By Anjelica Garnsey
Ever found yourself providing for others at the cost of your own emotional and physical wellbeing? This, friends, is what’s called ‘compassion fatigue.’
The new age has paved massive waves in mental health, and we collectively are becoming more open and compassionate. This openness has also made it difficult not to be impacted by others. We can’t always help this, but our boundaries are what kept us grounded and present in ourselves, building stronger connections and collective wellness.
Observing others is similar to watching the sky; we are the clouds moving through the storms. Some of us may be clear, fluffy, and bright, and others may be heavy and dark with rain. At any given time, we can feel both the storm and the calm sky. Our energy is like a rainbow, layers of protective barriers against the harsh atmosphere. Rainbows have become my symbol of hope and transformation, one of life’s stunning illusions. I often forget that rainbows come after the rain; they come after hardship. We can’t control the sky, but we can move through its many changes.
“Only pour your wisdom and love into others if your cup is overflowing; otherwise, no-one is filled.”
On hard days, I am still needed by those I love. What is both my best and worst trait is that I usually put others’ needs above my own – at the cost of my emotional and physical capacity. Over time, this has led to a cycle of compassion fatigue that sometimes has left me needing help. We can learn to monitor the energy we give, to make us better listeners and empaths, without forcing us to withdraw due to intense emotional toll.
Suppression and ambiguity of your own emotions may have developed as a protective force for you to combat the feeling of being a burden to your caregivers or peers. I want you to know that you do not have to express yourself less to protect yourself. Yes, being vulnerable can lead to many uncomfortable moments. By setting boundaries, you can be free and authentic and hold power in giving and receiving support.
When friends come to me in crisis, I, perhaps not as often as I should, make a note to ask them first if they need me to listen or to advise. Asking is a direct and effective way to help your loved ones feel heard. In the same instance, expressing when you aren’t ready to receive their difficulties shows love for both of you.
An effective way of holding hope for someone or pulling them out of a rainstorm without draining you is to be a conscious observer of your emotions. Do you have enough to give in the first place? My mother once said, “Only pour your wisdom and love into others if your cup is overflowing; otherwise, no-one is filled.” If you are anything like me, you may find it difficult to gauge how full your cup is and when you are empty. Key signs for me look like; aggression, catastrophising, crying (a lot), stress and fatigue. To fill my cup, I treat myself and do things that don’t require traditional focus or pressure. Perhaps it is meditation for you, or exercise, or socialising in a casual or party setting. Maybe it’s being alone or creating or working.
Now that you are overflowing, I want you to imagine you have colourful energy around you like a rainbow. Let’s say it’s blue. Your red friend comes to you with a heavy load on their shoulders. You both share enough that you create a small purple energy between you, setting your boundaries, so there is a distinction between your different colours. You both are filled, you have shared your loads, but you don’t carry the others. This is how we protect ourselves emotionally.
I remind myself that the goal isn’t to “fix” people. Instead, I remind them of their joy, importance and assure them that they are loved. Creating boundaries takes practice, like resilience. Self-love fuels you and inspires others. Our power lies in our ability to accept that we cannot always change things, but we can adapt.
In The Road Less Travelled, author M. Scott Peck talks of setting boundaries as a positive discipline to implement in our daily interactions. When others are unsettled or offended by you putting your needs first, it may be because they are used to you having none. It is hard to accept flaws in others; this is human nature. Not every person will empathise or understand you because no one has ever been you. Your uniqueness is tailored by experience, which is a personal and emotion-fuelled journey that never ends. Regardless of your connection, consent, boundaries, hope, and compassion are core tools for successful healthy relationships.
Being a rainbow is having a diverse range of protective layers that you build over time. What is beautiful about hardship, fuck-ups, and life, is that we only have to feel stuck for so long before the sky clears.