How to Find Peace of Mind in Hard Times—Set Healthy Boundaries

Figure out where you are carrying burdens you don’t own.

Give burdens back to their rightful owners.

Protect your boundaries moving forward.

Finding peace of mind in hard times is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. When adversity hits, we often get paralyzed with shock and overwhelm. We forget that, no matter how bad the situation, there are always things we can do to take some measure of control. Setting healthy boundaries is one way to begin to tackle overwhelm.

Having compassion for the trauma and pain of others makes us good human beings. But, carrying someone else’s pain serves no purpose. We rob ourselves of the ability to help others, or ourselves. We put our attention into feeling secondary trauma rather than doing what we need to do in our own lives. This does nothing for the people whose burdens we carry. And it robs us of peace of mind, energy, and happiness.

Many years ago, I was lead through a guided meditation. In my mind, I met a young girl with a baby strapped to her back. She told me about the hardships she faced living in a rural mountain village in the Himalayas as a single mother with a young baby. In my meditation, I felt my heart open to her, but I knew intuitively I was not supposed to offer any direct assistance. I listened to her troubles and reassured her I had confidence that she was strong enough to find solutions and create a better life for herself and her child. She broke into a wide smile and thanked me for my wise counsel as we parted ways. The lesson for me was that I could not walk someone else’s life path. To mediate hardship for others was to deny them the opportunity to learn, to grow, to become resilient, and to realize their own strengths.

Setting healthy boundaries in hard times means carrying only your own true burdens, and letting others carry their burdens. It doesn’t mean that we are oblivious to the suffering of others, just that we allow them to walk their own path and learn from adversity. Just like we do. Here is a simple process to separate out the burdens you carry and to begin setting healthy boundaries.

Step #1: Figure out where you are carrying burdens you don’t own. Byron Katie has an excellent book called Loving What Is. The first question of her process is to ask yourself, “What is my business? What is someone else’s business? What is God’s business?” Here, you may think of “God” as Source, spirit, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Gaia, or whatever higher power you do or don’t believe in. I use the term “Source” to respect all faith traditions and those who have no faith tradition. Many times, we destroy our own peace of mind and drain ourselves of energy by “getting in other people’s business.”

Make a list of all your worries, fears, and anxieties. No item too big or too small. Be thorough. Where are you in someone else’s business or the business of Source? Where are you shouldering burdens that you don’t own?

Now look at your list. Where are you carrying burdens where you have no capacity to make a meaningful difference? Where are you worrying or afraid about things that you cannot control. This could be the threat of nuclear war or the suffering of refugees. You are wasting your own valuable energy and doing nothing to make the situation better. Cross these items off the list.

Now look at what’s left. Where do you really own worry and fear? You can be a support to your sister going through a divorce or your friend going through chemotherapy, but you cannot live their lives for them. Next to each remaining worry and fear, make notes about who owns what. Be rigorous with yourself. Think of it like a movie. If you aren’t onscreen, you’re support staff; in a Hollywood movie, does the gaffer get involved with the tantrums of the stars?

Step #2: Give burdens back to their rightful owners. Now that you have identified where you are carrying burdens for others, it’s time to return them to their rightful owners. If it’s someone close to you, you may want to talk to them in person or on the phone. Explain that you have gotten too involved in their lives and you need to step back. Explain that by living in their life, not your own, you are draining yourself of energy and making it harder to be a good support to them. Let them know you will still be there, if you choose to, but that you cannot carry their burden for them.

Perhaps you are carrying a burden for someone who is no longer alive or no longer in your life. For example, maybe you are feeling guilt or shame for an employee you had to fire, worrying about whether they made it to a better place. Been there, done that. You are not responsible for the journeys of others. You played a role in their lives you may not fully understand. If you cannot talk to the person, or you don’t want to, write them a letter or have a one-way talk in the woods. Let them know that you regret any pain they may have felt by your actions. Wish them well and let them know you are releasing them from your life. Rip up the letter, burn it, bury it. Get creative. As you release the energy, say out loud, “I release from my life.”Repeat it until you feel it releasing.There is an energetic, somatic process that releases negative energy from your body when you speak words aloud.

Maybe you can’t get the plight of the latest earthquake victims off your mind.Or your brother’s co-worker’s wife who had a miscarriage. Carrying the burden for people you don’t know is self-defeating. If you are finding the news too depressing and stressful, take a media holiday. Don’t watch TV or read the news for a week, or a month. We are so inundated that you will find out about the important stuff anyway. Meanwhile, take these distant burdens and say out loud, “I release from my life.”Say it until you feel it releasing.

Step #3: Protect your boundaries moving forward. Beware of energy vampires. Many people are only too happy, consciously or unconsciously, to put their burdens on you. They live in a “misery loves company” mindset. They may feel threatened by those they perceive have an “easier life” and try to bring you down. Think proactively about how you can set healthy boundaries with those who try to suck you into their negative vortex of misery.

Do you need to reframe how you interact with them? “Jonathan, you’re worried about your job. I will help you find a solution right now, but then you need to take action or stop complaining.”

Do you need to spend shorter amounts of time with that person when you meet? Or see them less often? Or not see them at all? It’s okay to eliminate people who are toxic to you. After the end of my second marriage, I was talking to one of my closest friends. She said, “I think the question you need to answer is why you were so desperate to marry him in the first place.” She then went on to suggest that I married my second husband only for financial security. The irony is that I left my first marriage, to a man who made a lot of money, because there was no love and I had finally realized there was no hope of changing the marriage. I was deeply in love with my second husband and imagined us growing old together. Ironically, I had much more money than he had. I was so taken aback that someone who had known me for years would have such an awful opinion of me that I ended the friendship. I value friends who ask me the hard questions but, after all those years, she clearly had no idea who I was at the soul level.

Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Take a look at the people on your list. Choose one person to start with and give them back their burden, firmly and lovingly. Start the process of setting healthy boundaries, finding peace of mind, and setting a pathway to happiness.Keep working your list as proactively as you can, until there are no more names on your list. Meanwhile, keep setting healthy boundaries so that you aren’t adding names on the bottom of the list while taking names off the top.

Make sure you take time to notice how you are reversing any negative energy into an upward spiral of hope and optimism. Give yourself credit for all that you are doing! If you miss a day, just pick up where you left off. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life. It’s trite, but true. The magic is in not giving up. (Shazam!)

And, remember you are not in this alone.

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