While on a call today with a church friend it occurred to me that people often have trouble setting boundaries to maintain their personal health and well being. My friend shared that one fellow congregant really brought her down during their conversations. The woman has considerable physical and mental health issues and consequently is more confined at home. She often has trouble seeing beyond her own needs to those of others and my friend was struggling with the heavy level of negativity she felt following these encounters. I practiced compassionate listening as my colleague explained her call experiences with this woman, seeking ideas for how she could best handle the situation.
I validated her concerns and we discussed how hard it was to be present or helpful to someone who drained our energy, especially if they called frequently in the same day and you heard the same story over and over. She was actually stunned when I said this and exclaimed “that is exactly right!”
I suggested she limit the number and length of calls as well as eliminating late evening ones as these were problem areas for her. I further gave her tips such as telling the congregant she had only 15 minutes to talk before her next appointment, setting limits to receive calls, etc. To help make the conversations more balanced I also suggested she might allow the woman to vent her troubles, but to say up front she needed to be able to share hers as well. Also, for every one they shared, they also had to voice something positive encountered since they had last talked.
To me these were fairly simple ideas, but my friend was so pleased I shared them. She told me – “you have no idea how much that helps me . . . I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders!” It was my turn to be stunned, as I assumed most people knew these basic tips. Bottom line . . . I also learned a lesson to not make assumptions . . . and remember the old advice – that while people are often called to service they are not always equipped to serve.
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