I’ve been learning about, and supporting, Highly Sensitive People for 15 years. Until recently, there was always an intangible element, a universal piece of the struggle, that I couldn’t put my finger on.
When I became overwhelmed and drained by someone’s mood, I felt powerless to do anything about it. In fact, a part of me had resigned myself to the fact that this was “just how it’s going to be for me and others like me.”
Now, as I’ve learned about energetic boundaries and how to heal them, I know that feeling powerless and overwhelmed is not a given!
While we’ve discussed the fact that your energetic boundaries can become rigid, permeable, and poked full of holes, let me share more with you about how they become damaged.
You may want to grab some tea and a soft blanket – this post packs a punch!
How Energetic Boundaries Become Damaged
While good energetic boundaries help make life doable, having holey EBs is akin to walking around with an open wound, making us vulnerable to infection (no good!).
While not an exhaustive list, here are the top 3 types of things that can damage your energetic boundaries:
- Enmeshment in your family relationships (where boundaries are minimal and there’s confusion about where one person ends and the other begins)
- Your caregivers had poor boundaries themselves, were frequently overwhelmed by their own emotions, or didn’t have the skills to support you emotionally
- Your family/community reinforced beliefs that it was your job to take on/take care of the emotions of other
- Frequently feeling unseen or not attuned to in your family
- Having an emotionally immature, unhealthy or highly-defended caregiver
- A family or community which required you to believe exactly what they believe
- Taking on the role of caretaker or rescuer in your family (more on this in a future post)
- Experiencing frequent shaming or criticism
- Growing up in a culture of harshness, insensitivity, or cruel/sarcastic humor
- Your own or a family member’s
- Physical injuries or violations
- Abuse of any kind
- Experiencing racism, exclusion or discrimination based on an aspect of your identity
- Serious Illness
- Neglect (emotional and/or physical)
- Frequent shaming, feeling unwanted, abandoned
- Inherited generational trauma
- Witnessing others’ experience abuse, trauma, illness
Let’s pause a moment.
If you experienced any of the above, just hearing it listed could bring up feelings of discomfort.
Take a moment to notice if you’re having any sensations in your body, emotions, or thoughts. Take a few belly breaths if you need to.
You may be thinking, “yes, I experienced some of that. But it’s over. Isn’t thinking about that just dwelling on the past?”
While I hear you, the fact is that those experiences may have damaged your energetic boundaries in ways you’re still feeling today. And if any of those dynamics are still repeating themselves, it’s even more important that you take a look at this topic.
Please know that recognizing whether you’ve been through anything on that list is important in and of itself. Over and over, I’ve seen that self-knowledge is power.
(Side note: being highly sensitive in a very intense world can be enough to sustain energetic boundary damage in and of itself! So if you don’t relate to the above list but still feel like a sponge for others’ emotions, that could be why.)
If you want to take this a step further, consider journaling and asking yourself these questions:
- How did each of those experiences make me feel at the time?
- Did they seem to impact the way I show up in the world?
- For example:
- Did you become more guarded?
- Have you experienced certain patterns in life/relationships that repeat themselves?
- Is it hard to to be authentically you (or to even know who you are sometimes)?
Are Your Energetic Boundaries Damaged?
Now, let’s talk about the different types of energetic boundary damage which cause our struggles with carrying others’ emotions, feeling exhausted all the time, and losing touch with ourselves (to name a few).
First, let’s recap some basics about energetic boundaries:
- Energetic boundaries have to do with the unseen energy that’s exchanged between you and the world (ie. how much access others get to your energy and how much energy and emotion you absorb from others).
- Energetic boundaries are like energetic/spiritual skin. Just like our physical skin protects us from absorbing every pollutant in our environment, healthy energetic boundaries keep us from absorbing all the energetic “stuff” in our environment.
Cyndi Dale, author of Energetic Bounaries, says that when compromised, our energetic boundaries can become rigid, permeable, or poked full of holes.
Before I started healing in this area, I had all 3 types of EB damage (yes, you can have them all!).
Let’s see if YOU relate to any of these.
If your energetic boundaries are rigid, you may:
- have a tender heart but are often disconnected from your emotions
- have a hard time trusting people
- keep others’ at arms length
If they’re permeable, you may:
- have a hard time knowing where you end and others begin
- often feel invisible or overlooked
- people please at your own expense
If they’ve got holes in them, you may:
- feel overwhelmed by others’ feelings, moods, and needs
- feel anger, frustration and exhaustion from carrying everyone else’s “stuff”
- feel a generalized, free-floating sense of anxiety
If these descriptions got your attention, let’s talk a bit more about each one of these:
- Rigid EBs: people feel cold and shut down around those with rigid EBs or see us as disinterested and unavailable. These boundaries can turn away positive relationships and experiences, reinforcing feelings of isolation and alienation.
- Permeable EBs: these boundaries are ineffective. People with permeable boundaries are easily taken advantage of, swept aside, and ignored.
- Cut EBs/ poked full of holes: These holes allow others’ energy to pass through and our own life energy to leak out. People with holey boundaries may feel exhausted or find themselves repeating undesireable relational patterns.
Take a moment to ask yourself which of the above descriptions you relate to.
Reading these may be jarring for you (“it’s like she’s talking about me!”) or maybe it’s relieving (“oh my gosh, there’s a name for what I’ve felt my whole life”).
Either way, I’m glad to be raising awareness about such an important issue. After all, awareness is the first step to healing.
If you’d like more guidance on becoming an HSP who’s free from the burden of over-responsibility, watch our free workshop, How to Break Free from Empathy Overload.