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Archive for the ‘Boundaries’ Category

Addressing the Fear of Confronting a Toxic Person

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

The following was written to address general unsafe behavior and may not be applicable for situations where abuse is/was present. If you have been in a relationship where abuse was present, please seek the help of a counselor and/or law enforcement.

As any psychologist will tell you, fear is stronger when we fear becoming afraid. This is called fear of fear. Suppose you need to confront a toxic person about their attitude, but you’re afraid they might retaliate. So you stay happy and positive on the outside but remain dissatisfied on the inside.

The longer you ignore the fear, the more you will activate it. And since the fear is associated with an uncomfortable outcome, having it burrow around in your mind naturally gives you an uncomfortable feeling. Eventually, you learn to avoid thinking about the fearful situation so you won’t have to keep feeling the fear. And the more you avoid feeling that fear, the more afraid of it you become. It’s a vicious cycle, and it doesn’t help you reach freedom and fulfillment you desire for your life.

If you’re experiencing this downward spiral, begin allowing yourself to tolerate fear. Let yourself feel the anxiety and scared feelings you have about the wrath of this toxic person. The more you do this, the more you will realize that things might get unpleasant, but you can make it through their anger.

Another aspect of fear is that the less control and power you feel, the greater the fear. Fear is a danger signal. It says, “Protect yourself! Run!” And if you don’t feel any sense of control or power over your life and choices, you experience yourself as powerless, unsafe and vulnerable. You are at the mercy of the danger, and you can’t protect yourself. It’s a horrible feeling, and it gives fear a strength it shouldn’t have.

The antidotes are to see the reality that you are not helpless. You have choices, all the choices that a mature adult has. You’re not someone’s slave, victim or little child. You can relate to them, talk to them as an adult, and if you have to, protect yourself from any toxicity that might be thrown at you. Remind yourself that you have choices. This will give you access to all the control and power that you need.

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Relational Conflict: The Four Horsemen — The Antidotes

SOURCE:  Ellie Lisitsa/The Gottman Institute

All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately, our research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and understanding.

And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural personality differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage those problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will succeed.

The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. But, like Newton’s Third Law, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.

You can download a free PDF version of the The Four Horsemen and Their Antidotes here.

The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up

A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism attacks a person’s very character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.

To put it simply, think of these two things to formulate your soft start-up: What do I feel? What do I need?

Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. Why are you always so selfish?”

Antidote: “I’m feeling left out of our talk tonight and I need to vent. Can we please talk about my day?”

Notice that the antidote starts with “I feel,” leads into “I need,” and then respectfully asks to fulfill that need. There’s no blame or criticism, which prevents the discussion from escalating into an argument.

The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs.

The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that. One of our mottos is Small Things Often: if you regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel or express contempt!

Another way that we explain this is our discovery of the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. If you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you’re making regular deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship in the green.

Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)

Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”

The antidote here works so well because it expresses understanding right off the bat. This partner shows how they know that the lack of cleanliness isn’t out of laziness or malice, and so they do not make a contemptuous statement about their partner or take any position of moral superiority.

Instead, this antidote is a respectful request, and it ends with a statement of appreciation.

The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility

Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.

Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re going to be late. It’s your fault since you always get dressed at the last second.”

Antidote: “I don’t like being late, but you’re right. We don’t always have to leave so early. I can be a little more flexible.”

By taking responsibility for part of the conflict (trying to leave too early), even while asserting that they don’t like to be late, this partner prevents the conflict from escalating by admitting their role in the conflict. From here, this couple can work towards a compromise.

The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing

Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage. And when couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.

In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes of an argument and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction was more positive and productive.

What happened during that half hour? Each partner, without even knowing it, physiologically soothed themselves by reading and avoiding discussion. They calmed down, and once they felt calm, they were able to return to the discussion in a respectful and rational way.

Therefore, the antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout:

“Look, we’ve been through this over and over again. I’m tired of reminding you—”

“Honey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to take a break. Can you give me twenty minutes and then we can talk?”

If you don’t take a break, you’ll find yourself either stonewalling and bottling up your emotions, or you’ll end up exploding at your partner, or both, and neither will get you anywhere good.

So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.

You’ve got the skills. Use them!

Now that you know what the Four Horsemen are and how to counteract them with their proven antidotes, you’ve got the essential tools to manage conflict in a healthy way. As soon as you see criticism or contempt galloping in, remember their antidotes. Be vigilant. The more you can keep the Four Horsemen at bay, the more likely you are to have a stable and happy relationship.

Saying No is Enough — You Don’t Have to Justify It

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Psychologists spend an enormous amount of energy building psychological tests, assessments and the like, and then administering them to people to help them understand themselves. This practice is very helpful in many settings, from work to education, to couples and individuals. Insight into ourselves and others is really helpful for a number of reasons. I believe in good, validated testing.

But one of the best tests for our psychological well-being, the tenor of the family or work culture we live in, and the health of our relationships, is free and can be self-administered. All you have to do is monitor the internal response you have when you want to say the word “no.”

Let’s start with ourselves.

What happens when someone you love, someone you want to please or maybe even someone whose anger or frustration you fear, wants you to do something that you do not want to do? I do not mean the kind of need or desire that will call for sacrifice, effort or even discomfort from us, that we don’t “want to do,” but is something we still choose to do out of love, duty or the desire to help. That is life-giving and good. Great relationships, families, friendships, and businesses are only built when people can get beyond their own self-centeredness and sacrifice for the greater good and others.

The situations I am talking about are the ones where you truly do not want to perform that particular gift of time or energy. It is not something you truly want to give. It is a request to which your real, heartfelt answer, is “no.” What happens inside?

Here is the psychological test: when you know your answer is “no,” do you begin to scramble for a good reason to justify your “no”? Do you have an internal pressure to find a good, acceptable excuse? Like a parent’s note to the principal’s office?

The pressure to “justify” literally means the pressure “to show something to be right.” Think about that. Why does this person have that psychological authority over you, to see if your reason is “right” or “wrong”? Certainly, if a judge orders you to appear in court, she has the authority to do that, and if you are not going to be there, you do have to “justify” your absence, or there are consequences.

But in relationships, there supposedly is no “judge,” but only people who freely give love, time and energy to each other. So how is it that a simple “no, thank you, but I am going to miss that dinner,” can immediately internally marshal emotional resources to “look for a good reason,” to make it a “right” decision? Why do you have to “justify” your “no”? No is a complete sentence in its own right.

So, when you feel that kind of pressure, let that be a psychological or relationship assessment, or test. If the pressure to justify is there, it reveals a lack of freedom in the relationship at some level. Remember, I am NOT saying that we do not often do things that we do not “feel” like doing for the sake of others or a relationship. Sacrifice is key to any good relationship. What I am referring to is the freedom to say “no” to the sacrifices we do not choose to make. While bosses and governments have the authority to require a good excuse, love doesn’t ask for that. Love respects freedom. Love thrives in freedom. Love requires freedom.

In the best relationships, “no” certainly might be questioned, and it might reveal some problem, but usually is not “judged.” There is a big difference. When your “no” feels like it is subject to judgment, and you feel like you need a good “excuse,” let that be a signal that you might have a lack of freedom. Then, take the second step: do something with the test results!

When your doctor gets a test result that shows an issue, he or she has a discussion with you. So, in your relationships, it might be time for a good conversation: “Sometimes, I feel like it is not ok with you if I want to say ‘no’ to sex, or to some event or the way we spend our time or money. I don’t really feel free to say ‘no,’ like I truly have a choice. I want to talk about that to see if that is in my head, or really in our relationship because I want us to have the freedom to say ‘no’ to each other and have that be ok.”

The best families sometimes say things like these: “No, we won’t be there for that holiday this year. We are going to be spending that one at home.” “No, we have made a different choice which school he is going to attend.” “No, I don’t want to do that right now.” And in good relationships, the response is not one that requires some excuse to justify the “no.”

Instead, the response sounds more like: “Oh, really? Where are you guys going this year? Sounds great. We will miss you, but I hope it goes well. I am happy for you!”

Self-centered people say “no” to almost every request that will not feel good to them or will cause some sort of sacrifice. That is not good. When we never say “yes” to someone else’s wishes, there is something wrong in that relationship. But the opposite is just as troublesome: the inability to say “no” or the pressure to “justify” it every time you do. Remember, you are not there to judge each other, but to love each other and build something together. That does not require a “yes” to everything someone wants. But it does require the freedom to decide when to say “yes,” when to say “no” and the mutual respect that brings that freedom.

So, take the test. Monitor how much internal freedom you feel in your most significant relationships. Let the lab results tell you something….you may be in great health! Or, there may be a good discussion to be had with yourself, or someone else, like your kids, spouse, partners, extended family, in-laws or whomever. If they are not in a courtroom, wearing a badge or signing your paycheck, have a discussion about where each of you needs to be free to say, “No, thank you,” as a complete sentence.

Stop Overindulging Your Children

Advice on how to meet all their needs, but not all their wants.

SOURCE:  Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby/Family Life

What do your children really need from you? Love, guidance, shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and an education.

That’s it.

Everything else is a want, a luxury: video games, gadgets, phones, the latest fashion—whatever new item their friends have.

Today, far too many parents fall for the “nag factor.” They know their kids are bombarded by ads telling them to buy certain products and that many parents are buying those products for their children. They know the pressure that comes from their children’s peers, and so they buy their kids far more “stuff” than they can even use, all in the hope that their children will fit in and be accepted by their peers.

According to a recent survey of youth commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, the average 12- to 17-year-old who asks a parent for products will ask nine times until the parents finally give in. For parents of tweens, the problem is particularly severe—more than 10 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds admit to asking their parents more than 50 times for products they’ve seen advertised. Kids have learned if they nag enough for long enough, parents will give in.

Parents, stop falling for the nag factor.

Refuse to overindulge your kids

Sadly, our self-absorbed society has told parents to help their kids feel good about themselves, that it’s the parents’ duty to make their children happy. But underneath it all, kids don’t need parents who make them happy. They need parents who will make them capable.

Dr. Connie Dawson, co-author of How Much Is Enough, writes:

When parents give children too much stuff that costs money, do things for children that they can do for themselves, do not expect children to do chores, do not have good rules, and let children run the family, parents are overindulging.

Here are some other signs of overindulgence. As you read them, watch for your weak spot:

1. Giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests:

  • Allowing a 5-year-old to dress like a pop star.
  • Allowing a 12-year-old to watch an R-rated movie.
  • Removing curfew from a 16-year-old with a new driver’s license.

2. Giving things to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s:

  • A mom buying her daughter the trendiest clothes, because Mom believes it’s a reflection on her own style.
  • A dad giving his son the “stand out” wheels at 16, so Dad’s friends—as well as his son’s friends—will think he’s “the man.”
  • A parent giving his or her children the best of the best in order to make the parent look successful.

3. Neglecting to teach children the life skills they need to survive in the “real” world beyond their home:

  • Tying shoes and dressing 4-year-olds who are perfectly capable of dressing themselves.
  • Doing the laundry for teenagers who are more than capable and need to learn to do it for themselves.

I admit that I slipped into overindulgence in raising my sons in more than one area. It’s important to realize the harm this can do to our children. According to one study conducted in 2001, children who are overindulged are more likely to grow up to believe the following:

  • It is difficult to be happy unless one looks good, is intelligent, rich, and creative.
  • My happiness depends on most people I know liking me.
  • If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a total failure.
  • I can’t be happy if I miss out on many of the good things in life.
  • Being alone leads to unhappiness.
  • If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates that the person doesn’t like me.
  • My happiness depends more on other people than it depends on me.
  • If I fail at my work, I consider myself a failure as a person.

So, for the sake of your children, stop overindulging them.

Instead, teach them the difference between a need and a want, and then make them work for their wants. For instance, rather than buying that new video game for your children, give them two options: Tell them they can place it on a wish list for a birthday or Christmas present, or they can do extra duties to earn the money to buy it themselves. If your children are willing to work for their “heart’s desire,” they’ll take better care of it, be more grateful for it, and think long and hard before turning a “want” into a “need” in the future.

Repairing the damage of overindulgence

Parents, you can begin to remedy the damage done by overindulgence by doing two things:

1. Help your kids cultivate patience. The truth is parents often prevent their children from learning patience. We’ve gotten just as caught up in our fast-food society as anyone else. We’ve forgotten that real life problems aren’t solved in 15 minutes, that it takes time to find solutions to everyday struggles. We’re the ones who try to speed things up for our kids.

So don’t be so quick to solve your children’s problems for them. A bit of a struggle is good for them.

2. Give children opportunities to develop responsibility and to feel valuable. Your children need your help if they are going to learn necessary life skills. They need you to give them regular chores or duties and to hold them accountable for taking care of those duties. In so doing, you will help your children become adults, not just grown-ups.

All children will at times engage in a power struggle when it comes to carrying out chores or duties. But if parents give in and don’t assign age-appropriate duties for their children, their kids will grow up to be irresponsible, which is heartbreaking for the parent and tragic for the children. No matter the age of the child, any duties you assign them should encompass these purposes:

  • Helping your child learn life skills.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of the family.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of society.

By giving your children opportunities to help and serve each other within the family, you’re preparing them to take care of themselves and go out and serve society.

Now that I’ve asked you not to overindulge your kids with their wants, I want to encourage you to overindulge them with love, real love. Love that molds and shapes them into the young men and women they are meant to become. Patiently help them develop patience, and with persistence and persuasion give them age-appropriate responsibilities. As you do these things, you’ll be preparing their hearts and minds to accept the responsibilities God has planned for them.


Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright ©2008, Jill Rigby. 

How to handle those who get angry at your boundaries

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

When you establish a new boundary with someone, the most common form of resistance is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves.

I’m going to give you six steps to consider when someone responds to your boundaries with anger:

1. Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem.

2. View anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot “get inside” you unless you allow it. Let the anger be in the other person.

3. Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves.

4. Make sure you have your support system in place. If you are going to set some limits with a person who has controlled you with anger, talk to the people in your support system first and make a plan. Know what you will say. Anticipate what the angry person will say, and plan your response.

5. Do not allow the angry person to get you angry. Keep a loving stance while “speaking the truth in love.” If we have boundaries, we will be separate enough to love.

6. Be prepared to use physical distance and other limits that enforce consequences. One woman’s life was changed when she realized that she could say, “I will not allow myself to be yelled at. I will go into the other room until you decide you can talk about this without attacking me. When you can do that, I will talk to you.”

If you keep your boundaries, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time, instead of “other control,” which has been destructive to them anyway. When they no longer have control over you, they will find a different way to relate.

Do You Have a Life-Controlling Problem?

SOURCE:  Living Free

“You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. And even though ‘I am allowed to do anything,’ I must not become a slave to anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12 NLT)

A life-controlling problem is anything that masters our life and blocks our spiritual growth. It may also be described as a life-controlling struggle, addiction, dependency, stronghold, besetting sin, slavery, or compulsive behavior.

When we hear life-controlling problem, we usually think of an addiction like drugs, alcohol, or gambling. However, anything that stands in the way of our spiritual growth and relationship with God or brings us under its power is a life-controlling problem. It may even be something positive–like work, sports, or ministry–that is controlling our life. Or we may become consumed with another person’s problem and try to fix it, allowing their problem to enslave us as well. We may be trapped by emotions that overwhelm us, emotions like grief, depression, and anger. Or our life-controlling problem may be a sinful attitude like bitterness, envy, or lust.

What about you? Is there anything in your life that is mastering you and blocking your spiritual growth?

Father, I really want to put you first in my life. Help me take an honest look at my life and discover anything that has become my master. In Jesus’ name . . .

———————————————————————————————————————————————————


These thoughts were drawn from …

 Living Free by Jimmy Ray Lee, D. Min. and Dan Strickland, M. Div.

How to Avoid Raising Codependent Kids

SOURCE:  MARK MERRILL

Shielding kids from consequences can have long-term consequences for parents. Take, for instance, my friend’s brother Bill. It started small when Bill was in first grade. Mom would do his chores so Bill wouldn’t get in trouble with Dad. Quickly, it moved to homework cover-ups and graduated to Mom covering when he skipped school; Dad lying to the police when he wrecked a car he didn’t have permission to drive, and increasingly large financial defaults. By the time Mom and Dad let Bill move back home after failing college (no questions asked), he felt entitled to every bailout that came his way. The bailouts just kept getting bigger, including $50,000 in a failed real estate venture.

We’re all concerned about keeping our kids safe and happy. But we raise our children to fly, not flop around the nest as the product of enabling parents. One day, we’re going to have to let go and, when we do, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re equipped and ready. If you want to avoid raising codependent kids, follow these 5 things early and often.

1. Expect more of them:

We all tend to rise to the level of expectation. A two-year-old can learn to pick up toys. A three-year-old can help to set the table. A four-year-old can take dirty clothes to the laundry room and learn how to operate the machine. The more, and the earlier, we train children to contribute, the more self-reliance will become a part of their DNA.

2. Allow (managed) natural consequences:

Typically, there is no better learning tool than to experience the consequence of behavior. A five-year-old refuses to clean up the toys in the middle of the floor? The toys visit the attic for a prescribed amount of time. A ten-year-old curses? Get a dictionary, then handwrite five acceptable words that mean the same thing, plus their complete definitions. Establish a direct line between behavior and a real-world result.

3. Be consistent:

Mom and Dad need to be on the same page because learning thrives where children know what to expect. When children understand that what they do or do not do makes a consistent and measurable difference in the quality of their life, they will become more likely to accept responsibility for themselves and work to impact the outcome more favorably.

4. Be clear:

Leave no doubt as to the outcome when encouraging children to accept responsibility. Then having made ourselves clear, we need to follow through. This is why it’s important not to threaten beyond our willingness to enforce. If we say, for example, “If you do that again, I will take away your phone for a month,” but then only take it away for one day, we have created a problem.

5. Trust them:

Having made ourselves clear, we must demonstrate trust by getting out of the way. We can’t expect a child to grow if we treat them as if they are incapable of doing what we ask. When they succeed, we congratulate. If they fail, we follow through on consequences because we believe they could have done better.

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