it makes it easy to. Easier. It’s not always easy, but it makes it a little bit easier or clearer to regain the balance. You know?

So instead of saying like, I need to cut myself off from these people in this, because if we wait too long, then it takes big dramatic gestures to reset the balance.

And sometimes you’ll see this, right? You’ll see HSPs who give and give and give, give, give, give, give. And then one day it’s like that wall just comes down so hard. And they cannot talk to anybody or they have to just like cut ties and walk away from the relationship completely because it’s, the bridge is so burned and just can’t be in there anymore right?

Whereas if you do it every day and you see, Oh, you know what, like, what happened today really threw off my balance. And I really feel like I’m, I gave a bit too much and I’m just feeling too tired and depleted. Then you know that very next day, okay, let me try to find a way. Or if it can’t be that day, like as soon as possible, let me try to find a way to reset the balance, taking something that I need, talking to someone, putting up a boundary. And it just becomes a lot easier.

Right? It’s a lot easier to tell someone like, Hey, you know what, I’m not going to come to the hospital this weekend. But I’ll see you next week right?

And people understand that a little bit better than like, I’m leaving forever. Right? It’s a little bit less dramatic for you too. Right? Because then when you do those dramatic leaves like, that comes with a cost for you as well.

So doing it that, that’s one of the things that motivates me to do it more regularly. If I know if I do it, in small pieces, it’s much more manageable. And it doesn’t create those, those big dramatic moments later on.

Rayne: I’m curious, Thomas, the journaling you do where three or four sentences. Are these how you’re checking in emotionally, like what emotions you’re feeling that day? 

Thomas: Yeah, I basically just ask myself, what’s, what’s, going well? What’s working well and and what’s in the way? That’s the way I phrase it to myself. 

And it’s usually pretty easy to figure out what’s working well. I mean, I usually have that up at the top of my head, but the, you know, the what’s in the way, or what’s bothering me question, that’s the one where I usually have to dig a little bit. And, it’s like, Oh, what, what is that? you know, what’s that about? And sometimes I don’t, I don’t, really figure it out. I just sort of recognize that it’s there.

And it’s like, okay, I’m going to have to ponder this a little bit more or just just leave it open. 

But just the fact that I recognize that something is, is feeling not quite right. This is a good thing, you know, and then I can maybe change something that I’m doing.

Rayne: Hmm. Excellent. Just acknowledging it that it’s there is probably a really helpful thing too.

Thomas: Yeah. It’s like 80% of, of, where I need to go is like, just, just acknowledging is so helpful.

Rayne: Yeah. Acknowledging, accepting, honoring it. Yeah, absolutely. 

Thomas: Yeah. Well the, of course the accepting part that’s, that’s, another part that’s hard, right? It’s hard to… We’re so oriented to fixing things in general. I mean the culture is like that. It’s like, there’s something wrong, go fix it. 

And oftentimes it’s, it’s hard to accept that, you know, sometimes you just have to let something be, or, or let something percolate or evolve or just, or reveal itself.

And, and oftentimes it doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t come right away. And then there’s just some things that aren’t fixable. Right? They are, as they are.

Rayne: Excellent. Cool. Thank you. Thank you, Thomas for clarifying that.

Thomas: Well, Lucy, I wanna just acknowledge again what a wonderful gift you have of your caregiving and your empathy. I’m curious to know  if there were any points today that resonated with you.

Lucy: Yeah there were uh, uh, a couple of them. The one that pops into my mind now is when Robyn was saying that we need to acknowledge every once in a while how are you feeling about, about, uh, how much you’re giving an extra extra, because then you can build up and then the wall can fall like really, really sharply like that.

When, when Robyn said that, it actually reminded me of a friend to whom I was giving a lot, there was a in middle school and there was, I was giving a lot to her. She was having really important family issues and Uh, I kept giving, like a welcoming her at my place. And at some point it was just, it was just too much for me and I couldn’t anymore.

And I, and I cut all ties overnight. Like I just like, I remember I blocked her on Facebook and I think we were using MSN at that point. And yeah, and just cut all ties. And we were, I grew up in this small village. And so like, I would see her sometimes and just walk past the street and yeah, because, because at that point I just, I had given too much, and the bridge was all burned.

I think this is the metaphor that Robyn used. And I think it was really true and spot on, spot on. 

Thomas: Well thank you for joining us today, Lucy. 

Lucy: You’re welcome. And, also what you said, Thomas about like journaling every day and like, just checking if something’s in the way. I think there was a really good point. I think it’s, I think it  would be really helpful to know how,  if you like getting close to your boundaries and knowing.

Thomas: Yeah, we, we don’t, I think in general, we don’t, put enough emphasis on rituals. I think rituals are underrated and it’s worth having them.

Rayne: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Lucy. It was, it was great having this chat with you. I think you brought up some really, um, some really interesting points and things to think about. So thank you for, for having the courage to come on and ask your question, appreciate it. 

Lucy: Thanks. You thank you Rayne and I thank you Thomas and Robyn, it was, I was, I feel really privileged to be able to be on the podcast is a really great source of  motivation and inspiration for me as an HSP. And you guys are really great to talk to. 

Rayne: Thank you.

Thomas: Thank you.

Robyn: Yeah. Thanks. Well, thanks Lucy. And thank you everybody, including our listeners. So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation. To any HSPs out there who have a burning, highly sensitive-related question, big or small, we invite you to ask it on the HSP world podcast, just email

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Your support is contributing to the upliftment of HSPs around the world. We’re very grateful.  

Music credit: Intro and Outro music from the YouTube Music Library. Song is Clover 3.

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