connection

Boundaries Part 1: What are they?

Boundaries Part 1: What are they?

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC, EMDR Trained Therapist

“The whole concept of boundaries has to do with the fact that we exist in relationship. Therefore, boundaries are really about relationship, and finally about love.” – Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend

It can be very confusing to determine when it is appropriate to set limits. Many of us feel we are never supposed to say no, set limits, or let others down. This can be especially difficult in our families, the place where we originally learned about relationships and boundaries.

Common questions:

1.       Can I set limits and still be a loving person?

2.       What are legitimate boundaries?

3.       What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?

4.       How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money?

5.       Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?

6.       Aren’t boundaries selfish?

What are boundaries?

  • Property Lines

    • In the physical world, we have boundaries that are easy to see: fences, signs, walls, lawns, etc. The owner of the property is responsible for what happens on their property and non-owners are not. After finishing mowing our own lawns, we don’t then take care of our neighbor’s lawns. Likewise, we don’t let our neighbors dictate how we landscape our lawns, nor do they do it for us. And if someone throws trash all over our property, that is considered a problem.

  • They Define Us

    • They define what is me and what is not me.

    • “We are responsible for the things that make up ‘us.’ We have to deal with what is in our soul, and boundaries help us to define what that is. If we are not shown the parameters, or are taught wrong parameters, we are in for much pain.” – Cloud & Townsend

How Boundaries are Developed

  • Boundaries are built throughout life, but the most crucial times for this development are during childhood, when we are learning limits and ways to relate to the people and world around us.

  • Significant people in our lives teach us how to “do” boundaries, for better or for worse. To understand fully what has shaped how you do boundaries, it is important to look at how you were taught to do them as a child by your primary caregivers.

    • Were you taught that setting limits for yourself was ok?

    • Were you allowed to have your own opinions and make age-appropriate decisions for yourself?

    • What kinds of reactions did you receive when you expressed hurt, disappointment, or anger? Were these emotions “allowed?”

These questions can begin to help you understand how you were trained in they ways you could set limits, say no, define yourself, and use your voice…..all boundaries. After thinking through the answers with regards to how you grew up, go back over these questions with other significant relationships: best friends, girl/boyfriends, spouses, in-laws, bosses, adult children……

Why are some relationships just harder?

 

Why are some relationships just harder?

by: Andy Gear, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

I’ve recently seen some articles asserting that ‘if people just communicated and committed to their relationship, then their problems would go away.’ While communication and commitment are very important, I think this overlooks the many people who are committed and communicating but still struggle.

In fact, I find that many people that come in for couples counseling are deeply committed and are communicating very clearly. Then why are these relationships still difficult?

We have outside stressors

Many of the sources of relationship difficulty have nothing to do with the effort invested in the relationship. In fact, studies show that some of the biggest predictors of relationship difficulty are largely outside of the couple’s control:

  • Poor health
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage after 20 weeks
  • Low income
  • Multiple children with ADHD
  • Partner with mental health issues
  • Death of a child

If your friend seems to have an easier relationship than you, it may have more to do with your different stressors than it does with different effort. Actually, I find that most couples that come to counseling have been working tirelessly on their relationship. If they weren’t trying, they wouldn’t be coming to counseling. But with major or persistent stressors, communication can become a minefield. And it’s not always as easy as learning a few communication skills.

I am overjoyed when I see people who have easier relationships. But there is something uniquely encouraging about a couple that is still trying after years of difficulty. It takes a special type of courage and commitment to seek the help you need to better love your partner, even when it’s hard.

Our families are different

The families we’re born into also impact the ease or difficulty of our relationships. For better or worse, parents model what relationships are like, and some people have better models than others. We can choose to act differently than our parents, but in stressful times we tend to fall back into the patterns we saw modeled (or against the pattern, in an equally harmful overcorrection).  

Parents teach us what love is, how to show it, and how to receive it. They also teach us how to view ourselves. If our parents were neglectful or abusive, they gave us a distorted picture of our self. Without working through these issues, this lack of self-worth will lead us to look for that worth in our partner—creating challenging and often volatile relationships.

This requires more than a simple resolution to change. It takes awareness of how our families impacted our view of the world, relationship, and our self. Since our families tend to be our normal, we often need an outside perspective to help us heal from this impact. This doesn’t mean that you are too weak to handle it alone; it means that you are strong enough to pursue what is necessary to change it.  

We get stuck in a cycle

Couples often get stuck in patterns of relating that rob them of their joy in connecting. These cycles have nothing to do with their effort, compatibility, or how much they love each other. In fact, the fear of losing the other is often what escalates the conflict.  

The most common negative cycle is the pursue/distance (or attack/withdraw) pattern. People usually aren’t even aware that they are in this cycle. Most often, each partner simply sees the other as being unnecessarily critical or distant. It is hard for people stuck in this pattern to see the bigger picture.

Beneath this cycle, both partners truly value their connection, but they seek to preserve it in different ways: the pursuer by attacking  (to get through to them) and the distancer by withdrawing (to avoid conflict). Their mutual attempts to save the relationship (seen as criticism or lack of care by the other), only escalate the problem as each person doubles down on their ‘go-to’ strategy for preserving the relationship.

In these cases, demands for more communication will only push the withdrawer deeper into his bunker. Instead, we need help gaining awareness of our own role in the harmful cycle, so that we can interrupt it and develop a healthier pattern of relating.

Everybody’s relationship is different

It isn’t useful to compare our relationships to others, because everyone’s history and circumstances are different. Learning a few communication skills may be very helpful for someone whose relationship has had few stressors, had model parents, and hasn’t been stuck in a cycle.

For others, there will be too much anxiety and conflict in the relationship for communication skills to be the answer. This doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed, that you don’t love each other, or that you aren’t compatible. Relationships are messy, and life often leaves us in places where we need help sorting out the pieces. In my opinion, one of the surest signs that someone loves and is committed to their partner is that they are willing to seek help during the hard times.

Blood is Thicker than Water, Part III

What does “holding out for healthy” look like, anyway?

By Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

This blog presumes you’ve read the previous two in the series.  If you haven’t, Click HERE to be taken to the first entry.

Now that you’ve recognized that your family member is not the person that their job description calls for, you’re beginning to take some steps.  You’ve come to understand that, for example, Dad is not in the “Parents and Siblings” ring of intimacy.  He is more an “Acquaintance”, based on the way that the relationship feels and works.  You’ve started to give yourself permission NOT to call every week because you don’t call your other acquaintances that often.  You’re arguing with the guilt that arises from being a “bad child”, and with the healthy compassion that comes from seeing him struggle with loneliness.  You’re resisting the impulse to go in and rescue him.Levels of Intimacy

And you feel like you’re being mean, cold-blooded, and harsh.  You’re being told, “You’ve changed, and not for the better.”  Other family members are calling you to convince you to “seek reconciliation”, or to chew you out for your “bad attitude”.  The pressure becomes enormous, and you sometimes forget what you are fighting for.

“Holding out for Healthy” is hard.  It means defying everything the relationship in question has taught you all your life.  It means holding on to the desire for real intimacy, even if your hope that the desire will be fulfilled looks too remote to be realistic.  A very old aphorism says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”.  It means clinging tight to the idea that a healthier relationship with your father is worth the loss of the false intimacy you’ve been used to all your life.

Because what you’ve been used to all your life was not real.  It was a counterfeit of relationship and, when you tried to use it as currency, you discovered you’d been cheated.  Which would you rather have: A fist full of play money, or nothing?  It’s a trick question.  You’ve got nothing either way.

The hard truth is that when you start operating according to the way that the relationship actually exists, you are not changing anything about it.  You’re merely speaking the truth about it for once.  You’re finally allowing the natural outcome of Dad’s way of being to actually touch him for once, rather than protecting him from it.

The reason the relationship persists the way it does is likely due in part to the fact that nobody has dared to tell him what it’s like.  Nobody has named the fact that the Emperor has no clothes.  Naming it to him hurts, but it also offers him the chance to see that what he’s doing is hurtful, and provides him with an opportunity to grow.

“Holding out for Healthy” invites the other person into a better place themselves.  It calls them to be a better human being, to seek healing for their own wounds, and to acknowledge the wounding they have done themselves.  They will either be able to do this, or they won’t.  Even if you can step into one ring closer with them, you have more than you’ve ever had before, and that is wealth indeed.

“Holding out for Healthy” also leads you to healing of your own.  This relationship loses its power to define you because you are actively defining the relationship.

What does Holding out for Healthy look like?  It’s a mess.  It’s painful and it rocks the boats of a lot of people.  You’re not going to do it well.  But doing it at all represents a change that has real value on your own life, and — potentially —  in the lives of those you love.  It’s worth the risk.

 

 

Conflict and Resolution in a Nutshell

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

It is the nature of relationships to include conflict.  In fact, conflict is a necessary component of intimacy and closeness in relationship.  If you are to become emotionally close with another person, it is necessary to come into conflict with them, because conflict is the place where my uniqueness bumps up against your uniqueness, which by definition is different than mine.

Conflict is the place where we figure out how to do life together in the presence of these differences.  If ever these differences are eroded away or eliminated (what many would describe as “resolved”), we are not actually connected with each other. One of us has been either consumed or effaced by the other.

Two objects in contact with each other generate friction and heat as they move independently in that contact.  If there is no friction, there is no contact.  If we never engage in or experience conflict with our significant other, we are not emotionally engaged with them on a meaningful level.  We are not in contact.

conflict

This being said, there are two ways of doing conflict: Well or Poorly.  Conflict done well strengthens the relationship.  Conflict done poorly decimates it.  In order to do conflict well, we need to find a way toward resolution.Fingers

Agreement is NOT resolution. 

The problem most people encounter is that when they try to resolve conflict by reaching some kind of agreement, they are working toward an unsupportable solution.  Agreement is not necessary to reach resolution.  If we try to find a place where we agree on everything, we end up working against our own uniqueness, and we cannot sustain that forever.  Agreement sometimes happens, but when we hold that as the only standard for resolution, we will end up frustrated and hopeless.

“Agree to disagree” is not resolution.  

If we agree to disagree, we create “dead spaces” in the relationship where we can never come into contact.  In this arrangement, the solution to conflict is to avoid it, which simply cannot lead to resolution any more than the South road leads North.  If avoiding conflict is our goal and our standard for good relationship (i.e., being “nice”, “happy”, or “positive”), we will never experience a truly connected, intimate relationship.

Compromise cannot lead to resolution. 

When we try to use compromise to reach resolution, we are usually operating on the presumption that “everyone loses something” and “no one leaves the table completely happy”.  Compromises reached in this way are generally composed of requests or demands that we make of one another.  When we agree to a compromise, we are saying that we are going to “try to be different” for the sake of the other.  While this sounds good on the surface, what is happening under the surface is that our uniqueness is not being acknowledged and/or validated.  Because of this, the changes are often unsustainable. We become frustrated, exhausted, and resentful in the long run (consumed), or we simply “kill” that part of our identity for the sake of the other (effaced).

Real Resolution

Real resolution is achieved when we genuinely and deeply understand each other’s position, thoughts, and feelings, and can acknowledge them as valid, even though we may not agree.  When we really understand the other person, we often find a willingness to work together and move toward a solution that is not forced or demanded, but organic to each participant, and therefore sustainable. Any changes we make grow out of this deep understanding of the other’s need, and are generally “gifts” offered by the participants themselves based on this knowledge and kindness. This leads to gratitude and a building of affection between the parties (read, Intimacy, Closeness, Connection).

Kevin_Richardson_with_hyenas

To say it concisely; once I deeply understand and give credit to how you think and feel, and presuming I care about what you think and how you feel, I find myself willing to shift how I relate to you.  When we each are able to do this for the other, we are no longer in conflict.  We are working together, and the conflict is resolved.

 

Technology: The illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship

Technology: The illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship

After writing my last blog, about how social media can actually hinder our relationships by offering information more than connection, I came across this wonderful TED Talk by Sherry Turkle called “Connected, but alone?” She has studied communication for many years and has seen the impact of technology on connection.
Sherry Turkle talking at Ted

Sherry Turkle talking at Ted

She explains that our electronic devices “not only change what we do, but change who we are.” That is a big statement! It sounds a bit scary to me. She goes on to talk about how we are getting used to a new way of being alone, together. “People want to customize their lives.” She explains that we use our devices to direct our attention to whatever we most want to give it to. In doing this, we neglect our capacity for relationship with others in real time, as well as our relationship with ourselves as we diminish our self-reflection. “We use conversations with each other, to learn how to have conversations with ourselves….”

We edit. We hide. We use technology to cure our loneliness, yet avoid our vulnerability.

Technology offers 3 Gratifying Fantasies:
1. We can put our attention wherever we want it to be.
2. We will always be heard.
3. We will never have to be alone.
The last one is the most troubling with regards to how our new way of living is changing our psyches! My smart phone is changing me! Our inability to tolerate being alone, always grabbing for a device even in small moments of isolation, is decreasing our capacity to find ourselves. It is creating a new way of “being.” In solitude, we find ourselves. Inability to tolerate solitude, leads us instead to look to others to find ourselves.
Sherry Turkle leaves us with this sobering thought, while encouraging toward more self-awareness in our use of technology:
“If we’re not able to be alone, we are going to be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.”
by:  Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

Does Your Social Media Usage Lead to Communication or Connection?

Does Your Social Media Usage Lead to Communication or Connection?
I don’t have to tell you that we live in an era of constant communication and instant information. As soon as I hit “publish” on this blog, anyone with internet access can instantly read my post. In a very real sense, I can tell the whole world anything….from this chair in my office alone. I’m talking to everyone and no one at the same time. I’m sharing and hiding at the same time. I’m communicating, but I’m not connecting.
I don’t see your face as you interact with my words. I can’t read your body language. You can’t hear my inflection or intonations. I’m pausing between sentences, as I consider how best to communicate my next thought. I’m deleting and editing as I go. I’m carefully choosing what to type, what to show, what to share. I have this underlying sense of vulnerability as I type my thoughts for others to interpret and judge, and yet there is something in it that feels false. There are times I read very personal information on rather public forums and wonder if it bravery to share so broadly, or cowardice to expose so impersonally. We spare ourselves the risk of vulnerability when we share with everyone through typed words on a screen, by avoiding the risk of not getting the response we hope for when sharing with one or more people. It is much safer to hope that someone, anyone, will respond to a post or tweet about a horrible day or compliment a beautiful photo or meal, than to hope that the one person I choose to be vulnerable with will respond in a way that values my vulnerability.

I do not think technology is bad. I love all that it enables me to do, all the access and ease it brings. I see, however, that along with the benefits it brings to communication in my relationships, it also brings convenience that can cheapen the connection. Often after reading friends’ blogs, viewing their Facebook or Instagram accounts, I feel I have gotten caught up on their lives and my urge to connect with them is appeased to a degree. I have noticed my connection in these relationships has suffered over time. I have been grabbing fast food through the drive thru of information, and some of my relationships are suffering from lack of connection nutrition. I am gaining information from edited and limited glimpses into the lives of those around me; I’m missing out on intimacy, emotions, and real responses.

When we share ourselves in bits and snippets through typed words or snapshots that someone else will see on a screen, we are missing out on the connection that comes with risking vulnerability in the presence of someone who is going to react. Even emailing or texting one person takes much greater vulnerability and courage than emailing a group of people or writing a blog post. Don’t confuse exposure with vulnerability. And don’t confuse communication with connection. So, who do you need to connect with?

by:  Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

Love Changes Us

Dr. Susan Johnson the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) proves what I have found true in my own life as well as my practice – Love Changes Us.

 

She did an experiment that showed how our brain images change when we face something we fear while with someone we love as opposed to being alone or with someone we don’t know.  Perhaps it is not a surprise to you that the result of the experiment showed a positive brain response when the subject was with someone they loved as they encountered a fearful stimulus.  The article mainly highlights a couple who is having trouble relationally and shows how the wife’s brain responded to her husband taking her hand while being exposed to the fear stimulus both before and after having done EFT as a couple.

After EFT the wife responded with less of a fear response when her husband took her hand while she experienced the fear stimulus.

brain

EFT is validated to be an effective therapy for couples with positive outcomes (to read the article I reference click here)

Immediately after reading this article I was reminded of 1 John 4:18 where it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  This verse isn’t saying we are not supposed to fear, but when we do fear and we are in the presence of love, love takes (“casts out”) away our fear (or lessens its power).

I have feared a lot in my life – “Will I be able to pay my bills, can I make it as a single mom, will people judge me because I am divorced, will I be loved, will I be alone….”  I have a lot of fears and maybe you do too.  I have learned in my life to not hate what I fear.  I used to try to numb my fears or run from them, though this never worked for long. Through the course of many trials that had many fears I have learned to embrace my fears.  I have learned that the fear itself is not scary at all – its what I do with my fear that matters.

So what do I do with my fear?

I RUN to God who has promised to love me and cast out my fear.  Love has changed me – God’s love has changed me.  I wonder what my brain looked like on the day I began to have a relationship with Him!

-by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

When People Love Us, We Are Transformed

There is something quite amazing and magical about watching a persons life being transformed by the power of being loved and accepted by others – When People Love Us, We Are Transformed.

 

After watching Despicable Me 2 for the 6th time with my sons I started to wonder why exactly we all seem to love it so much.  I mean think about it, we have watched it 6 times and the movie is 98 minutes long which puts us as having spent 588 minutes of our lives on this movie.  So I started thinking – is Despicable Me 2 really worth the 588 minutes of my life I have given it?  Why yes it is!

For starters, who doesn’t love those Minions?  Seriously, they are so cute and hilarious with all of their funny noises and behaviors.  This movie has me and my sons laughing over and over again.  But then I thought, “There has to be more to why we love this movie….what is it exactly?”  Then it hit me.

A huge part of the story in both of the Despicable Me movies is watching Gru, the main character, learn his true identity and self-worth through being loved by others who see him for who he truly is.

We see his character go from a cold-hearted villain who is mean and is literally stealing the moon from the sky, to a man transformed by the love of three little girls he adopts in the first movie.

Despicable Me
The second movie opens with Gru dressing up as some sort of princess for one of his daughters birthday parties – and immediately you think – this man has been transformed!  The second movie does a great job of portraying the realities we all face when we are in the midst of transforming love –

When we are experiencing the love of another, and I am talking about deep love that moves us – a natural response to this kind of love when never experienced before is to go on defense.

And defense, at times, looks exactly like what we see happen to Gru – the more the love of others (specifically his three daughters and the character Lucy in the second movie) challenges his current view of himself (his identity, self-worth, etc.) the more his relational fears surface.  The closer Lucy gets to Gru, the more we see flashbacks to Gru’s childhood.  We see Gru coming up against the “demons” in his past – being made fun of, seeming unloveable to all humans, unaccepted, and fearing rejection.  It appears that the more he is loved and delighted in by his daughters and Lucy, who ultimately becomes Gru’s wife by the end of this movie, the more his “demons” seem to rear their heads.  Ultimately Gru has to choose to trust their love of him, embrace the changed man he has become, and no longer allow the “demons” of his past to rule his current life.

These movies do an excellent job of showing us how love can profoundly transform us if we risk letting it in.

-Lianne Johnson, LPC

Different Isn’t Bad, It’s Just Not the Same

By: Andy Gear

A trip my wife and I took to Massachusetts reminded me of something I had learned as a kid from a man who had lived in Sierra Leone: “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.”

 

Recently, my wife and I visited the town in Massachusetts where we spent our honeymoon. It’s just a little fisherman’s village, but it brought back so many memories of our first year together. One might assume that it made me nostalgic for that “honeymoon period” when we had no kids, no problems, and our whole life ahead of us. And it did.  But I also remembered how difficult that first year was.

No one ever told me that learning to live with another person would be so difficult. And if they did I ignored them, because we were young and in love. Why would we ever argue? We’re soul mates.

Different Isn't Bad

So I was surprised to learn during that first year that my wife is very different than me. We have different interests, different values, different ways of thinking, feeling, communicating, different views of money and conflict, and different ways of eating cereal.  Because she was different than what I grew up with, I assumed that her differences were wrong, bad, or illogical.  I remember going for walks with her in some of the old neighborhoods in U. City, talking about the things a young seminarian thinks important. I’d be in the middle of what I thought a life-changing idea, when she would stop me and make me observe a bed of flowers, an idyllic home, or the sun descending with the most beautiful shade of orange. I was so frustrated. Why didn’t she think like me? What was wrong with her? I tried to convince her to be more like me. That did not go over well at all. Then I remembered the saying I shared with you earlier, “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.” I dwelt on this thought.

What if the things that are different about my wife are not only acceptable but are very good? What if my wife and I are custom made for each other and our individual qualities are meant to shape us into more whole, balanced, and fully functioning human beings?

I developed a new assumption: who my wife is now is very good.

With this new assumption in mind, I began to act upon it. I slowly began to receive my wife’s differences not as trials to bear but as gifts to be enjoyed. I tried to allow that person to shine through, to learn from her.

The result has been life changing.

I’m not convinced that I’m any better at marriage, but I appreciate who my wife is.  And in a small way I am becoming a more balanced, whole, and fully functioning human being. I believe that learning to embrace the beauty of who she is right now helped make my second trip to Massachusetts even better than the first.

The Intimacy Feedback Loop

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

When a breach has occurred in relationship, one of the hardest pieces to rebuild is trust.  There has been hurt, maybe lashing out in both directions, recrimination, guilt, and shame.

One basic tool for understanding how trust is rebuilt is what I refer to as the Intimacy feedback loop.

The first step is “Risking Vulnerability”.  This is a hard one.  It means choosing to tell, reveal, or do something that makes you feel vulnerable, risking that the other person will have the power to use it to hurt you (again). The challenge is in not risking unwisely.  If your counterpart has not shown evidence of being willing to work on things or to be vulnerable in their own turn, you might not be ready to engage in this process.  But if both of you are on the same page about building trust and being trust-worthy, then it is time to risk.  Start small, be careful and cautious, but risk being vulnerable about something.

The next step is “Connection and Safety”.  When one person risks becoming vulnerable and shares something sensitive or fearful, the other has two choices: to receive and hold gently, or to reject and misuse the information.  When what is risked is received, heard, and validated, both partners feel closer to each other, and trust begins to grow.  When what is risked is rejected or misused, the emotional distance is increased and trust is destroyed exponentially more.

Risk that results in safe connection (trust) leads to Intimacy.  Intimacy leads to an increased capacity to risk, and so on around the circle.  The building of trust happens incrementally, never all at once.  This is especially true when damage has been done within the relationship.  The one who has been hurt is rightly cautious of trusting the one who has hurt them.  To expect anyone to “get over it”  quickly is unreasonable, no matter what “it” is.

The hard task of the one who had done the harm is to receive and absorb this distrust, and to allow for it to be present, even after much has been amended.  Acknowledging the hurt, behaving in a way contrary to the hurtful behavior, and to remain patient for healing is all a part of remaining trustworthy, and contributes to the rebuilding of trust.  And it will take time.

Trust operates on a fader, not on an “on/off” switch.  Sometimes you’ll trust at 40%, and sometimes at 10%.  It will slide back and forth.  Just because trust is lower today than it was yesterday does not mean it isn’t growing.  It may just mean you’re having a bad day and that the pain is closer to the surface.  It takes a great deal to totally destroy trust, just as total “100%” trust is impossible to achieve (and is unwarranted, given that we are all fallible human beings!).

Try to hold to the long view of this as a growth process; that with all the ups and downs, as long as you are continuing to hold each other gently and honor each others’ risks, trust will continue to grow between you.  Give it the time it needs. Keep on walking the circle.