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Beware Being An Emotional Dumpster or Airbag and Know Your Limits

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Beware Being An Emotional Dumpster or Airbag and Know Your Limits

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When we pride ourselves on being kind, generous, supportive and giving, it often feels necessary to ‘be there’ for others. It then feels super confusing when we feel overloaded, resentful, exhausted and the like.We might become convinced that we’re a Bad Person. Here’s the thing: There’s a big difference between support, help, and, well, being an emotional dumpster or airbag.

To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is going out of their way to treat us like a dumping ground. However, we wind up in the same place (feeling bad) if we play the role of and treat ourselves like one. We need to be aware of our limits. After all, people can’t know a line we don’t communicate, even if we feel like they should.

Knowing our ‘why’ — our intention(s) — is crucial when we do things for others. If, on some level, we’re afraid to say no or feel obliged, or a part of us needs to feel needed, or we have a hidden agenda, we inadvertently exploit ourselves. We wind up not having healthy boundaries. Hence our becoming a dumping ground or emotional airbag who cushions people against life. And takes the impact.

We do what might seem like a good thing (being there for others) but for the wrong reasons and without regard for our own well-being, and that’s what makes it problematic. Being a dumping ground for others is people pleasing, overgiving and over-responsible. When we find ourselves burning out from being there for others it’s due to doing ourselves a disservice. We’ve said yes to too many things that aren’t our responsibility and gone too far in our avoidance of saying no, boundaries, and ourselves.

Self-care is regard for one’s own emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being in the choices we make for ourselves and with others.

The irony is that people who take care of themselves and so put themselves at the centre of their caring activity and respect their bandwidth have even more to give to others.

Giving and obliged don’t go together. When we become other people’s dumping grounds, we sacrifice ourselves because we feel compelled to do so. We feel we have to give ourselves up to prove we are not ‘selfish’ and that we’re ‘there’. Experiencing the likes of resentment, anxiety, overwhelm, guilt, frustration (the people-pleaser feelings), and even becoming ill are signs we’re way over our bandwidth and doing things for the wrong reason.

The answer isn’t to stop being there for others; the answer is to create healthy boundaries and use your feelings to guide your behaviour and recognise when you need to attend to your own needs. You don’t have to be strong all the time. You matter too!

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.

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