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Brené Brown - How Boundaries Increase Our Empathy & Compassion

Updated: Feb 7, 2023


Image by Külli Kittus at Unsplash

"Empathy is not feeling for somebody. It's feeling with them."

~ Brené Brown


By Kris Deichler, Senior Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse Global


Know where you stand with people, but assume they are doing the best they can.

If you haven't at some point in your life felt hurt or angry at somebody for letting you down, taking advantage of you, being rude, judging or criticising you, or just not being there for you when you hoped they would be, then you're probably not human. That, or you've lived in a cave all your life! 🙂


One of the hardest challenges I believe we all have is dealing with how we feel in response to people's negative attitudes and behaviour. A lot of the time, many of us silently let people say things and get away with behaviours that are very negative for us; while allowing ourselves to become angry, resentful and even hateful in return.


How can we stop the negative or hurtful attitudes and behaviour of others from affecting us? How do we stay open and compassionate - while preventing ourselves from feeling emotionally trampled on by those around us?


"Empathy acts, sympathy doesn't." Paul S. Waugh, Head Mentor, Lighthouse Global


Setting Boundaries For Ourselves & Others


The key to this, according to the human scholar and researcher Brené Brown, is to set boundaries for ourselves with people - or more simply put - to know what is OK and what is NOT OK, what we will accept and what we won't accept from others. She says that the most shocking part of her research was actually finding that the people who did this the most, were also the most compassionate and loving people.


It's a discovery that surprises a lot of us when we realise that sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to let someone know when they are out of line; to have the vulnerability and courage to confront them and let them know where they stand with you. It's not easy but it's very healthy, for you and for them.


Why Are Boundaries So Powerful?


Because with this perspective comes compassion and an understanding. We respect and care enough about ourselves to not become somebody's trampling mat; we also understand that most of the time people don't do and say 'bad' things on purpose.

Very often there are things happening in other people's lives that we don't realise or know about and the reality is they're simply struggling under the weight of it, trying to do their best.

In the video interview below, I think Brené Brown sums this up really well - albeit with a bit of help from her husband! 🙂


"When this thing came up from my therapist, 'what if people are doing the best they can?' I thought my husband had the most beautiful answer to that question. He said, 'I'll never know whether people are doing the best they can, or not, but when I assume people are, it makes my life better'."


The reason this is so powerful for our relationships is because, when we allow ourselves to get caught up in or consumed by our own anger and resentment towards someone, we deny ourselves the chance to understand them and the situation properly; to understand more about what they might be going through or feeling... and to then act with compassion.


"Boundaries are frickin' important. They're not fake walls, they're not separation, boundaries are not division, they are respect. They are here's what's ok for me and here's what's not."

~ Brené Brown


At the end of the day, most people behave negatively towards us because they are going through something painful or challenging - not because they want to hurt us. The more we can come to understand this, the better our relationships will be, and the more they will trust and respect us. Often, what might feel like an attack or insult from someone, is really a hidden call for help, understanding, and compassion.


To help you, here's an adaptation of a powerful question Ms Brown mentions in her interview;


Q: What boundaries do you need to have in place for you to keep your integrity and still make the most generous assumptions about other people?


If you'd like more help with this subject, please email me here and enjoy the full interview below...





Originally posted on the Legends Report.

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14 Comments


Daniel Schmitz
Daniel Schmitz
Jan 26, 2022

Awesome article Kris! Thank you very much. This is again something I wish I’d learned a lot earlier in my life to understand the difference between setting boundaries and building walls in myself. It is fascinating to hear from Brent Brown how important it is to set boundaries and how that relates to the level of compassion and empathy.

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Mel Francis
Mel Francis
Jan 25, 2022

Thank you for sharing Kris! Brené has such a clear and powerful way of explaining the concepts she finds in her research and what she says here about boundaries not being division or separation but respect is so powerful! I read somewhere that often toxic people will think that you are holding a grudge when really you are holding a boundary, and it's true! Some people are not in a place in themselves where they can respect you, probably because they don't respect themselves. We've all experienced times in our lives when we didn't respect ourselves like we ought do. And when it's not ok, it's not "rude" to say "that's not ok" and we can do so with empathy.…

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Ian Mcnamara
Ian Mcnamara
Jan 24, 2022

Really love the idea of feeling with someone. Setting boundaries is not easy however it is important because people need to understand our expectations. I like the idea of a Boundry being all about what is and what is not ok. This is something i will be aiming to work harder at. Thanks for such a wonderful article, reminds me of the importance of habit five. Seek first to understand then to be understood. 

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Jack Comer
Jack Comer
Jan 24, 2022

Thank you for sharing why it is so important that boundaries are set out of respect for ourselves. I‘ve recently had to set some boundaries with people around me and as a result their empathy is growing which I thought would never happen.

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tomhasker
tomhasker
Jan 24, 2022

Great article and thank you for highlighting how clear bourndries help me to build better relationships!

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