Raise your hand if you have a person in your life who always seems to need help, is constantly "short on money", or is radio silent until they call you with their latest emotional crisis. Like rungs on a ladder, this person climbs from one willing supporter to the next, not caring about how much they squash you or others in their orbit with their unadulterated neediness. Most of the time, this person is referred to as a mooch, a leech, a charlitan, manipulator, or a user, and since we're being honest, each of us has also likely been guilty of one or more of these behaviors in our lives. The worst of this relationship cycle leaves us (or the people around us, if we are the climbers) feeling completely drained - emotionally, physically, or even financially - resentful, and feeling powerless. This is not a post about being stingy with your love, time, or material posessions, but about empowerment and mindfulness; freeing yourself from the loop of acting as a boundless vessel of capital to give away, and through this awareness keeping your own succubus tendencies in check.
I am a people pleasing personality. It's the worst kept dirty secret that I have and I hope you don't use it against me. It's very difficult for me to say no to people who seem like they need help and I can, in some way, provide or facilitate that help. Sound familiar? Most people I meet through yoga are respectful of that and are actually the same way, so it's easy and quite natural for a healthy boundary line to just happen. Other people, however, love an audience. They want validation. They want a free therapist. They want the knowledge or skills or resources that others have. People are drawn to this practice for a reason, afterall. None of this is a problem until it is the expectation, or until one party feels use, resentful, worn out, or manipulated. These are unhealthy, imbalanced relationships, and no matter how you wrap them up into a charming little bow of seeming spiritual goodness, it's still just someone using someone else.
And you are no less of a yogi for saying no to these kinds of leechy humans, too. In fact, standing up for your own emotional needs and working within the boundaries that YOU set makes you more in tune, more intuitive, more giving. How can we learn unless our friends, our mirrors, sometimes call us on our shit? Listen, we have ALL, at least in some way, relied too heavily on our friends and family at points and stepped on others to get where we want to go. We are human, pack animals by nature, and we need one another to learn, grow, and survive. It's a beautiful thing. But my observations about aspiring yogis is that we aren't so great at the balance of cultivating compassion and empathy while maintaining healthy boundaries. I'm a firm believer that we need to experience some discomfort in our lives. So it's really a balance of having enough self confidence and assuredness in our feelings and also being willing to listen and take in the stuff that we sometimes don't want to hear.
We need to give, care, and reach out to people...
We don't need to be an endless emotional, financial, or energetic ATM for our friends, family, or community.
We need, as my therapist friend says, to be interdependent; a balance of give, take, reliance and independence of both parties without sacrificing our respective selves or values.
So here are some things for us to keep in mind as we move through life, meet new people, and interact in the world. This stuff is important and a life skill you need to cultivate.
Know Your Limits : You can't set boundaries if you're unsure of where you stand. Take some time to identify your social, emotional, financial, and mental limits. Think about what you can tolerate in a relationship and what leaves you feeling stressed or resentful. This is continuing your practice of self-awareness and mindfulness.
Name Your Feelings : The two big red flags of an unhealthy boundary line are feelings of discomfort and resentment. Observe if you experience these emotional responses while interacting with someone, which may be in person, via email or phone, or in any other situation. Resentment usually comes from recognizing that you don't feel valued or appreciated, and any person worth being in your life should never want you to feel that way.
Be Direct : With some people we encounter, our communication styles, views, personalities, and a general approach to life are similar, which means it's easy to understand their "language". This might come as a bit of a shock, but not everyone you meet is LIKE YOU. They come from different backgrounds, were raised in a differing culture (even if that culture is in the same country or city as you), and embody a whole set of circumstances you haven't experienced. In a respectful, direct and empathic way, communicate what the person is doing to hurt you. This will be received with varying amounts of success, but at least, for YOU, you have expressed your needs as clearly as you can. It's rare to meet true psychics - don't rely on someone picking up on your subtle signals.
Give Your Own Permission : Fear, Guilt, and Self-doubt rattle all of us. We might fear another's response by setting a boundary. We might feel guilty about telling them NO. You might think you owe something to them because that's "what a good person/child/parent/teacher/student/friend would do." All of these narratives are super common (and I've been through the lot, too) but YOU DESERVE TO FEEL GOOD IN YOUR LIFE. By giving yourself the permission to set boundaries you're really exhibiting self-respect and self-care - how can you expect to continue to give anything if you feel drained and taken advantage of?
Don't Let the So-Called Social Norm Determine Your Needs : You come from a unique environment; we all do. Consider your past, your family situation, your roles, and the expectations you have had put on your for your behavior. Ignoring your owns needs might have become the norm for you. This is going to lead to a lot of the big three, Guilt, Fear, and Self-doubt. There are a lot of succubus-type, Dementor-esque people in the world - you have to deflect them with the Patronus charm of your self-worth. Don't worry. They can handle it (or maybe they can't, but their reaction is not your responsibility).
Start Small : Big, beautiful fires start as a small spark. Start with a small boundary that isn't threatening to you (like communicating that your neighbors' garbage can continually blocks your car). Fan the flames, add wood. Like that fire, this takes continual practice and observance. Learning to say no to people who abuse your kindness is saying yes to your life. Embrace it. We only have so many shits to give in life, don't waste them.
Beware the Guru : Because this is super common in the yoga and wellness world, beware the Guru. Gurus can be self proclaimed, which means they are narcissists, or they are created by you, which means you are being naiive. Most often, it's a combination of both. If someone has displayed a history of crossing boundaries or taking advantage of people but claims to be very intuitive, they are definitely, definitely full of shit. Remember that all people we encounter, if they are living here on earth and defecate, are fucked up in many ways. They are 100% human, too*. Great yoga teachers, life coaches, and other wellness experts are often charismatic by nature!
*Though will often go to great lengths to seem better than human. Verbage like "mystic" "seer" "visionary" and "luminary" are all indications of incredible delusion.