Because of the business I’m in, I have daily encounters with emotionally and cognitively bruised individuals. I’m talking here about people who have something in their pasts, ancient or recent, that emotionally compromises them and makes it impossible for them to act in a reasonable manner.

In a group setting, this often means that they dominate every conversation. They might know that others are impatient or annoyed with them but because they can’t control themselves, they don’t care much. Often, when stopped, they respond with a “Yes, but,” expressing the sense that it is their right to expound ad nauseum. At the same time, they cannot recognize the social rights of anyone else in the room. Their narcissism is so extreme or their mania is so pronounced, it’s almost impossible to draw a breath. They have literally hogged the oxygen supply.

When this happens in my groups, it’s important that I not allow such individuals too much of the stage. It wouldn’t be fair to the others. However, in a one-on-one setting, this lack of boundaries is even more challenging to navigate.

You see, part of the way that I work is by offering a very generous supply of my heart and mind. I don’t just listen; I empathize strongly and resonate to the people I work with. It helps them to feel that they are not alone on their journeys; I am with them.

However, in cases such as those I have been describing, this warmth and care can backfire. These particular individuals entitle themselves to pull out all the stop and violate all the professional boundaries between therapist and patient. They misread my therapeutic intentions and come to believe that we have some kind of an amazing personal, rather than clinical, connection.

There’s no way I can or have any interest in being their savior, best friend, or mother. When I refuse to fulfill the criteria for the relationship they have invented, they blame me for making them believe that I would. It’s a recipe for disappointment and rejection.

Unfortunately, the situation itself is unavoidable. I know who I am, and I guard my compassion and understanding fiercely. It’s my desire to help people, inspire them, and give them hope. How they respond is not in my control. The only thing in my control is how I act if something goes awry. I know that in that case, it’s my responsibility to straighten it out.

I always believe there’s a glimmer of sanity inside to which I can present some reasonable argument in favor of a modicum of control, restraint, respect, and boundaries. I always feel there’s somebody inside with some brains and heart that I can reach.