August 2016

How to Set Healthy Boundaries


Do you ever take stock of relationships and have cause to wonder, “Do other people have relationships like this?” or “It’s too late to say anything now because they will be upset with me; so it is OK they take advantage of me”? Sometimes we give so much of ourselves that we feel defenseless or immobilized. What does this mean and is change possible?


Mariana Bockarova, PhD is a researcher at the University of Toronto and the author of Romantically Attached. She discusses the four ways to reset appropriate, healthy boundaries. Dr. Bockarova defines boundaries as “the limits we set with other people, which indicate what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behavior towards us.”

Boundaries are essential; they help navigate the world in a safe way to protect self and others. Strengthening boundaries will ultimately usher in joy and peace. It is stressful when others betray or ignore your boundaries; it may cause unnecessary emotional frustration. Not having boundaries does significant damage to one’s self-worth and sense of self-efficacy.

Dr. Bockarova identifies the first of four ways to set your boundaries straight: Knowing Your Limits. This can be done by looking at past relationships and delineating what was acceptable and what was not in those relationships. It is important to clearly define the intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual boundaries that you have with others in your life.

The second step to setting boundaries Being Assertive. This is where you want to be honest and clear with what you say to others; because most people suck at mindreading, it is important to speak up, clearly and firmly. You must remember you are one person; you can only do so much. Others will not know what they can and cannot do if you do not speak up and tell them. This is often the most challenging facet of starting to establish your own space and abilities. It is inordinately difficult for some to establish or alter their boundaries, as self-worth for many is defined by the needs and feelings of others. This is a critical error.

The Third step is practicing to be assertive, with the dictum that Practice Makes Perfect. Dr. Bockarova explains that even though this feels out of the ordinary, sustaining your boundaries means that “…you value yourself, your needs, and your feelings more than the thoughts and opinions of others.” This does not make you cruel or mean; it simply means you are fair and just toward others and toward yourself!

The Forth step is to Delete and Ignore those who continue to disregard the boundaries that you have set. Sometimes this means rejecting that person as a friend; however, as Dr. Bockarova explains, “Remind yourself of your own worth, and that no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable or take your self-defined space away from you.”

Do not panic. Dr. Bockarova assures those for whom this kind of change triggers significant anxiety: “Albert Bandura noted, much of human social learning comes from modeling behavior, so if we do not have adequate role models whose behavior we can encode through observation and later imitate, we are at a loss, often left fumbling and frustrated.”

Solid psychotherapists are well-versed in boundaries, how to recognize them, then develop them in order to increase self-image and self-efficacy.

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“Forgive and Forget” For Better Health!

Kristi Burchfiel, author of Piecing Together Forgiveness: A Study of Philemon, combines a study of the Pauline letter and psychological research, explaining that “God created us to be relational; we are meant to be in relationships with other people, friends, loved ones, even God Himself”. Among the many benefits of forgiveness, it acts primarily as a bridge to restoring relationships. Relationships that have been torn asunder and offered bitterness and heartache can be restored—fully—and bring peace of mind.

The Journal of Health Psychology published a study that states: “Forgiveness – of self and others – reduced the effect of stress, which improved physical and mental health”. Experience suggests that forgiveness is not easy, especially when we cannot understand the motives of others. Forgiveness requires acceptance of what is and an even more radical acceptance of the consequences of whatever wrongs have been done. One must be able to retire the mindset that insists one has some control over the actions of another person.  Ultimately, when one prioritizes forgiveness, one must work on forgiving oneself. This requires compassion for oneself, the hard work one does, recognizing that no human is perfect, but still deserves to be loved and even prized.

Additionally, the Mayo Clinic reported “Forgiveness: letting go of grudges and bitterness mentions a number of health benefits related to forgiveness, among them lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, stronger immune system and improved heart health.” There are medical benefits and psychospiritual benefits of forgiveness and the restoration of relationships.

One of the fundamental principles of a clinically sound mental health practice is the following presupposition: almost all social-emotional problems are essentially normal responses to abnormal situations. Anger, sadness, grief, anxiety—none of these are disease states; they are normal experiences and functions of being human in a fallen, desperately broken world. Of course, while living in this world, one can learn new and better ways to respond to it – forgiveness is one of those healing salves. It is worth your health and happiness.


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Does Your Child Need Therapy?

Probably not. I could end this blog right here, but let me explain what I mean.

Aside from those quintessential major life events that spur an adult to see a therapist (such as a death, divorce, major illness, or disability) most parents do not have an established threshold for taking their child to a professional psychotherapist. There is no fever of 103 that most parents recognize as a significant enough problem that should trigger a call to a professional.
When your child struggles with an emotional or behavioral problem, the options are essentially as follows:

1. Do nothing. Hope the problem goes away on its own. Many problems do.
2. Learn all you can and enlist yourself and other family as the primary agent of change.
3. Take your child to a physician.
4. Take your child to a psychotherapist.
5. All of the above. Well, except #1.

It is surprising that the following fact is surprising to some parents: your child can experience any of the mental health problems and psychospiritual crises as an adult. However, children and adolescents tend to manifest their crises quite differently. Children often lack the vocabulary to express their feelings; because most adults’ “Child-ese” tends to be rusty, they often misinterpret symptoms or miss them altogether. With depression, for example whereas an adult would display sadness and lack of energy, a child might display irritability or complain of stomachaches.

A child’s mental-emotional-behavioral-psychospiritual (there are several descriptors that would work) health is not something to take lightly. Warning signs evolve with a child’s age. Jeanette Raymond, a psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, shared an age-based warning signs list of what parents should keep an eye out for:

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As Jeanette Raymond stated, “If you’re alarmed by changing behaviors, consider seeking childs play therapy for your child”. Remember, all human beings experience suffering; the fact that your child will suffer emotionally shouldn’t necessarily alarm you. Sometimes this is a normal, healthy, even necessary function of growth.

However, when you believe you are ill-equipped to be your child’s primary agent of change or if you struggle to decide whether your child’s unique suffering and manifestation of it is normal, that is when to seek professional help.
Please don’t ignore your instincts; usually they are right. Please don’t seek a professional who believes that emotional and behavioral symptoms are caused primarily by biological forces; their cures will produce infinitely more suffering and for far longer.

Therapy with a skilled psychotherapist allows you some insight or an “inside thscoop” on what might be happening for your child. You can differentiate between normal and abnormal, healthy suffering and unhealthy suffering. Early intervention can be key to long term, successful recovery and true healings. For your child who is struggling, therapy can enhance their development and help them feel heard. The technical term for this is love. For parents, skilled psychotherapy can provide clarity, support and assistance during times of uncertainty and upset.

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