I was all in, trying to identify a workable solution for a friend who was, quite literally, fighting for her life. I’ll call her Tracy.

Over a few weeks last spring, I had quickly become Tracy’s “person,” providing hours of emotional support and jumping in with logistical help to manage the complexities of her life following a complicated medical diagnosis (where she should live, who could help with caretaking, etc.). The weight of the efforts consumed me. It was as if I were siphoning Tracy’s pain, and some of it was slipping inside me.

One afternoon, I was talking with another friend of Tracy’s about the potential of moving her across the country. We needed to assess where she would have the strongest support network, as well as the best medical care. I was on the phone and suddenly, I couldn’t talk. Words had simply vanished. Not only had my mind gone blank, nothing was coming out of my mouth. I was frozen, my throat tight. My third chakra had completely shut down. An energetic wall, like a forcefield, had come down in front of me. Knowing I had to say something, I managed to squeak, “I’m so sorry, I think I need to let you go.”

I ended the call and cried. Gushing tears released the pent-up energy. After the tears, I knew, with unflinching certainty: I was done.

A wall had come down between me and the situation I had created with Tracy. Maybe it was from my higher self, maybe it was from a guardian angel, maybe it was from God, but I had never felt a boundary so clearly as I did in that moment.

When the wave of emotion passed, I told my husband what I had come to understand: “I need to go back to being her friend. I can’t be her caretaker.”

And without an ounce of doubt, completely clear in my intention, I cancelled the Zoom planning session scheduled for that night with Tracy and the others in her support network. I backed out of an overnight stay at her house and went to visit her for dinner instead.

She knew something had shifted. I was able to share my new understanding. And she heard me.

Yet how could I not be a caretaker for a friend who so desperately needed care?

The answer was simple: boundaries, the concept that’s a struggle for so many of us.

As a child I was taught one of the most important life lessons I hold to this day:


“You cannot interfere in someone else’s environment without their permission.”


Did I have permission to do the things I had been doing, scheduling Zoom sessions with her friends, stepping in to manage her life? Sort of. Barely. I was putting on the Wonder Woman cape, taking it upon myself to decide what needed to be done. I went into super coach role, spending hours counseling Tracy. I went into planner mode, orchestrating matters to make Tracy’s life easier. I located mental health professionals and made appointments. I jumped in fully to save the day—but most of it wasn’t improving her situation and all of it was depleting me.

The distinction between enabling versus supporting is a very fine line. We on the “healthy” side of disease and mental instability can often see the path that “needs” to be taken. We have clarity on what we believe should happen to calm down situations, and we are convinced it’s our work, our calling, to jump in and save the day. But you can’t save someone from their karma, a rule my astrologer Eric Meyers reminds me of frequently. You can’t do the work for them. And you shouldn’t do any of it uninvited. I was beginning to question if Tracy even wanted me to do any of these things.

This experience was a wake-up call.

Today, Tracy and I are in a good place and, more importantly, once I stepped aside, she navigated what she needed to do for herself and ended up in a good place. That sensation, the literal energetic wall that came down, was visceral. And now it informs those times in my life when I begin to take control and overstep my reach, times with other friends and loved ones.

Understanding how to keep and hold boundaries is one of our greatest life lessons.

It’s a theme that comes up quite often in my coaching practice.

How can we be more cognizant of when boundaries need to be created? Try running through these questions before engaging in a situation with someone else:

  • Are they clearly asking for my help?
  • Am I the best and only person to help with this, or are there are other/better resources?
  • Am I losing any piece of myself in giving to them?
  • What are the repercussions if I say no?
  • Is it my ego that wants to help? Is it unhealthy conditioning running on autopilot?


Being mindful in our relationships and intentional in our actions is critical to creating healthy boundaries.



People who consistently require a lot from us without giving in return are known as energy vampires. I read Dodging Energy Vampires by Christiane Northrup; here are some takeaways I gleaned from the book:

Some people come to us to take a hit off our energy. I can now see this clearly with another friend I’ll call Marie. Marie comes to me frequently when she’s in crisis and insists that I right things. She practically demands my help. And I always do. Well, I did—and felt like such a good friend. Now I see that she feeds off me, almost like a drug.

Northrup explains that “If there were no drama, the energy vampires would have to look at the spiritual side of life. But they are afraid of it. Trauma and drama are comfortable. … And if we don’t recognize our role in keeping this drama going – which is attempting to be their Higher Power by being available all the time and having all the answers – then we risk losing ourselves and enabling them to stay stuck.”

That one hit home.

I’m all about being someone’s higher power—it’s a power trip after all. It’s also unhelpful for both parties. This is an ego pattern I need to continue to unlearn.

Have you heard of a hungry ghost? I hadn’t either until I read this in her book: “In Buddhism, this kind of person has been called a ‘hungry ghost,’ meaning that they have no inner sense of self. They have an abyss inside that can’t be filled no matter how much you love and attend to them. They have frequent intense displays of anger. And are very manipulative.” A hungry ghost,  someone with an abyss where their sense of self should be. This concept has started to bring clarity to situations I’ve encountered with others who are, well, lost. Where I once thought “I can save them!”, I now stop and ask, “Wait, what’s my role in this drama?”

That said, I have a lot more learning to do on this topic and I find myself hungry for more information, for more understanding. Conscious living invites us to identify what we are able to do and what we are not. Boundaries are healthy for everyone, and asking people for permission before proceeding is truly the highest level of consent.

In this new year, let’s look at the relationships around us and understand our roles in enabling unhealthy patterns.

greyzone Newsletter

Free Career Tips. Delivered.

Join the greyzone mailing list for fresh insights and perspectives to take your career out of the greyzone.

You have Successfully Subscribed!