Drawing the Line

Has this ever happened to you?

It seems as if everyone you care about is in crisis. You have one child who's failing most of her subjects at school, another who's mired in an unhappy relationship; your spouse/partner wonders with much loud misery whether life has any meaning; your mother calls you three times a day because she can't go on . . .

And you are right there suffering with each and every one of them. You feel as if every crisis is happening to you, and you have lost your own emotional center (if, as you are now seriously beginning to doubt, you ever had one).

The feeling of being overwhelmed can happen to anyone who is sensitive to the emotions of others and wants to be compassionate and helpful. There is, however, a big difference between compassion and sympathy.

Compassion involves an appreciation of the suffering of others without taking on that suffering. In sympathy one shares in another's grief and pain. I have known mothers (and other people) who have taken sympathy to the point of taking on the symptoms of someone's illness.

School for Sympathy

Those of us who tend to be sympathetic may have been trained in that response by parents who needed someone to feel sorry for them. We probably also learned during our formative years that sympathy was the mark of a good and kind person. Women, in particular, are in many cultures trained to not think of themselves and their own emotional needs, but to be concerned with the needs of their husbands, children, and often anyone who seems to have needs.

Sympathetic people will often find themselves to be magnets for those who seek that kind of attention. As good people, they find it difficult to say no to those who seem to need them, even when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.

The sympathetic soul will usually find it hard to distinguish between the emotions of others and their own. As a result, they may feel that they can hardly manage their own lives, let alone take care of all those who want their help.

Jumping Into Quicksand

The nonphysical being, Seth, (whose many books were channeled by the late Jane Roberts) once said that you can't save a person who's drowning in quicksand by jumping in with him. This is what we do, though, when we can't seem to draw boundaries between other's feelings and our own - and we often figuratively drown in the emotions of those we're trying to save. We don't help them, and we don't help ourselves.

If sympathy is the condition of jumping into the quicksand, compassion is standing on solid ground with a rope. When we're compassionate our response to people is based on our own emotional and spiritual strength. Whereas the emotional vibration of sympathy may encourage others to continue to feel helpless, overwhelmed, or self-pitying, the vibration of compassion can help them to move beyond their immediate misery and gain a larger perspective on their situation.

Setting Boundaries

The first belief one has to get over in order to set boundaries is that it's cruel and heartless to set them.

Another belief to dismantle is that if you create distance you're deadening yourself emotionally or that you're making a wall between yourself and the person you care about. Setting boundaries isn't necessarily a way of life; it's a deliberate choice, made when the occasion calls for it. It doesn't mean, for example, that you can't immerse yourself in someone's joy.

If you don't set boundaries deliberately you may find that that you set them unconsciously, that you shut down to others' pain simply because you can't take it any more.

It's also important to recognize that there are times when the degree to which you can help is limited. Sometimes your family member or friend needs a counselor, a lawyer, or another professional person.

Sometimes we also need to look at our willingness to set boundaries. There have been many times when I gladly surrendered to the chaos of others' lives in order to escape my own internal chaos, other times when someone's insistence that I take care of them instead of thinking about myself made me feel guilty that I would even dream of thinking about myself.

It has often been wisely said that people who don't love themselves can't truly love others. In the same spirit, people who don't attend to their own emotional needs and stability won't do the best job in handling those of others.

Boundary Builders


Hematite is the most valuable stone to work with in setting boundaries.

These silvery-gray stones can be polished to such a high sheen that long ago they were used as mirrors. Their content is iron oxide, and because iron was traditionally associated with Mars warriors used to rub their bodies with it in the belief that it would protect them.

Hematite is a protective stone, though perhaps not in the way the ancient Romans imagined it to be. As a power stone whose purpose is to deepen the connection between spirit and body, it helps us to keep our sense of self and sense of purpose firm. Its reflective quality symbolizes its ability to help deflect the emotions of others.

Another important helper is rose quartz. This stone helps us to care about ourselves and our own needs; it replenishes the wellspring of self-love which enables us to help others in wise and loving ways.

Citrine, in similar fashion, nurtures our feelings of self-esteem and helps us to appreciate that our own needs are valid.

Sodalite is a stone of mental and emotional balance. When we're in a state of emotional turmoil it can help to restore us to a calm and reflective state.

Flower Essences

(Please note: I distinguish between Bach Remedies (BFR) and Flower Essence Society essences [FES]).

Pink Yarrow (FES) is a basic flower essence for setting emotional boundaries, helping to draw the line between compassion and emotional identification. It helps our hearts to attune to their own emotional strength and to help out of that strength.

Centaury (BFR) is a very important remedy for boundaries. The Centaury personality, sometimes called a classic Cinderella type, is someone who habitually puts aside his/her own needs to serve someone with a more powerful will (and needy people can have very powerful wills). This flower essence helps people do develop their own will and sense of purpose without diminishing the urge to be generous in serving others.

Pine (BFR) is the remedy of choice when you feel guilty because you really can't help anyone else today, and Elm helps to relieve feelings of emotional overwhelm.

The Fragrant Boundaries

Geranium: This essential oil doesn't come from the geranium we know, but from a plant known as rose geranium. It has a wonderful, rose-like scent.

We are most likely to be vulnerable to the emotions of others when we're tense or under stress. Geranium, which has a relaxing and calming effect on the body and psyche, thus strengthens our boundaries.

Juniper is a classic scent for boundaries; Navajo Indians use it in dried plant form for smudging to purify an environment and dissolve negative energies. It is when we're feeling strong within ourselves that we are least susceptible to the negativity of others. Also, if we feel overwhelmed by the emotions of others this essential can help to erase these feelings.

Vetivert has a rich, earthy aroma. To establish your boundaries inhale its scent and visualize your emotions being protected from the intrusion of anyone's negativity.

All of these essential oils are also helpful to burn if you're going to have a visitor with whom in the past you've emotionally identified.

Smudging: A smudge stick can also be used to create a protective atmosphere. If you are going to have the kind of visiting situation described in the previous paragraph light a smudge stick and "bathe" your body in the smoke. Place it in a receptacle and brush the smoke into your aura.

After the guest has left, or if you are in any way feeling the residue of someone else's emotions light the smudge stick and repeat the above procedure.

A Meditation for Boundaries

The crystal layout from which I've adapted this requires seventeen hematites. I've experimented, and found that this large quantity isn't really needed. I do, however, recommend, having four. They should be placed at the base of each foot and in each hand.

The other crystals needed are a rose quartz for the heart, a citrine for the navel center, a sodalite for the third eye, and a clear quartz to be placed in back of the head.

I also recommend that you take one of the flower essences described above, preferably Pink Yarrow or Centaury. You may also wish to put some juniper oil in an aromalamp or diffuser.

Inhale slowly and deeply, drawing the breath up from the feet through the body to the top of the head and back down again. Feel your breath filling and leaving you, and as you do so feel the dimensions of your body.

Focus on the the hematites you are holding and on the ones by your feet. Feel their energy expand outward, surrounding your body until it is outlined in silver.

Now focus on the citrine. Feel an expanding golden glow and realize that you are a creature of light.

Focus on the rose quartz, feeling your heart filled with a warm pink glow until love fills you and centers you.

Now feel the deep blue grounding energy of sodalite, and allow it to cool and calm you.

Finally, put your attention on the clear quartz. This is the mirror of your soul; this is the deepest expression of yourself.

Continue to meditate, shifting your focus from stone to stone, until you feel calm and centered in yourself.

Sometimes it takes more than one meditation session to achieve this state. Do this as many times as necessary. Be sure to unplug the phone and to impress on anyone in your immediate vicinity that you are not to be disturbed.

Bach and Other Flower Essences
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