The HSP World Podcast Ep. 28: Boundary Backlash & Dealing With Negative Reactions

This podcast is brought to you by The HSP World Mastery Program dedicated to inspiring and empowering HSPs. 

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 yet another episode of the HSP World podcast. With us today, we have Andreah. Hello, Andreah.

Andreah: Hi, thanks for having me.

Robyn: Thanks for being here. Andreah, I’m going to give you a chance to tell us a bit about your HSP story. How did you find out about the Trait?

Andreah: Sure. Well about all my life, I’ve felt different from my family and friends and it never really seemed like anything explained it well, like emotional, introverted, shy. So about seven years ago, I googled something. I don’t remember the exact terms. And I came across Elaine Aaron’s website about Highly Sensitive people.

So I took the test and I actually answered yes to every question. And after that, it felt like this huge weight had lifted and I wanted to know more. So I ordered the book right away. I read everything I could about it. So that’s how I find out.

Robyn: All right. Thank you very much. I believe that you have a question for us today?

Andreah: Yes. I’ve been working on boundaries and confrontation, which I find  hard for me because as an HSP, I always care about everyone else’s feelings before my own, but I’m trying to take better care of myself. So one day, one of my best friends, I decided to tell her a little bit about my Trait, but not try to overwhelm her about it.

And I actually used spoon theory, which is this metaphor that gives people like a visualization of your mental and physical energy. So I tell people like, I don’t have enough spoons for that. So I tried to explain this to her and… 

Rayne: I like that. I just don’t have enough spoons. 

Andreah: Yeah. Actually, one of my friends on the autism spectrum told me about it, and it’s really great for people like my husband, who is neuro-typical and has a hard time understanding when I’m overstimulated or when I’m getting close to being overstimulated. So I tell him I don’t have enough spoons for that, or I’m really low on spoons.

Robyn: I’m just going to add, the spoon theory that you’re referring to. I believe that it was originally coined by a person who has a chronic illness.

Andreah: Yes.

Robyn: I’m seeing here, it’s from Christine who was dealing with lupus and she was trying to explain her limited energy level. But absolutely I think it can be used for different situations where we might have to manage our energy carefully.

Andreah: Yes, so my friend took it pretty well. But then one day we got into an argument and she said that I take everything too personally, and that she’s been walking on eggshells around me. Which I didn’t know that. So I guess my question is how do you respond to something like that? Like from a friend as an HSP.

Rayne: Hmmmm. 

Robyn: This is such a good question. Thank you so much for asking it Andreah. We’ve been talking a lot about boundaries on the podcast recently and this is one element that I don’t know if we talk so much about it, you know, dealing with a response to somebody setting up their own boundaries. Which sometimes can be negative even when everyone’s intentions are in the right place. So thank you so much for this one.

Andreah: Thank you.

Rayne: Yeah, that’s a really, that’s a really good one, Andreah. I would have to say that I’ve noticed for myself, as I set up more boundaries, you know, more healthy boundaries for myself. It’s not always received very well.

I’m going to put it like that because essentially I’m deciding where I’m going to put my spoons, you know, and sometimes that spoon is not going to go to a person that wants that spoon. And of course, if they don’t get that spoon, they’re not going to be very happy about it. Right? 

Andreah: Yeah.

Rayne: But that doesn’t mean that that’s not what I need to be doing, you know? So I just kinda wanted to say that, off the beginning, something that I’ve noticed it’s usually it hasn’t been well-received.

And that’s because these are relationships I have with people that have already been set up. You know, like they’re, they’re, you know, I already have a relationship with them and if I had a weak boundary or if I had something that I didn’t realize was a weak boundary and then I noticed, you know, it is, and I want to work on that.

Well, I’m changing the dynamic of that relationship essentially when I set a healthy boundary for myself. I’m, I’m changing the dynamic of that relationship and yeah, it’s, uh, I’ve just found, it’s not always, you know, kind of well received. And it’s not the other person’s fault and it’s not your fault.

It’s just, you know, I don’t, I mean, that’s how I feel. It’s, it’s not my fault and it’s not their fault. It’s just, it’s, it’s growth. It’s what happens when you evolve and things change. And it’s not always smooth and comfortable and you know, that kind of thing, but what, how do, how do you guys feel about that? 

Robyn: I think that’s a really good point that you mentioned there Rayne, to, to remind us that, you know, any change in our relationship can be tricky. Right? Any, any transition to a new way of negotiating the relationship, even for people who love you and care about you and want to be there for you?

It may not always be, it may not always be easy. So I think that’s a good thing to recognize that putting a boundary in place is a transition and a transformation.

Thomas: Yeah. One of the things that I keep reminding myself in situations like this is that empathy is hard, you know, both ways. Right? It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes because we don’t go to empathy school, unless we have someone in our life that models empathy in, in a really amazing way, which I think is very rare to actually have someone in your life that that does model empathy in a beautiful way.

It’s a skill that, that really takes some work on both sides. You know, one of the first things that came up for me when, uh, Andreah, when you said that the, that your friend felt like they were walking on eggshells, it was like, oh, are they sensitive too? You know? 

Rayne: Yeah. 

Thomas: Trying to try and to try to use my empathy, to sort of get in their mind and saying, well, okay, what are they feeling? I mean, what is it. What’s going on there?

Rayne: Yeah. There’s there’s that, it’s funny though, because we’ve been throwing around, uh, different topic ideas and empathy is on one end of the spectrum and, no empathy is on the other end of the spectrum. Right? And of course, usually HSPs are, they they’re higher on the empathy scale, than say non HSPs. 

You know, it’s part of Elaine Aron’s D.O.E.S. Acronym. However, I think it’s really a good idea to be mindful that there is that spectrum of a lot of empathy and no empathy, you know? And individuals, they will fall somewhere in that range. 

So it’s hard to say if “I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around you” could be a way to try to control, you know? You never know. I mean, it’s, it’s hard to say unless you know their intention and what their usual level of empathy is. But then you have to add in the fact that, you know, you’re changing a boundary, so that’s maybe heightening their anxiety level and they might be behaving in a way that’s not the norm for them.

Robyn: I think this is it’s interesting that we’re trying to speculate a bit about where it could come from, right? What are the, what are the potential reasons for explaining a reaction like this? And I agree it could be someone who’s equally sensitive or it could be someone who’s not sensitive and trying to cover it up, or they don’t have the patience for you.

And Andreah, of course, in the case of your particular friend, you would have a better idea where they, they might fall on this. But I think the other thing that’s coming up for me here is, if you try to change a boundary to something that’s healthier, there’s two things going on.

So one is the communication. The first part depends on how you yourself have expressed it, how they have heard it. Have they actually understood it? Is it something they can understand? Were you able to have a long enough discussion about it, where the particularities were explained and maybe she asked you some questions about what does it mean exactly.

And when she said I’m having this counter reaction to your request, you know, were you able to get curious and ask her some questions? So the first element of negotiation of a boundary is the communication aspect. Right? And that’s the first place where things can break down where maybe we don’t ask enough questions.

Maybe we make assumptions about what the other person means. Maybe we don’t speak up and go fully in detail enough about what it is that we mean. That would be the first thing that I would think of. The second thing is maybe you do communicate well, but maybe the other person themselves for whatever reason is not used to healthy boundaries. 

Maybe they have some need on their own, which could be from being Highly Sensitive or not. Maybe they have a need of their own and they’re not used to expressing that. Right? So, because, you know, again, going back to that idea that we negotiating a boundary in an existing relationship is uncomfortable, right?

It’s like, I dunno, somebody… let’s say a couple lives together and you know, they’re their common-law partners. And then one day someone says, actually, you know what? I’d like to be married. Let’s talk about changing the legal status of our relationship. Okay. This is a very concrete example. Right? And that first person is going to explain why they want to change the status of their relationship.

Now, the second person, it makes sense that they may have something coming up for them. Like, whoa, wait, I wasn’t expecting that. I’m not necessarily saying no, but this, you know, you’re changing the parameters of a relationship. So it would make sense. In the same way that we can understand why someone, how, why someone might be struggling to say, oh, okay, maybe we’re going to get married, even though we weren’t.

It’s the same thing. You add a boundary that wasn’t there. The other person may struggle. Right? So what will normally come up in a moment like that is hopefully both parties have time to explain how that feels and what maybe the consequences. Right?

So maybe someone’s going to say, going back to  the metaphor, maybe the second partner will say, wow, you know what? Like this is bringing up a lot of fears for me. Can we talk through this? I’m a bit afraid of what is it going to mean if we sign that paper? What is it? You know, what are the implications? I’m not saying no, I’m just saying this is hard.

But that takes a lot of skill to get to that point. It takes a lot of skill to get to the point where you can feel your fears, sit with them, not run away from them, not project them on somebody else and articulate them too. Right? To what they are and then put them in words and then to express them.

So again, going back to communication as well.  So, that takes time and modeling. And if you didn’t see it in childhood and you didn’t see it in your friendships and you didn’t see it in your partnerships, like it takes time and potentially therapy if you’ve never seen it before, it takes time to learn that again.

And the more you see it, the more you become used to saying, oh, right, okay. This is a thing that I can ask for. So it’s possible that your friend, either for communicative reasons or emotional reasons or both, or some other reasons it’s just not used to, is not used to that. And then on, on your side, if you as an HSP, if you’re new at handling boundaries,you know, it almost becomes like a ping pong. Right? So you threw out the first one. Me and the metaphors here. Sorry, with the metaphors. Oh boy. Yeah. We’re not getting married. We’re not getting any married anymore. We’re gonna take it to the ping pong table. Oh God. Uh, anyway, so you send out that first, that first shot of like, Hey, I need a new boundary.

And then the other person sends it back. Oh, okay, well, you want this boundary, but now it’s bringing up this and this for me. I, I don’t understand why you’re doing that. It’s making me nervous. It’s making me feel like maybe a bad person, right? Like it could bring up all sorts of things for, for someone who hasn’t heard of that before. Right?

Maybe it brings up some of the general cultural attitude that we have towards sensitivity and the negativity that we have towards it. And all this programming that we have telling us, like, sensitivity is bad. Do you know, buck ups, toughen up, don’t be sensitive. Maybe that button got pushed for your friend.

So then, then they send it back to you and you have to, once again, send it back. You have to stay firm within your boundary and say, how else can I stay committed to what I’m feeling and what I need here. But explain it perhaps in a different way or explain another facet of it in response to what’s been sent back to me.

And so if you are new at boundaries, that’s also going to be difficult for you. So there’s multiple points where, where the negotiation can become tricky, either use it. I mean, the cool thing is that, you know, you’re developing this skill to send it out in the first place and to articulate your need. 

Rayne: Awesome, which is awesome.

Robyn: Yeah. Yeah. I mean the first, the first one is the hardest.

Andreah: It is hard. 

Robyn: The first one is to go from  you know, barely doing it to doing it at all is the biggest step, of course. But then, then we’ve got to get good at saying, okay, well, so maybe your friend is not used to dealing with it or maybe you’re not sure yet how to send that back. Right? 

Andreah: Right. 

Robyn: So I mean again, you know the particularities of your own situations, but I’m trying to think of the different places in the situation where the communication or the emotional strength that it takes to hold onto your boundary might my breakdown.

Andreah: Right. 

Rayne: How did that feel? Andreah when you were, you know, communicating with your friend and setting the healthy boundary, how did that feel for you?

Andreah:  Like Robyn said it was hard because like we’ve been friends for a long time and I kind of just never really set up a whole lot of boundaries. And so now I’m working on that, so it was hard. And then for her to react like that, I felt, I, I felt terrible that she’d been feeling like that and didn’t tell me. 

But ultimately like, because I’ve been working on boundaries and you know, this, I have to remind myself, this is for your own health. Like, this is a good thing.  It, it was hard and I liked what you said Rayne, about changing the dynamic of the relationship. Like we’d been friends for probably 10 years. We’d just been going, and then now that I’m working on this, it’s sort of, yeah, like a ping pong, like, okay, no, like I’m changing the dynamic of this relationship for my health. And she probably was like shocked or, you know, didn’t expect to see that coming.

Rayne: Yeah.

Robyn: Yeah. 

Rayne: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah and I noticed, I don’t know, for me there, there were some that they were able to go, Okay, this is changing, this is weird, it’s uncomfortable, but I think we can do this, and you know, we’ve we worked through it. And then others, it was like, oh no, it was it was a deal deal-breaker, they couldn’t, it just broke their brain so they couldn’t do it.

I was like, Okay, well you know. So which you know, which then that, you know, it’s a loss of that relationship and then, you know, there’s all kinds of things that are involved with that, and resolving that and, and going through that.

So it’s, it’s uh, Yeah, I, I, I really applaud you Andreah for starting it. I think it’s wonderful. And I think that a really big thing is to have a lot of empathy for yourself,  to have a lot of empathy for yourself because doing something that’s good for you, you know, it’s a difficult thing and change is difficult for everybody.

Not just HSPs, but you know, for everybody. So, it’s a really big deal, you know, when you try and you’re making those changes and you’re doing it for the betterment of yourself and your quality of life. And having that empathy for yourself because you deserve it, you know? 

Andreah: Yes. 

Thomas: After the break, we talk about the role of patience in setting boundaries. We’ll be right back, after this.  

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Robyn: I think patience is really important too. 

Rayne: Yeah. 

Robyn: Right? Recognizing that this is a, a very fundamental skill life skill that you’re building up for yourself and it takes time. Right? And it’s, it’s one thing to do it for yourself when you bring other people into it and they have all their foibles and quirks as well.

That makes a doubly hard. Right? So you can be patient with yourself. Perhaps you can be patient with your friend too, if you feel like, okay, this is someone who, with time, we might get there. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Sometimes it takes time, it takes. I’ve had some friends when I told them about being HSP, they were kind of skeptical at first, right? Like, are you making an excuse for yourself? You know…

Thomas: Hmm.

Andreah: Yeah. 

Robyn: But, but, you know, I think that was their own issues, because since then we’ve had more conversations about it and they’ve actually come around and said, okay, I can see. I can see how that affects you or I can, I can see how that might be a thing.

You know, so that’s not everybody, some people are going to just dig their heels in and say whatever.

And those are the people that you realize, okay, we’ve reached a limit to how far we can go with this. But other times it’s a question of time and growing together, you know? 

Andreah: Right. 

Rayne: I think you learn a lot about yourself. For me, I’ve been learning a lot about myself, you know, over time as I’ve been, you know, creating healthy boundaries and that’s what I’ve found really helpful. You know, that’s what I found really, really helpful to, you know, it’s helped me get quicker at noticing when a boundary is being crossed and catching it quicker and you know, so that it doesn’t turn into a pattern and it’s not just boundaries with other people. There’s boundaries with myself I have to set. Like, uh, our last one was on, we were talking about overthinking, Hey Robyn?

Robyn: Hmm. 

Rayne: Instead of, instead of one or two days, we try to do five or 10 minutes. 

Robyn: Well, Yeah. Sure. 

Robyn: You know, if you’re already at a week, moving it down to one or two days, that’s okay. That’s progress. You gotta, you gotta meet yourself where you’re at. Right?

Rayne: Exactly. Absolutely. Progress is progress. Absolutely. And  it’s funny because at the time it seems like, oh, I’m just not getting this. Oh, this is so hard, you know? But then it’s funny as time moves on and then all of a sudden you look back and you go Holy cow! I was doing big things there! 

Andreah: Yeah. 

Rayne: That was actually a lot, you know, and, uh, wow. Get on me.  That, oh, that was really cool. So. Yeah. Yeah. That’s yeah. I agree with Robyn, patience. 

And Thomas too, empathy, empathy for the other person in the now. So yeah. Empathy for yourself. You know, lots of empathy for yourself too. 

Thomas: I want to pick up on something that Robyn mentioned, which is the communication aspect. 

I have a friend that I’ve become very close with. And I didn’t realize until knowing that person for a while that person had grown up always being criticized. When that person was a kid, could never do anything right in that family and was always criticized.

So my friend was very sensitive to criticism of any sort. And so what I’ve learned when I’m communicating is to sort of frame it in terms of here’s what you can do to help me, right? It’s it doesn’t have to do with you at all, except that, you know, it’s, this is all about me.

This is about what I’m trying to do. And so I’ve had some success with that in making sure that it doesn’t come off as some sort of criticism. 

Rayne: Yeah, this is what I need. It’s nothing, you know? Yeah. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with you. It’s just, this is what I need. Yeah. 

Thomas: But yeah, at the beginning of a relationship, I didn’t know. Right? I just said, you know, stop doing that or what, blah, blah, blah, blah, you know, whatever. And, uh, and that didn’t go over well. So.

Andreah: Yeah.

Robyn: You’re making me think of something too here Thomas, I think, one of the mindsets that can really help to make a boundary successful is having the win-win mindset. Right? 

Andreah: Yeah. 

Robyn: Being convinced that everyone can get what they need in this situation, right? Or, or our goal here is for everyone to get what they need and feel good about the situation.

And if after several rounds of negotiation, we find that it’s not possible. Okay, then we’re going to walk away. But to make boundaries work, you have to really believe that everyone can get what they need. 

Rayne: Yeah. 

Robyn: So there’s room for you to get yourself recognized as a Highly Sensitive person and whatever that means for you in terms of your own nervous system. And there’s room for your friend to feel like, to not feel ashamed. 

Maybe your friend is feeling some shame right now or deeling well, if you’re sensitive, does that mean I’m insensitive, right? Like maybe they’re not sure what it means.

So ideally there should be room for your friend as well  to feel safe around you, to, to learn what’s comfortable, what we can joke about and what we can’t, you know?

Andreah: Right. 

Robyn: I’m curious to know what, where are you at in your reflection on this relationship at the moment, if you feel comfortable to share?

Andreah: Sure. Unfortunately I asked for a break in the friendship because, I’ve kind of figured out, she, like, I can’t remember it was Rayne or Robyn who said that maybe this person likes to be in control. And so, I’ve kind of realized she’s like that, and it’s not a very healthy relationship or friendship to be in for me.

So I asked for a break, and she was pretty shocked. So it was hard, but it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve asked for the break and I’ve actually felt quite a bit of relief from it. 

I’m hoping that I told her, I was hoping that in the future, we’re both in a better place to be friends again, but I don’t know if she got that kind of message.

Like she needs to work on things too, so we can meet in the middle, you know, kind of like you were talking about Robyn, getting to an area where we both can be in this friendship and a compromise and a good like healthy relationship. 

Because it’s taken me a long time. I’ve only known I’ve been HSP for seven years and we’ve been friends for about 10 and just this past year I’ve been working on boundaries and confrontation.

And so, you know, I did change the dynamic of the relationship. So it was, it was hard but I look back on it and I believe I did the right thing and just feeling that relief. I just know, like, it doesn’t feel great, but the end result feels, feels better. If that makes sense.

Robyn: Yeah.

Rayne: Yeah. And Yeah. I get where you’re coming from, Andreah. I’ve noticed for me too, that, it’s hard when that happens, you know, same thing here, you know, I knew the person for a long time. And it’s a process of grieving that relationship because it’s, you know, just the fact that it won’t be that way between you two again, because now you’ve changed and you’ve set a healthy boundary.

So there’s that kind of, okay, that is no more. But then, for me, what it’s done is it’s then opened up space and someone who’s healthy is then able to come in and meet me where I’m at, you know, so, so it’s kind of cool like that. 

Andreah: Yeah, you’re right.

Rayne: Um,  Yeah. It’s not easy. I won’t say it’s an easy thing. It’s like taking Cod liver oil, you know?

Andreah: Yeah. And it’s,

Rayne: It doesn’t taste very good. It’s gross, but it’s good for you in the long run, you know?

Andreah: Yeah. It’s weird because, ending friendships are just different from like, say a romantic relationship. Usually. Like not always, but usually romantic relations, something happens like somebody lied or did something and they’re like, okay, this is over. But breaking off a friendship is weird.

Like some of my other friends are like, yeah, I’ve never broke off a friendship. I just kinda like stopped talking to them. But since I had like, I’m working on confrontation and boundaries, I decided it was the right thing to do to talk to her about it and take a break and see where it goes instead of like, just stop talking to her and making it all awkward. 

Robyn: I think that’s very brave of you, Andreah.

Thomas: Yeah.

Andreah: Thank you. 

Robyn: And I think, you know, you’ve got the data right there. Most people just ghost or walk away and that’s it. And think, you know, sometimes sensitivity looks like a flaw or a weakness. Because we’re willing to put ourselves in these awkward situations, right? Like it would be so much simpler for you to just block your friends, walk away, spread some gossip about her and that’s it. Right?

Like that would be, that would be so much simpler on you, but I think probably not healthier. Certainly not healthier and then you can ethically ask yourself. Like, is that really, is that, is that a fair way to treat somebody right? And I think we, there’s a desire for fairness and transparency and accountability, in the kind of act that you’re doing. But sometimes people just don’t get it.

Sometimes the less, the uncomfortable conversations… people have a more negative reaction to that because it’s, it’s an awkwardness they don’t understand, or that’s unfamiliar. As opposed to oh, well that person just, you know, blocked me on Facebook and started calling me names. Right? We, then we understand, they have to just call you names back and everyone’s angry and that’s it. Right? 

Andreah: Yeah. 

Robyn: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s the harder path in a lot of ways. But I think it’s good because, you know, see the long game here. Eventually you get to the point where you can have those difficult conversations and you can navigate your way around. And there are relationships that are ashamed to simply cut out and walk away from.

There are some relationships that I look back on and I’m like, man, I wish I had the skill at those at that time, I wish I could go back and tell myself, hey, have this conversation with this person or speak up about what you need, like you can be done, you know? And I regret because I simply thought it couldn’t be done. I didn’t think we could both win.

So I walked away and in the end, I think I was a loser because, some of these relationships were actually valuable and I simply didn’t know how to articulate what I needed. So, you know, maybe this particular person it will work out with, maybe it won’t, but, you’re training yourself to get to that point where you are ready to have those conversations with other people who are ready to have them. And that is where you both win very big.

Rayne: Yeah, exactly. 

Andreah: I think as an HSP, I always put myself in everyone else’s shoes. And if I was her, I would want her to tell me. So that’s why like one of the ultimate reasons why I did it, because if I were her, I would want her to tell me. 

Robyn: That’s it, then you know, at least you did something that feels right to you.

Andreah: Yeah. 

Thomas: Well, Andreah, thank you so much for today’s conversation. You are an incredibly generous person and, and brave as, as Robyn said. I’m curious how you feel about the conversation.

Andreah: I thought it was great. I liked what everyone said. You know, there was a lot of things I didn’t think about. And it was really nice talking to a group of HSPs, um, about HSP-related stuff and, you know, just life in general. So I thought it was great. 

Thomas: Well thank you for joining us today. 

Andreah: Thank you for having me. 

Rayne: Thank you, Andreah. It was awesome chatting with you. 

Robyn: Yeah, thanks everybody. And thank you to our listeners. So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation.

And to any Highly Sensitives out there who have a burning HSP-related question, whether it’s a big one or a small one, we invite you to ask it on the HSP World podcast, just email [email protected]

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