Brene Brown on boundaries and compassion

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As some of you know, I read and loved Brené Brown's Daring Greatly. I only just recently remembered to go back and listen to the last couple of podcasts the did for the chapter-by-chapter read-along she did on her website. You can still get to all of the read-along posts here (there's an audio file attached to each post - I'm not sure if they're accessible on iTunes anymore). Even if you haven't read the book, but especially if you have, these little audio/podcasts are about 20 mins each, and really add a lot to the discussion around the content of the book.

I really loved and got a lot out of a part from the Ch. 7 audio, so I transcribed some parts to share them with you, and bolded the biggest takeaways.

Brené Brown Daring Greatly Chapter 7 read-along audio

(4:28) The most compassionate people that I've ever interviewed… happened to be the most boundaried. They happened to be the people who had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on. 

…One of the ways that shifted for me to be more compassionate is, I kind of struggle with feeling perpetually disappointed in people a lot. Like, why aren't they living up to their expectations, why aren't they living up to my expectations, why are they making these self-destructive choices? I can think of people in my life, where it's like, oh my god it's making me crazy!

One of the things that shifted for me, was this idea that maybe everyone - myself included - maybe everyone's doing the best they can. But sometimes, that means that I don't have to engage.

(10:25) [...Because otherwise] who I'm really angry at is me.

...What I've learned for me, around boundaries and compassion, is that I don't know whether people are doing the best they can or not, but my life is better when I work from the assumption that they are. …But at the same time, that means that I need to have really clear boundaries. So instead of judging you, and feeling resentful, and feeling like you're sucking me dry, or you're taking advantage of me, I need to assume that you're doing the best you can. And I need to set my boundaries, and not get involved to the degree where I lose control over how I feel about myself and what's going on in that relationship.

…It has really been life altering for me. So, I don't think compassion is a relinquishing of boundaries. I think it is… much easier to be compassionate when we feel respected, and almost impossible to feel compassionate, and feel empathic for people when we feel like we're being taken advantage of or when we're being sucked dry.

So, to me, there is a very complicated and non-negotiable relationship between boundaries and compassion. …I was dealing with something with someone I'm very close to who was really in struggle, and I felt like I was helping, and I felt like I was crossing that line because I was continuing to take this person's choices - even when they were choices that were self-destructive - personally. Like, why aren't you listening to my help, or why aren't you taking my help? And what I realized was my investment - I didn't have good boundaries around my investment.

…It's okay to be in a relationship with people and have expectations that they are also empathic back, that they also give when we need to receive. And I think to have those expectations of people is okay. Not only okay, I think it's mandatory. And it connects with another question that says, "Have you seen in your research that the people who feel a strong sense of love and belonging do so because they have a larger, more cohesive social network, or deeper, closer relationships. Or is it they have [similar] networks to other people, but they feel more connected?"

And I think what the answer is is that it's the kind of relationships that wholehearted men and women seem to cultivate… that are based on mutual empathy, mutual respect, and shared vulnerability. 

(15:30)…I have a little boundary mantra now that's... choose discomfort over resentment. In those moments that sometimes it's uncomfortable to say "No, I can't," or "I'm sorry, I'm not available," and it feels uncomfortable. But it's so much better for me to choose being uncomfortable in a moment, than feeling complete resentment and judgment forever.

This is such a big, and important confirmation for me. That it's important to choose discomfort - and at least try your best to communicate and set boundaries, rather than avoid the confrontation and end up drowning in resentment. (And as a sidenote, I've found that if you do push through the discomfort, and your communication around boundaries is met with complete unwillingness to discuss or meet halfway, then sometimes it's for the best and as she says above, you don't have to engage.)

And as far as boundaries being integral to being able to be compassionate, that is a huge "aha" moment for me, and I think it explains some times when I've found it very hard to tap into my compassion. It has become more and more clear to me lately that boundaries and even disengaging can open up the space to be compassionate in a completely different way than I though it was supposed to look. Hearing her put it into words really solidified what was going on, and it's all so very true.