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Archive for the ‘Boundaries’ Category

Don’t Be Afraid to Let Someone Struggle

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

I want to share a story with you on how NOT to be ruled by fear.  
 
“I know that I hold on to people too long, way past when I know I have to make a change,” a CEO told me. “I have always done that, and it costs me.” 
 
“What are you afraid of?” I asked. 
 
“I don’t think I’m afraid,” he said. “I just don’t want to hurt them, and I always try to protect them.” 
 
“What’s the fear?” I asked again. 
 
It took him a while to get to it, but underneath it all, he was afraid for others to have to go through a struggle. 

The problem is that the brain is wired to avoid pain and anxiety.

Over time, when you continue to avoid things that cause you fear or anxiety, such as this CEO’s fear of letting someone struggle, a pattern builds up, causing you to respond almost automatically to any situations that would cause you anxiety. But you cannot allow a pattern of fear and avoidance rule you.

If you are afraid of making a mistake, you will never make bold moves. If you are afraid of upsetting or disappointing people, you will never be able to deal with discomfort in relationships. You’ll be the one who continues to struggle and suffer. 
 
In my experience, many great people go through a three-stage process when it comes to facing their fears. First, they fear it and put it off. Next, they push through the fear, make the decision, and it is painful. And finally, they wonder why they waited so long to make it after the pain is gone and they have resolved the problem. As these stages are internalized, and they become aware of them, people find it easier to make these hard calls. But as long as you don’t confront those uncomfortable feelings, your emotions will control your actions. Grow past the fear! 
 
Look at what you are afraid of and get to the bottom of it. Is it failure? Is it loss of approval? It is fear of confrontation? Is it fear of causing someone distress? Is it fear of change?

And remember: You can have fears without being “fearful.” “Fearful” is when you let your fears make your decisions for you, so… don’t let fear make your decisions for you! Having fear is normal. Being “fearful” is dysfunctional. Fearful leaders – that is, those who respond out of fear – are the worst leaders, period. 
 
So, feel your fear, name it, accept it, talk it over with those you trust, and then choose to do the right thing, no matter how uncomfortable you feel.

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How to Stop People Pleasing and Focus on Your Own Goals

SOURCE:  Karl Shallowhorn/bphope

Learning to define and set your own goals can free you from other people’s expectations and allow you to go beyond your previously conceived limitations.

Growing up as a young child my mother used to reinforce the need for me to try to excel at whatever I did. “Even if you’re a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger there is,” she would reiterate. This regular kind of prodding produced a dual-pronged response. At first, I accepted her challenge eagerly, thinking that I did have the ability to be the best at whatever I attempted to do. As I got older I came to realize that being “the best there is” wasn’t always possible (if ever).

Then—at the age of 18—bipolar disorder hit. I went from a promising future to one that was very unclear in a matter of weeks. At that point, my hopes and dreams were dashed against the rocks. I was being told what I needed to do just to get better. Essentially, I was powerless.

This whole experience was difficult for my mom. She had such high hopes for me and seeing her only child dealing with such a disabling disease hurt her dramatically. Eventually, she could no longer bear seeing me in the hospital. It was just too much for her.

However, there were times early in my life with bipolar disorder that I had brief periods of remission when I was able to continue school and eventually earn my Bachelor’s Degree. I vividly recall my mom’s mantra during this time, “Either you go to school or get a job. But you’re not going to lay around the house on me!”

Say what you want about this, but it worked, and sometimes too much. During those years of transition, I struggled to meet the expectations of others—not only my mother but also family, school faculty, and even my therapeutic team.

It got to the point that I was trying to please others and failing to take into account my own aspirations (and limitations). I was still healing during this period and I felt the pressure to have to perform in some way or manner to satisfy others.

There were many times during this period that the stress of having to live up to the expectations of others caused me to seriously question what I was capable of. What I came to learn, the hard way was to set goals for myself. In traditional mental health therapy, treatment plans are often utilized for this purpose.

One way I learned later was to approach this using the SMART method of goal setting:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Reasonable
  • Timely

Setting SMART goals are great because they:

  1. Help one to be more objective
  2. Quantify what the goal is
  3. Allow for the individual to set a goal which requires effort and challenges one to go beyond their comfort zone
  4. Set a distinct time-frame in which to accomplish the goal

So what does this all have to do with expectations? By being clear on what my personal goals are I then have the capacity to understand the difference between what I want to accomplish versus what others want.

In recovery, I’ve strived to go beyond my previously conceived limitations. These are things that I want to do and not what others want me to do. This is the whole idea behind self-determination. I’m the one in the driver’s seat. It’s empowering to realize that I don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards. Mind you, I work, have a family, and take on other responsibilities. I’m not saying that I just settle for what I need to do to just get by. Actually, it’s the opposite. I like to go a little bit further in what I try to achieve in life. Some would say that this means I’m goal driven—and yes I am. But these are my goals—not someone else’s.

If you find yourself questioning your ability to succeed in recovery, break your goals into small parts. Remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Even achieving small goals can be a huge victory.

Make Up Your Mind to Manage Your Mind

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“I have made up my mind to obey your laws forever, no matter what” (Psalm 119:112 CEV).

The reason why most people are ineffective in life is that they’ve never learned how to fight the battle of the mind.

If you want to learn to manage your mind, you have to be delivered from destructive thoughts. That isn’t easy, because there are three enemies that keep you from fulfilling all your good intentions of changing your life.

  1. The first enemy is your old nature.

Paul says in Romans 7:23, “There is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me” (NLT).

Do you ever find yourself doing things that you don’t really want to do? That’s the battle in your brain between your old, sinful nature and your good intentions.

  1. The second enemy is Satan.

Satan cannot force you to do anything, but he can make suggestions, and those suggestions are incredibly powerful. He is constantly planting negative thoughts in your mind. He’ll use other people or he’ll use the TV or he’ll just throw a thought in your mind.

  1. The third enemy is the world’s value system.

Does anything in our society encourage self-discipline? Not much. Advertisements tell us, “You deserve a break today. Have it your way. We do it all for you.”

The Bible says in 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (NIV).

With enemies like that, no wonder we struggle with discouragement and despair and failure!

So how do you fight this battle? Look at what 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says: “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV).

You have a choice. Your mind has to listen to you. God didn’t give you just a mind. He gave you a will! The best time to win the battle with temptation is before it begins.

“I have made up my mind to obey your laws forever, no matter what” (Psalm 119:112 CEV).

The Necessary Endings For Marriage

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

It felt a bit like I was taking my work home, but I still found myself engrossed in an episode of “Hoarders” on TV last night. If you are not familiar with the show, it lets you see in great detail the struggles of people who hoard. Close up and personal, you get to see what happens to people’s lives, families, marriages, health, spiritual well-being, psyche’s and souls, when they are beset by one basic problem: the inability to let go of “stuff.” Whether it is memorabilia, toys, electronics, appliances, clothes, or whatever, the basic issue is the same. The person just cannot let it go. So, he or she keeps it around.

The problem is that life is not a one-stop shopping event. Reality is that as time goes on, we get even more stuff. We need and buy more clothes, sports equipment, toys for children, or gadgets for daily use. We take more pictures, collect more souvenirs, and keep up with changing trends and styles. Nothing wrong with that, and in fact we would question anyone today who was showing off their 80’s style. The problem is that as we are accumulating and gathering new “stuff,” we have to recognize that there has to be a parallel process of not only gathering the new, but letting go of the old and the broken as well. We have to make room for today and tomorrow by saying goodbye to yesterday.

The second principle is pruning. In the same way that a rose bush needs pruning to get beautiful roses, for us to have a healthy life, we have to continually prune as well. A gardener must prune a rose bush in three instances: First, the bush produces more buds than it can sustain and feed and there are too many buds taking the resources of the bush.

So, the gardener prunes the “good” ones, and keeps only the “best” ones so they can fully mature. Second, there are diseased branches that are not going to get well. Even after trying all that she can try to bring them back, they “refuse” and so are pruned away. Third, there are some branches which are long since dead and are taking up space that the healthy ones need in order to stretch out and grow. If all three of these pruning functions are done regularly and well, then the roses thrive.

Think what would happen if the hoarder did the same three things: 1) only keep the possessions that best add to their life, the life of the family, and other loved ones. (2) Get rid of what was broken beyond repair. (3) Toss out the pure junk that had no life left whatsoever. Then, they would get their homes and their lives back, and their children could thrive as well.

Put the two principles together, seasons and pruning, and you get a clear realization of how life was created: there are “necessary endings” that we must embrace to have the life that we’re meant to have.

In the physical world of hoarding “stuff,” this problem is easy to see. You can’t even walk through their houses, much less create happiness in all of that clutter. We can all see that and sometimes want to cast stones. But, let’s make it more personal to us. While most of us don’t have a hoarding issue that could make TV, we probably can all confess to the hoarding in some context of life.

Said another way, most of us avoid facing the fact that the season has passed for some aspects of life that we are still invested in, and we should let go of them. But, for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to upset someone, guilt, or fear of the unknown, we hang on. Similarly, in terms of pruning, there are some areas of life that might be “good,” but are not “best” for us to be giving ourselves to. They are taking time and energy from the “best” things that we should be invested in. Or, some things in life are broken and not going to get better, and should be pruned just as the ones which are clearly dead. The idea here is that for you to be able to build the marriage, family and life that has called you to have today and tomorrow, there are always some things from yesterday that have to end. You have to say “no more,” or “good bye.” Here are some examples:

• A small group, or groups, which served you well in a particular season of your spiritual life, or marriage, is no longer doing so. Its legitimate season is past. But you are not free to find and invest in a group that is appropriate for this time of life because of fear or guilt. Or, you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

• A group of friends or social circle (once important to you) is going a different direction in life, with different values than you wish to build in your marriage, family, or friendships. Spending time and energy there is keeping you from investing in the friends that are heading in the same direction and should get the best of your time.

• A good practice, such as every holiday at a parent’s house, may not always be best at every holiday because your own family needs some holiday traditions of its own as well. Yet, you are afraid of the conflict that may bring.

• An extended family member, with whom you have tried all you know to do, continues in their denial causing your marriage or your family unnecessary grief. Every time you interact with them, your own family suffers in some way as you are not as emotionally available for them in the aftermath.

• You attend a church whose season is past, or is toxic, or is not the best for what you, your marriage of family is being called to be. Yet because of some kind of fear, you are afraid to pull up roots and find what you need.

• You spend time on a hobby or other practice that, while good, might be keeping you from investing time and energy pursuing something that will build more life for you or your family.

• Your kids or family is simply overextended in too many sports, clubs, spiritual activities, arts, or social functions and as a result, the quality time that you need with each other doesn’t happen.

• You give financially or in service to help a person, or organization that is not being a good steward of your gift. Yet, you are afraid for some reason, usually guilt, to let go.

All of these scenarios are common to life. And I am not saying that we should just “throw away” all of our activities or relationships that are not “feeding us” in some way. That would be a selfish way to go about life, as we are called to commitment and redemption. But, I am saying that sometimes commitment and redemption are only served well when intentional stewardship is applied using the principles of seasons and pruning. We should be wisely choosing where we spend our time and energy, and pruning what does not fit. We are commanded to do so, and will be held accountable for our choices when we don’t.

These “necessary endings” are never easy. But, if we are going to have an abundant life and our families are going to thrive, we will have to recognize what seasons we are in, and always be pruning with courage and faith.

Q&A: Did I Make a Mistake Ending My Affair?

Source: Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW

Question:

Years ago, I had an affair. My wife found out, and I stopped the affair. But I can’t get the other woman out of my mind. Did I make a mistake ending the affair? Should I have left my wife?

Answer:

When people decide to end affairs, they often expect the feelings about their affair partners to fade away in short order. After all, they have made conscious decisions to reinvest in their marriages, so shouldn’t the longing for their paramours simply go away?

Although the saying Out of sight, out of mind often has merit, when it comes to infidelity, it often doesn’t work that way. This is particularly true if the affair was long-lasting, deeply meaningful and/or sexually passionate. People frequently say that their affairs made them feel greatly appreciated, sexier than they’d felt in years and even “alive again”—and it’s hard for whatever comes afterward to compete with that.

That’s why when an affair ends, even if it’s for all the right reasons, there’s a sense of loss. With loss comes grief. Sometimes when people grieve over an affair that has ended, they feel guilty about the grief. They tell themselves they “should” be over the relationship. To compound matters, betrayed spouses seem to have radar for their partners’ lingering feelings of love or lust for their affair partners and often (understandably) become upset and accusatory, only adding to the complexity of the situation.

The truth is, overcoming loss takes time. Feelings do not come and go on a schedule. Judging oneself for reflecting on the importance of an affair and mentally reliving meaningful moments only serves to prolong the challenges in letting go—but it’s all understandable.

That doesn’t mean you have to just live with it. Rather than allow your continued thoughts about the affair to make you question the wisdom of staying in your marriage, why not ask yourself the reasons you decided to end the affair and recommit to your wife in the first place?  Did you value your history together?  Were you unwilling to break up your family? Did you realize that despite your decision to have an affair, you really love your wife? Is there a part of you that recognized that in many ways, the excitement of the affair was just that it was a responsibility-free relationship?  Did you recognize that your marriage would improve if you funneled your energy toward your spouse rather than your affair partner?

Chances are you had good reasons for deciding to stay in your marriage. Don’t lose sight of that. At the same time, don’t judge yourself for having lingering thoughts about the past. And after considering all the above, if you still feel torn about your decision to remain with your wife, you can seek professional help to sort things out. Be sure to reach out to a therapist who specializes in marriage therapy. Although the best way to find a referral is word-of-mouth, you also can search through a directory on the website for the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT.org).

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Source: Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW, founder of The Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colorado, that helps on-the-brink couples save their marriages. She is the best-selling author of eight books including Healing from InfidelityThe Sex-Starved Marriage and Divorce Busting.

Dysfunction Interrupted: Are You Building Healthy Boundaries or Emotional Walls?

SOURCE:  Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

I talk often about boundaries, the healthy need for them and how they define the ways you treat yourself as well as how you allow others to treat you. There are physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual boundaries that you develop in order to know where you stand in life in relation to yourself and others.

It has come to my attention that clients sometimes do not understand the difference between healthy boundaries and emotional walls.  Emotional walls are like boundaries on steroids. Your brain develops them in order to protect you. They are often seen as or referred to as defense mechanisms. Sometimes they are a good thing, but sometimes your brain goes overboard in its efforts to protect you. Emotional walls are not usually conscious efforts to define yourself but unconscious efforts to protect yourself. If you have these, there is nothing wrong with your brain, it is working just fine, but maybe a bit overtime.

Think reactive rather than proactive when you think of emotional walls.  An example of this would be:

You have been hurt in some way in past relationships so you begin doing things or involving yourself in activities that pretty much guarantee you will be solo. You may tell yourself you have too much to do, not enough time or some other excuse not to engage in things where you might meet someone.  You really want someone in your life but can’t see how to have that happen and not experience pain so you are essentially walling off the opportunities to meet someone.

If your basic thoughts about people are that they can’t be trusted, you may be guarded with how you share yourself. By these behaviors, you remain alone and lonely. A boundary around this topic would be allowing yourself to trust until someone has broken that trust. Your boundary would be ” I give people the benefit of the doubt but if they break my trust I am done.”  You maintain the power in that decision and allow yourself the freedom to be open to meeting others.

In an effort to protect yourself you may also come up with a definition of the perfect person for you that can never be attained. You may tell yourself this is the profile of the only person that could work out for you. You can see the problem with this as it becomes an order that can not be fulfilled. Although it is important to find a good match, it is not likely a person will be “perfect” in every way. You have built an insurmountable wall.  A healthy boundary setting for choosing a significant other would be to set guidelines pertaining to how they speak to you, how they treat you overall, spiritual, educational and political preferences and let the rest fall into place.

One of the main differences between setting boundaries and establishing emotional walls is that boundaries leave in place the opportunity for joy and for you to be in control of your life. Emotional walls, on the other hand, usually limit you in some way and reduce potential experiences and opportunities. Emotional walls make you feel like a victim of something while boundaries allow for control and freedom.

It is not to say that someone won’t break a boundary and hurt you in some way, that can always happen. The “perfect” person could also just die or be in an accident. Unfortunately, life can dole out some very nasty experiences. We really can’t protect ourselves against all of them and living in fear limits our life in many ways. It is better to develop the skill base you need to get you through those times than to live fearfully trying to protect against them.

Without the necessary skill base, you may experience emotionally painful things and not know how to come through. You may become depressed, anxious or angry and not be able to see your way clear of these negative emotions.  Not everyone learns the necessary skill bases to overcome negatives in life, many times parents don’t know how to teach these skills or the opportunity just doesn’t present itself in childhood. Sometimes there has been a very dysfunctional background that has taught dysfunctional thinking patterns that don’t allow for healing and moving on.

These can be learned. There is no need to wall yourself off from the joys of life.

Dysfunction Interrupted: What is Acceptable in a Relationship and What is Not?

SOURCE:  Audrey Sherman, Ph.D

If you have experienced any type of dysfunctional past it is likely that you have as an adult put up with behaviors and treatment that you should not have and not trusted yourself to speak up or move on. Sometimes the behaviors are something you grew up with, know how to handle and so you don’t even question them, but you know they make you feel badly. Your tolerance level for unacceptable is high and you may not realize it. You may overlook things that your friends would not tolerate for one minute.

Tolerating or accepting such behaviors takes its toll. You may feel depressed, anxious, angry or all of the above. You may not sleep well as you ruminate over how the person is treating you or a negative event that took place. You may not be able to focus as your mind reenacts the last disturbing thing he or she said. You may just have an uneasy feeling that something is very wrong. You may feel despair if you feel you are headed down the wrong road in a relationship again and feel helpless to stop it or at what point you should stop it. You may feel like you are “walking on eggshells” around the person, waiting for the next negative interaction to occur and hoping to prevent it.

Sometimes all you have is your intuition to go on, your brain knows when you aren’t being treated well, but due to ingrained dysfunctional thought patterns or beliefs you may be in over your head. In my last post pertaining to “red flags”, I cover this in more detail.

This simple guide will help you know when to bail before you get the life sucked out of you. For each item under “Unacceptable” there is a counterpart below in the “Acceptable” list that allows you to compare similar occurrences.

Unacceptable:

  • Lies of any kind.
  • Dating you or attempting a relationship while still married.
  • Hurtful anger directed at you.
  • Chronic anger of any kind.
  • Putting you down, derogatory remarks.
  • Ridiculing you in front of others.
  • Refusing to discuss problems in the relationship.
  • Withholding affection or physical contact as punishment.
  • Telling you there are no problems when you have identified one, saying you are crazy for thinking that.
  • Having no interest in your life, career, friends, dreams. Only interested in themselves.
  • Flirting or handling other people in an inappropriate way then saying you are crazy when you bring it up.
  • Not willing to discuss finances in relationship, elusive about money issues.
  • Being chronically late or cancelling things frequently at the last minute.
  • Secretive behavior that doesn’t make sense.
  • Physical abuse of any kind. (There is no acceptable counterpart below)

Acceptable:

  • Waiting till the appropriate time to tell you something important.
  • Papers are legally filed in divorce court, they are not living with spouse.
  • Situational anger directed at themselves.
  • Infrequent upset with themselves or others.
  • Playful teasing that doesn’t leave you feeling badly.
  • Playful teasing that doesn’t leave you feeling embarrassed.
  • Refusal to discuss problems until they have a chance to think calmly about problems.
  • Withholding physical contact due to a need for some space to process, not ongoing.
  • Truly not understanding the problem but willing to listen and try to understand your side.
  • Being too tired or busy to talk sometimes.
  • Greeting someone with a cheek buff or handshake.
  • Financially open if appropriate.
  • Having to cancel things or be late once in a while due to work or something important.
  • Secretive behavior around your birthday or other holiday.

This is not an exhaustive guide, there are of course many other behaviors that could go here, but it is enough to get you started. These are the main ones that cause people distress and they are usually the ones that send the red flags flying in your mind.

Learn to listen to yourself. Don’t settle for any of the above behaviors and don’t look for reasons why the person is that way or make excuses for them. It doesn’t matter if they are a narcissist, if they were abused as children, are a control freak or if they have an alcohol problem. None of that is something you can fix and it does not enhance your life in any way, shape or form. If you really love the person and they get help that sticks and corrects the problem, fine. In my experience, the individuals who exhibit the above unacceptable behaviors are usually not open to change. They manipulate you into thinking you should change or that you are crazy. Neither is true, don’t believe it. Move on.

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