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.

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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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March 2016 Quote of the Month

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

– Steve Jobs


Defining ourselves by and for ourselves can be a difficult task.

There is constant external pressure which tries to shape our opinions, beliefs, and sense of self.

Not all pressure is bad pressure. Looking at the microcosm of family, I must say my parents have always held all their children to a high moral standard starting at a young age. Their influence (the pressure for me to “be good to people”) served to shape me into a very kind conscientious human being!

However, even as incredible as my family is – I still became intensely motivated to seek identity and value outside of their eyes during young adulthood. I had to make my own opinions of how to best live life. After all, at the end of this crazy ride only I would be accountable for the choices I made. Now that I’m more established in my “adulthood” , I realize that some of my views do not mesh seamlessly with those that love me most. To be honest – a handful of my opinions are in direct opposition of what they believe! But that’s OK. Even through differences we can still be united through love and respect without being identical.

There are many systems that humans developed to make sense of the world around them. At birth we are handed a certain worldview; we inherit our family/community views on everything from money, race, education, politics, food, dating, gender and religion. We pick up on how our families fight, how they interact with others, and what type of people they believe are “good” or”bad”. This slowly becomes our “normal” during the most formative years of our lives. Most people don’t give second thought to their “hand-me-down” views, yet alone question them. But it’s important to critically evaluate your beliefs and figure out if they improve your life or hinder your growth. Do the systems you subscribe to make you a better person? Do your views help enrich your life and the lives of those around you? Does anyone other than yourself ultimately profit from your belief in  a particular system?

Life presents endless opportunities to grow, experiment, win, lose, test, learn, hurt, and heal. And once you venture outside of your family, your home town, your first circle of friends – you’ll find that some of those views you grew up with will be challenged. During those times you may realize that deep inside you don’t believe everything you were taught about a certain group of people, a certain lifestyle, a certain belief system. At that moment you’ll have to decide if the safety of familiarity is worth denying your own inner voice.

I don’t know for certain but I’m willing to bet no one gets prizes at the end of all this for being the best rule-follower. You are equipped with a compass and map inside of you that’s meant lead you where you really want to be.

Cheers to a unique journey for us all,

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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.

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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”.

Introducing Guest Writer: Chris Haney

Today I’d like to feature a guest writer and close friend: Chris Haney. We have a running joke that we’re in each other’s karass (“soul tribe”), which is defined as a set of kindred spirits meant to inspire and motivate each other to reach the next level. In addition to being a fantastic friend he’s also a music enthusiast, cat expert, and all around lifter-of-spirits. He reigns as the resident Tupac and Eminem scholar, too. Chris remains one of the things I miss most in Texas! Believe me, you’ll see plenty more of him featured on the happier world blog in the coming weeks.

Hello,

My name is Christopher Haney, I am 30 years old – and I am just getting started. Well that was a weird way to start right? A proclamation? Maybe. This comes from an exercise that Rob Bell presented about a 92 year old woman he met who said this to him upon their first time meeting. What an idea. You likely won’t see any breaking news on these individuals. Some lurk in the shadows and some are probably in your face every day. Honoring an intentional existence that happiness is a choice in this shitty world. They invest in their mind, attitude, and approach. They are conscious. They know that the reward of happiness and joy is worth filtering out the negativity blanket that is constantly trying to wrap itself around you every day. Why do they know you ask? Because the deeper the trench – the HIGHER the peak. If you’re like me you’ve been on your own journey trying to find the right formula. You have a unique story and I have mine. Share your story with the people that deserve to hear it. I imagine that if you’ve found your way to this page it’s not because you clicked a spam button, but made an INTENTIONAL choice. There is a kindling beneath your heart and mind awaiting to be lit. Let’s set it on fire. Let’s invest in the movement.

I look forward to seeing Tiffanie’s mission develop this year and cannot wait to contribute in any way possible. Why? Because it matters.

-Haney Strong

“It is not only possible that you have your dream – but its necessary.” -Les Brown

January 2016 Quote of the Month

“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” 

-AnaÏs Nin


This quote absolutely has special meaning to me, and seemed perfect as we kick off a new year!

Staying in the bud may seem safe – but the cocoon is only a small part of metamorphosis. In your cocoon you may feel safe, secure, comfortable. You’ve surrounded yourself with a shell or an armor that keeps you from being disturbed. But while the cocoon is vital for growth, eventually you have to break out and try your brand new wings. You have to show yourself that you’re no longer the awkward caterpillar and that you have grown!

Have the courage to try new things. Have the guts to define and chase your dreams. 

 

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Don’t stay cramped up in the cocoon! (Photo: HRB.org)

I encourage you all to blossom this year!

 

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