Do you ever feel like you’re always involved in someone else’s problems, constantly picking up after people? Perhaps you don’t want people to think you’re cold or unhelpful, so you always say yes when they ask for help. If so, you’re not alone, but it’s important to know what kind of impact this can have on your mental health. People have enough problems without constantly being swept up in doing favors for others. That’s why learning how to set boundaries in mental health is vital to being able to function well yourself.
It’s important to know you’re not obliged to give people free rein over your life. You have a right to say no and to take the space you need. Let’s explore how too much empathy can negatively impact mental health, the benefits of setting boundaries and how to say no when you’re being stretched too thin.
How Too Much Empathy Can Be Hurtful
When you think of empathy, many positive things might come to mind. You might visualize a selfless person who’s always ready to help another. What you may not know is that empathy has a dark side, too. First, empathy makes us biased, as we prioritize the problems of people close to us over the world at large. Secondly, feeling too much empathy and viscerally taking other people’s problems can put you at greater risk of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Feeling other people’s pain can lead to a sense of interpersonal guilt, and while helping people is generally good, it’s possible to get caught up in a pattern of giving too much of yourself.
An important distinction to know is the difference between empathy and compassion. Trying to consciously lessen your empathy doesn’t make you a bad person. You can still feel compassion for them. Empathy and compassion have different neural circuits, and while empathy can lead to bias, compassion doesn’t.
Compassion is the ability to wish the best for someone without getting caught up in problems. As much as we might like to help, there’s no sense in harming ourselves trying. Setting boundaries is sometimes necessary for self-preservation.
Benefits of Setting Boundaries in Mental Health
Setting boundaries is beneficial to you and the people around you. By letting other people know your limits, you give them the opportunity to adjust to respect your limits. This can help you, but it also gives them a chance to stand on their own feet. Having solid boundaries can help you:
- Avoid getting burned out
- Build your self-esteem
- Command respect from others
- Become more independent
- Focus on your own well-being
By taking a step back from others’ problems, you give yourself a chance to flourish. When you’re feeling strong and solid, you’ll be able to help them with greater efficacy, confidence and stability.
How to Say No
Many people take saying no for granted without realizing how difficult uttering that two-letter word can be for some people. People who score high on the Agreeableness dimension in the Big Five Personality Scale tend to have more difficulty turning people down. Highly agreeable people desperately want others to like them and think positively about them. This results in them being extremely averse to conflict and often unable to say no to people.
If you’re one of those people, then practicing various ways to get the crucial “no” message across could come in very useful. While it might feel awkward, nasty and alien at first, practicing will normalize it. Soon you’ll be surprised at just how easy it can be to say no.
Here are a few ways to say no when someone asks you for a favor:
- Just say no. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to keep it short and sweet. The more you dance around the issue, the more leverage you’re offering the other person.
- Explain that it’s too much for you to take on. As a more honest approach, you can simply explain to the other person that you’re under a lot of stress and aren’t able to take on any more.
- Suggest they ask someone else. If you can’t take on any more favors but don’t want to leave them empty-handed, suggest someone else for them to ask.
- Let them know that it’ll compromise your own plans. Sometimes, it’s easier to give people a reason you’re saying no. Let them know that you have your own plans and goals to meet and that taking on favors would impede you from reaching those goals.
In general, people are reasonable and understanding when others say no to doing them favors. However, certain types of people may not accept a no so easily. These people tend to be more conflict-driven and self-entitled. If someone doesn’t respect your personal mental health boundaries, it might be an indication that you should distance yourself from them.
It can be particularly difficult if you’re trying to set boundaries with mentally ill parent figures. You don’t want to abandon them, but you need to look out for yourself, too.
When to Move on From a Relationship
At face value, “moving on from a relationship” sounds quite extreme and final. However, everyone should have their limits. If you’re constantly bullied by another person and they don’t respect you, keeping close contact may be harmful to you. Furthermore, moving on doesn’t have to be as final as it sounds. You can also simply “move away,” claiming your own space and letting them know you’re willing to do that.
Signs it might be time to distance yourself from someone include:
- They don’t respect your wishes.
- They’re taking up too much of your time.
- They expect you to do everything for them.
- You feel bullied by them.
Is It Okay to Put Yourself First?
Putting yourself first is not only okay, it’s sometimes absolutely necessary. If your mental health is in jeopardy and you’re struggling to sustain healthful emotional limits, taking on other people’s problems isn’t a good idea.
Evaluate Your Need for Professional Mental Health Help
If you’re unable to cope, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Restore’s compassionate and professional team is on standby 24/7 and ready for your call. Contact us at (877) 594-3566.