I’ll never forget the first time I discovered that boundaries can help heal a heartache. Decades ago, I drove home a few weeks after a painful break-up. As I parked in front of my apartment, a favorite song came on the radio. Suddenly, the tears I’d been holding back for weeks came pouring out. In the safety of my car, I sobbed my way through that song in a way I rarely had cried before. It’s exactly what my broken heart needed.
Heartache needs the safety that boundaries can provide. Some grieving friends report they’ll cry in the shower; some in the arms of a loved one. Still others turn to a counselor’s office to dip into the well of heartache. Regardless the method:
When your heart is aching, you need a safe place to feel the pain, without becoming overwhelmed by it.
When your heart is broken – whether a relationship is crumbling, a loved one has passed away, or you’re aching on behalf of a child or a friend – you need more than just insight. A part of you also needs to feel the pain so that it can be released and healed. You need a safe place to shift out of left-brain analysis (What went wrong?!) and into right-brain emotion (This hurts!) (For more on healing and trauma, see Bessel van der Kolk’s excellent book, The Body Keeps the Score.)
Both insight and emotion are important on the road to healing. The problem is that most of rush to analysis or insight and bypass the painful feelings. We fear that if we let ourselves “go there,” the pain might be too great.
That’s where boundaries come in. Boundaries help heal a heartache in a way that honors the pain of your experience, without becoming overwhelmed by it. Let me explain more about how.
Boundaries help you keep the bad out.
If you had an open wound on your arm or leg, you would wrap it carefully and treat it with care. For example, you might not go swimming and you’d be careful when you worked out.
Just as you would keep harmful elements from a wound on your physical body, you need to keep harmful elements from a wound to your heart. Here are some things you might want to keep out:
- Unhelpful platitudes or pat answers that minimize your pain (even if well-intended.)
- Unwanted advice you’re not ready to receive or intrusive questions you’re not ready to answer.
- Premature encouragement to get on with your life. (Healing takes time.)
If you have friends or family members that tread heavily on open wounds, it’s OK to keep your broken heart protected. That doesn’t mean you have to remove yourself from every social interaction. But it does mean that you need to be very careful about who you choose to confide in. A polite, “Thanks for asking; I’m taking good care of myself” is all you need to say to ward off a potentially harmful interaction.
Boundaries help you let the good in.
Your heartache also needs a safe place to feel what it feels in a contained, supported way. Here are some examples of what you might want to let in:
- Loving presence –people who can be with you without the need to fix you.
- A safe space –a set time and place where you can feel the pain without it overwhelming you.
- Nourishing activities – rhythms of work and rest that remind you that you’re loved, valuable, and alive.
Notice what your heartache craves – maybe certain music, a specific place, or the presence of a good friend. Then, schedule time with those healing people or places with intention. Tell them what you need.
When your heart is breaking, boundaries help you let the good, healing balm in and keep the harmful toxins out. They help you create a safe space so that you can feel the pain without letting it overwhelm you.
As you set gentle boundaries on behalf of your heartache, it will start to heal. And as it does it will become a beautiful aspect of who you are.
–Heartache teaches you to care well for yourself. When your heart is breaking, you have no choice but to slow down a bit, go easy on yourself, and seek the comfort of caring friends. It helps you discern the good, loving, and healing people and things in your life that you may not have noticed before.
–Heartache can draw you closer to God. When logic fails and nothing makes sense, we experience God in a new way. We fall into the arms of love, even when we don’t understand.
–Heartache breeds compassion. When you’ve tended to your own heartache, you’re far more likely to be a channel of empathy and healing presence for others.
When you’re hurting, don’t let you heartache overwhelm you, but don’t shove it away. Instead, create a safe space where your pain can be heard, honored, and understood so that you can heal.
God is never closer than when your heart is aching. – Joni Eareckson Tada
For more on setting boundaries with sadness, check out Chapter 11 of Boundaries For Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies