Boundaries

A boundary is how we define the limits of where I end and you begin.

Oftentimes when we have experienced childhood trauma, these lines are blurred or unclear. We feel responsible for others suffering, or guilty for asserting a sense of self. Or on the other end, we close ourselves off from others, we isolate or avoid to protect ourselves. We mask this as the socially acceptable veil of independence, because deep down we aren’t sure how to communicate what we need.

Boundaries are not just saying no when we don’t feel like accepting an invitation to go out, though that is a part of it.

Boundaries are about recognizing old patterns of how we continue to put ourselves in positions that aren’t good for us anymore. They are about naming what that means and what has happened, shedding light on it, for ourselves.

In this process we choose who has earned the right to hear us out and how much we want to explain why (if at all) we are setting that boundary.

Examples of boundary issues could be feeling responsible for another persons emotions, putting another’s needs before your own, agreeing to something you don’t want to do, people pleasing, enduring physical touch or conversations you don’t want to, don’t have the energy for or aren’t interested in. The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Commonly, the biggest issue we have with setting boundaries is our fear of upsetting another person. It can be very hard to sit with that discomfort and uphold the boundary without guilt.

And to that I’d say that guilt is perfectly natural if setting boundaries is new to us. Of course you feel guilty for telling your boss that you are unable to take on that extra assignment when you want to appear diligent and on top of it all. Of course you feel guilty for choosing not to attend your friends party because you are exhausted from all the social interaction you’ve had lately.

When it is new to us to let someone know our limits, or just say no, it could feel terrifying. It all depends on the story we were told about what that means when we were little. Get curious about what happened when you stood up for yourself, said no, said yes, let someone know what you were comfortable with. What were others responses to you?

When we first start to speak up, our reactions to others may start sounding abrupt, awkward or abrasive. We need to have compassion for ourselves in these moments, we are learning a new way of relating. We can practice these responses in safe spaces, be it in front of a mirror, with a therapist or trusted friend.

This is all normal. It’s all an experiment.

Why is this important? Because when we can practice honouring ourselves, really tuning in and listening and then acting accordingly, we can live more aligned and personally meaningful lives.

When we tune into what we want and start listening, we become more of ourselves. We gain a stronger sense of identity, more confidence, more self assuredness, and these can impact the course of our lives.

Boundaries are more than just saying no. They are about asserting and recognizing that you are your own and I am my own and I am not responsible for how you feel or what you think of me. They are drawing a line in the sand of what is acceptable for you. It’s not about controlling the other person, its about controlling the gates to who has access to you and how.

This blog post and blog are not a substitute for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a therapist or mental health practitioner for personalized therapy.

Our Obsession with Getting There

We talk a lot in Western Culture about getting there. And by there, I mean, anywhere but here.


Only three more hours left in my shift

My assignment is due tomorrow and then I can breathe again

I just need to get through this month of crazy scheduling and then it will all be worth it

When the renovations are done, then we can live

When summer comes…

When vacation starts…

When the loans are paid off…

You get the idea.

If we are constantly counting down the time to be somewhere else, once somewhere else comes, how can we actually enjoy it? If we aren’t able to sink into the moments that aren’t as spectacular, what is happening to the rest of your life?

The difference between savoring anticipation of an exciting event and not allowing yourself to live until x,y,z happens is that you can savor the anticipation and not find the time before the event distressing.

You can allow yourself to enjoy the moments leading up, even if they are mundane, as life can be.

You can allow yourself to not want to push time any faster than it naturally goes.

You can allow the fear to be there, the anxiety to be there, the sadness, guilt, anger, shame, loneliness, etc.

Because all of these things are supposed to visit us all sometimes. This is the human experience.

They are supposed to visit. That is normal.

Living in the in-betweens says a lot about how we hold life itself. Not just the glamorous, shiny, adventurous, freeing moments. But the day to day. The regular stuff. The ordinary.

And if we can get better at those in-betweens, the seemingly insignificant moments, the more we will enjoy being alive and welcome what comes, as it does.

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This blog post and site is not a replacement for personalized therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a mental health practitioner or therapist for individual therapy.

If You Knew You Were Already Enough

How would things change for you if you really, deep-down-heart-space knew that you were enough. Would you make different decisions? Would you keep different relationships? Would you spend your time differently?

Would you say no more? Would you value yourself more?

We humans, are like quilts. Woven with our experiences, stories, beliefs, past, knowledge. These layers and seams are beautiful. Wrought with experience. Some of the patches are worn, over-relied on for a warmth they cannot provide.

One of those patches is the core belief for many of us that we are not good enough as we are. That somehow, we are fundamentally flawed and someone made a huge mistake. That somehow we are hiding out in the real world and someone is going to find out about our not-enoughness.

To get in touch with our true selves is to ask the question “What would I do if I really felt I was enough?

When we ask this question, we can get under that core belief that has been running the show and find out what our true desires and needs are.

For example, you’re worried about an upcoming presentation. You want to do a good job, recognized for your knowledge and abilities. Everyone at your work is watching.

If you asked yourself “How would this sit with me if I really believed that I was enough? That you have done the work, and how you present will be great no matter what. Well, then you’d probably just sit back and trust yourself. Trust that you’ve done the work, that you have everything you need.

So I ask you, for whatever may be going on in your life right now that you struggle with, what would you do if you felt like you were enough?

Trust that answer.

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This blog and blog post are not substitutes for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a mental health practitioner or therapist for personalized therapy.

Human First, Therapist Second.

Really showing up is hard. Allowing yourself to be seen is hard. Its also deeply transformative. This is what I struggle with in sharing things about my personal life on social media. That said, its what happens in therapy -exposure. Though in a therapists office, that exposure is met with an empathetic, holding presence and not the void that is the internet. And while I am holding myself in kindness and compassion in sharing things, not knowing how they will be received is the hard part.

And these are the risks we take when we show up and allow ourselves to be seen. It is the courageous path because we don’t know the outcome. That’s vulnerability. Not knowing the outcome and still doing the work, still having the hard conversations. Still sitting in discomfort. Still bringing to light what has been kept in the dark. Still trying.

So this is how I’ve been vulnerable lately. I’ve been speaking up about how I feel about things and using emotion words. I do this a lot on my own, I’m always aware of how I’m feeling, but sharing it is a practice for me. I’m great at objectively describing things, but when it comes to personally, I am not as clear, I tiptoe, I guard myself, I’m careful. So I’m working on being more open with my own experience, and its incredibly empowering.

Those that know me are aware of my minor (major) obsession with Brene Brown and her work with vulnerability. She is aspirational to me. Her genuineness and ability to be herself while talking about the hard stuff is how I want to be. I am a constant work in progress, as we all are.

So I am going to challenge myself to share more about my experiences with the tough stuff. My hope is that my vulnerability will serve both of us, and I am willing to take that risk. Social media has enough of the highlight reels. What I value and typically look for is authenticity, humanness, people being real about whats actually going on. Finding others stories, and reading words to describe experiences you’ve never been able to is what got me into psychology. That feeling of being understood for what you’re going through, that you’re not crazy. That’s why I’m here. To show you that you’re not crazy for feeling the way you do.

So this is my offering. To show you that I, too, am human. That I don’t have it figured out. That there’s stuff I’m good at, and stuff I’m not good at. That there’s things that scare me, and things that excite me. That I have moments where I want to run and hide, and others where I want to dance on public transit. That sometimes I don’t stop to feel my emotions and tune in. That sometimes I leave myself. The more I practice staying, the faster I come back, the quicker I tune in. That a few years ago I lost a lot of my hair. That it still hasn’t all fully grown back. That’s vulnerability. That I’m working on being here for myself more, setting boundaries with others and myself, allowing myself to take time to not be so serious about life and relationships, about figuring it out.

Everyone goes through stuff, and I’m right there with you. I am a human first, therapist second.

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This blog and post are not replacements for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a therapist or mental health practitioner for personalized therapy.

An Ode to Play

Recently, I have been nostalgic for the carefree days of childhood. I was privileged enough to have most days feel free and fun, filled with crafts and creation. Whether that be in my imagination, with friends, or alone for hours at a time caught up in a project.

When we get older and have more responsibilities, a lot more independence and a different kind of fun comes with that. We can get caught up in routine and focus of making money, consuming, striving and pushing through. But when striving and surviving become autopilot, and one day turns into most days, those days compile your life.

If I were to ask you when was the last time you had a spontaneous, aimless hour or day, where you did things without purpose but simply for shear enjoyment, what would you say? Does your answer surprise you?

I am in support of you taking off the productivity hat for a short while, be it 15 minutes, an hour or more. And in this time, prioritizing play. Unbridled joy. Allowing yourself to sink into less structured time, like you did when you were little. We were so good at that as kids, and I think its an art we often lose as we grow up if we’re not careful.

“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies” – Edna Millay

This quote really resonated with me, because I think about childhood as a place we can visit if we want to. We can stay a while, spend time with our younger selves, escape adulthood expectations for a little bit, and get really present. Children are excellent at being present until they learn otherwise.

Lets allow ourselves to have moments of child-like wonder. Just moments. Spending time in nature, touching flowers, tree bark, water. Writing a story. Swinging on a swingset. Dancing to your favorite songs.

What ever it may be for you that you deeply enjoy, allow yourself to receive that nourishment. Your inner child will likely thank you.

This blog and blog post are not a substitute for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please seek out a therapist or mental health practitioner for personalized therapy.

The Power of Change

Photo from Bella Stitchery on Etsy

Often, we fear change. Humans seem to be incredibly adaptable. We get comfortable, get used to something, and we enjoy that predictability, even if we don’t like what it is we’re doing.

Often, change knocks us off our feet, takes us by surprise, and shifts our footing. Most of the time, we don’t want it. If we do want it, we want it in a specific way.

Change is neither good nor bad. We tend to put these labels on it to identify whether it goes along with our wants or not.

As much as we try to create a predictable, patterned way of living, life is change.

The more comfortable we get with that idea, rather than fighting to make things stay the same, the more we will flow with life. We will have more ease through transitions.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t struggle. It’s about giving yourself unconditional understanding and acceptance when you do.

Giving yourself permission to mess up, cause well, we all do.

This blog and website are not a substitute for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please seek a mental health professional or therapist for personalized therapy.

How to Deal with Negative Thoughts

When it comes to negative thoughts, illnesses, defeating the “bad guy”, monsters or what have you, our culture is obsessed with fighting.

If you’re reading this, I bet that fighting your thoughts hasn’t worked for you.

When we consistently try to ignore, suppress or push away something, it only gets stronger. The same goes for our emotions. The more you fight with your feelings about your feelings, the more they seem to stick around. When I say feelings about feelings, I’m talking about how you feel about being angry, restless, lonely, sad, shameful, guilty, etc.

What is the meaning you assign to feeling those things?

What if there was another way that seemed somewhat counter intuitive?

Allowing yourself to feel them.

The most common response I hear to this is, what if I cry forever? what if I stay angry forever? What if I can’t stop?

Well, it already seems like if those emotions are with you right now anyway, so what have you got to lose?

Also, I have yet to meet someone who is willing to experience their emotions and yet remains in a permanent state of one emotional state that they don’t want to be in.

Emotions are meant to be felt. They are called e-motions. Movement.

We often build up how scary it is to experience them. This makes sense, and is from an early time in our lives. When we were little, and not aware of our bodies, our emotions were all consuming, they felt like they could destroy us. We learned for our safety to dissociate, shut them down, distract ourselves.

But those beliefs that emotions will destroy us aren’t true as adults. We won’t be destroyed, we have bodies that are containers. We have an awareness of the outlines of our bodies, where the emotions begin and end.

We are human, and this is a part of the deal.

So here it is. Allow yourself a place where you feel safe, and tune in.

If we haven’t done this in a long time, or ever, I recommend seeing a therapist so you have someone there to hold space for you.

The practice is giving yourself complete acceptance of what comes up. Compassion for the pain and hurt. And knowing that they are just thoughts, and you are not your thoughts. They are well crafted stories that we have carried with us, inferences we have made about ourselves from reactions of others, stories that sting.

Acknowledging our thoughts, letting them be there, inviting them in without engaging with whether they are true or not is a way to stop fighting. It’s a way to put down the weapons. We’re not going to always have thoughts we like, we can’t always control our thoughts.

I believe in your ability to be there for you.

Resources:

actmindfully – free resources about this very idea. Russ Harris created Acceptance and commitment therapy which is all about allowing and accepting your thoughts, while not attaching to them or their meaning

This blog and website are not a substitute for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a therapist or mental health practitioner for personalized therapy.

There is No Perfect Way To Live

This evening I tucked myself into my favorite corner by the window, a few candles lit, sitting cross legged on my bed. I was studiously listening to the Bliss and Grit podcast with my notebook opened in front of me so that I could write down the little tidbits of gold that come out of these two therapists having a conversation.

This podcast episode, called ‘When the Rules Dont Apply’, touched on the rules we often set for ourselves, be it consciously or unconsciously about how we “should” be living. These restrictions that were once for our safety that now are keeping us living small.

These are ways that we project the past onto the future. We don’t live in the now and we play out old scenarios with new people. This is a way of keeping ourselves safe since we sense some predictability with it, so we act as if what has happened in the past is happening now.

Not only do we project old scenarios or experiences onto others, we also try to tell the future of what will happen next if we do or don’t do something. Fantasizing about the future, whether that be positive or negative ideas, can keep us from moving at all.

What I’m getting at here is, there is no perfect way to live. No one has it all figured out. You can police yourself until the cows come home, but the rules have been maintained by you. It’s up to you to choose how you want to live. It is up to you to choose to rebuild the foundation, to renovate the belief system.

Both the beauty and the beast is that you get to be the one to decide. As with many things in life, this can carry a duality- conflicting emotions. But when we keep ourselves in helplessness and the victim role, sure we keep ourselves safe in old familial ways, but we also keep ourselves stuck.

So I leave you with something a good friend of mine said to me when I was stuck making a decision. She said “What is the sign you are waiting for? What are you wanting to have happen in order for you to be able to decide?”

This catapulted me back into my own responsibility, and an awareness that maybe what I am hoping to happen likely isn’t going to happen. This is an opportunity. A reframe. A way out of fantasy.

It’s up to you to choose.

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This blog and website is not a replacement for personal therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a therapist or mental health practitioner for personalized therapy.

Why Taking Care of Yourself is Not Selfish

When we sacrifice ourselves to please others, be it saying yes when we mean no, or listening to your friend rant when you don’t have the mental energy to really be there, we do a disservice to ourselves. Often we see these self sacrificing behaviors as admirable, when we put another’s needs before ours.

Its deep within Western cultural norms to just push through, hustle and do everything we possibly can. Being tired is a badge of honor. But these norms aren’t typically centered around our mental well being, they are more around money, achievement and capitalistic expectations.

Sometimes we need to put others needs first. Stuff comes up, we’re human. We help each other out. But when its a regular ocurrance, its an invitation to step back and take a look under the hood. It must be exhausting helping others all the time. When was the last time you took some space for you? Is there something calling for you that feels nurturing?

Maybe its sitting outside under that willow tree with a good book, or noticing how the warm water feels running over your hands as you do the dishes. Maybe its sitting with your dog, watching the clouds go by.

When we honor ourselves by respecting what we need, we are better able to show up for others in our lives.

If there is an imbalance in the amount of output or input, the system can go awry. We get exhausted, irritable, cynical, sad, angry, you name it. And being those things isn’t helping anyone out.

When we can practice noticing what it is that we need from moment to moment, we are better able to show up for ourselves and others when it matters. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

So what calls to you, right now. Sure, you may be in an office, or at home, on your phone, wherever you are, what is the first thing that comes to mind that you feel you need? Ask for it, make space for it, make it a priority. You’re worth it.

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This blog and website are not a substitute for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a therapist or mental health professional for personalized therapy.

Image from https://ourfoodstories.com/2018/06/elderflower-syrup.html/

Who Are You Doing This For?

You are not required to be anything for anyone but you.

When we hear this, we start to come up with reasons why we can’t be who we want to be, usually because of other peoples needs.

And this is understandable. We get into patterns of being things for others to survive when we’re little, and then we grow up continuing to be those things for others when we don’t need to anymore, and we get resentful.

What if I told you that you have more freedom than you think you do?

Yes, others may not receive this well. Our fear of how others will take our decisions, judge us, or feel hurt is often why we decide to not take steps for ourselves.

This is often the case when we set up a boundary that wasn’t there before. Others don’t like it. They may fight it, get angry, sad, whatever it may be.

But if you are putting up a boundary in order to take care of yourself, you are not responsible for how anyone else reacts to that.

Let me say that again. You are not responsible for how anyone reacts to you putting up a boundary.

When we fail to set a boundary, what we are telling ourselves is that our needs are less important than the other persons. This part of you needs compassion and understanding that at one time, you may have needed to believe that in order to survive your childhood.

But in adulthood, we do ourselves a disservice when we continue to believe that we aren’t as important as others, when we shut down those needs.

It can be helpful to identify whose needs we are putting first by asking ourselves: Who am I doing this for? Is it for me? Do I want to do this?

Its not your job to fix others. Its not your job to be attuned to others needs. Its not your job to say yes when you want to say no. You are not responsible for others. You are allowed to have your experience. You are allowed to ask for what you need.

Not everyone will understand this. How someone else reacts is a reflection of their internal world. We have no control over this, only control over how we respond to others.

You are not required to be anything for anyone but you.

This blog or website are not a replacement for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a therapist or mental health professional for personalized therapy.