Can we talk about something super important? Like vital. After my last post on Autism Awareness (which, spoiler alert, was really just about empathy), a friend came to me wrestling with something. Someone was making her feel uncomfortable…like not appropriate uncomfortable…not just “I don’t how to handle this because I’ve never experienced it” uncomfortable but “I don’t feel safe” uncomfortable. She said she was trying to have empathy for this person and she didn’t know how to. She didn’t know what to do. She set a boundary with him and then felt guilty because she knew there was likely a factor she didn’t understand contributing to his behavior. My advice was short;
Sometimes, people are really unhealthy (emotionally), and we need to set a boundary with them. That does NOT mean we don’t have empathy for them. Empathy just helps to quiet the anger we are feeling so we can set that boundary in love, without the unnecessary, harsh judgement. Having empathy for someone does not mean allowing them to hurt us or others.
In fact, my kiddos with special needs often need clearer boundaries than my typical kids. Because some things are harder for their brains to hang onto (for various reasons) my consistency with those boundaries has to be solid. It’s confusing if the boundary isn’t clear and that sets them up for failure. Empathy, true empathy, for how hard it may be for them to learn that boundary, keeps me from becoming angry and frustrated with them. It helps me set that boundary in love.
I took a personality test years ago and it said one thing that I haven’t forgotten. It said that I hold both mercy and justice in high regard which can cause some serious internal conflict. I do. And it does. It was one of those things that made me nod my head profusely. “Yep, that’s me, guilty!” Lover of mercy, lover of justice. But it’s this tricky balance that I think I’m supposed to be trying to strike. I feel it’s pull, “Cut this guy some slack. You don’t know what he’s been through. No this is wrong, no one should be treated this way.” Can you hear the angels on my shoulders?
Truly, it’s in that struggle that I land right where I need to be. Remembering, in the hardest of situations, in the painful, wrong, impossible to reconcile situations, I hold empathy in one hand and boundaries in the other. Figuring out exactly where those boundaries should be, that’s a whole different post! It may not be easy, but it is ok, vital in fact, to set some boundaries.