How skillful are you at creating boundaries, maintaining a compassionate stance, and staying out of resentment?

As Brené Brown highlights, “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

When I was in my late 20’s I had two small children, was pursuing a Master’s degree in Nursing, and was working part-time. My dad came to me and asked if I would hold a surprise party for my mom’s birthday. I got this sick feeling in my stomach and then I said, “of course, I’d love to do it.”

The problem wasn’t that he had asked me, the problem was that I didn’t know how to say “no” and honor my boundaries based on how I was feeling at the time. It was the perfect storm to bring me up close and personal with the feeling of resentment.

Although that was many years ago, I vividly remember the resentment that began to build as I began to put all this energy into something when I was already feeling overwhelmed with life.

This was my first introduction to the importance of having boundaries in order to prevent feeling resentful.

I like many people, grew up in a family that didn’t have healthy boundaries in place and this created a lot of challenges for me emotionally in my adult years.

I didn’t learn how to distinguish where someone ended and I started and this lack of awareness meant that I was overly influenced by other people and had a hard time saying “no” for fear of disappointing or not being liked.

I was a total people pleaser! When others were happy I’d feel happy, when others were unhappy I’d feel unhappy.

We learn the hard way that when we don’t set healthy boundaries, we end up feeling angry and resentful. The best way to deal with anger and resentment is to prevent them from building up in the first place.

Many years later,  I have a different perspective about boundaries. I feel they’re more important than ever AND I’ve realized that the word itself feels like a constriction in my heart.

After having gone through what can best be described as a dark night of the soul, I felt called to let get of the word “boundary” to adopt one that better aligns with my values around compassion.

One of the gifts of the dark night of the soul is a transformation of consciousness. We realize that we have a dual nature that includes the outer garment of our personality and our deeper essence or soul. Boundaries help to protect the outer garment of our personality, but what does the soul have to say about this?

The soul which is the organ of meaning expands when we cultivate greater compassion.

A new word came to me when I was listening to The Kind Mind podcast and the episode on Compassionate Communication. This episode explored a mindfulness-based strategy for resolving interpersonal conflicts. The final step in the “PETALS” process was “space.” I had an aha moment when I realized that what we’re going for with boundaries is “compassionate space.”

Compassionate space reminds us of our intentions to not put up a wall, but rather create the right amount of space that enables us to maintain an open heart. It feels more fluid and soul-centered than boundaries.

Here’s a 3 step process to creating compassionate space.

Pause

This step gives us permission to not react immediately and reminds us to check in with ourselves before responding.

How many times have you said, “yes” to something and then a short time later regretted it?

I went through years of my life saying, “yes” to everything. Some of it I really wanted to say “yes” to and some of it I was afraid to say “no” so I would say “yes”. Needless to say by saying, “yes” to everyone and everything I got pretty exhausted and then began to feel resentful.

When we take the time to pause we can take everything into consideration and make a more nourishing decision.

As Viktor Frankl famously said,

Between stimulus response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Connect

This step is all about connecting with ourselves and tapping into how we’re feeling on a moment-to-moment basis.

Whether we say “yes” or “no” is not a black or white thing. We need to explore how we’re feeling, what our energy is like and what other things are going on in our lives.

During this step, it’s also important to connect with the underlying beliefs that prevent us from creating compassionate space. For example, if I believe it makes me a better person to put others ahead of myself, I will always say “yes” when I want to say “no.”

A really helpful question to ask ourselves is, “What space do I need to create and/or maintain in this situation to maintain a compassionate stance?”

Honour

There’s no question that we feel uncomfortable when we begin to discern what amount of compassionate space feels right for us.  Having named that, we know that feeling uncomfortable is something that will pass while feeling resentment festers within us to the point that we don’t even like the person we have become.

Brené Brown’s mantra about this is really helpful,

“Choose discomfort over resentment.”

Creating compassionate space and learning how to honor ourselves enables us to be more compassionate. We feel a sense of personal authenticity and this brings alignment to our body, mind, and soul.

We begin to thrive!

Did this article support or inspire you on your path? If you feel called, comment below to share with our community.

Helpful Resource:

If you’re looking for some practical suggestions about compassionate space (boundaries), you may find How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets from the Positive Psychology site helpful.

(Original post, May 17, 2016; Updated post, January 31, 2022)