Friday, May 11, 2012

Generosity, Compassion and Boundaries

I have been thinking lately about how much we give as helpers. By helpers I include: all helping professions, mothers and likely most women and some men. (!) I think that as 'a kind of person', you can identify people you know who are helpers. They are their own type. It's not that each of us can't give, its just some us are more inclined and thus some of us are more called on.  'A giver' or 'a helper' is a kind of person in that way.

There is a woman I know who is the most generous person you will ever meet. She will pay for dinner and drive you home after. She isn't a push over and in fact, if you are out of line by her way of thinking, she will call you on it and with passion! She truly understands difficulty and pain and so she strives to minimize that for those around her. She lives in abundance and so she gives from that abundance.

Brene Brown (you know I have a little social work crush on her, right?) says her interviews with people who she labels "the wholehearted" demonstrate that the most compassionate people also have the clearest boundaries.


The most compassionate people have the clearest boundaries. 


I give. I am a giver. I am much better at boundaries than I used to be. I would like to think that I am much better at identifying when I have given too much. In a professional situation it seems clearer to me than in a personal situation. With my family of origin, close friends or my children now, how do I know when I have given too much? Surely there must be a way to know before the feeling of resentment starts to creep in, right?

Well, in my experience a boundary is always clear the moment after I have crossed it. I can always look back and say: "Whoa! Hold on! This has gone too far and you are asking too much!" (Or is it that I have offered too much?) The difficulty is in recognizing the boundary *before* I cross it.

Back to my ultra-generous friend. Does she give too much? No, I don't think so. And this why: She gives from a place of compassion. She knows heartache and she feels deeply for others. She feels great compassion for others- clients, the staff with whom she works and friends and family. She gives generously from her heart, BUT she won't give more than she wants to give and she expects little in return. She is like a mama bird who wants to take care of her young. She gives with little expectation and she knows when to stop. She knows where she ends and another begins.

I know that for me when I am connected to someone- as a family member or friend or in the brief time of sitting together as a counselor/ client (or as I like to call it: human/ human)- I give all that I am. When I am at my best, I am open to what the person across from me is saying and I am present in the moment.

I can open my self up to another in a way I would describe as compassion: 

I feel you. 

Or in the words of Neytiri in Avatar: 

I see you.

To me, "I see you" is to say: I know who you are at a depth I cannot describe with words. I relate to you from a place of soulful understanding. I may not completely know the situation you are describing, but I relate to the feeling and I will share with you in that feeling. I will be with you as you go through the most difficult feelings- shame, disappointment, grief, sorrow and anger.

To me that is the essence of connection. It is to be with you. To feel you. To see you.

However, I know that it's equally important to know where I stop and when I must stop.I cannot live for another. I cannot be all to another.That includes my parents, siblings, partner and children. However, when I am whole within myself and able to identify those boundaries for myself, that is when I am most able to reach out and show compassion.

It makes sense really. I can give from me only when I know me.

Thoughts? Feel free to leave comments. :-)


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