Emotional Awareness

The Four Kinds of Boundaries & How to Build Them

What can protect you from toxic people, keep painful memories in their place, keep you safe and strong, and help you manage your feelings?
Boundaries.
Truly, boundaries are amazing. And good ones are a cornerstone of mental health.
When you grow up in a household that has healthy boundaries, you naturally have them yourself as an adult. But unfortunately, many of us don’t start out with that advantage.
If you grew up in a household with Childhood Emotional Neglect (your feelings and emotional needs weren’t met enough), or if you had a parent with a personality disorder, you may be especially challenged in this area.
Without strong but flexible boundaries, you may be overly vulnerable to criticism or insults from others, you may struggle to manage your feelings internally or prone to emotional outbursts, you may find yourself worrying too much, dwelling on the past, or not keeping yourself safe enough.
People with Childhood Emotional Neglect often have an overly rigid Internal Boundary, which blocks off their emotions too completely. So they can come across to others as excessively unflappable, or even emotionally bland.
If one of your parents had a personality disorder, your Internal and External Boundaries may be overly porous, or too flexible, resulting in emotional outbursts and difficulty managing your feelings.
The hallmark of a healthy boundary is strong but flexible.
As adults, one of the best things we can do for ourselves is understand boundaries, and work on building them for ourselves.
Here are The Four Types of Essential Boundaries:
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Alexithymia

Drama Drama Drama

"Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think."

-Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroscientist and author of My Stroke of Insight
Drama.
Sappy, sloppy, annoying drama; insipid, tiresome, wimpy,...
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Childhood Adversity

The Fine Line Between Selfish and Strong

Read through this list of personal actions, and label each as either “strong” or “selfish.”
1. Your elderly aunt asks you to take her out to dinner and you say no because you have to get home to your children.

2. Your elderly aunt asks you to take her out to dinner and you say no because you are really tired, and need to go home and get some rest.

3. Your elderly aunt asks you to take her out to dinner and you say no because you don’t want to miss the Red Sox game on TV.

If you answered “selfish” to all three:

Chances are, you are highly uncomfortable with saying “no” under any circumstances. You are governed by guilt, and you believe that your own needs are less important than those of others.

If you answered “strong” to:

Number 1: You are able to be strong, at least for the sake of your children. If you are saying no for the sake of your children, you are putting their needs before your elderly aunt’s, and that is a judgment call. Who needs you more right now? If it’s your children, then being able to say “no” to your aunt is a sign of strength.
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General

Happy Fathers Day, Emotionally Neglectful Dad

Father's Day is easy for all of the people who feel loving, loved and close with their dads. If your relationship with your father is strong and uncomplicated, I hope you will give him the wonderful Father’s Day that he so deserves.
But the world is full of people who have more complex relationships with their dads. If you feel either confused or disappointed about your father, there’s a fairly good chance that it’s because of hidden CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect).


Do you get irritated or snap at your father for apparent no reason?
Do you cringe a little inside when you have to talk to your dad?
Does being alone with your father make you feel awkward or uncomfortable?
Are you uncertain whether your father loves you and/or is proud of you?
Do you sometimes feel that your dad doesn’t actually know you very well?
Do you look forward to seeing your father, and then often feel vaguely let down or perplexed afterward?

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Alexithymia

People Don’t Change

People don't change.
How many times have you heard someone say that?
Several years ago a woman came to my office asking for help with an extramarital affair that she was having. In an attempt to help her sort it out I began talking with her about why, when, how; her own feelings and needs, her marriage, and her family history. We had a number of meetings in which I worked very hard to help her figure out what to do about it, and how she might handle ending the affair and beginning to repair her marriage (which is what she said she wanted).
Over time though, I started to see that our work was not producing any relief or help to her. My questions did not spur further thinking on her part, and my suggestions seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Finally, after about six visits, she said something very telling to me which stopped the treatment cold. She said, “People don’t change.”
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Childhood Adversity

A Message to All the Black Sheep in the World

I’ve met many Black Sheep. It’s my job.
In a recent post called Black Sheep, I talked about some common myths, and how Black Sheep are not what they appear to be. Surprisingly, they are simply a product of family dynamics.
But today, Black Sheep, I have three messages just for you:
1. Research Supports You
First, lets talk about the power of exclusion. We all tend to underestimate it.
But a study by O'Reilly, Robinson and Berdahl, 2014 proved otherwise. These researchers compared the effects of workplace ostracism (being excluded or ignored) with bullying.
They found that office workers view ostracizing a co-worker as more socially acceptable than bullying him or her. But surprisingly, they found that ostracized workers suffer more than bullied ones. In fact, ostracized workers are actually more likely to leave their jobs than are their bullied colleagues.
If exclusion is this harmful to adults in their workplace, imagine how it affects a vulnerable child in his family, during the time that his identity is developing.
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Alexithymia

Want a Solid, Warm Marriage? Use Vertical Questions

“Sometimes I just feel like throwing you off a bridge,” Craig finally said haltingly, after a long uncomfortable pause.
When he looked up into his wife Liz’s eyes, he was shocked at what he saw…
As a couple’s therapist, I’ve worked with hundreds of couples over the years. If I had to name the one most ubiquitous challenge that I see couples facing, it’s this:
How to know what you're feeling, and manage those feelings so you can share them with your partner.
It’s just so much easier to talk about logistics and happy things. The kids, our jobs, finances, vacation plans; these are all important. And they all share one common factor: they mostly happen at the surface.
The real glue that holds two people together in a way that is strong and true does not dwell there on the surface. That glue is made of emotion, feeling, conflict and, yes sometimes pain. These can only be accessed by courageously wading deeper, into the messy world of emotions with your partner.
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Childhood Adversity

Do You Have Unconditional Love?

“Accept the children the way we accept trees—with gratitude, because they are a blessing—but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.”
― Isabel Allende
Wives wistfully long for it from their husbands. Fathers demand it from their children. Friends call upon it to restore broken friendships. Who doesn’t want unconditional love?
What is Unconditional Love? Love that endures despite any problem, injury, conflict or issue that may arise. Love that asks for nothing in return, and never ceases, no matter what.
Is unconditional love real? Is it attainable? Is it the foundation of successful marriage? Is it a natural human need?
Or is it simply an epic myth?
It almost seems to be a need that is biologically built into the human condition. We long for it, but we can't seem to find it. Is it a matter of finding the right person or doing the right thing? Can only people who are emotionally mature provide it? Is it required for a strong relationship or marriage?
Believe it or not, all of these questions have answers, and they are fairly simple and straightforward.
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