Boundaries and Emotions

There comes a time when we realize that we need to create or tighten our boundaries. Perhaps someone is taking advantage of us, we recognize that a relationship has become enmeshed, or we are allowing someone to treat us in a way that isn’t acceptable. In any case, we decide that some boundaries have to be set. We can do this in such a way as to make sure that we are moving from the position of “I am important and so are you;” to be calm and kind in our approach. We can practice saying it, find the courage to speak up and decide to ourselves that we will be consistent in maintaining the boundary.

From here, we are best served to remember that our emotions are going to play a role in both the setting and maintenance of boundaries. We can be prepared for different emotions: anger when someone tests the boundary, disappointment if the outcome isn’t what we desired, resignation if nothing changes. And the emotion that potentially will provide the biggest hurdle? Guilt. Feeling guilty carries a lot of weight in whether or not we follow through.

It will be important for us to process our emotions as we feel them. To understand that our feelings can simply be felt and that no action is required. We can use our logical brain to remind us of why the boundary needed to be set in the first place, carrying forward with setting our limits. We can take a deep breath and remind ourselves that boundary setting isn’t always easy; it may feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar – but in the end, as we begin to feel more confident and at peace in our decision, our emotions come to settle too.

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5 Signs of Interdependence in Relationship

We know that we have achieved a healthy place in relationship when we have interdependence; a secure sense of self is present, while also recognizing the importance of human connection. Being able to maintain a sense of high self-esteem while in relationship includes:

  1. Space. When two people are in a healthy relationship, they recognize the need for time apart to pursue personal interests. There is the knowledge that self-care activities are important and that it is okay to create space for them.
  2. Common Ground. Just as our own needs are important, a healthy relationship also looks at time spent together. How do we spend our downtime as a couple? What activities do we enjoy doing together? Do we have common goals for the future? Interdependence in relationship requires striking a balance between space and common ground.
  3. Consistency. Healthy relationships tend to be stable and predictable. When we have high self-esteem in relationship, we recognize the importance of secure attachment and the elements that create a sense of unconditional positive regard – not only for our partners, but also for ourselves.
  4. Responsiveness. This includes being open to feedback; it also requires a sense of knowing when times in the relationship require us to be there for our partners.
  5. Honesty. Healthy relationships will support interdependence by valuing honesty as a foundational part of growth. When we have high self-esteem in relationship, we are able to openly communicate our needs and are curious about our partner’s experience as well.

When we feel secure as to who we are, we create space for someone to compliment our life. We can recognize the importance of give and take, while also honouring our own needs and interests. Interdependence is a safe place to be 🙂

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What Does Validation Look Like?

In yesterday’s post, we explored invalidation and how some commonly used statements are actually not helpful in the moment. Our goal is validation: When we simply allow another person their feelings, when we listen with the intent of trying to understand, we are creating space for their experience:

“Would it help to talk about it?” or “Tell me what happened.”

“Okay,” “I see,” “Yes,”  – these are verbal prompts that simply let a person know that you are listening.

“How are you feeling about it?”

“What do you think about that?”

“That must have been (hard, frustrating, sad, upsetting)”by listing the emotion, we validate the feeling.

“I imagine you are feeling pretty (hurt, dismissed, scared)” 

“It’s completely understandable that you feel that way.”this type of statement normalizes the experience, making the person feel less alone. 

“I can see why this is so upsetting for you.”a way to align with someone. 

“What is your gut feeling about this?”a good way to move towards solution, but not intrusively.

“How can I help?”another good way to ask someone what they need from you.

A common theme from all of these statements is curiosity. By simply being curious, we are opening up the space to not only listen, but to understand. We can gauge from the answers if someone is looking to simply vent, or if they have come to you for advice. When we actively attempt to recognize another person’s experience, we validate their feelings; with that comes appreciation, comfort and a sense of being heard.

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What Does Invalidation Look Like?

We have all experienced the dismissive feeling of  invalidation. When we are vulnerable in telling someone how we feel, and their remarks somehow negate or disregard those feelings, we automatically experience a sinking of spirit. This often leads to shutting down and zipping up as we have felt brushed off, denied and rejected.

Although a person’s remarks may come with good intentions, it is important to understand that these types of remarks skip over the feeling and miss the mark:

“Relax.”

“Calm down.” (I always get a chuckle out of the meme that says ‘Never in this history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.’ Tee hee)

“You shouldn’t feel that way.”  Ouch!

“I know how you feel,” or “I hear ya.” Maybe my experience is different.

“That’s nothing to get upset about.” Well now I have two things to be upset about. 

“This happened to my (aunt, sister, friend, brother) once.” And in telling you their story, they have just jumped over your experience. 

“It could be worse.”

“That is nothing to get worked up about.” Well, I am worked up about it, that’s the point!

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” GRRRR….

“You should feel lucky.”

“Just don’t think about it.”

“Don’t be so sensitive.” Wow, is there something wrong with me too?

These types of statements are invalidating because they aren’t helpful in the moment. Perhaps your intention is to align with how someone else is feeling, or you are drawn to fix it for them; maybe someone else being in pain reminds you of your own pain and you are trying to avoid it. In any case, when we use these types of statements, we deny someone their subjective reality and their process.

Tomorrow’s post will explore validation and what it looks like.

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The Antidote to Contempt

Resentment can be quite insidious. What may begin as a few annoyances can build to a point where you are holding your loved one in contempt. The anger of contempt comes with its own army….all of those frustrations have now gathered and are ready to fight. You come well armed, yet your loved one isn’t prepared for the attack.

Dr. John Gottman lists contempt as one of the most destructive negative behaviours in relationships:

“Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and it arises in the form of an attack on someone’s sense of self. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict—particularly dangerous and destructive forms of conflict—rather than to reconciliation.”

The antidote? Fondness and admiration. Gottman says that when we focus on what we love about our partner, it helps to sustain us through times when we feel annoyed. The same can be applied in all of our relationships where contempt can fester.

It isn’t always easy to bring those positive attributes to the forefront of our mind – our negative bias can get in the way, so can our anger. But it is possible. A proactive tip includes writing out a list of all of your loved one’s qualities. This can be a helpful tool in reminding us that the good outweighs the bad – it can also help to temper our response when we need to speak to them about our concerns, needs or feelings. It helps to bring the rational mind into our emotional space; putting contempt at bay and healthy communication on the front lines. 🙂

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React or Respond; It’s Our Choice

We have all had those “0 to 60” reactions. Something gets triggered in us, our temper flares and our reaction is immediate. Hopefully, whatever words or actions that came as a result of flying off the handle, will be repairable. Unfortunately, the repair piece is often forgotten, and excuses replace an apology:

“You made me so mad I couldn’t help myself.”

“If you would just co-operate, I wouldn’t yell.”

It is in these moments that we must check ourselves. Yes, we can’t control another person’s behaviour or choices – but we can control ours. And we can begin by asking ourselves “Am I going to react to this, or am I going to respond?”

Reacting is 0 to 60 with little thought to consequence. Responding involves the step of slowing down long enough to make your own choice as to which direction this is going to go. Reacting is full emotion, responding includes a deep breath and some rational thought. Reacting is chaotic, responding is calm. Reacting is incomplete, responding is mature.

And if, in trying, we still make a mistake – we can respond to our reaction with a genuine apology:

“I am sorry that I yelled at you like that. This is not the way I want to behave and I am working on changing it.”

React or respond – it’s our choice. 🙂

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How We Can Honour Our Differences in Relationships

There is often an opposite energy attraction in our intimate relationships. People who lack confidence for example, are often attracted to those who have it. Introverts tend to attract extroverts, passive personalities will often be paired with dominant personalities. Sometimes the differences are linked to a quality (such as shyness), a value (financially secure) or a temperament trait (sensitivity). In any case, we often unknowingly attract ourselves to someone who provides a yin to our yang.

These differences are meant to be complementary to each other. What one lacks the other provides, and there is an element of interconnectedness that creates stability as they interrelate to each other. And yet, these very differences are often most felt when the relationship is under stress – what you used to admire in your partner, you begin to resent.

How then, can we honour the differences in our relationships? The first step is be aware of them. We often navigate blindly, unaware that the differences can teach us something about ourselves. Communicating with each other to acknowledge the difference brings it into the relationship as a working part.

The second step is to accept that they exist. If we don’t accept that the differences are what they are, it can lead us to feeling resentful towards our partners and pushing them towards change (as we usually believe that our position is most valuable.) Accepting our differences allows us to move towards compromise when faced with an issue.

Thirdly, we need to openly communicate about those differences when the relationship is under stress. This is often when the chasm, created by our differences, begins to feel too wide to cross. Being able to talk about the contrast, allows each person to feel a sense of interdependence within the relationship, building a bridge back to the other and rebalancing the yin to our yang. 🙂

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Village of Attachment; Post 2

Yesterday’s post featured the importance of a village of attachment for our children. It is the concept that embraces the notion that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and how kinship and community can provide adult relationships of attachment for children in addition to their parents.

In westernized society, the nuclear family has moved farther and farther away from the concept of village, and has become insular. Some ways that we can begin to move towards cultivating our own village of attachment include:

  • Being open to the concept of a village of attachment. We can begin by familiarizing ourselves with what attachment means and how children can flourish by having extended family (and friends) as additional attachment figures.
  • Begin to create a network of ‘aunties and uncles’. Get to know your neighbours, cultivate friendships, connect with your children’s school and their teachers. One of the principals of our local elementary school believed in the importance of connection and she would greet each child by name when they walked into the school each morning. That is cultivating a village of attachment.
  • Become involved in community organizations. When we first moved into our community 25 years ago, the Welcome Wagon showed up at our door. Not only did we get a lovely basket of locally made goods, we were given valuable information about service clubs and organizations of our small town.
  • Offer to help. I will never forget being down at the park when my three year fell off her bike, newborn in my arms, and two moms came over to help. By offering to help we cultivate the notion that it takes a village to raise a child.
  • Ask for help. When we have begun the process of cultivating familial type relationships with others that we trust, we can both ask for and offer time shared so that our children can be influenced by other parents/family members who share our values.

When we value the village, we value relationship. It won’t happen overnight, but it is possible to create a village that not only allows our children to rest in the security and safety of attachment, but one in which we feel the love and support of others around us.

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Our Village of Attachment

My sister and I grew up away from family as my parents settled in a small Ontario town for a job opportunity. As a result, we saw our maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins only a few times a year. Although we were close and loved going to Massachusetts, the physical distance didn’t allow us to fully take advantage of our ‘village of attachment.’

The African saying of “It takes a village to raise a child,” is a rather accurate reflection of what our attachment village is – the natural circumstances that allow kinship and community to help with the raising and care of children. It is the emotional bonds children form with extended family members, close neighbours and family friends, that allow a child to be influenced and cared for by adults in addition to their own parents. When we lean into our village, we broaden and expand our circle of attachment, creating for our children deeper familial roots and a stronger foundation from which to navigate from.

Perhaps because of our experience of being away from extended family, a natural response for my sister and I was to cultivate an attachment village for our own children. Time spent between our homes, and that of our parents was pretty free flowing; if it wasn’t sleepovers for the kids on the weekends, it was time spent together after school. Summers were a often a blur of children to be found in any of our three homes.

Although I can honestly say that the intention to form an attachment village wasn’t based on the knowledge we now have about the importance of kinship in raising our children, it happened nonetheless and I am forever grateful that my girls have a strong village – which also includes life long friends who have become family to my kids.

It takes a village to raise a child.

Tomorrow’s post will look at how we can move towards creating an attachment village for our children.

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4 Attention Seeking Behaviours that Are Not Cool

Communication in relationships takes work. It is one of those things that doesn’t always come easily; firstly, due to our emotional brain and how it likes to trump our rational brain, and secondly, we have often learned unhealthy communication patterns throughout our relationship history.

When we get annoyed or angry with someone, it is often a natural response to lean into attention seeking behaviours. In those moments, we have shifted to a focus on being right; on having our feelings justified. Four attention seeking behaviours that, in the long run, hurt the relationship include:

  • Threatening to leave the relationship. Using ultimatums when you are angry serves no valuable purpose. We can only change ourselves – threatening to leave as a way to induce change never works in the long run as it creates a promise out of fear. We should only use an ultimatum when we are prepared to follow through. 
  • The silent treatment. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that the silent treatment is effective. It’s sulking. Period. Something didn’t go your way, so you punish the other by not speaking to them for days. The silent treatment is an immature anger response.
  • Trying to induce jealousy. Any time we compare a loved one in our lives to someone else (an ex, sibling, friend), we are character shaming. Nothing good can come of that.
  • Behaviours that tend to be dramatic in nature. Eye rolling, ignoring texts or phone calls (or excessive texting), slamming of doors, smashing something. Those behaviours do get attention, but not the right kind as they pull our loved one into a game, and not into repair and solution.

Relationship communication tends to work best when we are aware of our attention seeking behaviours and work to curb them. Whatever is learned can be un-learned; this will lead to healthier communication habits that will ripple out in all aspects of our relational lives.

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