Learning Boundaries as a Self-Parenting Skill

 

I recently saw this tweet from writer Jacinda Townsend:

Jacinda, you are definitely not alone!

For those who grew up in a family of origin with appropriate boundaries, learning how to set boundaries probably happened as invisibly as learning to walk, write their name, or sing songs. Interpersonal interactions were healthy and just “happened that way.” Those people often don’t even realize that’s how they are living. (See: fish, water!)

But for those of us from families with more dysfunction, we may have just as invisibly learned unhealthy boundaries, and it will greatly affect our daily lives. Like much of self-parenting, this is harder to learn in adulthood, but necessary and definitely worth the work.

Since I am also a therapist who hands out materials on boundaries to my clients, here are links to two articles I frequently use with clients. Others may also find them useful:

Like any skill, boundary setting takes repeated practice over time. We may see how we’re “supposed to” do it right away, but that doesn’t mean we will be able to implement it right away. Throw away that perfectionistic expectation. But you can start experiencing relief right away from even small changes! Read the articles and see what parts apply to your experience. Start small, keep working on it, and develop the habit of treating your boundaries as being important! ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our First “From You”: “Belonging to Yourself”

 

 

From time to time, our clients bring in articles, books, essays, or other materials that they have found especially helpful in work we are doing. Since one of the most valuable reviews is from someone who has been there, we’d like to share the helpfulness with others who may need it!

Today’s link is an article by Celeste Scott. It features an aspect of self-parenting: learning to belong to yourself instead of waiting for permission or approval from others.

To learn about other aspects of self-parenting (or self-re-parenting) in adulthood, read more on our blog here.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Practice Loving Kindness for Mental Health

 

Be loving to yourself and to others: Mental illness deserves as much care as any other illness or injury. It’s not “laziness” or being “weak” or flawed in character. Practice acceptance and support instead of criticism.

Mental illness is usually unlike the movies. Cultivate loving kindness to yourself instead of judgment and criticism. [Try Loving Kindness meditation by Tara Brach to spread love to self and others.]

Remember that mental illness often affects every aspect of a person’s life and health.

Acceptance: Making People into Trees

Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) expresses acceptance of self and others with a beautiful metaphor:

 

“…when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Remember, emotional and cognitive skills take practice just as physical skills do. Many of us have years or decades of practice in thinking destructively and judgmentally! So practice a little self-acceptance today, and then again tomorrow, and the next day…

 

Self-Care: It’s Okay Not to “Optimize” Yourself

Many people have been making New Year’s resolutions, and some are even sticking to them! For most people, however, they won’t last very long.

It’s completely valid to want to make changes to yourself and to your life, but pay attention to what you are telling yourself in the process. You may be telling yourself that you will finally be acceptable if you can meet your goals. The “if” lets us know that if we don’t meet our goals, we are not acceptable. We often believe (consciously or not) that there are only two choices: exceptionally fantastic, or…crap. (To state it plainly.)

Guess what? You are already acceptable! You are wonderful and miraculous! Yes, even on your bad days.

The idea that you aren’t good enough unless you are the best of the best is an expression of perfectionism, and perfectionism is a life-killer, a progress-killer, a killer of the good. We seek progress, not perfection.

Instead of telling yourself that you “must improve,” try the dialectical approach:

“I am already acceptable as I am, AND I would like to try doing this a different way to see if I like that better.” (No “buts” allowed!)

This makes it clear that it is a choice you are undertaking, rather than a “should.” Also, it is a way of making a choice to try change but without browbeating, judging, and criticizing yourself–all things that, ironically, make change much more difficult.

If you accept yourself as already okay, then you are free to try changing things all year around, as the opportunities present themselves. But–this is key–you don’t have to “improve” yourself in order to be acceptable.

While we’re here talking about accepting yourself, here is a great article about expressing your vulnerabilities:

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Checking In With Yourself

When you’re feeling really depressed, upset, or anxious, it can be hard to come up with ways to understand what is happening with yourself, let alone what to do about it. Even the most basic self-care can be hard to remember when your executive functioning is down.

This is a very helpful list to have handy for those times when you are unable to generate the energy to remember how to support yourself:

 

What To Do Until Your Therapy Appointment

Even when there is not an emergency situation, it can be hard to cope with crisis or distress while you are waiting for your appointment in a few days or weeks. But taking care of yourself as best you can until then will help a great deal.

Talk to friends / family members: Share your feelings and thoughts with someone you feel comfortable with and who cares for you.

Take a bath / shower: Taking a bath or shower can calm you down and soothe you.

Exercise / take a walk: Go outside or go to the gym to exercise and release the tension.

Write: Take some time to write about how you feel and how you make sense of things.

Practice relaxation techniques: Listen to a relaxation track on YouTube or similar, and follow the directions.

Eat healthfully: It is important to take care of your basic needs. Fueling your body with healthy food is one of them.

Practice meditation: There are many different kinds of meditation. One of the ways to practice meditation is to be still and observe the sensations in your body from head to toe. If troublesome thoughts come into your mind, be aware of them but let them go. Try the free guided sessions at Headspace if a structured approach works for you.

Breathe deeply: You can practice deep breathing in any setting. Try to inhale deep into your abdomen.

Get enough sleep: If you are tired you will not be able to think clearly. Sleeping 7-8 hours per night can rejuvenate you and help you think clearly. Practice meditation or take a bath to help with difficulties falling asleep.

Attend to your spiritual needs: During hard times, attending to your spiritual needs by attending or observing services, meeting with others, or praying may help to comfort you.

Set several small goals for the day and work on them: Focusing on one thing at a time will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

Structure your time: Re-evaluate your priorities. Time management isn’t just about “how much can I squeeze in” but rather “what can I let go of.” Include things that are meaningful and comforting for you, not just a bunch of obligations.

Accept help: When loved ones offer help, try accepting some instead of expecting to do everything on your own. Also, remind the anxious part of yourself that you are no longer helpless and you will take care of yourself.

 

– Dr. Liz

  • (Adapted from materials used at Michigan State University Counseling Center)
  • For additional practical self-care measures, try this helpful list!