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Helpers need to set emotional boundaries

By Jen Weigel
Chicago Tribune

Trying to help others can wear you out emotionally, especially when it appears the advice wasn’t what they wanted. But there is something you can do about it. Therapist Ross Rosenberg says it can be helpful to set emotional boundaries.

“In healthy relationships, there needs to be give-and-take. When it gets lopsided and there isn’t mutuality or reciprocity, we start to feel resentful and angry,” said Rosenberg, author of “The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us” (Premier Publishing and Media).

Rosenberg said we need to let people know when we don’t feel heard or appreciated. “If you are a co-dependent, setting boundaries can be excruciatingly difficult,” he said.

“You’re struggling with this feeling of being rude, you’re afraid someone will get mad, you’re afraid of conflict because you don’t have self-esteem to hold your ground to not get pushed back. You can set a boundary but it’s very unlikely that it will be respected.”

Rosenberg’s tips for establishing boundaries:

Look at your patterns. “Understand the part of you that gravitates toward relationships in which there’s not a fair distribution of give-and-take. Do the work on yourself or talk to a therapist about these patterns.”

Is there a bigger issue? “Some friends might be needy or not good listeners. If they’re usually there for you but having a bad stretch, you can understand that this too shall pass, so try to be patient.”

Stay neutral. “Avoid negative, inflammatory words. And position your feedback neutrally, both in your tone, your body posture and the words that you choose.”

Repeat what they told you. “If you want someone to listen to you but they won’t stop talking, the best thing you can do is make them understand you’ve heard them and understand them.” Give a concise re-statement of what you’ve heard with an empathic response.

Use positive statements. Use “I” statements, and the person will hear you and not get defensive. Be positive and then you can ask for what you need.

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