Boundary Bubble for the Emotionally Sensitive Person

We can't end all suffering everywhere. We can't eliminate or even lessen the suffering of some. But, for many of us with Borderline Personality Disorder, and others who are just naturally very emotionally sensitive, we may feel a substantial burden to do so, which inevitably causes US to suffer more.

I'll give you an example. I have two cats who I love as my children.  I recently began volunteering to help manage a feral cat colony.  We provide fresh food, water, and treats to the cats, help socialize them, and clean up their poop.  I feel it's an honor to do this and have already grown very fond of the cats.  I think about them when it's not my day to care for them -- especially when it's raining.  I worry about them. Recently, when getting worked up about it, the thought occurred to me: these cats have been doing well in all types of weather before I came along. They are survivors, and I need to trust that I don't have to be their messiah. They will continue to be okay. I don't have to get worked up about this.

Progress in this area of emotional boundaries, not taking on the intensity of the suffering of others, and trusting that others will carry the baton so that I don't feel that I am somehow (quite unrealistically) responsible for helping all suffering beings, was seen during the recent Nemo blizzard in the north eastern United States.

A thought occurred to me as I followed reports of the storm and got phone calls from family.  I mentioned to my Mom, "Oh my gosh. All the homeless people. What are they going to do?"  My mother told me that measures were taken to open tons of additional spaces as shelters so that the homeless would be protected. I felt calmed. Almost immediately, the next thought came: "Oh my gosh! What about the homeless animals?!?!?!"  My mother didn't have an answer.

I took some deep breaths and realized: there are caring groups and organizations here in California caring for homeless and feral animals. There are certainly similar organizations such as this in the Boston area, and those people would be looking out for the animals in Boston. I didn't have to start calling organizations out there to make sure someone was doing something. I could just calm down and trust that there are many people doing their part, collectively, to help humanity and animals.

Even though I am very sensitive emotionally, often must rein in my emotions, and am working on boundary issues, I can learn to trust that I alone am not singularly responsible for everyone and everything.  It's an important lesson to learn and master.

Recently, in hypnotherapy, we used imagery to imagine that I have a boundary bubble up. I get to decide how much can penetrate it or go out at any given time. I even imagined a plastic, interlocking belt for added protection. :)  I also imagined passing a baton to others when it isn't possible for me to help in the way that I would often like to. I imagine other capable, loving, helpful people taking the baton and performing those acts of kindness and help that must be done. I call upon this imagery when emotions get really intense around boundaries, and it helps! Of course, I hold the baton and do these thing on my own when possible and when not at serious risk of my own health and well-being. 

Can you relate?  When you see suffering or hear of others in need, do you feel compelled to do something to help and then feel helpless or anxious if such helping is beyond your ability or control?  What Wise Mind thoughts do you engage in to help you through such situations?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Learn more about boundaries and relationships as an emotionally sensitive person in this online Interpersonal Effectiveness DBT class.


  1. Thanks, as always, for writing this post. :) I struggle with this as well. Especially over the past week, as I've been feeling much more grounded, skillful, and what? Can it be? Happy? Yes, even, happy at times, I'll read a tweet or post about someone else's distress and suddenly feel like I should be doing more to be a support to others and then I even start to feel guilty about my positive emotions. Feeling like I don't have the right to feel good until everyone gets a break. Those are times when I need to recognize that I deserve to feel good when I am, and that if I need to set up some boundaries for my own emotional regulation, that is OK.

    On a related note: your boundary bubble exercise... Back when my BPD and C-PTSD symptoms came back full-force this past spring, like rocking all 9 critera after being down to 3-4 for about two years, I was having major trouble with sleep. This was also before I went back on meds, one of which helps with sleep. Well, anyway, one night Rowan walked me through guided imagery of me creating a spherical wall around me to keep my worries, urges, and distressing thoughts at bay so I could sleep. It worked like a charm! I was sleeping like 3 minutes later. So, all that said, I highly recommend the boundary bubble exercise for sleep as well. :)

    1. Hello Aeshe,

      Thank you for your comment. I am ecstatic that you are feeling HAPPY! "Feeling like I don't have the right to feel good until everyone gets a break" is something I struggle with often, too. I think it shows incredible compassion, but we know, deep down, that we cannot serve others or be there for them if we don't first take care to guard our own hearts and minds and take care of ourselves.

      That's so cool about the boundary bubble's existence in your life! ♥ Debbie

  2. I used to visit an old age home. Last year one of such visit triggered a long depression phase. I thought of plight of old people and got depressed. I also started thinking what if I was in place of them. I felt helpless and scared not only for them but also for myself and lost almost two months of my life on bed... with an emptiness all around.

    This bubble technique seems really great.

    1. Hi Jeevs,

      How nice of you to do this with your time, and I'm so sorry that you were triggered in the process. I am so glad that you might use the bubble technique to help you.

      We tend to be VERY compassionate people, but as the Buddha said, if you compassion doesn't include yourself, it is incomplete. We must protect our hearts, too.

      ♥ Debbie

  3. Thank you for this! You too, huh? I take in feral cats, feral men that are homeless, women as well. (learned a BIG lesson on that one). My heart actually aches for these people and animals....I've been putting my bubble around me quite a bit lately and it feels really safe and good, the luminescence of the bubble around me, like a rainbow. I do that, and also I imagine white light coming out the top of my head and surrounding my body. For my pain, physical, I do alot of visualization and biofeedback, meditation/mindfulness songs or pan flute. Thank you for this article. Somebody is kinda just like me, now I don't feel so bad about it. We are DEEP. ;)
    And that's a good thing...embrace it instead of fighting it. ya know.

    1. You are too funny Lori! :) Thank you also for sharing your method for visualization and for acknowledging that we are good and kind people, and we must also take care of ourselves!



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