Establishing appropriate boundaries is a crucial aspect of living a functional existence. For me, as an activist, hoping to educate and assist people affected by bipolar, boundaries are critical in order to adhere to my mission.

I don’t really have any boundaries established at the moment, however. I’m actually quite pathetic at it.

It has been conveyed to me recently, that I have never developed this skill properly, and I concur with the assessment. When approaching this subject, at first glance, I decided my lack of expertise in this area disqualified me from discussing it. However, I considered it further, and decided that if I only approach topics, which I feel I am well qualified to discuss, then I omit the opportunity to dig deeper into personal flaws and gain insight and connection with others on these subjects.

Therefore, in the spirit of personal growth and honesty, I have elected to describe one of my many shortcomings. My amazing life-coach, related my approach to creating boundaries, to the term “idiot compassion.”

I laughed out loud when she said this.

I did not laugh out of offense, but rather absurdity.  How could anyone be both an idiot and compassionate simultaneously? It didn’t make sense to me in that moment.

Pema Chodron describes this trait in the following way:

Idiot compassion is a great expression, which was actually coined by Trungpa Rinpoche. It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. Basically, you’re not giving them what they need. You’re trying to get away from your feeling of I can’t bear to see them suffering. In other words, you’re doing it for yourself. You’re not really doing it for them.”


As this relates to my own life, I find that I am far too willing to give my time, energy, and emotional output to those people in the bipolar community (and beyond) who are suffering because I can not bear the idea of permanent turmoil in another human being. I do this without appropriate time limits, respect for my personal needs, and without specific training to adequately assist many people with issues relating to our mutual disorder. I am an R.N. not a therapist, and my perspective is derived from my own suffering and experience with bipolar. While that skill set is real, it has limitations, which need to be respected.

That is not to say that communication with like-minded people, nor my heart-felt desire to positively impact them, is all for waste. It is not. But it does need to come with a healthy respect for my own life and utilizing the skills I do possess. It is reasonable to attempt to impact this demographic through writing and medical research, personal recounting, and reflecting on other people’s experiences. That is how I intend to make an impact moving forward.

That said, when I’m answering my 65th personal email (instead of writing articles), still in my pajamas at midnight, unfed, unwashed, and yet still eager to help – this is idiot compassion. Again, It is because I can not bear to see the suffering before me, and I only wish to impact positive change for others. While this can be categorized as loving, it is highly misguided as well, and serving my own need to see the “end of suffering” which is a rather arrogant notion devoid of the recognition that suffering will persist. It serves my own ego to some extent and it is profoundly wishful.

All supporters of those who have bipolar need boundaries, so we may be present for others when they require it, without causing damage to ourselves. As bipolar people it is especially important that we respect our personal needs as much as possible, before committing to helping another person equally afflicted.

We must maintain routines, adhere to our personal treatment protocol, allow time for introvert and extroverts alike to recharge, consume nutritious food, and create environments of peace and order. I find this to be imperative to maintaining wellness. It is absolutely crucial.

I often think the grandiose tendencies that bipolar is associated with, has made me blind to boundaries in general. In some sense this is a gift, as I can imagine lofty goals, and often come close to obtaining them. Occasionally, I can actually accomplish that which I set in motion simply because I do not register the potential for defeat. Of course, I have also tasted utter failure, which can be a natural bi-product of trying.

As it relates to compassion, my hope for us all, is that we are able to balance our true needs (to take extra care of our sensitive spirits and minds) with our desire to make a measurable impact in the world, based on our individual goals.

Also, it must be said that when relating to people with bipolar, telling them to “get help” might be the most sincere form of compassion you can offer them, although that may leave you feeling helpless and useless, it is in fact the best advice (regardless of the reception) that you can offer at times.

This is my goal: Be caring, intelligent, and impactful, while also recognizing my own aptitude and self-care in the process.

I hope that acting by this mantra will allow me to be more effective for those who connect with me. For those of you who have mastered this skill, I am amazed at your inner strength, and wise approach. I have so much left to learn.

** Up next… a series of articles explaining my view on treatment options. It’s time to get my glasses out and move into nerd mode. I can’t wait.

Woman with laptop image available from Shutterstock.