For years, people have bundled compassion with never saying No. if you are empathic, you are compassionate and caring, you will be there for your friends and family even if you are drained and out of energy. A lot of us are conditioned to think that if we place ourselves first, we are being selfish and not at all “humane.” But for Brené Brown, compassion and boundaries are not options in a single choice question.
If we are facing an issue in our personal lives, we often do not set boundaries, making us too available for people. This often leads to conflicts within ourselves and with people we consider to be close to us. This arises because, for us, compassion and boundaries just do not go hand in hand. In her talks, Brené Brown often quotes the importance of setting boundaries and how that does not lessen the compassionate person that you are.
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Who is Brené Brown?
Brené Brown is an academic who holds the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at the University of Houston. She has also penned five bestselling books, whose titles are:
- Dare to Lead
- Braving the Wilderness
- Rising Strong
- Daring Greatly
- The Gifts of Imperfection
She has also co-edited You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience along with Tarana Burke. Her thoughts in all the books that she has worked on reflect her journey through each aspect that she pointed out. She is a strong believer in being vulnerable to be courageous. Born in 1965, Brené has seen the retro phase, the calmer 1990s phase, fell in love, completed her degrees, gave birth to two children, and encouraged others to learn to embrace their true selves.
On the note of being compassionate yet not knowing when to stop, Brené has conducted exhaustive and qualitative research. She and her team consulted various groups, starting with compassion by vocation people like saints and nuns. In this process, she came across a group that defined compassion by actions. Hoping to find some more common ground and similar spiritual beliefs, she learned that these extremely compassionate people have set strong boundaries.
The need for boundaries in compassion
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
This quote by Brown sums up the theory of compassion with boundaries very well. Unless we are true to ourselves, know what we can do and what we cannot, and know our values, we can not make better decisions. People pleasers are generally the most unhappy people. They have exhausted themselves so much trying to be what everyone else wants them to be that they lose their sense of self. This often turns them away from compassion. Being empathic or compassionate does not mean compromising with yourself. Rather, you are more at risk to lose yourself if you do not set some boundaries.
When a person helps with judgmental thoughts, they are not doing anything helpful. We often confuse compassion with the need to help people with advice or provide material aid. Doing charity for the sake of looking good is not compassion. In fact, true compassion can only stem from boundaries.
Being compassionate often requires you to make calls that will make at least one person feel offended. You see a mother insult their child, abuse them, and treat them with utter disrespect. If you step up and tell the mother not to do that, you have to remove all the judgments and negative feelings you have toward that person. Only then can you truly be compassionate for both the mother and the child and help them navigate the world of parenthood.
If you want to help someone understand what is right and what is wrong, you need to understand those boundaries yourself first. The mother may be stressed about other things and she is channeling her pain through her disciplinary actions toward her kid. Here, you need to help her separate her personal issues from her parental duties. Setting boundaries and defining wrong and right is not an easy task and you will often feel that the choice is difficult, but your inner compass, a.k.a your integrity, will never let you go astray.