The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

Yup. Here comes another one of my theories that probably isn’t original with me. We often measure people by how we feel about them. We talk about how much we love this person or dislike that person. My theory is that there’s an entirely separate system of measurement which should be taken just as seriously—that of emotional space.

Some people just take up more emotional space in our lives than others do, and for the most part that’s not a good thing. Quite often you can measure how resistant you are to change, or how low your self-esteem is, by how much emotional space you allow people to take up in your life, often to your detriment.

For example, let’s say you have two brothers and you love them both equally. But one, Andy, just seems to have more in common with you. Andy is comfortable to be around. He “gets” you. He’s the person you go to for advice. You finish each others’ sentences. He is a positive force in your life. You love him to pieces, but he doesn’t take up much emotional space, and that’s the healthiest relationship you can possibly have with another person. That’s what you should strive for.

Your other brother, Leroy, on the other hand, just seems to suck the life out of you. When he calls you, it’s just as likely to be to bail him out of jail as it is to tell you happy birthday. He shows up intoxicated for Thanksgiving and makes an a** of himself. He’s always bringing drama into your life. You love Leroy, but he makes you worry. He makes you cry. He makes you shout. And he makes you feel guilty because when he leaves your house, you’re usually relieved. If ever you want to have a healthy relationship with Leroy, you need to find ways to reduce the amount of emotional space he takes up in your life. Because, you see, that is your choice, not his. He doesn’t get to decide. You do. My advice would be for you to start by reading the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.

The emotional space yardstick also works with people whom you dislike. For example, you really can’t stand your Aunt Lola. She’s Uncle Carson’s third wife, and why he bothered marrying an exotic dancer who is 50 years his junior you will never know, but there you have it. She’s now a part of the family. She doesn’t take up very much emotional space in your life, however, because they live 600 miles away, and you only run into them at the occasional wedding or family reunion. She looms much larger in your cousin’s life, because she is convinced that Lola is trying to get her written out of the will. While you can commiserate with your cousin, you’re not losing much sleep over the situation yourself.

But you also dislike your coworker, Dave, and he’s making your life a living hell. You lose quite a bit of sleep over Dave, as he undermines your work every chance he gets. You also are developing ulcers and a nervous twitch. You are pouring so much of your energy into the situation that you’re actually starting to undermine your own work. You might want to consider learning whatever lesson you’re supposed to learn from Dave, then gain some perspective, take disciplinary action if absolutely necessary, and move on to more productive obsessions.

Take a moment to think about those people whom you have allowed to take up the most emotional space in your life. Now ask yourself what would really happen if you reduced that emotional space to a more manageable size. How would you do that? And what would happen if you did? In what ways would your life improve? Only you can determine your boundaries, and only you can make those boundaries perfectly clear to those around you. You are the surveyor of your own life. Only you can determine what’s out of bounds.

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10 thoughts on “The Emotional Space Theory

  1. Carole Lewis says:

    Well, once again you have hit the nail on the head. Sometimes, we get what amounts to trickle down stress. Although it seemingly is happening to a family member and not you, the family member is so stressed that they must tell you everything to vent. This might allow them a few minutes of clarity of their situation and make them feel better for a short while, but then you realize that your show of sympathy or compassion, brings that stress into your own life. Worse, you may have another area of your life that provides you with enough. Double wammy.

    1. “Trickle Down Stress” Love the term! And I totally agree. It’s very hard to remember to guard against that. At the risk of setting the women’s movement back about 60 years, I’ll say that women, in particular, do this. I know I have to actually have a little conversation with myself to remind myself that this is the other person’s property, not mine. Once I’ve said that, I find it easier to let go of it. Oh, I’ll do what I can to help, of course, but I try really hard not to take the stress on board. It’s against my instincts, and against the way I was brought up, but I’ll try to do it.

  2. Vicky says:

    Amen again.

    1. 🙂 Thanks Vicky. As you well know, this is something I seem to be struggling with these days. But I’m getting there!

  3. I have a theory that people who have too many theories are, in theory, just theoretically trying to prove that their theories are not stolen from other theorists.
    But I don’t want to take up too much of your emotional space… with just a theory…

    1. Well, that certainly makes sense. In theory.

      1. I have a theory about that…

  4. Carole Lewis says:

    I have ordered the book Codependent No More for my Daughter, Hope it gives her some understanding and relief. Thank You so much for the mention.

    1. That book has changed my life, and I don’t say that about many books, despite being an avid reader. Hope it helps.

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