Boundaries: Don’t Fence Me OUT!

Let’s say you have a beautiful rose garden.  You have cultivated and nurtured this garden for months, choosing just the right colors of blossoms, fertilizing them, trimming them, watering them. Yet much to your dismay, each morning you find your rose garden has been the local deer’s midnight snack. Eventually, you decide to put up a fence around the garden to keep the deer out. Do you confer with the deer first? Do you apologize? Do you leave a note explaining your reasoning, and beg for forgiveness? Of course not. You understand the reasons for the fence, and do what you need to do take care of yourself and your roses.

Granted, our loved ones and acquaintances are very different than deer, but the concepts are still the same. Often I hear clients lamenting the reactions they get when they set boundaries. “But she doesn’t like it when I say no”; “But he gets mad when I say I don’t have enough time”; “But she wanted me to…”.  The fact of the matter is, often other people don’t like the boundaries we set. It keeps them out, or denies them something they wanted. So it’s perfectly ok for them to have a reaction, or not like the boundaries.

Boundaries are everywhere. Boundaries to keep us in, boundaries to keep us out. Boundaries to keep other people out. Boundaries are an absolutely necessary part of life. Without them, roles would be confused, relationships even more complicated, and many things would be unsafe. Boundaries you set for yourself are just that; they are for YOU, not the other person! I say this to my clients and they look at me as if to say, “Yes, duh, I know”. But the point I am trying to make is this: if you are setting boundaries for YOURSELF, to protect yourself, to respect yourself, then why are you spending so much time worrying about how the other person is reacting to your boundaries? If we were to base our boundaries on how other people respond to them, then we’d either a) have no boundaries b) have boundaries that didn’t feel very good to us, or c) a very crooked fence!

Whatever it is, your body, time, energy, money… boundaries you set about these things are for yourself and no one else!  The trick is to learn how to tolerate the reactions of those who are kept out by our boundary.  Let others have their reactions to your boundaries. Notice them. Understand them if possible. Then take a nice, deep breath and move on, knowing you have done the right thing for yourself.

Published in: on September 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Falling Asleep

Many people struggle with insomnia, and sleep strategies are often something that comes up in my work with individuals. We are an over-booked, over-stimulated society. Likely with our excessive obligations come more stressors and more problems, and more feelings than we have time to adequately deal with. What ends up happening is that when unpleasant feelings or thoughts arise for us during the day, we are almost instantaneously able to be distracted. Yet those thoughts and feelings don’t just vanish… they are put on “hold”. When do they come back? That’s right, when your head hits the pillow! Think about it: when it’s time for sleep, you turn off the light, lie down on your pillow, and close your eyes. You say to yourself, “I’ve got 7.25 hours until my alarm goes off. That should be enough, but I need to fall asleep RIGHT NOW.” The trouble is, not only do our brains not shut off that fast, but these thoughts and feelings we’ve been putting off all day finally see an opportunity to get their due acknowledgement.  Unresolved items begin filtering in: a tense conversation with a loved one earlier in the day, a task you’ve been putting off, a worry you’ve been fending off by staying busy. This is no accident. If you don’t allow yourself the time and space to address these things, the first time all day without stimulation and distraction will be the time they come up.

Many people who have insomnia have read the sleep hygiene suggestions: no caffeine 6 hours before bed, no exercise within an hour of going to sleep, and avoid the “white lights” of TVs/computer screens which lower melatonin, a chemical in our brains that helps us sleep.

However, even people who want to change their sleep patterns find themselves doing exactly these things, propelled by anxiety and stress. Using caffeine to make up for the deficiency in quality sleep; squeezing in exercise close to bedtime because it’s the first opportunity to do so all day; staring at Facebook on the phone in bed to keep any other stressful thoughts at bay.

Here are some tips for when you find yourself confronted with anxiety, racing thoughts, or a brain that just “won’t shut off” at bedtime:

1)   Embrace the dark. Don’t fear the lack of stimulation or let yourself think you need some other form of distraction as soon as thoughts creep in (like turning on the TV, etc.). In the essence of mindfulness, notice everything you feel. Notice the temperature of the room, the sensation of the pillowcase on your face, the weight of the sheet or blanket.

2)   Breathe. Take slow, deep belly breaths that signal to your brain you are relaxed and have nothing to be on guard about. Your brain will follow what your body is telling it.  Relax your muscles until you feel your entire weight pressing into the mattress.

3)   If a worried thought or an unfinished task creeps in, tell yourself: “Now is the time for rest. I can take care of that tomorrow.”

4)   If you cannot sleep, don’t fret. Tell yourself you are resting and recharging your body, even if you don’t fall asleep.  Typically, the more pressure you put on yourself to fall asleep the less you will be able to.  Move the alarm clock away from you so you can’t see the time (and can’t calculate the hours until your alarm!).

In addition to these things, you may want to try to set aside time a few hours before bed to get your “ducks in a row”. Update your “to do” list, make a phone call or have a conversation you’ve been putting off, and prepare for the next day. Better yet, ask yourself, “Is there anything bothering me?” If yes, acknowledge those feelings; simply give them space. The more you do these things earlier in the day, the less they will come knocking when you’re on your pillow.

Sweet Dreams!

Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happiness is a journey, not a destination…

For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin- real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.


 I promise I won’t base all my blogs on quotes, but I had to dedicate my first general practice blog entry to one of my all-time favorites. This quote says so much about the PROCESS of life, something we all have the tendency to rush through or even wish away. Do you know what you can miss when you wish away a rough patch of your life? Your life. And since none of us know how much time we really have, why wish away even a moment, no matter how difficult?

I know, I know, easier said than done. There have definitely been times in my life when I catch myself thinking “As soon as this is over, I’ll be happy” or “When I… THEN I will be really happy.” The danger in this is that happiness is often a choice, not based simply on a combination of life circumstances. We can choose to be happy now, even if things aren’t perfect, or if we don’t have everything all “lined up”. Similarly, in the future, things will never be perfect. There will always be something that could be better, or something we will be working towards. So, if we just continuously put happiness on hold until we “get” somewhere, we may never actually get there.

Consider the possibility that even if you are unhappy right now about certain aspects of your life, you may be able to look back on this time and see what was GOOD about it. Unemployed? You’ll probably soon be working the 9 to 5, wishing you had enjoyed your time “off” more. Single? In a year you’ll probably be happily coupled with someone, perhaps fleetingly wanting more “freedom”. Kids driving you crazy? Consider the possibility that when they leave home you would give anything to have them all back under your roof. Yes, it’s a case of the “grass is always greener”, except in this scenario you’re not coveting a neighbor’s lawn, you’re coveting the lawn of your future. We miss the parts of our present that are wonderful because we’re in such a hurry to get to the future, and we imagine it will be so much better than our present.

Sometimes I say to my clients, “you are not working towards getting to start on your life, after you get through this. This IS your life.” I have had clients say, “Gee, thanks!”. I don’t mean it as an insult, but an inspiration! No matter what happens in your day, your week, your month… this IS your life and you have the choice to make it what it is.

So what to do? Stop. Look around. See the green grass all around you, or the parts of your lawn that may need watering. Take care of what you need to take care of today, and embrace both the good and the bad of your PRESENT. This is all you have; choose happiness, now.

Published in: on June 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Hello world!

If you are reading this, you are probably one of the first to read my blog entry. Thanks! I thought writing a blog might be a nice way to stay connected with my clients in between sessions, as a nice companion to the work we do in sessions, and also to help those of you who don’t know me get to know me and my work better. This is my “general” blog, and I’ll be writing about anything that comes up that I think would be interesting or helpful to share. Since this is new to me, bear with me as I iron out any kinks as they come up. Please subscribe to this blog to be alerted to any new entries, and of course feel free to leave comments. There are going to be two other blogs as well; one about parenting, and the other about the gender work that I do. Please subscribe to these other blogs depending on your interests.  Thanks again for visiting my blog. 🙂

Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment