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.