Why Are Boundaries so Hard For Me?

Many people I work with have a hard time understanding and implementing boundaries. Boundaries are a learned skill. It takes time, commitment, and some emotional risks to realize the world won’t swallow you whole when you say no, set limits, or choose to you take care of yourself. The resistance of implementing boundaries is typically rooted in messages we’ve internalized throughout our life. If you struggle with boundaries, see if you identify with the boundary hurdles below.

#1 Boundary Hurdle – Enmeshed Families

Members of enmeshed families have a hard time differentiating themselves from their family members. Typically these children are well trained to notice and care for the feelings & needs of members that take up the most space in the family. So if mom has big feelings, the family members learn to tip toe around or cater to mom’s needs and expressions. A child may become attuned to their mom’s emotional temperament and needs, but ignore their own feelings or needs. Likewise, mom may expect that family members feel the same way they do. Learning healthy boundaries requires healthy individuation, which means accepting you will have feelings and experiences that are different from your family’s, and that’s okay.

#2 Boundary Hurdle – Detached Families

The same result can stem from detached families. In this context, emotions and needs are not recognized in the home. This can come from a myriad of dynamics, like cultural expectations, authoritarian parenting styles, abuse, addiction, or parents that weren’t taught how to appropriately express feelings themselves. Children then learn to bottle or ignore their emotions rather than express them in a healthy way. It may not be safe to express emotional needs or emotional needs may be ignored. Eventually, children in this environment learn to cut off or mute those feelings & needs. Our feelings act as thermometer or alarm system, alerting us to what’s going on internally. Without connection to that internal world, it’s very challenging to discern you have a need at all, much less implement boundaries.

#3 Boundary Hurdle – Messages from Church

Faith communities are notorious for modeling very poor boundaries. Burnout and unhealthy relationships are masked in a martyr-like attitude “for the sake of the ministry”. People are praised for saying yes, while boundaries may be implicitly or explicitly treated as selfish or unnecessary. Overcoming these deeply ingrained faith messages can be challenging. There are plenty of scriptural concepts in alignment with boundaries. I assure you, if God rested, so can we.

#4 Boundary Hurdle – Myths & Misconceptions

There are plenty of myths & misconceptions about boundaries. Namely that they are selfish, mean, punishing or controlling. If the myths feel compelling, people have a hard time believing boundaries are worthwhile or healthy.  

Any of these messages sound familiar? Identifying the distorted message is the first step in adopting a healthy sense of boundaries.

3 Ways to Battle Shame

3 Ways to Battle Shame

If we slow down to pay attention, we see the many small moments our shitty first drafts fight for our attention. It can be as simple and subtle as the moment your spouse looked away from you when you came out in your new sweater for the first time (SFD: He thinks it looks bad on me, I’m not good enough), or the look that stranger gave you walking Lake Merritt (SFD: She heard what I said and is judging me), or the drop of your stomach when a group of coworkers make lunch plans without you (SFD: They don’t like me, I’m a tag-a-long). Once those everyday shame moments are in our awareness, how do we battle it?

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Sh*tty First Draft

I recently had a scuffle with a friend that left me spinning. I felt consumed by it, it seemed every waking moment I was rehashing and replaying our conversation, trying to make sense of our argument. The more I tried to shake it, the more I found myself thinking about it. I became more and more anxious, unsure, and critical of myself.  I felt a pull to smooth it over. Unconsciously, I went to an old, familiar story that my worth is dependent on whether people are pleased with me. My anxiety was oozing out of my shame exposed behind my likable, charming armor. In her research on vulnerability & shame, Brene Brown calls this reaction “The Shitty First Draft”. We all have a shitty first draft. It’s our knee-jerk, go-to story we tell ourselves when we feel vulnerable, shame, or fear.  So how do we break the cycle?

1. Notice the hustle

My first indicator that I was spinning in my shitty first draft was that I was pulling on my well-practiced go-to’s: first to people please, and if that doesn’t work, get scrappy and defensive. I was tempted to hustle to win back my friend’s approval, not necessarily to repair the relationship (though of course that was part of it), but because my shame was so uncomfortable to deal with.

2. Identify the story I’m telling myself is…

Once I noticed I was hustling, I had to take a look at the story I was telling myself. Our shitty first draft normally reveals some negative core belief we have. Mine was a distorted thought thatI have to be perfect to be loved by others. I jumped from, “Oops, I really blew it there” to “Omg, I’m a terrible friend.”

3. Write a new draft

The best news about our shitty first drafts is that they are just that - first drafts. We have the power and the opportunity to re-write that draft into something more true & more constructive. Yes, I made some mistakes, yes I hurt my friend’s feelings, but that doesn’t mean I’m a bad friend or that if people are disappointed with me that I’m not loved. My worth & dignity as a person is not dependent on being perfect. Phew!

Even as a therapist with all the tools & training to manage conflict at my fingertips, I felt stuck & overwhelmed. Shitty first drafts can be swift, sneaky & take us out by the knees. We all have them, it’s how we notice them & rewrite that story that has profound results on how we show up for ourselves, for our relationships, and for our work.

Ready to do battle with your shitty first draft but feeling stuck in recurrent shame cycles? Reach out today, I’d be honored to walk through rewriting your story with you, one step at a time.

What are Good Therapeutic Disclosure Questions?

When you discover your partner’s sex or love addiction, you want to want to know everything. This usually yields conversations late into the night, rehashing the past in an effort to seek safety and make sense of the past. I like to call these conversations drive-by disclosure. It is profoundly disorienting to doubt your own history. Enter the formal therapeutic disclosure process, aimed at restoring dignity and providing information so you can make informed decisions about your future. (You can read more about that process here)

The professional containment & guidance of the disclosure process is vital in order to reduce unnecessary trauma. It is always recommended that couples engage the therapeutic disclosure process under the guidance of therapists specifically trained in sex addiction treatment & experience in facilitating formal disclosures. If the addict is preparing disclosure under this expertise, a standard therapeutic disclosure will include details such as: type of acting out behavior, frequency of behaviors, general timeline of behaviors, number of partners, estimate money spent, and alibis used to cover up behaviors.

Assuming the addict is working with a sex addiction therapist expert, you can relax the pressure to ask all the questions for fear they won’t be covered if you don’t ask it explicitly. Your job, as a partner, is to determine what level of detail/information you want to know, what you don’t want to know, and specific questions you’d like answered. These specific questions are the meat of your disclosure preparation. 

Good formal disclosure questions are things your therapist would never know to ask, incidents from the past that still rattle around in your brain. Getting clarification around these events can help reinforce your ability to trust your instincts in moments that felt off, and give you some context and timelines for grounding. Some specific question examples:

“Did you act out that Christmas that you told me you had work to finish up & arrived 3 hours late to my parents’ place?”

“Did you act out on that business trip to New York?”

“What is your relationship with the person I caught you texting, but you told me it was a coworker?”

“What is the story behind the flower delivery you told me was for your mom?”

“Were you acting out the day you missed our daughter’s school play?”

“Do any of my friends or family know about your acting out?”

When you are preparing for therapeutic disclosure, it’s helpful to carry a notebook or keep a running document on your phone. Questions and memories will pop up as you stand in line at the grocery store or as you are falling asleep - quickly jot the question down and go back to your day. 

Preparing for formal disclosure is an important step in your recovery & betrayal healing. If you need support, reach out to get started.

Boundaries for Beginners

Boundaries. A popular therapy & self-care buzz word that’s thrown around all the time. Often boundaries are presented with the metaphor of a fence separating your yards from your neighbors. You are responsible to water your own garden & take care of what’s in your yard, regardless of what’s going on in your neighbors’ side. That’s lovely, but what does that mean?

We could spend many blogs talking about boundaries, but for the sake of simplicity, at their core, boundaries are a combination of a request + a commitment to yourself for the aim of taking care of yourself. Let’s break that down:

Request: Asking someone to do something or refrain from doing something. Making a clear request about your expectations sets you up for success. Other people can’t read your mind, nor is it fair to punish others for request we have not communicated. Remember, the other person has the right to say yes, no, or let’s negotiate to the request you present.

Examples: “Please don’t yell at me” or “Please be here by 3pm”.

Commitment to yourself: This is what you will do to take care of yourself if the other person is not willing or able to agree to your request. This piece of the puzzle is essential, and is the most neglected part of setting & maintaining boundaries. When clients say “They don’t respect my boundaries!” or “My boundaries aren’t working!” it’s usually because they have not followed through on their responsibility to themselves. The only person you can control is yourself.

Examples: “If you speak to me that way, I will leave the conversation until we can speak calmly to each other.” or “I’ll be leaving at 3pm, so if you aren’t here on time, you’ll need to find another ride.”

Boundaries exist for your self-care & enable you to live within your values. They are not intended to change another person’s behaviors. At the end of the day, a boundary may have an impact on how another person treats you, but the end goal of successful boundaries is to take care of yourself. Successful boundaries will help you look in the mirror and feel good about how you behaved, whether the other person “respected your boundary” or not.

On the boundary struggle bus? You are not alone. Boundaries are hard work and take lots of practice. Reach out if you’d like some support taking the next step toward a healthy, boundaried life.

Hello, Downtown Oakland!

I am thrilled to announce the launch of my private practice & new therapy office location in downtown Oakland, California! I have a spacious, peaceful office space in a secure office building within walking distance of many downtown Oakland office locations + public transportation (12th & 19th Street BART + AC Transit), and just a few blocks from Lake Merritt.

Take a peak at my new office here.

Can’t wait to see you in my new space!