How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Parents

Clear communication can help you honor each other.

When you were a child or teen, your parents set rules to protect you and help you learn independence. But now that you’re an adult, there’s been a shift. Roles look different. There is a need for different boundaries: boundaries set with your parents, not by them.

This is new territory for you and your parents.

You’re learning what it means to be self-sufficient, and your parents are finding out they’re no longer in control – to whatever extent they have been. Stress and tensions can rise quickly. Chances are, you’ve seen traits in your parents that may not be healthy. Or maybe you’ve simply decided to do things differently from your parents. There must be boundaries for your relationship to continue in a healthy way.

Without healthy boundaries, tension can easily build from things your parent may do, like:

  • Frequent unexpected visits.
  • Offering unsolicited advice about your relationships, social life, or career choices.
  • Purchasing items for your home, personal life, and/or children without asking.
  • Disregarding your opinions or choices and offering what they think is best for you.

This lack of boundaries can be frustrating. They may have the best intentions, but you must help them understand that you’re an adult. If you don’t address it, it may cause a rift between you and your parents. So now’s the time to set some boundaries. Addressing issues in the parent-adult child relationship leads to higher relationship quality.1

Here are some expert tips from therapists on how to set boundaries with your parents.

Remember the why of setting boundaries.2,3

Feeling anxious is normal because you love your parents and don’t want to hurt them. But remember, boundaries are essential for all types of healthy relationships. Without boundaries, there’s confusion and frustration. You are allowed to have your needs met, so practice self-compassion and remember that you’re doing this because you care about yourself. And you care about your relationship with your parents.

Seek outside advice if necessary.2

Approaching a difficult conversation with your parents can be scary. You may even need to seek professional help to prepare yourself for talking with them. A therapist can help you identify and address any toxic behaviors. If you recognize that your parents’ unhealthy behavior has caused poor boundaries, a therapist can help you and your parents resolve any deep relationship wounds.

Try to stay positive.2

This doesn’t need to be a fight between you and your parents. It may take time for them to accept what you’re saying and adjust their actions. However, if you stay positive, they may be more accepting of what you have to share. Help them understand that you love and respect them but that roles in the relationship have changed.

Have an open conversation.2

We all have a desire to be heard and understood. This goes for your parents as well. Approach the conversation with concern about how they’re doing. They may be lonely since you moved out. They may be concerned. Express your needs and wants by using “I” statements like “I feel like you’re…” No one likes being accused or blamed.

Be clear and concise.3

Before approaching a conversation about boundaries, ask yourself what is bothering you and why. If you have a clear understanding of your concerns, you’ll be better prepared to communicate them clearly. And when you’re ready to have the conversation, be respectful but direct about your desires.

→Instead of saying, “It’s really annoying when you drop by unexpectedly. Stop doing that,” try saying, “I appreciate that you want to come and visit, but I feel flustered when people drop by unannounced… Could you call before you come by?”

Show appreciation.3

Show your gratitude for the care and concern they have for your life. Express that you recognize they want the best for you. Show them you value their presence and role in your life. You just have a desire for how they show up in your life to look a little different.

Know your limits.3

Be clear about where you draw the line. If your primary concern is that your parents frequently drop by unannounced, then be clear about what you’d like to happen. Maybe you have a busy schedule and a social life, and you’d prefer to spend time with them on the weekends only. If that’s best for you, there is nothing wrong with setting limits like this. 

Be conscious of your feelings. You must do what is healthy for you.

Setting boundaries with your parents can be scary, but you can do this. Be clear, kind, and loving. You’ll be grateful that you addressed this issue, and your relationship will be better for it. Effective boundaries lay the ground for healthy, positive relationships.

Helpful reads:

How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents (and Stick to Them)

Boundaries in Relationships and Stress

What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting – First Things First

What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love – First Things First

Sources:

1Birditt, K.S., et al. (2009). “If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All”: Coping with Interpersonal Tensions in the Parent-Child Relationship During Adulthood. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016486

2Ertel, A. (2022, February 4). How to set boundaries with parents: A therapist’s guide. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/setting-boundaries-with-parents/

3Mancao, A. (2020, March 25). 6 Steps to setting healthy boundaries with parents (and what that looks like). Mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/setting-healthy-boundaries-with-parents/

4Buck, C.A. (2015). Establishing effective personal boundaries. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. https://www.vumc.org/health-wellness/news-resource-articles/establishing-effective-personal-boundaries

There’s been a lot of social media buzz lately about a practice that is impacting teens and young adults. It’s called “love-bombing.” This term may be new to you, but the concept will sound familiar. 

A 2017 University of Arkansas study described love-bombing as “excessive communication during the early stages of a relationship to gain control and power.”1 In 1992, a study described this type of behavior as the “Charm Tactic,” or being heavy on the charm to initiate a relationship or keep it going.2 These two studies, done 25 years apart, paint the same picture of someone who overwhelms another with charm, gifts, and adoration to win them over and control them. Does the concept sound familiar now?

As parents, we are responsible for ensuring the safety of our children. This goes beyond physical safety to include emotional and sexual safety as well. Being love-bombed can be damaging to your teen. But there are signs that you can be on the lookout for.

If you see these signs, ask questions to learn more and help them know what’s happening. I don’t have to remind you, but your teen probably thinks they know better and doesn’t want you involved in their relationships.

Signs of Love-Bombing

*This list isn’t all-inclusive3,4, nor does someone have to exhibit all of these signs to be a love-bomber. Love-bombing tactics can vary.

1. Excessive compliments

Who doesn’t love compliments? There’s nothing wrong with compliments, but constant praise can be a red flag. Suppose your teen is embarking on a new relationship, and their significant other is already expressing intense love for them. In that case, it’s time to ask some questions. If you hear them say things like, “I’ve never met anyone as perfect as you,” or “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone,” ask your teen how that makes them feel.

2. Expensive gifts

Love-bombing often includes trying to buy someone’s love with expensive gifts. The purpose is to make the love-bombed one feel like they owe their gift-giver something. A healthy relationship can’t be bought. So if your teen frequently receives gifts like new AirPods or Beats headphones, shoes, or clothes, those are red flags. 

3. Consistent texts and messages

Love-bombers want all your attention. In this digital age, it’s normal to communicate, especially early in a relationship, but calling, texting and messaging 24/7 is excessive. And if your teen doesn’t answer or respond quickly, their significant other may get accusatory. 

4. They want all your teen’s attention.

If your teen isn’t with them, they become angry. They may try to invite themselves anywhere the family goes. You may also see your teen withdraw from other friends or social activities to appease this new relationship. In a healthy relationship, each person respects the other’s interests.

5. They try to convince your teen they’re soulmates.

While you can meet your soulmate as a teen, someone shouldn’t be trying to convince your teen they’re soulmates. If they are trying to convince your teen that their relationship is like that in a romantic movie, raise a red flag. They may be trying to pressure your teen into a relationship they aren’t ready for.

6. They get upset with boundaries.

Love-bombers don’t usually like boundaries. They want all of a person’s time, attention, and affection. When your teen establishes boundaries regarding their time or access to technology, the love-bomber may get upset.

If your teen tries to slow down the relationship, they may also turn up the manipulation. 

7. They are needy.

Whatever time your teen gives them is never enough. They want all of it. You may notice your teen getting less and less excited about talking or spending time with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

If you notice any of these signs in your teen’s relationships, your teen may be the victim of love-bombing. They are young and may not see any of this as an issue. But, what do you do?

Don’t attack their partner.

This may isolate your teen and prevent them from confiding in you.

Don’t say, “You’re not allowed to date them.”

Did that work for your parents? It didn’t work for me. That may just make your teen want to stay in the relationship.

Show curiosity.

Ask questions from time to time and respect their responses. Ask them how they feel about their relationship. Find out what they gain from it as well as what they give.

Establish dating rules.

If you feel that the relationship may be unhealthy, establish a rule that their partner must come to your house to spend time together.

Give them plenty of time and positive attention.

Sometimes our teens will enter into unhealthy relationships because they crave attention.

Talk about what a healthy relationship looks like.

Make teaching your teen about healthy relationships a regular part of your conversations. Look for examples of healthy and unhealthy behaviors and talk about those.

If you think your teen is being love-bombed, help them see the signs of manipulation before it becomes abusive. Help them see their self-worth and to love themselves for who they are. If your teen needs it, don’t be afraid to seek help from a counselor.

Other blogs:

How to Be a Supportive Parent – First Things First

9 Ways You Can Be Your Teen’s Best Friend

How to Help Your Teen Deal With a Breakup – First Things First

Sources:

1Strutzenberg, C. C., et al. (2017). Love-bombing: A Narcissistic Approach to Relationship Formation. https://scholarworks.uark.edu/discoverymag/vol18/iss1/14

2Buss. (1992). Manipulation in Close Relationships: Five Personality Factors in Interactional Context.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1992.tb00981.x

3Lamont, C. (2019, December 16). Love bombing: 10 Signs of Over-the-Top Love. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/love-bombing

4Laderer, A. (2022, February 9). 9 sinister signs that you’re getting love bombed, according to relationship therapists. Insider. https://www.insider.com/guides/health/sex-relationships/love-bomb 

Other helpful articles to read:

What is Love Bombing?

Is it Love, or Love Bombing?

How to Handle Narcissism in a Relationship

Do You Have Trust Issues? 18 Subtle Signs + What To Do.

Explore the dynamics of trust in your life.

You might be reading this because someone told you – you have trust issues. But what’s that actually mean? How do you know if it’s true? What are the signs of trust issues? What should you do about it?

Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve noticed something in yourself that doesn’t feel quite right. It’s also possible you’re starting to see a pattern developing in your relationships. 

Tough Love Alert:

Maybe you’re beginning to realize you’re hurting yourself (and possibly others).

Whatever “it” is, it derails potentially healthy, fulfilling relationships by sabotaging them. 

You’re bold. 👍

Full respect! Exploring the dynamics of trust in your life will require you to seriously look at yourself with gut-level honesty. 

So, how do you know if you have trust issues? If you have signs of trust issues, how do you overcome them? And how do you begin to enjoy healthy connections and enduring bonds with people in your life? 

  • First, to clarify things, let’s drop the word issues from trust issues and simply examine trust
  • Second, can we agree that trust is the foundation of interpersonal relationships? Wait, isn’t love or something the foundation of relationships? You can love someone but not trust them. You can also trust someone but not love them. Trust is a BIG DEAL all on its own.
  • Third, let’s work from a rock-solid definition of trust. Trust is believing someone is honest, reliable, and dependable. They offer safety and security. Trust has been described as a firm belief in the ability, strength, reliability, and truth of someone or something.[1]

☆ Trust is the doorway all relationship-building thoughts, feelings, and experiences must pass through. ☆

Signs that you might find it difficult to trust people…

You have unacknowledged or unresolved past experiences, including:

  • A parent(s) who was unreliable, was too trusting or didn’t trust others.
  • Acute or chronic trauma, abuse, or neglect during childhood/young adulthood.
  • Circumstances characterized by instability or unpredictability.
  • Lack of support. You felt “forced” to be self-reliant to survive.
  • Betrayal or desertion by someone you trusted.

With others, you tend to do the following:

  • Perceive them as inevitably betraying or hurting you. (Without any justification.)
  • Assume the worst about them. (And not acknowledge positive traits.)
  • Project past wrongs inflicted by others onto trustworthy people.
  • See them as always lying, manipulating, or trying to deceive you.
  • Not distinguish basic human flaws from serious breaches of trust.
  • Need to control their behavior or their perception of you.
  • Sabotage relationships preemptively or to “confirm” your suspicions.

You tend to perceive yourself as:

  • Unrealistically helpless, fragile, weak, vulnerable. (Inferior.)
  • Unrealistically self-sufficient, self-reliant, invulnerable. (Superior.)
  • Undeserving or incapable of emotional or physical intimacy.
  • Undeserving or incapable of a happy, trusting, secure relationship.
  • Unable to be yourself because you fear being “exposed” and rejected.
  • Unable to “calibrate” your trust based on others’ trustworthiness.

Okay. There are 18 researched characteristics of how mistrust can be caused and how doubt shows itself in relationships. These lists are not exhaustive. 

Not everything in these lists will apply to you.

Can you identify with some things on those lists? Are you already connecting some dots? Be bold. Be honest. Consider the role trust plays in your life and how trust plays out in your relationships.

Be gentle with yourself.

Trust can get warped by things you had absolutely no control over in your past. You may not even realize how they’ve affected you and your relationships. Believe me when I say I’m genuinely sorry. Trust me when I say the way forward with healthy trust is something you DO have control over. 

⇨ There might have been some trustworthy people in your life who you couldn’t bring yourself to trust. It’s not a pleasant realization. But you can have “reality-based” relationships built on earned, healthy, mutual trust. ⇦

Addressing Trust Issues: 

Daring To Move From Invulnerable To Vulnerable

1. It starts with you deciding what it looks like for YOU to be a trustworthy person.

Set the bar in your own life. This will be the standard you use to judge the trustworthiness of others. What does this look like? Be honest, reliable, dependable and loyal. Allow yourself to be open and available to the people who count on you. Be the kind of person you would trust.

2. Remember the dynamics of interpersonal relationships.

Individuals who don’t have “trust issues” still have to navigate trust problems. Interpersonal relationships are inherently risky, and that’s okay. Yes, the closer you get to people (and the closer you allow people to get to you), there is a greater chance to be hurt. (Strangers and acquaintances usually aren’t close enough to inflict much damage. But that’s the point – can you find a healthy way to let people deeper into your life?)

3. Learn the difference between healthy boundaries and unwarranted walls.

Emotionally isolating yourself from people is an attempt to protect yourself from hurt. In reality, blocking out potentially hurtful people also keeps out potentially healthy people who could help you and enrich your life. (They both use the same door. Having healthy boundaries is like having a smart, muscular bouncer letting the right people in.)

4. Get in the habit of telling yourself the truth about yourself.

This is your “inner voice.” Use it to speak truth about yourself to yourself. As you become confident and comfortable in your own skin, you’ll approach relationships from a place of hope, not fear.

5. Take it slow with people you don’t know.

If someone hasn’t demonstrated their trustworthiness, don’t invest your thoughts & emotions, your history & hopes in them just yet. Invest yourself in small, appropriate amounts and watch how they respond. 

6. If past traumas create problems in your present life and relationships, get the help you need.

You may need to acknowledge and process some things in your past with the assistance of a professional. Consider this an investment in yourself. [Check out this list of counseling and mental health resources.]

The pain you feel from the people who betrayed and hurt you is real. What you do with that pain is critical. 

You can hold its weight close to your core and allow its gravity to pull on and distort all your relationships. Or you can learn from it and let it go. Sometimes people are deliberately deceptive. Sometimes people change or just turn out to be different than we expected. But some people are honorable and dependable and bring delightful things into our lives. Even though you’ve been burned before, be courageous. Try to make room in your heart for hope.

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” – Carl Bard

Sources:

[1] Effective Engagement Requires Trust and Being Trustworthy

    Trustful Behavior Is Meaningful Behavior

    10 Benefits of Happy Relationships

    Trust In Contemporary Society

    Do You Trust Your Partner? | Psychology Today

    NIMH: Helping Children and Adolescents Cope With Traumatic Events

    Study Explores Trust In Online Gamers’ Psychology

Resources:

How To Tell If Someone Is Trustworthy – First Things First

Trust is a Most Precious Commodity – First Things First

15 Ways: How To Build Trust In A Relationship

4 Things You’re Actually Saying When You Say You Have Trust Issues

Relationship Anxiety: Signs, Causes, & 8 Ways to Overcome

Image from Pexels.com

How to Forgive Yourself

Learning from your mistakes allows you to move forward.

Forgiveness is often defined as letting go of feelings of resentment, anger, or bitterness toward someone who has wronged you. Forgiving others can be tough. But we all can forgive. While you may be able to forgive others, how are you at forgiving yourself for mistakes you’ve made or wrongs you’ve committed?

Forgiving yourself requires empathy, compassion, kindness, and understanding. We all make mistakes. However, there is power in acknowledging, learning from, and moving beyond our mistakes. 

Why should I forgive myself?

Forgiving yourself is a big deal for your own personal growth. When you forgive yourself, you improve your self-image. Studies have shown that those who practice self-forgiveness experience lower levels of depression and anxiety, too. 

Forgiving also impacts your physical health. Research shows that forgiveness can reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.

How do I forgive myself?

Dr. Marilyn Cornish proposed a four-step approach to self-forgiveness, suggesting key actions that can be helpful:

  • Responsibility
  • Remorse
  • Restoration
  • Renewal

Kendra Cherry, MS, offers further insight on Cornish’s approach to forgiving yourself. Here’s a summary of her work.

Accept Responsibility

Some say you just have to forgive and forget, but Cherry says it’s about more than forgetting the past and moving on. The keys are to accept what happened and show compassion to yourself. It may be the hardest step in self-forgiveness, but acknowledging and accepting what you’ve done is a huge step forward. It’s rarely easy for anyone to look in the mirror and see their own mistakes.

Show Remorse

Even after you accept responsibility, you may be overcome with negative feelings like guilt and shame. Believe it or not, it’s normal and healthy to feel guilty when you’ve wronged someone. Cherry says that feeling guilty lets you know you’re a good person who has made a mistake or wronged someone, so it can lead to positive change.

On the other hand, shame makes you feel like your whole self is wrong. Left unchecked, shame and feelings of worthlessness can lead to addiction, depression, or aggression.

Mistakes are just those: mistakes. Remember that your mistakes don’t define you or make you a bad person.

Apologize and Restore Trust

Apologizing and repairing damage is vital to forgiveness. Cherry says this is just as important when you are forgiving yourself. Apologizing shows that you recognize the mistake and feel bad for what you’ve done. Offering an apology to someone you’ve wronged allows you to start rebuilding trust with them. It also enables you to work through the guilt and restore confidence in yourself.

Focus on Renewal

Cherry acknowledges that we all make mistakes and have some regrets, but she notes that it isn’t helpful to focus on those things. In fact, an unhealthy focus can damage your self-esteem and self-worth. Self-forgiveness allows you to move beyond your mistakes and grow.

One of my favorite movie lines is from Batman Begins. Alfred looks at Bruce Wayne and, quoting Bruce’s father, says, “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Making mistakes is a normal part of life. We’re all guilty of it, but what matters is that we learn from our mistakes and move forward.

A little side note on self-forgiveness…

Self-forgiveness is important when reflecting on your mistakes and ways you’ve wronged others. However, people who have suffered abuse, trauma, or loss may also feel shame and guilt even though they could not control what happened to them. Hear me say this: You are not responsible for forgiving yourself for what someone else did to you. If you need help, a counselor can help you walk through processing the guilt, shame, and pain you’ve experienced.

Other blogs:

Questions Couples Can Ask To Improve Communication – First Things First

Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage – First Things First

To learn more about self-forgiveness, check out these resources:

How to Forgive Yourself

What Is Self-Forgiveness and Why Is It Important To Your Mental Health?

Sources:

Taking the Steps to Forgive Yourself

Sarah J. Peterson, Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Stephanie D. Womack, Joshua N. Hook, Don E. Davis & Brandon J. Griffin (2017) The benefits of self-forgiveness on mental health: Evidence from correlational and experimental research, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12:2, 159-168.

Marillyn A. Cornish, Nathaniel G. Wade (2015) A Therapeutic Model of Self-Forgiveness With Intervention Strategies for Counselors, Journal of Counseling and Development, 93:1, 96-104.

Kyler R. Rasmussen, Madelynn Stackhouse, Susan D. Boon, Karly Comstock & Rachel Ross (2019) Meta-analytic connections between forgiveness and health: the moderating effects of forgiveness-related distinctions, Psychology & Health, 34:5, 515-534.

5 Things To Do When Everything’s Falling Apart

One single step can lead you in the right direction.

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin nailed it. But I think he forgot one more inevitability… change. 

Change will undoubtedly happen multiple times throughout your life. Some changes are planned, like taking a new job or moving. Some changes are unplanned, like losing a loved one or a job. 

When unexpected change hits hard, we often feel like life is falling apart.

The idea of life falling apart in and of itself is very subjective and personal. There’s no standard for what it looks like. I have felt like everything was falling apart several times, whether in my marriage, work, or family dynamics.  My experience may not reflect yours, though. Everyone’s experience is unique. 

Even though your world falling apart may look different from mine, certain things can help us cope. 

Here are five things you can do when everything’s falling apart:

1. Take a break.

Hear me out; I don’t mean give up on your responsibilities and walk away. Just take some time for yourself. Once you identify what makes you feel like everything is falling apart, can you step away to clear your mind? Maybe you’re caring for a sick loved one. Can someone else step in and give you a weekend to rest and refocus? Maybe work is chaotic. Can you take time off? Perhaps your relationship is in distress. Can you spend some time with a friend to decompress and enjoy some activities together?

Sure, you have responsibilities that you can’t give up on, but what would happen if you took a couple of days off to focus on your mental and emotional health?

2. Embrace the present.

Pain from the past or worries about the future often leads us down this path. It’s so easy to be dominated by these two time periods and lose the present. I get it. But you know what? The present is a gift. It’s where life happens. Unfortunately, we can’t change the past and we have no control over the future. However, we can live in this moment. 

If you’re seeking help in navigating the chaos, I applaud you. You’re strong enough to make it through whatever you’re facing. In the wise words of Ted Mosby, “Sometimes things fall apart to make way for better things.” (I love that guy!)

3. Connect with others.

There is power in community. It can be tempting to retreat and insulate yourself from others, but you need people. The weight you carry isn’t meant to be carried alone. Maybe you only feel comfortable being completely vulnerable with a small number of friends or family. Connect with those people and ask for help. Help may look like a cup of coffee or a shoulder to cry on. Help may look like wisdom from someone who’s fought the same battle you’re fighting. Either way, you don’t have to walk this road alone.

4. Evaluate what you can control.

When everything is falling apart, the one thing you may desire most is beyond your reach: control. If we’re honest, we probably all want control. When life is spiraling, control is often unattainable. Maybe the lack of control is what led to everything falling apart. 

Some things are simply out of your control. 

Step back and ask yourself, “What can I control?” The health of others, the people you work for, or your partner’s emotional state are just a few examples of things you can’t control. You can control how you react to people and what you focus on. 

5. Practice self-care.

Self-care is a common buzzword. It can be easy to brush it off as something unimportant that you don’t have time for. Sure, self-care is trendy, but that’s because more experts have recognized that paying attention to your needs can improve your well-being. 

So take care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Self-care is also subjective, so you have to find what works for you. I run for self-care. It heals me and is a necessity. On the other hand, my wife loves to craft, whether that’s painting, drawing, or creating with her Cricut. 

Don’t get discouraged when something doesn’t work. Keep trying until you discover what is beneficial for you.

It’s not easy to get life back on track when it feels like everything’s falling apart. It may seem daunting, but you can do this. You’re strong! The most extraordinary journey begins with a single step.

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless – First Things First

5 Signs You Need Some Alone Time

What to Do When You Feel Compassion Fatigue

Sources:

How To Stay Grounded When Your Life is Falling Apart

The Only Thing That Matters When Your Life is Falling Apart in 2022

What To Do When it Feels Like Your Life is Falling Apart

9 Things To Do When Your Life is Falling Apart

What to Do When You Feel Compassion Fatigue

Here are some ways to take the proper steps to care for yourself as you care for others.

Have you ever felt like you’ve cared so much you just can’t anymore? Like you’re exhausted from taking care of others? Even if you’ve never heard of compassion fatigue, you may be familiar with what it is. Maybe more familiar than you’d like.

What is compassion fatigue?

Psychologist Charles Figley says it’s “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

In essence, it’s feeling like you have no more empathy to give.

Compassion fatigue is most often associated with health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, therapists and at-home caregivers. But we’re all at risk of feeling this way.

Let’s face it: Life can be downright draining. 

Caring for sick or aging loved ones may be wearing you out. Perhaps you’re tired of giving grace to your spouse. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything left to give your kids. The non-stop flow of information about the suffering around the world can overwhelm you. All these things (and more) can contribute to a feeling of emotional exhaustion.

The root of compassion fatigue is in caring for others.

It would be easy to confuse compassion fatigue with burnout, but they’re a bit different. According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout is marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with cumulative stress at work. [Read https://firstthings.org/7-ways-to-prevent-burnout/.]

Compassion fatigue occurs because of the emotional strain of supporting those who are suffering from something traumatic. It is rooted in caring for others. It’s not just a workplace thing, but it can co-exist with burnout, especially for those in service professions.

Look for these symptoms.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are:

  • Physical and psychological exhaustion
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
  • A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
  • A change in your worldview or spirituality
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • A dramatic withdrawal from social connections

Since compassion fatigue affects your mental and physical health, it also impacts the quality of your relationships with your partner, children, friends, and co-workers.

Remember, caring for yourself properly can help you care effectively for others. So, if (or when) you find that you’ve run out of empathy to give, understanding how to combat those feelings can help you move forward. 

Fighting Compassion Fatigue

Psychiatrist Yazhini Srivathsal, M.D., offers a few ways to combat compassion fatigue:

  • Follow general self-care guidelines – get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and nurture social relationships.
  • Practice gratitude and being engaged in the present moment.
  • Avoid information overload. If too much negative information stresses you out, take steps to decrease how much you consume.
  • Engage in activities that rejuvenate you.
  • Understand that pain and suffering are normal, and you have no control over them.
  • Focus on what you can control, like your thoughts and feelings. You may not be able to control what happens around you or to you, but you can control how you react.
  • If needed, seek professional help.

Helping others is an important component of healthy relationships. Your partner, your children, and your loved ones depend on you, and that can be overwhelming. When you feel compassion fatigue begins to set in, take the proper steps to care for yourself. If you see these signs in your loved ones, stepping in and offering to walk alongside them can alleviate some of their load.

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated as a Parent – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

5 Benefits of Being Thankful – First Things First

Sources:

Compassion Fatigue – The American Institute of Stress

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue? | Psychology Today

Compassion Fatigue: Symptoms To Look For

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue: Watch for These Warning Signs | Banner

5 Ways to Start the New Year Off Right

Reflection and intention can help you reach your goals.

One more year is almost in the rearview, and the countdown to the new year is on. Can you believe it? If you’re like me, you may already be thinking about new opportunities and goals to help you start the new year right.

If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of “New Year’s Resolutions,” let me just state the obvious: There’s nothing significant about January 1 when it comes to goals. There is nothing magical about new year’s resolutions. In fact, research has found that only about 45% of people even make resolutions. (And 35% of those who do quit them before the end of January.)

So, are they even worth it? While resolutions may not be the most successful, there is a lot of benefit in setting goals for yourself. Goals can help you become who you want to be, provide stability and drive you. January 1 gives you a good starting point. The calendar flips to another year, and it’s often seen as a fresh start. 

But, how do we start the new year off right?

1. Reflect on the previous year. 

Healthy things grow. Healthy people are no different, but to grow, we have to see where we are. Start by looking back at the previous year and ask yourself:

What went well last year?

What did I accomplish?

How did my life improve?

What goals did I abandon? Why?

What hurdles did I overcome?

What do I wish I had spent more time doing?

2. Ask yourself, “What do I want to improve upon and why?”

You have the best opportunity to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Be careful not to set your goals based on what another person or our culture says. Your goals are about your health, finances, career, relationships, or whatever you choose. No matter how good a goal is, the success rate is diminished if it’s set for the wrong reasons. Side note: There is no magical number of goals either. Maybe you just need to start with one and focus on it until you achieve it.

3. Set SMART goals.

Ever heard of a SMART goal? SMART is an acronym coined in the Management Review Journal in 1981. It means specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a business model for setting goals, but it translates well to other types. Here’s a brief explanation of a SMART goal:

  • Specific: Your resolution should be absolutely clear. Instead of “I want to get in better shape,” say, “I want to run a 5k in 3 months.”
  • Measurable: You need a way to measure your progress. Depending on your goal, you may have to search, but look for a tool to measure your progress. Choose a method that you’ll stick with.
  • Achievable: If it’s not attainable, you’ll probably give up too soon. Don’t try to jump too big, too fast. If there’s a big, lofty goal you want to achieve in the future, that’s great. Break it down into smaller goals and take those on. It’s a lot less daunting to say you want to lose 5 pounds in 2 months than to say you want to lose 50 pounds.
  • Relevant: Does the goal matter to you? Is this something you want, not anyone else?
  • Time-bound: Every goal needs a timeframe. The timeline must be realistic. Set a target achievement date and set benchmarks along the way. 

4. Build a support system.

Achieving goals is a lot easier when you surround yourself with people cheering you on. Come alongside friends or family, and all agree to share your goals and support each other. Accountability will push you to keep at it. If you need to, find an online group with similar goals and journey together.

5. Write it down.

This seems simple, but there’s power in writing your goals, perhaps in your planner or on a sticky note in a prominent place. Make sure they are somewhere highly visible so you can read them over and over. And you can check off that goal once you achieve it. 

Go ahead and set those goals for the new year. But take the time to make a plan. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” 

Other resources:

Gratitude Challenge

How Failed New Year’s Resolutions Can Affect Marriages – First Things First

Relationship Resolutions – First Things First

10 Resolutions for a Healthy Marriage – First Things First

How to Stop a Conversation Without Hurting the Relationship

Thinking about a way out ahead of time can help you be prepared to make an exit.

Picture this: You’re having an EXHAUSTING conversation with extended family. There seems to be no easy or natural escape route, but you’ve got to get away for your own sanity. You know that stopping the conversation can hurt the relationship. What do you do?

You may want to stop the conversation for several reasons:

  • The topic is too controversial, and it’s not worth potentially fracturing the relationship. (Religion, politics, social justice, morality, parenting, etc.)
  • It’s gotten too personal. (Unresolved issues, things you don’t want to share, topics you disagree on regarding how you live your life, and so on.)
  • It’s simply time to move on. You have other commitments or people to talk to.
  • The conversation feels like gossip. 
  • Your history with this person leads you to believe that this convo won’t end well.
  • You don’t feel equipped to talk about the topic.

I’m sure you can come up with all kinds of reasons you’d want or need to stop a conversation.

If you’re like me, you work hard to avoid hurting others – and sometimes end up talking too long and wasting time. This can lead to resentment or simply lost interest in the relationship because you hope you don’t run into that person. Why? Because you know the conversation will go ON and ON and ON if you do. 

But maybe you’re like some friends of mine who can be overly blunt. They don’t care if they hurt your feelings. So they may say:

I ain’t got time for all this. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I’m not about to have this conversation with you.”

“I knew better than to try and talk to you about this.”

Let’s say that you want to bow out gracefully, but you’re not sure how. All you know is that you want to stop the conversation without hurting the relationship or someone’s feelings. 

But first, here’s an important thing for you to consider: “Why would stopping the conversation hurt the relationship?” 

Knowing the “correct” answer to this question may not be as important as considering the possibilities.

Would the person feel rejected? Dismissed?

Is it about the loss of control?

Considering how and why stopping the conversation could hurt the relationship can help you end conversations with empathy. It can also show that you care about the person and the relationship. 

Remember, every situation and every relationship is different. The culture of the relationship often dictates what’s most effective. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Preparing to Stop the Conversation

  • Allow others to speak their mind and get their thoughts out. Resist the need to interrupt others to express your rebuttal or opinion. 
  • Own your need to exit the conversation.
  • Be confident in your conversational boundaries (and why you have them).
  • Value the relationship over the conversation.

If you want out of the conversation, you can start with:

“What you said leaves a lot to think about. I truly value this relationship, and I don’t want you to think I’m trying to just dismiss you or your thoughts, however…” 

These words express that you heard them and that you value the relationship. It also shows empathy.:.

The reason for ending the conversation may determine what you say next.

Are you ending the conversation because…

  • You have something else you need to do?
  • It’s too emotional?
  • Controversial topic?
  • You don’t feel heard?
  • __________ ? Fill in the blank

If so, you may finish the statement with:

“…I have a prior commitment, and I don’t want to be disrespectful to the people there.”

“…this conversation is more than I’m ready for right now. Will you respect my wishes to talk about something else?”

“… this type of conversation rarely ends well. Can we talk about something else?” (It helps to have another topic in your back pocket.)

“…can we talk about this when I’m in a better position to talk?”

The truth is, even though you might do everything in your power to be honest, empathetic, and kind, the other person can still feel hurt. But you can’t control how someone responds when you do what you believe is best for you and the relationship. All you can do is rest in knowing that you did your part. Hopefully, others can give you the space you need for your own well-being and let the conversation end on a good note.

Other blogs:

What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

4 Ways to Have Difficult Conversations During the Holidays

What To Do When Your Family Disagrees About Politics – First Things First

The Good Conversationalist: The Basics (by Emily Post Etiquette)