Setting Emotional Boundaries

Experiencing depression or anxiety, along with other mood disorders, often feels as if there’s a weight placed on you. It’s this overwhelming heavy feeling, as if you have a bag full of bricks strapped to your back. Oftentimes, this metaphorical bag is full of “what-if’s, but’s, and should’s.” The anxieties about the past and the future can fill up your bag and make it hard for you to climb out of a rut.

However, other things that tend to weigh us down aren’t just our own bricks. It is common to take on the emotions of your family or friends, especially if you are a highly empathetic person. This can happen, for example, if your friend has a bad day at work. They come to you to complain about work problems and just to vent, but then you begin to take on these emotions as well. You begin to feel the frustration or anger that they do, and it begins to add that weight to your bag.

Another common “brick” that we might take on from others is their depression or anxiety. If you are open about your own mental health struggles, people often feel comfortable and safe confiding in you what they are currently experiencing. While having a space to openly talking about mental health struggles can be helpful, this can also be extremely overwhelming, especially if you are also having a period of depression or increased anxiety.

In the moment, listening to someone else’s struggles and offering support may feel good. However, taking on other people’s emotions can be extremely unhealthy. Hearing how other people are struggling may leave a feeling that the world is unfair and unkind. Therefore, it is important to set healthy emotional boundaries.

Setting emotional boundaries can often be a daunting task. It’s hard to say “I don’t want to have this conversation right now” to someone you love out of the fear that they will become upset or hurt. However, if you are clear in the fact that you are only saying this because you are also experiencing increased anxiety or depression, it shows that you are still there for them but do not have the capacity to be as emotionally invested in their problems like you had been able to before. Just like in an airplane when they tell you to put on your own air mask before helping someone else with theirs, it is important to take care of yourself and work through your own problematic situations before taking on other’s worries and problems.

When you set strong emotional boundaries, you can give yourself the love and compassion that is often thinly spread out among friends, family members, and other loved ones that you are supporting. Showing yourself this love and compassion will set the tone for others to treat you in the same regard.

Have you ever had to talk to a loved one about setting up emotional boundaries? When do you feel that it’s best to take a step back for yourself?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: We look forward to talking to you!

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