Why changemakers find it hard to set healthy boundaries

Choosing to become a regenerative cell within the ecosystems of which we are a part, is where ripples of wholeness begins. When we hold a vision of thriving for everyone and everything, we are in the same breath invited to take radical responsibility for our wellbeing by setting healthy boundaries at home and at work.

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Emily Johnsson
Emily Johnsson
Nurturing changemakers for a whole world.

Since we are all part of systems that are degenerative and co-dependent in nature, few of us actually know how to set healthy boundaries in all the different parts of our lives.

We may be great in some areas, but struggle in others.

For some reason, this seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for changemakers. Why? we may ponder.

The reason we become changemakers is that we care – care deeply about people and planet.

Sometimes that well of care inside us is there because caring about and for others has become part of our very identity, or who we have always been. And sometimes the reason for that is not always entirely healthy, even though on the surface, it can seem innocent and pure.

If we find that we are not consistently setting supportive boundaries, over-give even in small ways, feel overwhelmed frequently, overwork or keep moving from exhaustion to recovery, chances are that we are putting other people’s needs before our own, or are driven by a need to do good so that we can feel like we are enough in the world. All in the name of ‘caring for others’.

When we struggle to set healthy boundaries, we often have an underlying fear of rejection.

Our pattern is feeling a sense of relief or ease only when other people’s needs are met, expecting other people to change or trying to change other people. Eventually, this can lead us to feel depleted, exhausted, trapped, experience resentment and burn-out.

A lack of healthy boundaries is a symptom of co-dependency.

Co-dependency is when we are pre-occupied by the needs of others. If we grew up in family contexts where we weren’t fully seen by our caregivers, chances are that we learned to anticipate the needs of others in order to feel safe.

When love is conditional when we are small, we will make sure we do what we can to adapt, otherwise we will be rejected, neglected, abandoned, alone.

Prioritising other people’s needs can become a way for us to earn our right to be here: to be useful and enough.

This leads to over-giving. We give to get: get love, attention, approval.

When we give from a fear of rejection, we don’t know how to listen to our own needs. When we do feel them, we often think it is wrong of us to have them.

And when we bring this pattern into our work as changemakers, we tend to neglect our self-nourishment, have difficulties saying no and experience burn-out.

Healthy boundaries are a function of us knowing that we don’t need to earn our right to be here. We have nothing to prove and no-one to please.

Healthy boundaries enable us to live and work with integrity. Be part of life, as life. Without needing to fight to belong to it.

Self-nourishment is one of the four pillars of Wish Tree’s self-leadership model, and is neither about being so absorbed by ourselves that we live beyond our planetary means, nor don’t care about others.

It’s instead about understanding that when we don’t care for ourselves, we, in fact, don’t care for the whole.

When we give ourselves permission to start interrupting boundary-less patterns of relating to others and say yes to nourishing ourselves well, we not only say a loving yes to life, but we move from degenerative and co-dependent to interdependent and regenerative ways of operating in the world, and as such set ripples of wholeness in motion that interrupt the status quo.

If you recognise yourself in any of these behaviours, you may benefit from working with a qualified therapist that specialises in co-dependency. You may also want to check out Wish Tree’s wholeness immersion The Wounded Changemaker, and /or download the Wish Tree Summer Journal – filled with self-nourishment practises that strengthen your relationship with caring for your own wellbeing consistently.

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About Emily & White Supremacy

Emily is a space holder and self-leadership coach to changemakers. She has over 20 years experience in the field of human development, learning and growth, and leads the coaching and consultancy company Wish Tree since 2011. Her work centres around wholeness – whole humans, whole communities, whole organisations, whole ecosystems. A whole world. Her changemakership is therefore dedicated to clearing distortions and fragmentations that relate to our perceptions of separation.

Emily has been exposed to and ‘sat with’ systemic issues around race, racism, privilege and injustice her whole life. She was born in Camden, London, in the late 1970s to a Swedish immigrant single mum and spent her first formative years in a highly culturally and ethnically diverse setting. As a baby, Emily and her mum lived in a bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family. Her first memory of Father Christmas was of him as a Bangladeshi man. Emily’s mum worked with refugee families and in Children’s Homes in inner city London, and since she had no access to child care opportunities, Emily joined her at work. For a while, Emily had an older Black British foster sister called Debbie. She was very often the only white child in the community of children of which she was a part.

Emily moved to Sweden with her mum as a child and as a teenager became involved with, and led, antiracism youth work in her local town through her school and council-initiated networks in the 1990s.

Her mum, who was active in the peace-and- environmental movement and who had been involved as an ally in the civil rights movement in the US on her travels there, introduced her to Black feminist and activist writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Audre Lord, and actively taught her about white privilege, white supremacy and the truth of colonialism. She was also taught about the importance of learning from Indigenous wisdom keepers in order to heal and evolve as humanity, and to (in those days) stop climate change.

In contrast, on her father’s side, Emily is of British Colonial descent. Emily’s grandmother was born in Zimbabwe to Scottish sheep-farmers. Her grandfather came from a poor English background but won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study law. As many young British men of his time who sought “adventure, a good job and travel”, Emily’s grandfather joined the colonial service in the final days of the British Empire, and served in several African countries as a high-ranking colonial officer. He spoke Zulu and Emily’s father spoke Swazi and Swahili before being sent to Britain as a child to attend boarding school, thousands of miles away from his parents.

Although Emily did not grow up with her father or his family, she eventually came to know them and have a relationship with them, which involved taking responsibility for understanding and healing her own familial and ancestral relationship to colonialism and white supremacy.

In this process, she came to see, feel and understand first hand and close up, the deeper psychological workings of the system of white supremacy, the colonial mind and its intimate links with narcissism, perfectionism, patriarchy and extractive economies and behaviours.

Between 2003-2015, Emily worked as a learning researcher and Access, Diversity and Inclusion enabler in the Arts & Cultural Sector, deeply rooted in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Convention. She worked across the U.K and Scandinavia contributing to a number of large scale change projects, self-evaluation initiatives, conferences and trainings such as “Access for All”, “Inspiring Learning for All”, “Belonging – the Voices of London’s Refugees”, “The West Indian Front Room”, “Kultur och Fritid för Alla”, “Vidgat Deltagande”, “In this curriculum I don’t exist”, “In between two worlds – London teenagers’ ideas about Black History, Belonging and being British” to name a few. She worked with a wide range of marginalised communities as well as with leaders and directors holding white privilege, facilitating necessary and brave conversations challenging the status quo.

Emily has worked across many cultures and languages around the world from Sri Lanka to South Africa, Costa Rica and India to Romania and Denmark, continuously reflecting on and challenging white saviour tendencies. In this process has come to observe how white supremacy and racism works differently in different countries depending on context and history.

In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Emily became a loud voice in the Wellness industry by calling in leaders bypassing white supremacy through ‘love and light’ rhetoric, exceptionalism, colourblindness and virtue signalling. She closed down several online coaching circles because white participants were unwilling to dive deeper into their own internalised white supremacy, and rendered the spaces not only additionally unsafe, but traumatising for BIPOC clients. Her platform and large facebook community for coaches and wellbeing facilitators centred BIWOC-led anti-racism conversations as a response.

Emily is a skilled and fiercely loving coach and space-holder with many years experience of creating safe spaces for accountability, healing, integration and growth to take place.

She is dedicated to her own ongoing learning, healing and unlearning of covert white supremacy. Examples of this are continuous learning from a wide range of anti-racism educators, authors and activists from around the world.

This bio has not been written with the intention of centring Emily in the context of Me & White Supremacy, but to transparently share about her background, values, skills and experience in order for you to make a conscious decision to choose her as a space-holder, or not.

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