The Empathetic, Boundaries, and Misinterpretation of the Bible

I grew up in church and was taught a daily helping of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” – Luke 6:31.

Although, growing up it seemed that this verse was then and is now quoted as a matter of telling someone else they should be acting better than they are.  I had this presented to me in a fashion that meant that I should continually “put myself in the other person’s shoes,” “stop and think how they feel,” and for most of my life I did just that.  I was the person that was constantly thinking of others and how they must feel in whatever situation presented its self.  It made me sympathetic to many, comforting to all, and completely locked inside myself. 

My sense of boundaries was all messed up as well.  I was so considerate and empathetic to my friends and neighbors that it was hard for me to see that I was trampling their personal boundaries and going too far in my “caring, and putting myself in their shoes.”  After all, I was doing what I would have liked done in that situation.  The flip side of that is that when I was going through a traumatic event  I thought I wanted someone to essentially sweep in and take over and help me, but it never happened, not once.  Looking back now I know I would not have really liked being rescued and having someone else make my decisions anyway.  Rescuing is meant for firefighters, policeman, lifeguards, doctors and such.

Only after years of personal reflection of what things were and were not working in my life, and the (sometimes not so gentle) instruction of close friends, a personal life coach, and a good dose of trial and error, I realized that a lot of my issues were caused by my own run away emotions.  I had an over abundant supply of emotions that I was heaping on the heads of those around me because I had my perception of what was good for them.   In short, I was wrong.   

In the last three years I’ve learned to separate my emotions, my perception of things, put in place strong boundaries and most of all to raise my standards to where they should be.  Though it might sound simple, it was a long process and a lot of hard work to personally go back and look at the different circumstances in my life objectively, then to realize that those circumstances were what came about due to choices I made, which led to more choices that were also not in my own best interest.  It’s been hard to legitimately take responsibility for my life and realize that while I was in an unhappy marriage and an abusive relationship, it was the person in the mirror that made that choice just as it was that same person that chose to keep trying to make it work for so long when it so obviously wasn’t going too.  While married, we went through years of counseling, workshops, and I read books of all types, but you cannot save a marriage by yourself, it has to be a joint effort.  It was my choice to stay so long and put up with being mistreated.  Lesson learned.

The other, perhaps most important, thing I learned is that while the Golden Rule does apply in how you should treat other people, it is not license to put yourself in their shoes.  This is can quickly become a self-created prison. 

Keep these things in mind should you ever decide to “walk in another person’s shoes.”

  1. You are not God and you do NOT know how that other person “feels.”  Don’t excuse bad behavior by over sympathizing.
  2. You are NOT capable of knowing or understanding how that other persons  mind works and what they legitimately think, which means you should not make decisions for them unless it is agreed upon in advance.
  3. People change, through circumstances, experiences, the way they were brought up, beliefs, etc., on a constant basis.  What makes you think you can possibly keep up with someone else all the time and know what their perspective of a certain situation is?
  4. Respect boundaries – what you perceive to be “For someone else’s own good,” may not be.  Have you ever stopped to wonder – what you are getting out of that?  Does it make you feel like you’re protecting them? Do you feel like you’re comforting or providing a service?  Does it make you feel more useful?  Those things are all well and good, but if you weren’t asked to do them or didn’t ask to help and be able to step in then you are over stepping their boundaries.  The remedy is simple – ask how you can comfort, encourage, or support them.

There is great freedom in boundaries.  They are there for a reason.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – what does it mean?  It means that we take a moment to ask questions,  to stop and listen to the answers, to sympathize, to NOT assume or say we know how someone else feels, to request permission to help, and to lend a helping hand when we can, because that is something that we would want when we are going through a crisis.  Do what you do out of love for each other, not for recognition.

That is the true lesson in Luke 6:31.

Cherry Coley ©

9 thoughts on “The Empathetic, Boundaries, and Misinterpretation of the Bible

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