Boundaries: Permission to Protect Yourself

A boundary is a limit or guideline you set to govern social interactions and relationships. Boundaries are rules of engagement; they separate healthy normal behaviors from undesirable or unacceptable ones. They are a good part of any relationship and evolve through time as we do. While there are many types of boundaries, today we’ll focus on emotional boundaries with others.

Family interactions are usually our crash course in boundaries – our families teach us what’s praiseworthy versus what will result in punishment.

You discover your parent’s limits the first time you’re scolded for throwing a tantrum. Alternatively, if your parents did not have clear guidelines, you may struggle to understand why friends or other relatives find the same behavior upsetting. My parents set many boundaries with us surrounding appropriate displays of emotions. I learned not to speak to them (or any adult) in a disrespectful manner. They enforced civility even during disagreements. “It’s natural to argue, but not OK to scream, curse or be nasty just for the sake of being nasty!”, my mom often said . Their framework was my norm and has stayed with me through my adult life. But of course we didn’t always follow the rules, we were kids after all and some of us struggled with boundaries more than others. But when we went out-of-bounds, we’d lose a privilege of some type. Guaranteed. So I quickly figured out boundaries and consequences for crossing them in the safety of my home.

We absorb so much from our families without even realizing it. Where, when, and how we set boundaries is based on what behavior we consider “normal” and acceptable; the barometer is typically set by what we observe in childhood. Some adults retain the boundaries set by family or cultural norms while others actively curate a personal code that matches their adult beliefs. Boundaries with family, friends, and romantic partners usually change as we grow. We set better boundaries when we have secure sense of self/identity.


Limits are set by parents to protect their child, but in adolescence and adulthood we are responsible for setting boundaries to protect ourselves. Our rules are CRITICAL because they signal to others how we want to be treated and what we will tolerate. People without clear emotional boundaries (and those who struggle to enforce them) are bound to attract boundary-steppers. Friends, family, lovers may cross lines without even knowing. Without governing principles for how we’re treated – how can we ensure safety and fulfillment of needs?

Every healthy person has boundaries but it’s up to the individual where they draw the line and how they communicate those rules to others. Different boundaries are appropriate for the varied social interactions we encounter daily. For example -boundaries with coworkers may be tighter than those with our roommates or friends we’ve known for years.

Exercise: Think back to a BIG conflict that happened when someone violated your boundaries.

-What was the boundary violated?
-Why do you think you developed this boundary in the first place?
-How was this boundary communicated? Was it communicated at all?
-Was the boundary expressed before or after the conflict?
-Did you enforce the boundary? If yes: in what ways? If no: why not?
-What was the end result?
-What could you have done differently to prevent or better handle the issue?

To avoid a never ending cycle of “boundary stepping”, we must consciously define, express, and enforce our limits. Healthy people set boundaries to protect their feelings. But even the strongest of us are tempted to let close confidants overstep them. Why is this? Most often it leads back to a simple concept: we think budging will somehow bring us some type of emotional fulfillment. We cave on how we want to be treated in hopes of obtain love, attention, favor, appreciation, excitement. We think “well I know I hate how they talk to me, but gosh I sure do love hanging out with them!” or “I hate getting drunk calls from my ex, but maybe if I put up with this long enough we can get back together”. We let people pass our safety limits to secure better treatment in the future. Odd, right? It goes without saying that this strategy almost never ends with our needs being met. The tactic of sacrificing our dignity often leaves us unhappy and saddled with the guilt of knowing we should have protected ourselves better.

I’ll be really honest with you guys. It was very difficult for me (as an adult) to set healthy boundaries with my parents. Especially considering that I was conditioned to accept their terms unilaterally without much thought to my own terms. It took years of my young adulthood to learn how to properly communicate to my folks that my adult life was separate from theirs. I found a way to explain that while I was often happy to share – there are situations I want to navigate alone without their input or interference. This felt awkward and painful at first, but eventually they got the point and learned to respect my boundaries without much reminding. When they would aggressively pry or involve themselves I learned to immediately cut the conversation or interaction short. But the funny thing about boundaries is that once you go through the potentially uncomfortable stage of setting and enforcing them, those who truly love and respect you will accept them and move on so you can  ease back into the more enjoyable parts of the relationship.

When people respect your boundaries (and you are mindful of theirs) the connection deepens and can weather all storms.

Give yourself permission to set and enforce the boundaries needed to flourish,

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Psychiatrist or psychologist? Therapist, counselor, or coach?

Your car is sputtering around – not getting up to the same speeds it used to. It makes a squeaking noise every time you make a sharp turn and sometimes the steering wheel shakes when you accelerate.

You try to ignore it to see if it’ll get better on it’s own, but the issues get worse and worse.

How long would it take you to drive it into a shop? Would you have anxiety letting a professional diagnose the problem? Would you hesitate to mention your car troubles with friends or family?

Think of your mental health as that car. Our thoughts, personalities, and beliefs drive us through life and affect what we achieve and how we interact with everyone around us.

When your emotions or beliefs start to negatively impact your daily life – it might be good to check in with a professional.

But who do you go to? What’s a psychiatrist? Is that the same as a counselor or life coach? Do all psychologists make you lay on a couch and talk about your past?


The familiar image of the Freud style therapy session!

When picking a mental health professional – there’s no one size fits all approach. The type of professional that works best for you can depend on your specific needs and experience.

Psychiatrists are doctoral level practitioners. They are medical doctors (M.D.) and they can prescribe medication to help minimize and control unwanted mental symptoms. Their treatment plans usually involve long-term assessment and reassessment of how patients adjust to medication.

Psychologists are doctoral level practitioners (Ph.D. or Psy.D.).  Psychologists can work in a wide range of fields. When providing mental health services they focus on correctly diagnosing disorders, understanding behaviors and their triggers, and minimizing negative symptoms.

Therapists are master’s level health professions with additional licensing in their given specialty. Therapists can specialize in substance abuse, sexual trauma, children and adolescence issues, family or marital therapy, etc. They can focus on smaller behavior goals or delve into deeper issues for longer treatment plans.

Counselors and/or life coaches can be licensed or unlicensed; the use of these terms is not regulated in the U.S. That doesn’t mean counselors or coaches are poor quality – they could be a great fit for you! Typically counselors and coaches have licensing and training in social work, psychology, and/or health. They may have a master’s or bachelor’s degree. They usually work alongside a psychologist/psychiatrist and can be great in helping you achieve concrete goals like stress management or anger management. Be mindful when choosing because there is no governing body that controls who calls themselves a counselor or coach.

So now that you know the different types of professionals, what sort of therapy is best for you?

Counseling is usually focused on shorter term goals. For example, as a counselor I may help a client reach a goal of reducing stress eating episodes. This would involve helping them understand the source of their stress eating – what is causing the stress? Are they eating junk because they don’t know it’s bad for them? I may educate them about nutrition and what bad food does to their body. Their homework might be to write a list of things they like about themselves and place it on their fridge to look at before they reach for foods that will harm their health. Together we’ll determine “triggers” (things that compel the unwanted behavior) like watching too much TV or having bad day at work. I’ll go grocery shopping with them and help them find healthy foods to snack on when the urge kicks in. We will clean the kitchen together of unhealthy foods, when they are ready. Their stress eating can involve larger issues like anxiety, self esteem, and depression so we address those as they surface. But I am more focused on helping them change the unwanted behavior. I cannot diagnose any mental illness or disorder.

Psychotherapy is more long term and focuses on a wider range of issues, sometimes more severe. A psychotherapy plan can cover helping someone feel better equipped to handle ALL stresses (grief, rejection, physical pain) as well as recognize behavioral patterns that prevent them from reaching their personal goals. Sessions may focus on enriching relationships by managing negative thinking, reducing feelings of low self-esteem, and ending self-isolating behaviors. A psychotherapist can help someone who has experienced childhood trauma and abuse recognize (and change) patterns in their adult relationships that attract more trauma and abuse. Psychotherapists like Psychiatrists and Psychologists can officially diagnose disorders like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

These branches can be broken into dozens of smaller techniques. Some people feel their symptoms are manageable with talk therapy – sometimes it takes talking and medication to feel your best. Sometimes you may just need a life coach or counselor to get you out of a specific rut in life.

Remember: the road to becoming your best self doesn’t have to be lonely. There are plenty of people to love and support you!

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Is “Burnout” Real?

Industrial-Organizational psychology (“I/O” for short) is a branch of psychology that studies what work means to us and how it affects our lives. I/O psychology introduced a phenomena that’s been referred to commonly as: BURNOUT.

Burnout is that feeling that you just can’t do anymore.

When you experience burnout you feel tired, exhausted, uninspired, frustrated, overworked, and under-appreciated. Most workers can remember at lease one case of burnout.


The dimensions of burnout can occur in any order and be experienced simultaneously

Maslach describes the dimensions of burnout:

  1. Emotional Exhaustion
  2. Depersonalization
  3. Low Personal Accomplishment

These dimensions can occur in distinct stages or overlap.

The effects of burnout are disastrous. You’re more likely to produce poor work if you are tired and inattentive. You’re more likely to take a few sick days if you feel run down. If you feel cynical and hopeless, you will start “checking out” of your work environment.

We learned in our previous post that our mental health is the lens through which we experience the world. Burnout is relevant because it affects our mental well being. The frustration and hopelessness of a stressful jobs can spill past the borders of our workplace and into our personal lives.

Let me be clear: burnout is not a mental disease. Burnout is not a indication of unhappy or listless workers. Burnout is usually a symptom of larger problem. It can occur for a number of complex reasons. It can happen when the job isn’t really a great fit for the person hired to do it, alternatively it can be a reflection of a particular field, specific job/title, or management issues.

When I worked as a claims adjuster – it was daunting. Adjusting claims for any type of insurance is super stressful. Your customer’s first contact with you as an adjuster is always after something horrible has happened: someone hit their brand new car, they hurt themselves at work, their house was broken into, etc. You’re working with the general public – many people purchase insurance without understanding their coverage. Their first crash course is when they’re angry and need to use this invisible “product” they’ve been putting money towards for months or years. The natural frustration of an accident coupled with lack of consumer education means claims adjusters must be extremely empathetic and gentle. So why do claims reps have the stigma of being a cold-hearted bunch?

Part of it is burnout. Often claims adjusters are overloaded with claims. They hear tears, frustration, screaming, and cursing through their entire work day. Receiving 20-30 voicemails daily is common. Handling lengthy investigations that end up being fraudulent is common. And though adjusters don’t sell the policies – it’s their responsibility to educate consumers on the details of coverage purchased years prior. That’s not to mention the often complex and specialized laws/state regulations one must learn to be compliant in the industry. I truly did enjoy the human contact of my job in claims – I like to help and coach people, that’s why I’m a counselor now! However there’s no denying that working claims is a perfect storm for burnout: (1) high claims volume (2) pressure of legal and organizational restraints and (3) helping those who are emotionally distraught and angry.

Let’s look at some solutions for both the burned out employee and the organization at large.

(1) Seek better training. (Management: OFFER effective training.)

Once I learned the systems and process better, I became more efficient at my claims job. Taking extra time to learn a new skill or master technology may seem counter productive – after all, you’re already overloaded with tasks you don’t have time to finish, right? Well, view training as an opportunity to learn how to work more efficiently. Tasks that once took an hour were completed in 10-15 minutes after training and practice with the right tools. This freed up more of my day to get tougher things done. If there’s no formal training – take initiative to find someone in your department or team that’s performing well. Ask for time to sit with them or observe them.

(2) Participate in team building. (Management: Encourage fun team building.)

As mentioned earlier, some fields or particular jobs are just going to be stressful. If you are a nurse, a social worker, or working in retail during Christmas – no amount of training is going to make your job less hectic. It’s the nature of your position and industry. So if you can’t change the situation, what can you do? Embed yourself positively in your workplace. The support of friends at work who best understand what you’re going through can make or break you during tough times. Participate in team events if you have the time. Better yet, make the time. Finding a coworker to meditate with during breaks or someone who can lift your spirits at lunch is very valuable. Get to know your team and have fun with them.

(3) TAKE TIME OFF. (Management: ALLOW TIME OFF.)

I realize this isn’t available to all workers/managers. But if you have the opportunity to take a short break – seize it. Plan a vacation or “stay-cation” over a weekend to unplug and come back refreshed.

(4) Have a constructive conversation with your boss. (Management: Seek feedback.)

Complaining to coworkers and friends outside of work may feel cathartic but once it becomes too frequent and too negative it can turn toxic. You’ll recognize a toxic conversation because these interactions make the speaker and listener feel worse afterward instead of relieved or uplifted. Everyone needs to vent, but sometimes communicating to the right people in the right way can be more constructive than daily rant sessions around the cooler. Talking to your team members about the issues and brainstorming solutions to present to your manager might be the key to changing things.

If things still don’t improve?

Ask yourself if you’re truly a good fit for your job. Does it intersect with your knowledge, skills, interests, and personality? Only you know the answer there. If the answer is “no”, consider making a game plan to change things. You may not have the luxury of landing a new job immediately once you realize this. But you can take small steps in the right direction – try to incorporate more of your style into the position you’re working to increase happiness. My friend and ex-coworker Chris is a guest writer  for this blog. When we worked together he started a weekly email chain with funny clips and hilarious inter-office quotes. What started off as something goofy became this wonderful thing that everyone started to look forward to. He got to uplift the team, express his personality, feel valued, and become more embedded. All of that made working harder feel easier. If you’re are looking for a more concrete change: consider moving to another department or saving up to take time off for a serious job search. Vocational counselors use different methods to help you find and secure a job that’s better suited for your skills and interests. Many community centers have free vocational counseling and job training programs.

Stay sharp and fresh out there,

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Comparison in the Social Media Age

Theodore Roosevelt believed that “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

With this in mind – I unplugged from social media a few years ago.

In the beginning it was weird living without my timeline and a place to post all my happy photos and exciting news. But eventually it began to feel more organic. Phoning a friend with good news became less awkward. Arranging a dinner party through physical invites less tedious. I began to look forward to going over photos in person while laughing and telling the stories behind them. After a while I wondered why I previously posted photos in a frenzy as if I were releasing a CD be reviewed, admired, and critiqued.

This isn’t a rant about the evils of social media because we all know the ways in which it enhances our lives and increases inter-connectivity. Facebook makes it effortless to connect to far away friends and relatives and give them a glimpse into your life that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Social media can bring awareness to incredible causes like activism, charity, and education.

But, there can be a dark underbelly to the act of constantly polishing up our online lives for consumption and viewing the meticulously polished lives of others.

A few studies have been completed on the subject, one notable one by Jordan, Monin, Dweck, Lovett, John, & Gross in 2011. Their study found that heavy social media use can lead to symptoms of depression and inadequacy:

People tend to underestimate others’ negative emotions…  those afflicted with emotional difficulties may fail to recognize others’ internal struggles, which may compound feelings of loneliness and isolation.  – Jordan et al., 2011

Comparison happens. We ALL compare ourselves to others and it’s not always a bad thing! I compare my actions to those I admire or deeply respect. I ask: I am being as inclusive and kind to others as my personal idols? Am I being open and curious or am I closing off because I’m afraid of the unknown? Holding yourself to a standard that you truly believe in is a good thing. But comparing things like looks, lifestyle, career, and money can lead to depression and anxiety.


Below is an excerpt from Alice Walton’s article about Facebook and Depression :

“You should feel good after using Facebook . . .However, the unintended consequence is that if you compare yourself to your Facebook friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ you may have a distorted view of their lives and feel that you don’t measure up to them, which can result in depressive symptoms. If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook excessively, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard.”

For me, the constant status updates, tweets, and throwin’ photos on “the gram” felt a little forced. By only uploading my bright happy smiles I ignored the valuable lessons attached to the tears cried along the way.

I’ve learned so much from those less glamorous, quiet moments that aren’t captured on the “highlight reels”. And I’ve accepted the fact that I am not grandiose. I don’t value fame and fortune above all else and I am not overly concerned with status. I still cry at sad movies and hold the utmost respect for my parents. I like things that are deemed too pedestrian in a culture that’s more obsessed with shock value and entertainment than actual substance and kindness. I am plain and unimpressive at times and don’t need to constantly buzz, sparkle, rebuild, attract, network, consume, and react. Often times, I simply enjoy just BEING.

BEING (instead of showing, watching and obsessing) was easier to do sans social media, for me. But quitting isn’t necessary if you don’t want to. Here are some tips I suggest for social media users who desire happier more fulfilling interactions:

1) Commit to being CONSCIOUS of how and when you use social media.
Are you building others up? Are you encouraging and connecting with loved ones? Or are you being your worst critic and lamenting over perfect photos of people who really may not matter? Do you only run to social media when you’re feeling down in the dumps? If yes – do know that logging on and comparing yourself to others is almost guaranteed to make you feel worse? Being conscious means using social media and interacting with intent.

2) Create and enjoy content that’s REAL and true to you!
Are you allowing your self esteem to be measured in clicks and likes – or are you creating and sharing content that truly enriches people’s lives? Are you being respectful of your morals and ideals while online? Better yet – are you being respectful of others? Making content that’s true to yourself and not solely designed to garner attention is a surefire way to feel good about yourself. People feel better when they are authentic. Bonus: authentic people are received better by others as well! So be yourself, always.

3) Limit your usage when dealing with a depressive episode. 
If you’re having a depressive episode – consider steering away from social media until you feel more stable and positive. Viewing photos of your friends having the time of their lives while you feel down in the dumps is not going to cheer you up. Even if those photos are carefully crafted, curated, and/or photoshopped. Instead of passively consuming media during these episodes – I suggest engaging mindfully in your favorite healthy hobby or activity. Do something you know will improve your mood. Talk to someone about your feelings and get it all out. Then unwind and watch your favorite show, learn a new recipe, go for a quick jog.

Conscious usage of social media is something we could all engage in to create a happier (online) world!

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Additional reading: I suggest reading Essena O’Neill’s story about quitting social media after being an “instagram celebrity”.

What is “Mental Health”? Why is it Important?

Your mental health is your psychological, emotional, and social well being. It’s affected by many factors including your past experiences (particularly abuse or trauma), your biology (genetics and brain chemistry), and your current environment. Your mental health can be affected by where and how you grew up, your current physical state (certain illnesses affect your emotional state), and the structures and chemicals in your brain.

Your mental health is the lens through which you interact with the world. It affects how you react to new situations, how you work with other people, and what you think of yourself daily. Your mental health affects how you perceive and react to stimuli like stress, joy, pressure, and romantic attachment. It’s super important – yet there is a lack of accurate information available on mental health illness.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a guide called “Mental Health Myths and Facts” to help combat the many misconceptions surrounding the ideas of mental health.

They share,

Myth: Mental health problems don’t affect me.

Fact: Mental health problems are actually very common. In 2014, about:

  • One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue
  • One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression
  • One in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression


That information might surprise you, but doesn’t surprise me. In my years of working with a wide range of people I’ve met many wonderful and resilient souls who’ve battled severe depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and other illnesses. There shouldn’t be a cloud of shame hanging over anyone who is experiencing a mental health issue. In addition, it’s important to know your current mental state may not be long term or permanent.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines:

Myth: There is no hope for people with mental health problems. Once a friend or family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover.

Fact: Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.

Again: your mental health is the lens through which you see the world. The world is colored with many shades – the highs of love, security, and interconnectedness balanced with the lows of sadness, grief, and failure. The good and the bad make up the human experience – but can appear distorted without a healthy lens.

Cheers to a happier world and healthier lens to view it,

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