That’s a trendy word these days, but do you know what it means? Today I’d like to discuss the three types of boundaries and what they mean in our relationships. And let’s use baseball analogies, because #LetsGoBucs?
Nonexistent. Imagine standing in the middle of PNC Park, right on the pitcher’s mound, with no glove, no sunglasses, no hat… The sun beats down on you. The batter hits a line drive right toward you. Your teammates are yelling encouragement while your opponents are shouting less helpful things. Fans are cheering you on, but the visitors are throwing cups at you. You’ve got nothing to defend yourself, nothing to get behind for protection. When we’re living with nonexistent boundaries, we are left to absorb whatever is being hurled our way— both positive and negative. I’ve heard someone describe it as “trying to be all things to all people,” which just isn’t possible. We lose our identities and become defined by the roles we play. It’s exhausting, and we can’t sustain it over time.
Rigid. Now imagine standing on the pitchers mound surrounded by a brick structure. It’s about 6 feet in diameter and stands 30 feet high. It’s tall enough to protect you from the heat of the afternoon sun, the line drive headed for your face, and the insults being hurled your way. But it’s also blocking out the sun that was keeping you warm, the kind words of your teammates, the cheers of your fans, and the sport you love. With rigid boundaries, we isolate behind high, protective walls so no one can get in. Sadly, that means we also miss out on things that are beautiful and good for us. Rigid boundaries might be necessary during a time of healing or recovery, but they’re terribly isolating, and we can’t sustain that over time.
Balanced. This time, imagine you’re on the pitcher’s mound with all the appropriate equipment for the game. You’ve got a hat for the sun, a glove to catch the ball, teammates nearby to help with defense, coaches to guide you, and fans who drown out the noise of opponents. With balanced boundaries, we’re able to regulate the ways we treat others and the ways others treat us. It’s like having gates on a fence that allow some things in while keeping other things out. We’re empowered, strong, grounded, and healthy. We don’t view the world as all-or-nothing because we know we have power to influence the world around us, including our relationships. We can clearly communicate our boundaries to others (I don’t allow people to steal from me) as well as consequences for violations (and if someone does, I will call the police).
Let’s be clear: boundaries are not conditional love. You don’t get to say, “I’ll love you when…” because that’s not love; that’s manipulation. You absolutely can say, “I love myself enough not to tolerate that treatment anymore, and because I care about you I hope you can see why respecting me in that way is so important so we can remain connected.” It’s pretty painful when someone can’t (or won’t) see that, though, which is why having standards can feel intimidating and risky. Boundaries truly are a way we communicate love for ourselves as wel as love for the people around us. Clear expectations make the world go ’round! If you can be vulnerable enough in a relationship to express your needs, that’s great! And if the other person is able to meet you in that tender place and prioritize what’s important to you, even better! One of these days I’ll write about the Ten Laws of Boundaries (per Drs. Cloud and Townshend), but for today, focus on the three types of boundaries.
Can you think of times you’ve stood on the pitcher’s mound using each of the three types of boundaries? Where are you now? What steps can you take toward being more balanced? It’s helpful to identify which type of boundaries you most consistently hold, with the goal of balance in mind. You can do it!
One of the most common questions I get from friends is, “What things should I look for if I’m trying to find a counselor?” I love knowing that my friends are trying to make wise investments in their personal lives.
Counseling can have a lot of benefits. Some you’ll notice right away: making time for your personal growth; clarifying goals; referrals for medication; having a safe, nonjudgmental place to share. Other benefits may take a little longer to appear: changed behaviors; relief from chronic mood problems; improved ability to manage stress and make decisions.
So, where to begin?
First, ask your friends for referrals. Odds are, at least a few of them have had counselors of their own, and personal recommendations can be a wonderful place to start.
A great second step could be checking websites like PsychologyToday to dig deeper. You can search for counselors by location, specialization, and even insurance provider! Which brings me to the third place to look…
Your insurance provider! If you call the number on the back of your insurance card, you can inquire about your individual/family mental health benefits and ask for a list of local providers.
By this point, you may already have a list narrowed down of potential candidates, and that’s good! Just like you don’t click with every person you date or form a friendship with, you won’t click with every counselor out there. It’s okay to be picky! FYI, counselors are aware of that, and we won’t be offended if you don’t figure that out until after you meet with us!
So, here are some questions you can ask potential counselors over the phone before you even schedule your first session:
By the end of those questions (which counselors are used to answering… at least I know I am!), you’ll probably have a good idea about whether that counselor might be a good fit. There’s still no substitute for meeting someone. So, even if it’s a good fit on paper, it might not be once you get into the office. Because of first-session jitters, I recommend a couple of sessions to test it out. But just like a good date, you know when it’s working, and it’s always okay to acknowledge if it isn’t working. I tell all my new clients, “If this isn’t a good fit, I won’t be offended that you know what you want! Let’s try to figure out what that is so I can refer you to some counselors who might fit the bill better than I do.”
Although a counselor isn’t meant to be a friend who just tells you what you want to hear, finding the type of challenging you need is very important. It’s your mental health and your investment, so if there’s a question you want to ask, I hope you will!
I say it quite often during sex therapy sessions: “Sex without attachment is just naked cardio.” That absolutely does not mean that attached sex has to be bland or routine; it simply means that the best sex of your life only occurs when you’re invested in your partner.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be unpacking twelve ways you can be more engaged with your partner to invest in a deeper, more fulfilling sexual experience. Make sure you’re following me on Instagram so you don’t miss any of the #EnrichmentChallenge!
In September, the American Association of Christian Counselors held their 2015 World Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. I had the privilege of attending over a dozen of the approximately 200 sessions, and I was blown away by the amount of quality information presented! Over the next few weeks, I’d like to shed light on a few of those topics. For this post, I’d like to share some reflections on entitlement research that Dr. John Townsend (founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling) has been working hard to present and apply to the world of counseling.
Entitlement is thriving in America through selfishness in relationships and lack of responsibility. Millennials get a particularly bad rap when it comes to entitlement, especially in the workforce. Saturday Night Live has even capitalized on the theme with the humorous Millennials sketch. (If you are in need of a good laugh, take the 3 minutes to watch it!) Highlighting a few of the points from his new book, The Entitlement Cure, Dr. Townsend offers some challenges to the entitled mindset.
1- Change your language. Instead of saying, “I deserve…” start saying, “I am responsible for…” Even a simple language adjustment can help us to look for what we can contribute rather than what should be handed to us. Acting out of this mindset may also help you reach personal goals more quickly!
2- Keep your commitments, especially when they are inconvenient. In a world held together by follow-through, we need to make sure to keep our promises to the best of our ability. This step may also require you to pause before making commitments and set boundaries around your priorities.
3- Do the next right thing. Even when no one is looking or handing out specific instructions, figure out what the next right thing is and do it. Ask a friend to hold you accountable in these small challenges!
4- Practice altruism by caring for the well-being of others. Mirror neurons are brain cells which help animals observe and imitate one another. For example, when my dog picks up a toy, there is activity in the same part of her brain as when she sees her playmate pick up the toy. Mirror neurons help them to imitate and play with one another. Research suggests that mirror neurons in our human brains are the foundation for empathy. That means that by intentionally practicing and witnessing selflessness, our brains might literally adapt to push entitlement aside!
5- Remember grace. Entitlement is sometimes a result of an improper view of imago dei (for Christians, being created in God’s image). If we put ourselves in too high a position, we may experience an arrogant entitlement. Grace can help us to keep a good balance as forgiven sinners. As an illustration, pretend that a person is drowning in the ocean with giant waves swelling all around him. Almost immediately, a lifeguard swims into the current, pulls the distressed swimmer ashore, and saves his life. As the crowd gathers to see what has happened, who do you think receives praise: the drowning man or his rescuer? Imagine the nearly drowned swimmer standing up to say, “Do you see how amazing I am? I almost died, but I didn’t! I am truly wonderful.” That would be outrageous! Instead, it is the lifeguard who is hailed as the hero for saving the lost swimmer. So, remember grace and accept the humility it requires. In the moments when you nearly drowned, you didn’t save yourself.
So, let’s fight entitlement together. What are you responsible for? What is a commitment you will keep (even if you want to back out)? What is your next right thing? What is one selfless act you can perform today?