A frequently asked question at The Meadows is what does appropriate parenting look like and how do I become a “better” parent. The Meadows’ belief is that parents typically do the best they can with what they know. However, if you were provided limited information on healthy parenting it is going to be challenging to parent in a way you have not been taught or experienced personally. Unresolved trauma, distorted beliefs, codependence, addiction or mood disorders will all affect your relationships with partners, children, friends, coworkers etc. Clearly anyone who wants to improve their parenting skills or wants to become a “good enough parent” (adequately meets the child’s needs) the first step is doing your own work. Parents need to practice self-care, having measured vulnerability (boundary), being real, moderating self and having a knowing of their inherent value. This is the Meadows Model of Developmental Immaturity in action. Parents also need to learn to get real with what are the natural developmental behaviors of a child. When the parent doesn’t know how to handle “the nature” of the child through affirming, nurturing and setting limits it sets the child up to struggle with loving, containment and protection while being relational, practicing self care, having self awareness and having an attitude of moderation in all things. This is no small task and may require the support of professionals especially if you have unresolved trauma which is defined at The Meadows as anything less than nurturing.
Raising children is a challenging task. Raising healthy resilient children that are capable of expressing their emotions in the appropriate setting, at the right time with the appropriate degree of intensity and with the appropriate person is pure genius. Who hasn’t seen or heard a child throwing a tantrum in a mall, at a park or in a restaurant? Parenting with boundaries takes conscious awareness and intent on the part of the parent. It will not happen in the depths of depression, the intensity of anxiety or in the craziness of addiction.
Let’s be truthful even with the desire to raise children to be happy, well adjusted adults it is hard to stay focused after a long day at work, fighting kids, homework, getting dinner on the table and all of life’s day to day challenges. The good news is parents do not have to be perfect to provide effective parenting, they just need to be “good enough”. This means that the majority of the time you are meeting the needs of the child whether this is setting limits, kissing a booboo(nurturing), providing a nutritional meal, or verbalizing your joy in their uniqueness (affirming) and that you are providing “some” of their wants such as a toy, outings, outfits etc. It also means you are modeling appropriate behaviors which include utilizing boundaries.
What do you communicate nonverbally to your child or children? Does your face reflect delight in their presences or does your reflection suggest disapproval, judgment or even contempt. Do you tell your children about your relational issues, financial issues or sexual issues? Do you argue within the visual or audible space of your children or have you placed your child in the role of spouse, parent or best friend? If you have answered yes to some or all of the above questions know one you are human and as a human you will typically duplicate what is known to you and two you have had a boundary failure.
Unfortunately, boundaries are a learned behavior and if you were raised in a home that did not model boundaries you most likely have been operating in the extremes of being boundariless or walled off or bouncing back and forth between the two extremes. Fortunately, it is never too late to learn boundaries or to reap the benefits of utilizing boundaries. This in turn will allow you to use your own boundaries with your children and to teach them how to have their own boundaries.
Adult to child boundaries are unique in that as the parent part of your job is to protect the child’s vulnerability. This means you are not in a balance of power or maturity. The child cannot tell you to behave or go in a timeout. The child often doesn’t have the modeling or maturity to even recognize inappropriate behavior because the inappropriate behavior becomes what is normal to the child. Children will make sense out of the nonsense even if they have to distort their own truth in the process. An example of this is the child being told by one parent that the other parent deserves to relax as they lay passed out on the sofa or the child being told after they have been beaten that they are loved.
Adult to adult boundaries are designed to contain and protect you both physically and emotionally. This means you do not mindlessly state whatever thought enters your mind or blindly take on whatever information that is shared with you. It also means that you respect the physical space (sexual and non-sexual) of others and that you ask the same of others related to yourself. There is no blaming, shaming or judging. No assuming, mindreading, manipulating or controlling. You listen with curiosity and share to be known. What is present in adult relationships with adult to adult boundaries is equality and respect of self and others.
Children do not need robotic parents what they do need is contained parents that do not spew their own emotions all over the child or build an impenetrable wall that leaves the child emotionally and or physically disconnected. What this looks like is if the parent has had a really bad day that they get what support they need from appropriate adults. They do not become emotionally or physically unavailable. They do not take it out on the child or use the child as their support system. It also means if there are marital problems as the responsible adult that you discuss in private the issues (not yell or give the silent treatment), seek counseling if needed and do not ignore the child or use the child as a go between or confidant.
The truth of the matter is when you the adult use boundaries all areas of your life become easier to manage. This includes spouses, friends, children, coworkers, bosses, family or origin and strangers. The magic of boundaries are that you are not exhausting yourself over what others think and say, you are not taking responsibility for everything that is wrong, you are not beating yourself up for being human, you are not attempting to save or fix others, you are not taking on the emotions of others, you are not trying to make yourself into what you think others want you to be and this is just the tip of the iceberg related to the benefits that boundaries offer.
The ripple out effect of boundaries is enormous. Just think of the weight lifted off of your shoulders simply by not feeling responsible for others (meaning those who are capable of taking care of their own needs and wants). The freedom to be who you are versus the work, stress and discomfort in attempting to mold yourself into what you have believed was what you were “suppose” to be. The awaking of self in all the glory of being what you were created to be not what you were programmed to be. Can you begin to image what a parent with boundaries has to offer their children?
So how does one begin to utilize boundaries and apply them in parenting? Step one is to understand the concept of boundaries and then begin to use boundaries in all your relationships including your relationship with self. Boundaries are spiritual in nature and they are based in truth, respect and love. Therefore, any discussion will involve your undivided attention, being political in what you share, and curiosity in what another has to share. Boundaries take the need to be right out of the discussion and allow the person to be open to another person’s perception.
This all may sound impossible but in reality we often expend far more energy trying to convince another our truth is “THE TRUTH” and if we can just say it the “right” way at the “right” time they’ll get it. Or if you don’t trust your own judgment or believe you have value you can exhaust yourself chasing after validation from others that you are right and or attempting to earn our value through your actions, possessions or relationships. Lastly, if you are a sponge (no boundaries) and take on the perception or emotions of others or live behind a wall (invulnerable) you will have relational issues. The outcome of all of this typically is feeling frustrated, hurt, resentful, overwhelmed and or confused which is not a good place to be in when trying to be an effective parent.
Whereas, when we speak “our truth” without an agenda – no controlling or manipulating, listen without becoming defensive or attempting to justify our self (using a boundary) the conversation has the space to create intimacy as defined at The Meadows as into me you see. “I can be who I am in the presence of you being who you are.” What the parent models utilizing boundaries is translated for the child into I’m ok (self esteem), it is safe to explore and discover who I am (my vulnerability is protected), I don’t have to earn my value or be perfect( self identity ), I can make mistakes and be supported in learning from them (I’m human), I can ask for my wants and needs (self care) and there are reasonable and consistent consequences for behaviors that put me or others at risk or violate the rules both in and outside the home(moderation /limit setting- I can learn how to behave in a way that allows me to function in the world effectively).
Learning to use boundaries may feel similar to learning to drive a stick shift with way too many moving parts in the beginning. However, the good news is the more you use boundaries the less you have to think about them and the quicker you recognize boundary failures whether your own or someone else’s. Remember boundaries support you in regulating your emotions and processing your perceptions which then allows you to fully listen (receive) and share with truth, respect and love (give). This provides the skills for a parent to then nurture, affirm and set limits with the child which is what the child needs to thrive. Again when you take care of your own business such as trauma, addiction or mood disorders you take a lot of the work and reactivity out of your life including your role as a parent. Children do not need perfect parents! Children need parents that the majority of the time are present physically and emotionally, able to delight in the child’s presence, tuned in (listening), and meeting the needs and some of the wants of the child. This is the role of a good enough parent and it is the pathway to a child that grows up able to know that they have inherent worth and value, how to contain and protect self, knows who they are (self-identity), how to practice self care and how to have an attitude of moderation in all things (balance). Can you image all the possibilities a child has raised in this setting not to mention your own quality of life? Boundaries truly will enhance every area of your life and it will be one of the greatest legacies that you give your children.
The holiday season is a joyous time of the year to spend with family, attend get-togethers and enjoy the wonder of the season. The holiday season can, also, be a difficult time for those in recovery. The holiday season is a time for fun and excitement, yet this time of year can bring financial stresses, more work and anxiety. For some, the holiday time may bring increased anxiety or depression. This article will address how to cope during the holiday season, maintain sobriety and stay on the path of recovery.
One area that people in recovery often experience anxiety about is holiday parties and get-togethers. We might feel obligated to attend parties and get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues. Guess what? You don’t have to do it all! You can cope with this busy time of year by taking care of yourself and following a few suggestions in regards to get-togethers:
Set boundaries! You don’t have to go to every party or get-together. Decide which are important to you and be choosy. Choose parties in which there will be less triggers for you. Remember, saying “No” is a complete sentence. Put yourself first.
Set time limits. It is not necessary to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Decide in advance when you will leave. If you are relaxed and comfortable and want to say longer, you can. If you need to leave, stick to the time you chose and leave at the time you promised yourself you would.
Have a safe place for every party. If the person having the party knows and understands your anxiety and/or how important sobriety is to you, you can ask the host if there is a room you can use for quiet time if you need it. If that is not possible, find a place outside for quiet time or leave the party.
Bring someone who understands. Bring a friend or family member who is supportive of your recovery. Choose someone who understands that you may need to leave when you say so. This person should also know your safe place. Having a “safe” person there may make you feel more at ease to enjoy yourself.
Relax before you go to the party. Relax ahead of time; perhaps take a long bath followed by silly dancing to your favorite CD. Wear your favorite clothes. Get ready by listening to soft, relaxing music , thus setting the tone for the party you will be attending.
Remember your coping tools. Relaxation and breathing tools can help in any situation in which we become anxious or triggered. Bring small notes to remind yourself of the steps you need to take. There is nothing wrong with needing a reminder to balance ourselves.
Remember why you are celebrating. You are not going to parties because you have to go. You are going because you want to be with people you care about. Holiday parties are about sharing friendship and happiness, not about trying to do what you think someone else wants you to do.
If you cannot go, then don’t! You can say “No” at any time. It is okay if you can’t go. This is an act of self-care.
Another area that is easy to get caught up in during the holidays is the high expectations of how the holidays should be. Here are some tips to help you keep your expectations reasonable:
Don’t judge the value of the gift you are giving by the price tag. The best gifts come from a desire to bring joy to another person. Giving from the heart means your gift will never be too small!
Don’t get caught up in the thought that you have to do everything that is asked of you. Say “No” if you really do not have the time or energy to do something. It is reasonable to delegate responsibility to others in your household. Setting time management limits can keep you from becoming stressed.
Share with someone less fortunate. There are several ways to do this; volunteer at a homeless shelter for a day, volunteer at an animal shelter for a day, send cards to those in the Military who are stationed overseas… (Well-wishers who would like to send Christmas and other seasonal cards to U.S. service members should address those cards as follows: Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456, Capital Heights, MD 20791. All cards must be postmarked no later than Friday, 6 December 2013 in order to ensure sufficient time for sorting and distribution before the holidays. You can address the cards to “A U.S. Service Member.”) If you have children, get your children involved in understanding the joy of giving to someone from the heart through service. Service men and women love receiving mail from children!
Remember, your family is a real family. Thus, there will be arguments and skirmishes among siblings. Family members may act the way they have before. The behavior of others does not have to ruin your holiday. You are not in control of other people’s actions, yet you can control your reactions. Remember to work on forgiveness and acceptance. You can always take a time out and allow yourself the time to come back to balance.
Things will go “wrong.” Your children will get dirty and make noise. You might forget to buy batteries, thaw the turkey or take the cookies out of the oven. Planes might be delayed and friends or relatives will have other responsibilities. Dogs will jump on you and your clothes with muddy paws. Breathe and face these little setbacks with grace and a sense of humor. You will find yourself having a better holiday with things being “perfectly imperfect” than with everything having turned out “perfect,” because now you embracing your humanity and can relax a bit more.
If you cannot see someone special due to military commitments, finances or other reasons, find a creative way to make the holiday time special. Send cookies, a videotaped greeting or gifts to far away relatives. You can arrange another day as your “Christmas,” “Hanukkah” or your designated holiday celebration. You don’t have to limit yourself to what it says on the calendar.
Last, yet certainly not least, let’s look at ways we can keep the holiday season both sober and joyous! Many people have enjoyed the happiest holidays of their lives sober. Here are some tips for having a joyous holiday season in sobriety:
Line up extra 12 Step meetings for the holiday season. You can volunteer to take newcomers to meetings, answer the phone at a clubhouse, be a speaker at a meeting, or help with the dishes.
Be the host to AA, NA, CODA….friends, especially newcomers. If you don’t have a place to hold a formal party, take one person to dinner and spend recovery time together.
Keep you support lists with you at all times. If a drinking urge or panic comes, postpone everything until you’ve called your sponsor or someone on your list of supports.
Find out about special holiday parties, meetings and celebrations given by support groups in your area and go!
Do not attend any drinking occasion you are nervous about. In your addiction, you were clever about making excuses to drink. Use that talent to come up with reasons not to attend events you are nervous about! No party is as important as saving your life.
“Bookend” parties and events. Call your sponsor before you go and call your sponsor again after the party/event to process how things went for you.
Plan to leave parties early if you think there will be more drinking as the night goes on. Plan your “leave time” and stick to it.
Worship in your own way; a way that brings peace and balance to your life during the busy holiday season.
Don’t sit around brooding. The holiday time can be a great time to slow down and take “me” time. Catch up on books, museums, walks, emails and letters.
Watch those holiday temptations. Remember, “one day at a time.”
Enjoy the true beauty of holiday joy and love. Give from the heart!
My hope is that these tips will re-new your commitment to stay sober and in recovery during the holiday season. Keep in mind that the real reason for the season is spiritual renewal through sharing with others.
*May joy and love be what you remember most for this holiday season*
AA Newsletter – Holiday Issue 2005
Joyce Willis is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is currently a therapist at The Meadows. She earned her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Akron. After teaching for several years, Joyce earned a Master's degree in counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has been in the counseling profession since 1996 and in that time has worked extensively in the addictions field. Her specialties include treatment for addictions, bereavement, trauma, depression and anxiety. Joyce has a special interest in mindfulness and helping people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful and physiological selves with compassion and respect.
The Meadows will sponsor a preview of the new film about sex addiction, "Thanks for Sharing," at the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) National Conference on September 18 - 21, 2013 at the Boston Marriott Cambridge Hotel. The theme of the convention is "Creating a Culture of Healthy Sexuality: Diversity of Thought" which will examine sex addition and how to move from addiction into healthy sexuality.
The Meadows Senior Fellow, Alexandra Katehakis, MFT, CSAT, CST-S, and the 2012 Carnes Award Recipient, will present the Carnes Lecture "From Behaviorism to Biology: A historical look at where we've been and where we're going" on Friday, September 20.
"We are pleased to preview the new film "Thanks for Sharing" at this year's SASH Conference," said Sean Walsh, Executive Director for The Meadows."Leading sex addiction experts, including The Meadows' Senior Fellow, Alexandra Katehakis, will be presenting training, along with strategies, treatment modalities, and research in the fields of sexual health."
Several goals and objectives of the conference include using effective techniques to identify persons for increased risk for problems with sexual health and developing educational approaches and preventive interventions that improve the sexual health of all persons.
SASH is a nonprofit multidisciplinary organization dedicated to scholarship, training, and resources for promoting sexual health and overcoming problematic sexual behaviors. For more information about SASH and the conference, visit. www.sash.net.
Many clients ask professionals "Why have I been plagued with hyper-sexuality?" In other words, they were curious as to understand why they had become addicted to hyper-sexual behavior?' This question is often asked by drug and alcohol addicts who also wonder why they were plagued with the addiction gene when their siblings did not appear to have similar issues.
Although the field of sexual addiction is a relatively new one, we have research that shows that there are two pathways to sexual addiction. Often times children who have been traumatized as young kids, will in adolescence or adulthood reenact the trauma; in the form of compulsive sexuality. One of the exercises that I give my clients is to look back in their childhoods and identify the small or the big events that traumatized them. That might look like a divorce or a parents abandonment. That might be the result of a child walking in on his parents having sex. That may include a neighbor or family friend molesting him or her. These little "t" or big "T" traumas lay the ground work for the human psyche to continue to replay unconsciously, the scenario over and over again as an adult. It is if the brain becomes psychologically become stuck or locked in the brain as something familiar that creates compulsivity. The trauma results in the development of an arousal template that continues to light up as it is acted adult in adulthood. The good news is that psychologists believe that these behaviors that repetitiously manifest over and over again are opportunities to get the needed help as an adult that the child was unable to get as a child.
John was frequently punished as a child by his father. His father would beat him severely for even the slightest infractions. Despite the abuse and painful exchange of punishment, John became intrigued as an adult when he viewed sadistic and masochistic forms of internet pornography and began to unconsciously play out these fantasies in his sex life. Punishment and sexual excitement became fused together and became the only stimuli that effectively delivered arousal during times of sex. John shared his desires with his wife who was disgusted by the thought of using physical spankings in the bedroom therefore John became even more compulsive with his viewings on the internet. This behavior escalated further and eventually he was secretly going outside of the marriage to get his sexual needs met which added an extra element of secrecy and excitement to his sexual arousal template. In this scenario it is easy to see how John was reenacting the trauma of early childhood beatings into his sexual life. John said that the first time he ever viewed S & M pornography, he felt a familiarity that drew him back to the porn over and over again. It is likely that John experienced suppressed rage about his childhood abuse which he combined with erotica to produce the desire to reenact the trauma. Unfortunately a contributor to sexual addiction is eroticized rage.
A secondary contributor for arousal template development occurs when children's young minds get "brainlocked" after they have seen something that is curious, titillating or even disturbing. Young children who stumble on their parents soft porn magazines, videos or internet sites may develop the compulsion to go back over the material frequently. Their brain development becomes altered when the reward center learns to light up after viewing this material. This material creates the arousal template that maps out sexual excitement in adulthood. With sexual addiction this behavior becomes compulsive and like an addiction, the sex addict spends more and more time, money and energy finding new forms of this sexual material or experience.
If either of these scenarios sound like you it is important to seek help with a certified sexual addictions therapist (CSAT) who can assist you in calming down the brain, and managing the template while you undergo the process of retraining the brain towards healthy sexuality and break the chains of compulsivity and hyper-sexuality.
Neither trauma nor "brainlock" needs to lock you into compulsive behaviors that keep you from engaging in a normal or healthy life!
Carol Juergensen Sheets, LCSW, PCC, CSAT, is currently in private practice in Indianapolis, IN. She speaks nationally on mental health issues and is featured in several local magazines. She currently has an internet radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com/sexhelpwithcarolthecoach and does regular television segments focusing on life skills to improve one's potential. You can read her blogs at www.carolthecoach.com. To contact Carol about sexual addiction: www.sexhelpwithcarolthecoach.
Life seems to offer plenty of opportunities to practice boundaries! Whether it is in our relationships with family and friends or at the grocery store check-out line, we have many chances to decide if, when and in what ways information and people can be part of our lives. Maintaining healthy boundaries is widely considered a fundamental aspect of the recovery process and an important practice for general well-being. However, without a measure of thoughtful awareness, boundaries can inadvertently create walls around our heart, keeping us from connecting wholeheartedly with ourselves and others.
At The Meadows we often talk about two kinds of personal boundaries: external and internal. An external boundary has to do with monitoring and regulating the quantity and quality of other people's interactions with us. An external boundary is sometimes considered a physical boundary because it deals with how much closeness we allow between ourselves and others. This degree of space between us and others can be related to actual physical proximity and contact or it can be related to emotional closeness and intimacy.
An example of an external boundary might be that an individual decides to engage in a face-to-face visit with his or her family once a month and will otherwise make contact by phone. Depending on the situation, this individual may or may not choose to share the boundary and/or the reason for the boundary with his or her family. Another example of an external boundary might be that an individual sets limits with his or her new dating partner regarding physical contact and intimacy. Discussing this sort of boundary openly with a dating partner can help establish healthy interpersonal patterns early in the relationship. External boundaries like these lay the foundation for other types of personal and interpersonal boundaries.
The other type of personal boundary involves learning to establish an internal boundary that can act as a filter for incoming information. Practicing an internal boundary helps us to recognize that incoming information is not necessarily truth with a capitol "T" but is the subjective perspective of another person or group of people (i.e., religious group, political party, society, culture, etc.). Establishing an internal boundary, while also regulating our own reactivity, allows us to respond more wisely by checking the incoming information against what we know about our own truth. If the incoming information has merit, we can choose to let some or all of it in, otherwise we can exercise an internal boundary and let it slip off our backs. (Easier said than done, right?)
An example of an internal boundary might involve a situation where an individual is being blamed for a poor work outcome by a colleague. (The individual may first choose to exercise an external boundary by deciding whether or not to stay and hear what the colleague has to say.) If the individual decides to listen, then he or she can exercise an internal boundary by choosing to see the incoming data as the colleague's subjective opinion and can then decide what to do with the presented information. After a personal reality-check, the individual may be able to see how well the colleague's point of view fits with his or her own personal truth. Alternatively, the individual may find it useful to acknowledge that the colleague's information was heard, but that more time will be needed to process what it means for him or her. (Again, easier said than done.)
You may notice that I have repeatedly used the words "practice" and "exercise" when referring to boundaries. This is not easy work and it doesn't always come naturally! This may be especially true for people who grew up in family systems where boundaries were unhealthy or non-existent. (Anyone who was exposed to a family environment containing elements of addiction or maltreatment probably experienced serious boundary violations.) However, there is hope! Over the years, I have worked with many people with very challenging backgrounds who have learned how to incorporate healthy boundaries in their everyday lives. Like training our bodies to perform a new physical skill, boundaries are strengthened by regular practice and exercise.
Once we learn about boundaries and recognize their utility in our lives, what keeps us from practicing them more consistently? There are probably many reasons, but I will mention two: 1) fear of disconnection from others and 2) disconnection from our true self.
First, I think we fear that setting external boundaries will lead to disconnection from other people. For example, we might be afraid that our efforts to explicitly identify the quantity and quality of contact we desire to have with other people will result in hurt feelings and emotional distance. We may worry that by exercising boundaries and making our needs known to others we will be seen as demanding, selfish, unreasonable and difficult. At a deeper level, we might be afraid to clearly make our needs known because the pain will be that much greater if the other person then chooses to disregard them. That is, to have our innermost wishes fall on deaf ears may be an especially undesirable outcome.
It is certainly true that practicing boundaries does involve some risk. But it is important to recognize that without clear external boundaries we can miss out on critical opportunities to let other people know what is important to us and how we want to be treated. People in our lives who are dominated by fear and are prone to using control or aggression in relationships may not appreciate our efforts to practice boundaries, at least initially. The relationship may even get worse before it gets better... if it does get better. However, by courageously implementing external boundaries, we honor our fundamental human right to be treated with respect and we have a greater chance of cultivating loving relationships.
The second reason why a regular practice of boundaries, in this case internal boundaries, can be challenging has to do with our tendency to experience disconnection from our true self. Establishing an internal boundary in the face of incoming information, some of which can be extremely uncomfortable, requires that we have some sense of ourselves as a unique person with inherent worth. If our sense of self is mostly derived from external sources, like what other people think of us, then we might find it very difficult to exercise an internal boundary. If our sense of worth is primarily dependent on whether or not we are pleasing to other people (codependence), then any semblance of an internal boundary will easily be whipped about like a flag in the wind. In order to filter incoming data according to how well it resonates with a deeper sense of ourselves, we must first have some notion of our deeper self - we must have an inkling of our own truth!
Paradoxically, exercising boundaries helps us to better understand the nature of our true self - we become more intimate with ourselves through the self-loving act of setting boundaries. So, it's a catch-22, isn't it? Finding our center allows us to establish healthy boundaries and by exercising healthy boundaries we cultivate greater awareness and acceptance of our true self. What are we to do with this chicken-or-the-egg paradox? Well, we can start where we are at...with the awareness of true self that we do have. Right now, in this moment, we can begin to truly care for ourselves by letting go of any information that is incongruent with what we know of our inherent value and worth. Gradually, we can develop a regular practice of internal boundary work by meeting incoming information with greater awareness of, and care for, our maturing true self.
As our practice of healthy boundaries continues to develop and grow, it is very useful to pay attention to our tendency to inadvertently make boundaries into walls. For example, we can easily trick ourselves into thinking that an external boundary is necessary with a particular person, in order to feel safe and secure. However, when we get real honest with ourselves, we might find that our external boundary was more about a subconscious wish to avoid an undesirable aspect of ourselves that comes up with this particular person. In this scenario, the external boundary isn't necessarily based on an intention to honor our fundamental human right to respect and security, but is actually driven by a fear of facing our vulnerabilities.
Another example of replacing boundaries with walls is when we react to incoming information by putting walls up between us and the person offering the information. For example, when outside information is offered, instead of saying to ourselves, "How well does this incoming information match or enhance what I know of my true self?" we can find ourselves in a state of reactivity saying something like, "I could care less what you say, I don't need you in my life anyway!" In this case, the boundary turns into a wall when we outright discard the information and the person or people offering the information. In other words, we sometimes close our hearts and minds to others in the name of creating an internal boundary. The driving motivation behind creating a wall of this kind isn't necessarily rooted in a desire to honor our inner truth, but may actually be another form of avoiding uncomfortable bits of truth about ourselves by vilifying and shutting out other people and outside information.
You might be thinking, "Wall versus boundary, what's the big difference...if I need to protect myself from unhealthy information and people, either one will do the job, right?" While it is true that both a wall and a boundary can establish a safe distance from others and temporarily protect us from potentially harmful information, the wall does so at considerable cost to ourselves. Walls are forged in the fire of reactivity and are tempered under a dangerous duality of mind that argues, "It's me against you; I'm right and you're wrong." In this sort of battle for safe ground, walls can be fashioned into a formidable fortress that restricts other people's access to vulnerable areas of the self. These fortress walls may keep stuff out, but they also keep parts of us walled in; we can end up feeling cut off from ourselves and others.
So, how do we practice boundaries without armoring our hearts?
Listed below are several suggestions on how to exercise external and internal boundaries with an open mind and heart.
1)Pay attention to our intention: Our efforts will be greatly enhanced if we can identify and repeatedly revisit our deepest intentions underlying our commitment to practice boundaries. Again, boundary work is tough and others may not always appreciate our efforts to speak and live our truth. Reminding ourselves of our innermost intentions will cut through the confusion and help sustain us during difficult times.
2)Boundaries are a form of self-care: It is tempting to make our boundary work about other people (e.g., "I must practice boundaries to keep others from hurting me"). Yet, at its core, boundary work is about self-care. Plain and simple. Practicing boundaries is a powerful way to cultivate self-compassion. When we keep the focus of our boundary work on self-care, we are less likely to armor our hearts; and that means we get the opportunity to live more wholeheartedly.
3)Watch for judgment and blame: In boundary work, judgment and blame are telltale signs that boundaries are about to become walls. Judgment and blame indicate that our focus has shifted from self-care to a duality of mind that, if left unchecked, will result in separation by making us right and others wrong. Bring the focus back to our deepest intentions and let judgment and blame fall away as we offer gentle loving-kindness to ourselves by making and keeping boundaries.
4)Boundaries show compassion to others: As mentioned above, we often fear that practicing boundaries will disconnect us from others. Yet, in healthy and loving relationships, boundaries are a compassionate means of clearly identifying our needs so that others have the opportunity to meet those needs, if they so choose. Boundaries show compassion to others by offering clear guidelines on how we want to be treated.
5)Let go of the outcome: Practicing external and internal boundaries doesn't guarantee any particular response or behavior from other people. We might exercise boundaries with a subconscious hope that people will recognize our worth and offer greater respect. This would be a nice outcome, but it isn't the reason for our practice of boundaries. Boundaries are a way for us to recognize our own worth and to show ourselves greater respect and compassion. When we do that; others will naturally follow our lead.
It is our inalienable right and our responsibility to practice healthy boundaries. No one else can do it for us; not because other people don't care enough about us, but because we must care enough about ourselves for boundaries to have any meaning. When boundaries are used to avoid and protect against vulnerability and intimacy, they become walls. These walls may provide temporary protection from fear, pain and shame, but they can also become a fortress around our hearts - creating separation within us and between us and others. On the other hand, the practice of exercising external and internal boundaries is a profound act of self-care and compassion; compassion for ourselves and for others.
Jon G. Caldwell, D.O., is a board certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of adults with relational trauma histories and addictive behaviors. Dr. Caldwell currently works full-time as a psychiatrist at The Meadows treatment center in Wickenburg, Arizona. For many years he has been teaching students, interns, residents, and professionals in medicine and mental health about how childhood adversity influences health and wellbeing. His theoretical perspective is heavily influenced by his PhD graduate work at the University of California at Davis where he has been researching how early childhood maltreatment and insecure attachment relationships affect cognitive, emotional, and social functioning later in life. Dr. Caldwell's clinical approach has become increasingly flavored by the timeless teachings of the contemplative traditions and the practice of mindfulness meditation.