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Posts tagged ‘healthy boundaries’

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.

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Use Boundaries to Help Someone in Need Without Codependent Habits

SOURCE:  Henry Cloud/John Townsend

People on the go often have dependent relationships that they don’t know what to do with. These are individuals who, for any number of reasons, have tremendous life struggles and challenges and often deal with grave problems. They are needy and ask for a great deal of time, energy, and support. You may find yourself functioning as someone’s life support system. For example, you may have a friend who is going through a divorce and calls often for advice and a listening ear. Or you could have someone who has lost a job and is trying to pick up the pieces. Sometimes a needy person has a long history of failure and crisis and has for years been dependent on others to take care of him.

A needy person is often a very good person who is not truly toxic at heart. He may simply be going through his own dark night of the soul, as do all of us at some point in life. Or he may have a dependent character issue that prevents him from being autonomous and in charge. Though a needy person may be good hearted, his impact on you and your aspirations may have the outcome of being toxic and a distraction from your path.

It is important to realize that most needy people truly need help, support, time, and encouragement. They often benefit greatly from a community that connects with them to give them safety and stability. We are all called to reach out to the needy and give back what has been given to us. That is a large part of what life is all about. So if you have a dependent relationship in your life, make sure that you are being generous, sacrificing, and caring for that person.

At the same time, however, be certain that what you are doing is actually what is best for him. It is easy to think that being totally available to struggling individuals is what they need. Sometimes that is true. For example, if you have a child who is very ill or has a serious problem, a great deal of life must go on the back burner so that you can give him the time and resources he needs. Or your friend in a marital nightmare may, for a season of life, call on you often to keep her existence together. Helping those with needs such as these can be right, loving, proper, and good. In fact, for some people, that ability to help the needy is their true calling. Mother Teresa is a wonderful example. Meeting the desperate needs of others puts those people in their right place. For others, helping the afflicted coexists with and is supported by their own desire to grow, change, and achieve.

But it’s important to be aware that sometimes a needy person needs more than we can provide. That is not his fault; it is just the reality of his situation. You may not have the expertise to meet his needs that a counselor, support group, or financial expert might provide. If that is the case, become a conduit for help, rather than the sole source of care. You may help that individual better by being a bridge to what is really needed. If your friend is hemorrhaging, it may not be your job to be the surgeon, but rather the ambulance that gets him to the surgeon. Also, bear in mind that in crises, the early stages are generally more demanding than the latter ones. In the beginning, you may need to spend more time and energy until your friend is stabilized and able to walk better on his own.

So do not turn your back on the needy. Be there for them in the best ways that you can help. And as you give what you can truly provide, be sure that you also guide them to resources and structures that can help them on their own path. And continue taking steps down your own path.

Basic Boundaries: When to Say Yes and When to Say No

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge New opportunities and situations can seem risky at first.

Solution Developing a better understanding of how and when to say yes or no will help you get to the next level.

We spend a lot of time talking about the value of the word ‘No’. We say ‘No is a complete sentence.’ We talk about owning your ‘No’. And no doubt, having firm boundaries around what you will and won’t allow to into your life is one of the most powerful shaping forces available to you. But there’s a really important thing that we all must remember as we make these choices — do not allow yourself to become a prisoner to your ‘No’.

Yes is an equally powerful word, and many people are afraid of it. Learning how to say no is an incredibly empowering tool. Most people lack the skill to effectively use it because they mistake being a doormat for being nice. When a person realizes how much power they can wield with the word ‘no’, it can be very tempting to overuse it. People often default to saying no because it protects them from what might or might not hurt them. No is the safer choice. No is the more comfortable choice, and often, no is the right choice. But when we say yes, we are opening ourselves up to new experiences, expanding our limits, and growing our world and the variety of our possible futures.

Knowing when to say yes and when to say no allows you to establish healthy boundaries in your life and it is one of the most necessary traits successful people can develop.

The way that real growth happens is when we stretch ourselves just past our current limits. By defaulting to no, we often shut ourselves out from opportunities to stretch ourselves to the next level. People run the risk of never discovering their full potential because they are afraid to say yes.

A child who doesn’t know how to swim may see a swimming pool and tense up and pull back with fear. This is a powerful and essential survival instinct. However, under the right conditions, with adult supervision or during swim lessons, it’s perfectly safe for a child to go into a swimming pool. It’s fun! When a child has the support necessary to try new things, their fear melts away.

Adults are very much the same. New things scare us. The unknown is rife with potential for doom and failure and everything bad that could possibly happen. And yet, under the right conditions, it’s perfectly safe and hugely beneficial to try new things. It’s essential. Without it, you will fall into a bland rut. Your energy will disappear. Your enthusiasm will vanish. Your intelligence and your heart will suffer for it. You become a closed system.

Saying yes is about being open to new intelligence and new sources of energy, the two ingredients necessary for improving anything. Knowing how and when to say no frees you up to say yes when the conditions are right. That makes ‘no’ even more powerful than we might first realize.

What you let into your life, the flexibility or inflexibility of your boundaries — where they’re set, the quality of your relationships, the honesty of your communication — these are the things that will help you develop and grow. Don’t let your ‘no’ dictate everything. Be the owner of an incredibly powerful ‘yes’.

Use it wisely, but make sure you use it.

Q & A: My Spouse Is A Chronic Liar. What Can I Do?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My husband is lying to me about so many things. He twists my words, and I have no self-worth. I am in counseling, and we are new empty nesters. I left my job to care for an aging parent and focus on my husband. This is the worst time of my life. My spouse is either having an emotional affair or physical affair. He denies either, yet the computer (email receipts) says otherwise. He has cleaned the house of any and all receipts.

How do I live with someone I do not trust? I am so depressed. Please help direct me.

Answer: I’m glad you have taken the first step and started counseling. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates some of the highest rates of depression are among women who are unhappily married. There is very little you can do to change your husband’s lying, cheating or mind games right now, but there are some very definite things you can do to help your depression and self-worth.

Jesus says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Sometimes when the thing we’ve treasured most is gone or broken, we don’t just grieve our loss, we come unglued. That’s because we have put our treasure in something temporal–something that won’t last. Although your marriage is important and God wants you to have a loving and trusting relationship with your husband, he doesn’t want your marriage or your husband to be your treasure.

In my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I wrote, “The biggest red flag (that your marriage has become an idol) is when you fall into deep despair or panic when your husband fails to love you well…Any wife would feel disappointed, hurt, and angry. But if you find yourself becoming increasingly despairing, fearful, controlling, or resentful, it’s time to pay attention. Those negative emotions are a good indicator that your desire for a good marriage has become too important…Whenever we are dependent on something or someone other than God, it will always hurt us.”

Therefore the most important work you have to do right now isn’t to salvage your marriage or get your husband to tell you the truth, but to put your marriage in its proper place in your heart and mind and choose God as your treasure, not your spouse or your marriage.

You say you have no self-worth. Why not? Because your husband doesn’t love you like you want him to? Because he doesn’t value you enough to tell you the truth? Why would you allow a mere mortal, a sinful human being, determine your value and worth?

If someone rejects us, lies to us, or doesn’t love us as we want, it surely hurts, but it does NOT define who we are or determine our value. If you gave me an expensive piece of jewelry, like pearls or a diamond tennis bracelet, and I threw it away or never wore it, does that mean it isn’t worth anything?

It’s not our parents or our peers or our partners that determine our worth, it’s God. He defines our value because he is the one who formed us. He is the only one we can count on to tell us the truth about who we are. He never lies. Read Psalm 139 and meditate on it today. Let God tell you how much you’re worth.

Therefore friend, I encourage you to take the opportunity you have while in counseling to work on you and not on how you can get your husband to tell you the truth. You might just find that as you get healthier and less dependent on him, he may do a little soul searching of his own and choose to be more honest with you about what’s going on with him.

If not, then you’ll be strong enough to know what next step you need to take to deal with your husband’s deceit.

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