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Archive for January, 2016

What is a Boundary Anyway?

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

 

 

 

cowbigeyes

Good boundaries are a part of any good relationship. In fact, a relationship without boundaries will almost always have other symptoms: violence, emotional arguments, infidelity, addiction, emotional cutoffs, or debilitating enabling. The problem with boundaries? They can be hard on a relationship. The boundary-setter finds it hard because he dreads retaliation from the boundary-receiver. The boundary-receiver finds it hard because, well, no one really LIKES to receive a boundary. Here are three things everyone in a relationship needs to know about boundaries:

  1. Boundaries are designed to protect the boundary-setter, not the boundary receiver. Let’s say you love your neighbor, you love your neighbor’s cows, and you love your yard. You do not, however, love your neighbor’s cows IN your yard. In fact, you are starting to lose your serenity because of it. Since you value your yard and your serenity, you decide to build a fence. The cows are a little miffed because they can’t get to your grass and your neighbor is a little miffed because his view is now marred by your fence. You, on the other hand, feel pretty good because you have your serenity and your yard. Maybe your neighbor will realize your serenity helps the relationship and grow to appreciate your fence. Maybe he will harbor hurt feelings over your fence and never speak to you again.

Lesson: You built a fence because you started valuing your peace more than your neighbor’s peace. There is a possibility the relationship with your neighbor will suffer because of this shift. There is also a possibility the relationship will become better than ever.

  1. Boundaries are not the same as telling someone what to do. Let’s say you have the same neighbor, the same cows, the same yard, and the same budding resentment. You realize that a fence might hurt your neighbor’s feelings so you are going to try some things that are ‘less offending’ than a fence. Here’s what you try:
    1. You try to talk to your neighbor and tell him that if he cared about you he’d keep his cows on his own side.
    2. You tell your neighbor that it’s just common sense to keep his cows under control and if had any common sense, he would do that.
    3. You repeat 1. and 2. at all social gatherings, barbecues, and kids’ birthday parties until eventually he goes the other way when he sees you coming.
    4. You file a restraining order against your neighbor and his cows.
    5. You shoot the cows when they come in your yard.

Lesson: Nagging, guilt trips, threats, and acts of violence are attempts to change or control another person. Unlike boundaries they rarely protect your yard or your serenity and they always damage relationships.

  1. Boundaries will always require a change in your behavior, not your neighbor’s. Did the neighbor have a right to graze his cows on your grass? No. Did you have a right to be angry? Sure. Is it fair that you had to spend money and time and energy to build the fence when his cows are the problem? Yes. After all, you care more about your serenity (and your yard) than your neighbor does. Lesson: If you value it, then it’s up to you to protect it.

So the next time you are considering action because of a partner (or a neighbor) remember the difference between boundary setting and controlling. Boundaries are uncomfortable, sometimes costly, strategies designed to protect you. Controlling strategies are designed to change someone else’s behavior so you are more comfortable. Boundaries have the added benefit of improving a relationship. Controlling almost always results in relationship damage.

Kate Walker Ph.D., LPC, LMFT

What Does Feeling Better Look Like?

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

NopainWhat does ‘feeling better’ look like?

You probably don’t have to ask yourself that question when you have physical pain. When you have a pounding toothache, you Google ‘dentist in my town,’ or you phone your friends and ask who they use. You will probably book an appointment with the professional with the most stars, highest friend recommendations, lowest price, and earliest opening (not necessarily in that order). Most important, you will already know exactly what you want as an outcome: no more tooth pain.

Should emotional pain be any different? I don’t think so. Whether we are experiencing emotional or physical pain, we want relief. According to research you can get varying degrees of relief from different forms of treatment including diet and exercise, acupuncture, counseling therapy, meditation, medication, or a combination of all of the above. If your emotional pain is a manageable two or three out of a high score of ten, you might even take your time to explore different options and develop what are commonly known as coping skills. Ideally you would work those coping skills into a daily regimen of self-care (think daily tooth brushing) to keep emotional pain manageable.

If your emotional pain started creeping past manageable to a level-10-toothache pain, however, your need for relief would become urgent. Your criteria for a counseling professional would resemble the criteria you had for your dentist: expert skills, affordable price, accessible location, available immediately, and most important, the ability to relieve your pain.

Counselors are highly skilled professionals trained in the art of emotional pain relief. We use our skills to promote insight in our clients so they feel better. When they feel better, we terminate treatment. If they don’t feel better, then we look at our treatment plan and make adjustments. If we make adjustments and our clients are still not feeling better, we help them find a specialist who can meet their needs and hopefully accomplish what we could not.

What we’re not so good at is explaining how what we do alleviates pain.

So when talking to clients, perhaps a counselor should think more like a dentist and clearly explain what he does and what to expect from his sessions. This ‘solution-focused and goal-oriented’ approach could begin with the first phone call. Once the client explained her emotional pain, he would be able to tell her three things:

  1. Whether or not counseling with him could help her specific issue,
  2. A step by step map of the first three to four sessions, and
  3. Specific tools she would gather by that fourth session that might offer symptom relief.

When we have physical or emotional pain, we all want the same thing: pain relief. Counselors need to be able to explain just as well as a dentist how their skills can help make that happen.

 

 

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