Michelle Farris is a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Counseling Recovery. A San Jose Counseling Recovery blog for relationships, substance abuse, anger management, overeating and codependency. Michelle Farris is a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Counseling Recovery.
By the time people seek marriage counseling, they’re usually in crisis. Simple interactions become daily arguments, but unfortunately, the average couple waits seven years before seeking help (according to The Gottman Institute). When a couple waits that long, it’s often too late. By that time, they don’t care enough to try. At that point coming to therapy almost always fails.
However, when couples are motivated to seek counseling, they realize that something needs to change. Coming to therapy means that they finally have a safe place to talk things out and learn new skills. The therapist helps by providing structure to minimize abuse and keep communication healthy.
When Counseling Doesn’t Seem to Be Working
After several weeks (or months depending on the issue) of consistent sessions, both partners should be starting to practice new skills. When this doesn’t happen, the couple feels stuck - like no real progress has been made. That a good time to reassess the situation - not necessarily give up on therapy.
While starting couples therapy is a huge step in the right direction, certain people need more. Spending an hour each week in therapy makes an impact but there are times when it’s not enough. Luckily, we live in a time where there are so many additional resources that fit well with therapy.
When Additional Support Is Needed
Sometimes, it’s obvious when additional support is needed. While individual recommendations are made on a case by case basis, each person has the right to make their own choices. Suggesting a client do some individual work or attend a 12 step program sometimes makes the client feel criticized, like “something is wrong with them” despite the therapist’s efforts to explain in compassionate terms.
Of course, therapists aren’t always right but dismissing feedback quickly is often a missed opportunity for growth. Clients are encouraged to share any disagreements and ask for clarification.
Sometimes, it’s a question of timing. There are times when people aren’t ready to hear the truth because it hurts. There have definitely been moments in my own life when I wasn’t ready to hear something only to find that when I heard the message again years later, I had a more willing attitude. Can you relate?
Common recommendations from therapists:
Assessment for medications ( mental illness or severe depression )
Joining support groups
Starting individual therapy
Participating in a grief support
Starting outside interests and hobbies
Being willing to address childhood issues or trauma
While I’m not a big supporter of medications, there are times when it’s necessary. When people are suffering from mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, psychosis, or severe depression, doing therapy isn’t enough to address what’s happening.
In fact, doing therapy without addressing the psychiatric issues can do more harm than good. Therapy requires being able to tolerate intense emotions in order for healing to occur. Short term medication can also be very effective until an initial crisis has passed.
Medication doesn’t have to be used long-term. Some people don’t actually know they are depressed. I’ve seen this with people who aren’t taught to recognize the signs of depression.
When there are issues of childhood abuse or past trauma, couples therapy can be overwhelming. Doing some individual work that provides more concentrated support can help decrease anxiety and heal past wounds. Couples therapy does address these issues but when they are severe, they end up hijacking the sessions because the trauma has to be contained first.
There are times when support groups are a great adjunct to therapy. When couples can’t afford individual counseling joining a support group helps reinforce new behavior. Or, when they don’t have a strong enough support system, finding a group can decrease isolation and avoid unhealthy dependency.
When there are issues related to addiction, attending 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gambler’s Anonymous (to name a few) and Al-Anon for the family can be a lifesaver. These groups provide free support and mentorship that have helped millions worldwide. Click here to read more about the benefits of 12 step programs.
Outside Interests and Hobbies
Sometimes the problem is a lack of fun! Trying to balance the demands of work and family can cause an unhealthy imbalance in relationships and self-care. Eventually, the stress becomes a daily occurrence and each partner becomes emotionally less tolerant. Prioritizing obligations over self-care often become the norm.
Having separate interests can foster each partner’s independence and promote a more balanced lifestyle. Relying exclusively on your partner for emotional support creates an unhealthy dependency that creates resentment over time.
Couples therapy works well for most people but when progress is lacking, it’s time to examine what else is needed. Once therapy ends, contenting with some additional work helps the couple retain what’s learned and avoid reverting back to old behaviors. This can be prevented when they have regular activities for growth.
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When someone isn’t emotionally available, they don’t connect with others – or themselves on a feeling level. This typically causes frustration for family and friends because the emotionally unavailable person doesn’t see their inability to connect as a problem. As a result, loved ones assume that the person doesn’t care but that’s not true, they just don’t know any different.
In this blog you will learn how to recognize someone who is emotional unavailable so you can make healthy choices and preserve what is good with those who can’t connect.
What Does Emotionally Unavailable Mean?
Spotting a person who is emotionally unavailable isn’t difficult, but it does take patience. It takes time to observe a person in situations that require an emotional response. Some people are naturally more guarded with their emotions, which can make them harder to read (though being reserved or shy is not necessarily a sign of emotional unavailability).
People who are emotionally unavailable will show most (if not all) of the following signs:
Shows a lack of emotional expression
Has discomfort with emotions
Struggles with being close with others
Has multiple romantic partners
Can be uncomfortable in crisis situations
May struggle with substances to avoid feelings
Lack of Emotional Expression
When people are emotionally unavailable, it feels like something is “off” about them. You get a sense that they are physically there but emotionally absent. There seems to be a lack of genuine connection. This can be why detecting this trait can be so difficult: it takes time to see how people respond in different scenarios.
This lack of expression also shows up in response to stressful situations. For instance, when something requires a heartfelt response, they often use humor to minimize the seriousness of what’s happening. Or, they tell a story to distract from the intensity of the moment. Typically, they are uncomfortable in crisis situations that require an emotional response.
Tip: Having realistic expectations of what the emotionally unavailable person can give lessens the resentment. Find a different focal point for the relationship like doing activities both of you can enjoy together. That way you are preserving what’s still good in the relationship.
Discomfort with Emotions
They are almost always uncomfortable with any display of emotion or vulnerability. Instead of showing empathy they might offer superficial antidotes. When a situation becomes too serious or upsetting, they might have a blank look on their face as if they aren’t connected to what’s happening. In relationships, emotionally unavailable people don’t recognize other people’s pain, which makes them appear less supportive.
Tip: When you’re hurting, don’t continue to seek them out for support. Otherwise, you are going to a dry well for water. Instead, find other means of support to get your emotional needs met. That way, you can keep the relationship but take care of yourself as well.
Difficulty in Becoming Close in Relationships
Being in relationships with those who are emotionally unavailable feels lonely, even if they are fun to hang out with. When trying to connect on a more personal level, you may find getting close to them difficult.
Emotionally unavailable people avoid showing any type of vulnerability, including being honest about themselves. They tend to relate on a more superficial level that – over time – creates a feeling of disconnection. This can be the beginning of the end as attempts to be closer continue to fail.
Emotionally unavailable people generally miss the subtle cues when someone is upset which makes intimacy and healthy communication more challenging.
Tip: Because these people don’t know to connect, help them out. Talk about how each of you define the what’s working in the relationship. Once they know what you need, it’s easier for them to feel more successful.
Other Romantic Partners
Another aspect of emotional unavailability is when someone has many romantic partners at the same time. This lack of commitment to a single relationship makes it impossible to commit and feel close.
While feeling distant occasionally in a relationship is normal, when a lack of closeness becomes the norm, it’s a sign of emotional unavailability. Identifying the signs early helps you make healthier decisions about who to commit to on a deeper level. People show up as they are from day one. We just need to be willing to recognize it.
Tip: Be honest about what you need in a relationship. Settling for less or chasing the unavailable person leads to a lonely life. It’s okay to want more.
The Role of Addiction
Addiction can be another sign of emotionally unavailable people. By using substances or compulsive activity, the addict avoids having to feel the stress of life. They become numb to their feelings because they can’t tolerate them.
\While some addicts and alcoholics can be quite charming, they often lack the ability to be present in situations that require more seriousness and emotional maturity.
Tip: When someone is struggling with addiction, deep emotional and physical intimacy is nonexistent. Make sure you have plenty of support such as Al-Anon, for friend and families of addiction.
Being unable to connect emotionally often traces back to childhood experiences that have nothing to do with the present situation. The saying “it’s not about you” serves as a helpful reminder to not take the behavior personally.
By understanding the characteristics of an emotionally unavailable person, you’ll be less frustrated. You can still choose to be in relationship with that person but with more realistic expectations. You can enjoy what works and take care of yourself around what doesn’t. Not every relationship is meant to go the distance but picking someone who can handle emotions is absolutely essential for a healthy partnership.
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When kids are little, it’s easier to take their pain away but as they become teenagers, it’s a whole different deal. Helping your teenager through a break up requires sensitivity. Especially with older teens, it’s important to treat their pain with respect.
Because this is probably their first heartbreak, avoid making light of it. Even well intentioned jokes can hurt. Make an effort to be supportive to their feelings just as you would with a dear friend.
Your main goal as a parent is to monitor your teenager’s emotional reactions while giving them room to experience their own pain. You don’t need to be a professional here but you know when they’re off so trust your gut. When you’re unsure, ask someone who knows them well for feedback.
What To Do First
Recognize when your teenager wants to talk and when they don’t. The signs are usually obvious like slamming the bedroom door or giving “that look” that they want to be left alone.
Pay close attention to when they do want to connect. It may be very subtle like coming out of their room and just hanging around. Because teens are still trying to understand the impact of their emotions, they may not verbalize what they need.
When showing support convey a neutral attitude. Teenagers feel more comfortable sharing when there is no hint of judgment or stern advice. Both of these will cause them to retreat. The more neutral you are about their situation, the more likely your teen will feel comfortable confiding in you.
Tips for How You Can Help
By nature, teenagers can be sensitive so any mis-step or minimizing their feelings could damage their trust with you. Take responsibility for any behavior that was less than supportive. By acknowledging past mistakes, you can repair past hurts and rebuild trust. Plus, it’s great role-modeling.
Strive to be a sounding board for them but don’t give a lot of advice. They need to learn how to cope with relationship challenges.
A few things you should be encouraging;
Remind them to practice good self-care like maintaining good eating and sleeping habits.
Stay connected to their support system and make time for having fun.
Feel all the feelings associated with the breakup.
Assessing A Potential Crisis
There are times when a breakup will trigger an emotional crisis. Teenagers don’t have the maturity to understand that this too shall pass. Don’t expect them to act like adults just because they are big. You might need to take action if they start showing signs of serious depression.
Some common signs to look for include:
Isolating from family and friends
Prolonged feelings of worthlessness
Significant changes in eating or sleeping
Any references to self-harming behaviors or suicidal behavior
Difficulty functioning at school or at home
Unable to enjoy hobbies or interests that used to love
If your teenagers are experiencing any of these signs, consider contacting a professional therapist.
When your child is struggling with a break up, stay close while still respecting their privacy. Use it as a teaching moment that painful experiences contain valuable life lessons. Help them develop better coping skills like reaching out and practicing good self-care.
When teenagers can learn from their mistakes it fosters an emotional intelligence that will last a lifetime. Being able to look at both the positive and negative aspects of their behavior will help them grow into healthy, accountable people.
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The ability to handle feelings – our own and those of others – impacts everything we do. This kind of “emotional intelligence” predicts our personal and professional success. How “smart” we are in dealing with emotions sets the stage for how well we cope with and enjoy life.
But feelings are subjective. What makes one person feel overwhelmed makes another person feel energized. That’s why feelings are never right or wrong. They encompass how we experience the world.
Unfortunately, many people spend their entire lives trying not to feel because it’s too uncomfortable. Men get socialized from a young age to not show emotions. Some people use humor or story-telling to avoid sitting with intense emotions. Over time, downplaying how you feel just stops working.
In this blog you will learn how to get comfortable with difficult feelings and prevent potential problems in the future.
The Impact of Denying Emotions
Growing up in dysfunctional families often leads to emotions being devalued. The adults become the only ones allowed to have feelings. Societal messages such as “be nice” or “children should be seen and not heard” teach children that it’s better to keep quiet. And they do!
When emotions are denied, they will come out in unhealthy ways. As children, unexpressed feelings create tension in the body and get expressed physically with stomachaches or a lack of energy. As adults we might use sarcasm or guilt trips to get our point across. These passive-aggressive tactics hurt relationships and our sense of self.
When we can’t be honest about how we feel, it difficult to feel good about ourselves and form healthy connections. By ignoring our emotions, we end up feeling invisible, like our needs don’t count. Even our physical health gets impacted as stress-related illnesses are now linked to suppressing emotions.
As a result, you don’t feel emotionally centered. For instance, have you ever tried to hide how upset you are only to feel crappy for the rest of the day? Denying emotions is like denying a part of yourself and that makes it harder to be present and enjoy life.
What We Learn About Feelings in Childhood
As children we soak up everything from watching the adults around us. Parents, grandparents and siblings become important role models for how emotions are handled. Whether they are valued, discouraged, or dismissed - children see it all.
How your family (or caregivers) handled emotions created a template for how do to feelings. Even if you decided to purposely do the opposite of what you witnessed - the opposite of dysfunctional behavior is still unhealthy.
For instance, a child with a stoic parent – someone who never complained or expressed emotions– could have learned to suppress his or her feelings. A raging parent – someone who models abusive anger – would frighten a child and make them feel unsafe. Children under these circumstances either repeat the rage in their own relationships or spend years denying their own anger.
In homes where parents ignored their feelings, a child may feel anxious, depressed, or have the belief that feelings show weakness not strength. Suppressed feelings can be the first step in developing addictions or unhealthy behaviors later in life. When feelings are denied, we automatically create tension and over time that creates problems.
What Happens When Feelings are Minimized
Be a man. Don’t be so sensitive. Suck it up.
These messages are everywhere and no one is immune. They are in the background of our society. When feelings are minimized or discounted, you become disconnected to that part of you. At first, you might assume these feelings will go away on their own but then something else happens and you have to work harder to squelch how you really feel. Before you know it you snap back in anger and you think, where did that come from?
Another reason people deny emotions is to avoid conflict and please others. When this becomes a habit, it starts the cycle of codependency; such as people pleasing and negating your needs for the sake of others. Emotions help us to prioritize what we need but when they are ignored, self-care becomes much more difficult.
How to Get Comfortable with Emotions
A simple way to get comfortable with emotions is to pay attention to your body. Each feeling shows up differently. For instance, anxiety and fear are often felt in the stomach. Joy tends to radiate from the heart outward. Anger gets experienced as tension in the neck and shoulders.
Practice sitting quietly and tune in to how your body feels. Notice any tension and focus on that part of the body to see what feeling surfaces. Try not to judge the feeling since there are no bad or wrong feelings. Even anger is trying to tell you something.
With difficult emotions like fear and anger, give yourself plenty of time to practice good self-care. it’s okay to excuse yourself and take a few minutes to calm down. Because fear can be debilitating, it’s a good time to reason things out with a trusted friend. On the other hand, when you’re feeling angry, taking a brisk walk while listening to some upbeat music can get the energy out of your body.
Although there are similarities, each person experiences emotion in their own unique way. This can depend on several factors; family of origin, ethnicity, personality style, socio-economic class, etc. Be open to learning about your particular dance of emotions.
How to Check in with Your Feelings
Another tip is to be more vulnerable in social situations. For instance, when was the last time someone asked “How are you?” Did you gave an honest answer? Most people reply with a “I’m fine” no matter what is going on beneath the surface.
But what would it be like if you took the risk and admitted how you really feel? Often, this gives the other person permission to do the same which creates more intimacy. If they react negatively, remember that they might struggle with feelings too.
Connecting to our emotions is worth getting past the initial discomfort. Though it takes time, being able to recognize and deal with our emotions helps us build a stable foundation that increases our self-esteem and deepens relationships. Feeling good about ourselves starts by accepting ourselves - feelings and all. Emotions are a vital part of who we are and finding ways to honor them only serves to make us feel more whole.
Join me for weekly tips including a free email course on anger, plus access to my private resource library with free PDF downloads and short videos to support your growth!
In this video blog, you will learn three tips to help you decide whether to leave a relationship or to stay and work things out. There are definite signs that will help you know when to walk away. Personal change and transformation starts with you, so learn what you can do first.
Get these tips and more by listening to this short video to support your growth. Click the image below to watch the video and meet Michelle!
How to Know When to Leave and When to Work Things Out - YouTube
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Meditation is one of those tools people often think would be helpful to their overall health if they had the time. The emotional and physical benefits of meditation have been researched for years. People who meditate regularly are better able to cope with stress and to focus their minds.
Those who practice meditation swear by it. However, for some people, meditation may be kind of like taking vitamins - you know they’re good for you but you don’t always make the time. This may be because there are a lot of false assumptions about meditation that get in the way of trying it, such as thinking it takes a lot of time, thinking it’s more complicated, or that it’s all about sitting still.
In practice meditation is as simple as you make it. It can take different forms depending on your lifestyle. In this blog, you will learn some simple techniques to get you started that take as little as 5 minutes!
Setting Realistic Goals
The biggest misconception about meditation is that you’re supposed to empty your mind. Many people become discouraged with this goal when they find that they stop the flow of thoughts completely. Silencing thought processes often takes years of practice. For many it never happens but that doesn't mean mediation doesn’t work.
Our minds are always active and are rarely quiet: we naturally process information every minute of every day. Even when we’re asleep, we are still processing information by dreaming. This is why trying to control our thoughts is a set-up for failure.
We can set a more realistic goal for meditation by focusing on bringing ourselves into the present moment. This practice has also been referred to as mindfulness. We direct our minds to experience the moment - to “be here now” as an easy yet effective way to start meditation. It can be just that simple.
Meditation Isn’t Just Sitting Still
Sitting quietly is the most common form of mediation: many people believe that this is the only way it can be practiced. Others find sitting mediation uncomfortable or can create feelings of anxiety.
How can sitting still make you feel anxious?
As a whole, most of us aren’t taught the value of slowing down and attending to our inner experience. Society encourages us to be outwardly focused on success, keeping commitments, and doing what we need to do to get through the day. When obligations pile up, meditation can feel like another chore instead of a nurturing activity to cultivate.
Meditation Doesn’t Have to Take Long
Not having enough time is the number one reason most people don’t meditate. We think that meditation will take time that we don’t really have to spare. But you can start mediating for as little as 5 minutes. The duration is not as important as making consistent time to be still.
Here are some simple ways to get started.
In order to meditate while sitting, choose a quiet space while focusing on your breathe. This is a simple way to start because it helps to pick something to focus your attention - and your thoughts on. For instance, you might focus on other sensations like parts of the body that hold tension or soothing smells. You can use anything as a focal point. Just remember you don’t have to empty your mind.
Meditation in Motion:
Mediation is a practice of sitting with yourself - but remember that you don’t have to sit! You can find a quiet place to walk as well while focusing on your breathe or the steps you take.
There is no right way to meditate. Any activity that makes you feel centered, calm, and in the moment can work. The only exception is using substances that hinder us from being fully in the moment. It takes a sober mind and body for meditation to be effective.
Some alternatives to traditional sitting meditations include:
Walking meditations - You could take a silent walk or listen to your favorite music.
Sitting in a safe space - You could be in nature, or cozy up with a warm blanket in your home.
Creating a spiritual altar - You might find solace in setting up a space at home with prayer books, candles, meaningful objects, etc.
Listening to a guided meditation - For example, you might find effective recordings on YouTube.
Visualizing yourself in a safe, nurturing place - You can use a real or imagined place that feels calming to you as a focus.
Emotional Freedom Technique - (EFT) - You can perform a series of tapping on different parts of your body which helps the body soothe itself. Nick Ortner has some great YouTube videos on it.
Providing a new perspective on difficult situations
Reducing negative or painful emotions
Promoting patience and tolerance
Improves stress-related illnesses such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and other physical disorders
When establishing a new habit of mediation, carving out time each day will help your mediation practice to grow. For some, doing it first thing in the morning works, while others resist a formal schedule. Do what feels right for you. Even five minutes of meditation is beneficial.
Remember that starting a new behavior is the hardest part. Once you form a new, positive habit such as mediation and experience the benefits, the motivation will come!
Boundaries create an appropriate distance distance between yourself and others. They help you decide which behaviors are acceptable. In relationships they provide a powerful way to advocate for yourself because knowing how to set boundaries makes you feel more confident in certain situations.
Although boundaries are critical for healthy relationships, it can be challenging to understand how they work. Maybe you’ve tried to set a boundary but didn’t get the results you wanted. Or, you can’t figure out what a healthy boundary is and you’re not sure where to start.
In this blog you will learn what healthy boundaries are and how you can start setting them in your relationships.
Defining Healthy Boundaries
First, having realistic expectations of how boundaries work will help you be more successful. For example, expecting boundaries to change other people will leave you forever frustrated. You can’t demand that others change but you can learn how to protect yourself.
So let’s define our terms.
Healthy boundaries are the limits you set for yourself that determine what to participate in and when to remove yourself. They dictate your choices. For instance, you can choose to stay in a relationship when certain conditions are met or you could remove yourself from a potentially hurtful situation. Both are considered healthy boundaries.
Think of it this way, any action that honors your physical and emotional safety can be considered a boundary. They protect you from staying in abusive situations. For instance, behaviors like name-calling, screaming, or unwanted physical touch are all situations where setting boundaries keeps you safe.
What Boundaries Look Like
Here are some examples of healthy boundaries to get you started:
Instead of staying quiet, speak up for what’s important to you.
Say no when you need to take care of yourself.
State what you are going to do, rather than expecting others to change.
Remove yourself when situations aren't healthy for you.
What Boundaries are Not
The biggest misconception around boundaries is that they get someone else to change. Healthy boundaries are never about control. Trying to change someone else’s behavior doesn’t end well. It erodes your sense of personal power because you are looking to others for the solution. As a result, relationships become strained. It’s a lose lose.
Healthy boundaries are not…
Forcing someone else to change their behavior.
Making demands that must be followed “or else”.
Manipulating outcomes of what happens in the future.
Getting others to adopt to our own beliefs or attitudes.
Making anyone get sober, seek therapy or change who they are.
When Taking the Indirect Route Works
Sometimes, taking an indirect action can be a powerful boundary too. For instance, when someone is intoxicated, violent, or mentally unstable, setting a boundary could escalate the situation. In these situations, practicing detachment may be a healthier choice for keeping everyone safe.
Practicing detachment lets another person experience their consequences instead of taking responsibility for them. This can preserve the relationship and avoid the chaos. You still care, but you stop trying to control the outcome.
Here is an example of an unhealthy boundary:
Susan is fed up with her husband’s drinking and no longer trusts him to be alone with their kids. She threatens to leave if he doesn’t go into rehab but does nothing when he keeps on drinking. Silently, she gets more and more resentful.
There is nothing wrong with asking someone to get sober but making empty threats isn’t setting a healthy boundary. You can’t force someone to change and call it a boundary.
Here is what healthy detachment looks like:
Susan tells her husband that if he continues to drink, she and the kids are moving out. She understands that he may not be ready to stop drinking, but she is ready to leave no matter what choice he makes.
See the difference? In the first scenario she expects him to take action while the second focuses on taking care of herself and her kids. You decide what limits are going to be enforced.
Healthy Boundaries aren’t Complicated
Boundaries don’t need to be complicated. When boundaries are healthy, they guide what you’re going to do next. They are never attempts to control someone else.
Also, boundaries don’t include making demands. While you can make requests, that doesn’t mean others are obligated to say yes. Even when what you’re asking for seems “right and fair” the other person still has the right to say no. Setting boundaries dictates what you do, not what others do.
Types of Boundaries
Boundaries can be expressed in different ways. They can be spoken directly or carried out silently. With unspoken boundaries, limits get enforced without speaking them aloud. Boundaries don’t necessarily depend on what other people are doing.
Examples of Spoken Boundaries:
I’m not willing to drive with you because I’m uncomfortable with how fast you drive. I’ll meet you there.
This conversation isn’t going anywhere, I’m going to take a break.
Examples of Unspoken Boundaries:
You politely decline hanging out with people who drink too much.
You decide to take a time-out instead of getting defensive.
The most important boundary you have is your physical boundary. Without this, you can’t protect yourself or feel safe in the world. You will feel more vulnerable and unsure of yourself in certain situations.
A physical boundary is the amount of space needed between you and other people. This varies depending on several factors. When there is a history of distrust or abuse, more space is needed. With people you trust, you might need less. Having the right amount of space makes it easier to stay focused during conflict.
Example of Physical Boundaries:
Getting in someone’s face when angry
Blocking exits or preventing someone from leaving
Using threatening gestures to intimidate others
Not respecting someone else’s need for space
What Happens When Boundaries are Violated
Without good boundaries, a person can react quickly and experience a fight, flight or freeze response. Once that physiological reaction starts, you’re less likely to control your emotions and behavior. When personal space isn’t respected, abuse is more likely to happen.
When an appropriate distance is set, both people feel safe. Without it, people will often avoid eye contact and not participate in conflict. The rule is: whoever needs the most physical space gets it. That’s why arguing in a car escalates so fast. You feel trapped and it’s too close for comfort.
Setting Emotional Boundaries
Once you’ve established your physical boundary, it’s time to look at emotional boundaries. These boundaries separate your thoughts and feelings from someone else’s. They help you not take things personally or get lost in someone else’s reaction.
Emotional boundaries also include how you let others treat you, and in turn, how you will treat others. These boundaries dictate how to take care of yourself in relationships.
Common Emotional Boundary Violations:
Destructive anger; screaming, name-calling, purposely making others feel less than
Hitting below the belt by saying exactly what you know will hurt your partner
Ignoring a person’s personal boundaries that have been made clear
Violating someone else’s privacy by checking their cell phone, email or other private information
Every relationship needs boundaries. Without them, healthy communication and self-care are harder to maintain. Also, remember that respecting someone else’s boundaries is just as important as them respecting yours. You cannot demand what you aren’t willing to give. By advocating for yourself, you are teaching others how to treat you and that changes everything.
When you’re not in a good place, it’s hard to stay centered.
“Staying centered” is an internal experience of feeling calm and confident within yourself. It’s a feeling of deep trust in one’s abilities or intuition.
Maybe there has been a recent loss or disappointment that’s been hard to shake. Even though you have a support system, you might worry that you’ll be a “Debbie downer” with friends and family. So you stay silent…but that doesn’t help.
Here are some quick tips to help you stay centered when life gets tough instead of sinking into isolation.
#1 Pretending Everything is Fine Rarely Works
At first, you might ignore the pain hoping it’ll go away on its own. By not sharing what’s really going on, it’s hard to stay present. Putting on a happy face takes a lot of energy. Pretending that “everything is fine” makes you feel more isolated and alone.
A quick side note: there are times when pretending you’re okay can work. It’s referred to as “fake it til you make it” in recovery circles. Basically, by looking at the bright side and making a concentrated effort to connect with loved ones you can develop gratitude.
On the other hand, it doesn’t work when you’re sitting on a pile of pain and anger that won’t go away. When something is really upsetting “faking it” will probably make you feel more lonely.
It’s important to not dismiss painful feelings. Over time, this creates a pattern of self-neglect that hurts you in relationships. Without realizing it, you are sending the message that your feelings don’t matter and that’s not what you want. Everyone needs their feelings to be heard!
#2 Don’t Minimize How You Feel
Managing feelings is critical for emotional health. For instance, when a person denies feeling sad, he becomes emotionally stuck. Bottling up these feelings makes them grow not dissipate. In other words, you can’t heal what you don’t express. Trust that there is a valid reason you are hurting. Painful emotions like anger, fear and resentment are signals to you that something needs attention.
Here are some questions to identify difficult feelings or situations that need healing:
Are you hurt about something that happened but can’t let it go?
Do you have trouble handling criticism or negativity from others?
Is there a specific want need or boundary that you’re afraid to speak up about?
Are you grieving a loss that needs support?
Are you comparing yourself to others instead of accepting yourself?
Is there a particular issue that needs healing?
In terms of getting support, don’t assume that sharing honestly will bring others down. In fact, what if sharing your pain opens the door for someone to share theirs?
#3 Being Honest Builds Connection
Being honest is a vital part of building healthy relationships. When people can’t share their experiences openly, it’s harder to connect. You start to feel like you’re the only one suffering. Instead, make a conscious effort to share what’s happening with you. This will help you feel more connected and could spark healing for someone else.
When you risk being vulnerable, it's an invitation to connect on a deeper level. You realize that you’re not the only one hurting. By being honest, you are giving others permission to share their own challenges. Being authentic creates the space for emotional intimacy to occur.
Conversely, when people hide their pain, they hide their true selves. The chance to develop deeper connections doesn’t happen. Sharing emotions can create a bridge that binds us together.
#4 How to Embrace Anger and Hurt
In order to stay centered, it’s important to manage the challenging feelings too. Anger isn’t an easy one to acknowledge but stuffing it creates a lot of internal stress and separation in relationship. It’s difficult to maintain open communication when you’re pretending not to be upset.
To manage anger effectively, identify the signs early before they escalate into destructive anger. Denied feelings come back with a vengeance. When the early warning signs of anger are ignored, you will be more likely to struggle with explosive anger or resentments that linger.
Once you’ve identified the anger, the next step is to acknowledge the hurt or disappointment that’s usually underneath it. Getting the right tools to take care of yourself emotionally makes a huge difference.
Let’s start with this one simple yet effective exercise that I recommend a lot.
#5 An Exercise for Handling Difficult Feelings
Journal writing is a great tool for expressing private thoughts. You can vent intense feelings without hurting anyone. Consider this an exercise in “brain dumping” to express what’s bothering you without having to worry about how someone else will react. Even if what comes out in the writing doesn’t make sense, trust the process, it works. For more on how writing works read The Secret of Why Journal Writing Works.
A word of caution: don’t take the written words too seriously. In the heat of the moment, thoughts can get pretty ugly. That’s why this type of writing needs to be private.
Another great tool is writing a letter to the person you are having difficulty with. Say whatever you need to because you will never send it. The first drafts are for your eyes only to gain clarity on what action, if any, you should take.
Third, look at your own behavior in the situation. This is the most challenging part because you may think you haven’t done anything, but keep an open mind. Consider something you could have said or done before, during or in reaction to what happened. It could be something subtle like showing disapproval or omitting the truth when it could have helped.
#6 Find Healthy Outlets that Work
To manage difficult emotions you need to find outlets that work for you. Whether it's hitting the gym or reading a good book, find ways to practice consistent self-care. Introverts often need quiet time away from people. Reading a good book or spending time alone in nature can be replenishing. Extroverts need connection and activity. Knowing what comforts you goes a long way in being able to cope when times are tough.
Healthy outlets for handling difficult feelings include:
Talk things out with a trusted friend
Get some vigorous exercise
Prioritize quiet time or mediation
Turn to one’s faith for comfort
Keep connected with friends and family
Join a support group
Start a hobby or fulfill a dream
Volunteer for a worthy cause that you’re passionate about
Seek professional help if needed
Pretending to be happy when you’re not hurts you and creates separation. The longer feelings get denied, the harder it is to let them go and move forward.
Feeling connected to yourself and others depends on your ability to honor your own experience - no matter what you’re going through. This is the hallmark of self-care. By honoring what you need, you are inviting others to be authentic with you which can be transformative.
Keep in mind that it’s tough to feel joy when you can’t be yourself. Whether you’re going through a period of sadness or feeling alone, honoring where you’re at emotionally is the kindest form of self-love you can practice.
When you prioritize self-care, relationships stay healthy and balanced. Both partners can preserve their individuality without sacrificing too much of themselves for the relationship. The demands of work and family make prioritizing self-care a real challenge.
In this blog you’ll learn how to maintain romantic relationships without neglecting your own individual needs.
Never Base Your Worth on a Relationship
The basis of self-care is a sense of self-worth. When we take care of ourselves, we can honor our own emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
But when a person looks to a relationship for his or her self-worth, it creates problems. You start to relying too much on what your partner thinks instead of trusting your intuition. Letting someone else define what’s best for you means that you are forever chasing them to feel valued. Your partner becomes your main source of validation which eventually becomes problematic.
This creates an unhealthy dependency where one person takes on a more domineering role while the one seeking approval becomes increasingly passive. This type of imbalance is common in codependent or abusive relationships.
Naturally, this dependency creates a host of other problems like resentment, possessiveness and insecurity. When people can’t value themselves, they usually resort to unhealthy strategies to feel valued. For instance, they may become human doings; that is, people who finds their value only in what they give to others rather than who they are. They may also ignore what they need in order to give more to the relationship. These habits often trigger the desire to control or manipulate outcomes in order to get the love that they need.
Tip: Don’t be defined by your relationships. Having a healthy sense of self requires taking full responsibility for loving yourself rather than finding someone else to do it for you. For more on this read How to Build Self-Esteem from the Inside Out.
Don’t Be Afraid to Set Boundaries
By creating boundaries in relationships, you become your own advocate. Boundaries convey the message that your needs count and that you deserve as equal, loving partnership. Setting limits for yourself will determine what you need to do next. You have the power to decide whether to leave a hurtful situation or take care of yourself in it. They also encourage a healthy assertiveness that will serve you well in any relationship.
Relationships needs boundaries in order to be healthy. Setting limits for yourself will determine what you need to do next. They are never about controlling the other person. When each person takes responsibility for their own needs, instead of expecting the relationship to take care of their every need, the relationship stays healthy.
Tip: Don’t assume that others won’t like it if you set limits. While change is uncomfortable at first, setting boundaries gets easier with practice.
The Difference Between a Boundary and a Request
In a healthy relationship it’s important to recognize the difference between a boundary and a request. A boundary determines what you will do while a request speaks to what you want from the other person. Negotiating each person’s limits up front keeps everything equal and respectful.
Every relationship differs in terms of what boundaries are agreed upon. Some people want stricter boundaries, while others may not need them. There is no “right way” to establish boundaries, but it is critical that you have them.
Here are some common boundaries that are important to negotiate:
How each partner feels about opposite sex friendships in heterosexual couples or same-sex friendships in same-sex couples (since emotional affairs can result in close connections)
How much time should be spent together and apart (this creates a healthy balance)
Which are the most important shared values (religion, politics, gender roles, etc.)
What the expectations are around each person’s need for independence (decision-making, alone time, personal goals, etc.)
How to handle conflict and respecting each other’s personal space
How to address issues of addiction and mental health (especially if a partner refuses help)
Tip: If personal boundaries are consistently ignored or devalued, it’s time to reassess the relationship.
Keep Your Friendships Sacred
In the beginning of a romantic relationship, it is normal for partners to spend most of their free time together but don’t let that become a habit. Even in long term relationships, ditching your friends for romance isn’t healthy for you or the relationship.
Relying too much on someone else for support and companionship can create frustration for both partners. No one person can meet all of your needs. Making time for family and friends is a form of self-care.
For instance, what happens when your partner is out of town or can’t support you? Do you manipulate them into doing what you want or can you respectfully accept their boundaries? Or, when they have the chance to meet someone for coffee do you try to persuade them not to go?
Discouraging someone from spending time with family and friends is a major red flag in romantic relationships. If this kind of manipulation happens repeatedly, pay close attention. Unless there is a valid concern, (such as issues of abuse) time spent with friends should be respected and encouraged for both partners. Otherwise, the relationship will likely have issues of control that could cause major problems down the road.
Tip: Maintaining friendships preserves your sense of self and feeling of independence. Everyone needs connections outside of his or her primary relationship.
Don’t Forget “Me Time”
Getting into a relationship tests our personal boundaries. You might find yourself going along with what the other person wants, in order to keep the peace. But if one partner gives in all the time, there will come a point when he or she gets tired of the imbalance and wants to stop. This is the turning point where the relationship can become mutually supportive and healthy, or not.
For instance, if your partner is an extrovert and enjoys lots of time spent together and you are an introvert, you need alone-time to recharge. Good self-care will allow you to ask for a few nights in your own bed (or whatever time you need) even if this request feels like rocking the boat. Thinking that you need the other person to have fun, to be happy, or to feel good about yourself puts you and the relationship at risk.
Tip: Needing some alone time doesn’t make you selfish or uncaring, it makes you a healthier partner because you are filling yourself up rather than depending solely on the other person.
During the beginning of a relationship, it’s important to negotiate expectations and establish boundaries. Without a strong sense of self, the line between you and your partner will start to blur. Be mindful that giving up what’s important to you may seem easier but it’s not sustainable for the long haul. Maintaining good self-care is an important boundary for you in order to have healthy relationships.
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When a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s hard to stay calm. The chaotic life of addicts and alcoholics effect everyone around them. According to Al-Anon, a 12 step program for family and friends of alcoholics, an addict’s behavior directly impacts at least 20 people including family, friends and people at work. That’s a big impact!
When you have a family member who is addicted, forcing them into treatment usually doesn’t work. The alcoholic needs to choose recovery himself because when pushed into it, the motivation to recover isn’t there. In fact, the chances of them leaving treatment early is a pretty safe bet.
Because the addict’s behavior gets increasingly out of control, it’s difficult for outsiders to understand the hell you’re in. Family and friends urge you to kick them out, but it’s hard to let go. You live in constant fear of what could happen next.
In this blog you’ll learn how to navigate the chaos of addiction, love the alcoholic/addict for who they are now and still take care of yourself in the process.
Separate the Person from their Addiction
Though it’s not uncommon to judge the alcoholic’s behavior, it misses the mark. Addiction is a proven, medical disease. No one chooses to be an addict. Research supports a genetic component along with many different social factors that contribute to its development.
A common misconception is that if the alcoholic “really cared” about their loved ones they’d stop using. This kind of faulty logic becomes a painful lesson in powerlessness. Nothing matters to the addict more than using. They need substances to cope with life. Expecting them to stop implies a sense of control that, by definition, they no longer have.
The Difficulty of Understanding the Alcoholic
An addict doesn’t see their behavior as problematic. As the addiction gets worse, their brains are hijacked by the substances they crave. Brain chemistry changes as they begin to rely more and more on substances to just to feel normal.
They will go to extreme lengths to keep their addiction secret. Sometimes, they will pick a fight with you to get the focus off of their drinking. This is not done out of spite but as a way to escape what’s happening and use again.
It’s difficult for the non-addicted person to understand the addictive brain because they are sober! An alcoholic brain is a foggy brain which makes getting into recovery more challenging - and heartbreaking to watch. Family and friends need to consider what their boundaries are so they can face the long road ahead.
Learn to Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries with an alcoholic isn’t about giving ultimatums or threatening to leave them. You can’t make them want sobriety but you can take care of yourself around it.
Boundaries show you how to do that. You get to choose what to participate in and when to remove yourself from a situation. They are not about getting the addict to change. Boundaries clarify what you’re going to do. Putting yourself first isn’t easy but setting boundaries can alleviate much of the overwhelm. Click here to learn more about boundaries.
When starting to set boundaries, it helps to practice detachment. This does not mean that you stop caring! Detachment is a choice choice to let go of the addict’s problems. It's a chance to step back instead of rescuing them. Experiencing their own pain helps the alcoholic hit an emotional bottom and hopefully start recovery!
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An Alcoholic’s Bottom
The term “hitting bottom” applies when the alcoholic admits that he needs help. He realizes that he can no longer manage his own life. Unfortunately, an alcoholic’s bottom has to be severe enough to get their attention. Tragically, this could even mean incarceration or even death.
Letting go of the addict can feel like you’re giving up on them. But at some point, when you love an addict, it becomes futile to keep helping them. Gently get your focus back on yourself rather than worrying about them. By not participating in the addict’s chaos, you create a healthy separation between what you can and can’t control.
Stop Rescuing the Alcoholic and Save Yourself
The hard truth is that you can’t get the alcoholic sober. Think about it this way; say you need to lose weight. When someone tells you to eat less, do you change your eating habits or wait until it hurts? It’s human nature not to seek help when we don’t see a problem.
The best thing you can do for the addict is to get into recovery yourself. There are codependent patterns embedded in alcoholic relationships that need to be addressed. The addict is not the only one who needs recovery. For more on codependency click here.
Look for ways you might be contributing to their chaos. Are you making excuses for them or making it easy for them not to take responsibility? Family and friends need to accept their own powerlessness over what’s happening to the addict - and learn how to cope. Recovery teaches you how to cope when there is addiction.
What You Can Do
Learn about the disease of addiction. Attending Al-Anon meetings provides helpful literature about the disease concept. Understanding the addiction helps to remove the judgment. Addicts aren’t bad people, but they lack the skills to cope with life on life’s terms. For instance, many alcoholics report that taking that first drink made them feel normal. Imagine not feeling normal without a drink!
Because the non-addicted person can’t relate to this, they start to feel “better than” the alcoholic which creates more tension. Having realistic expectations can minimize conflict too.
Have More Realistic Expectations
Because an addict’s life revolves around the substance, they don’t have much capacity to be emotionally available. Being vulnerable and open in relationship takes a sober mind.
When dealing with an addict, having realistic expectations is key. This is also referred to as practicing acceptance. Instead of fighting what is happening, you learn to accept it. You may not like the addiction, but you are powerless to change it.
Practicing acceptance with an addict means not expecting them to be different than who they are.
When they are unreliable - don’t expect them to follow through.
When they aren’t emotionally available, don’t expect them to be supportive.
When they are dishonest, don’t expect them to tell the truth.
When they can’t show up for you in a crisis, stop expecting them to.
When there is a major family event, don’t expect them to be sober.
Being able to accept the alcoholic for who they are today can preserve the relationship and keep the connection that you have together. Acceptance allows you to enjoy the precious moments that come and detach when you need to take care of yourself.
Get the Right Support
Because family and friends don’t often understand the nature of addiction, their advice is well-meaning but inaccurate. While they may be a listening ear, ask for what you need directly - to avoid unwanted advice.
When dealing with addiction, Al-Anon gives you that much needed support. It’s a free 12 step support group for friends and families of alcoholics. They have mentors known as “sponsors” to help you learn how the program works.
These groups have no leaders but they do follow group guidelines to keep meetings equatable and safe. Everyone is there for the same reason - to learn how to cope with the effects of addiction. They are an amazing lifeline for those needing comfort instead of direct advice.
When to Seek Professional Help
Another option is to work with an interventionist, a person trained in addiction that helps the family express their concerns and boundaries to the addict and offer treatment. This is not a tough love approach but a chance to express concerns for the addict to get help. Hiring a professional to guide the process keeps everyone focused on the goal.
Despite whether the alcoholic gets sober, the family is strongly encouraged to enter recovery. Attending Al-Anon or individual therapy provides invaluable support to handle the ups and downs of addiction. A family’s recovery can also help the alcoholic hit bottom but sadly, there are no guarantees.
As family and friends begin to let the alcoholic experience their own consequences, a natural balance is restored. Doing less for the alcoholic and more for yourself makes life a lot easier to manage.
Focus on getting your own life back on track because spending all of your time and energy on the alcoholic doesn’t leave you much left over.
Many people in Al-Anon use the serenity prayer as a reminder of where you have control and where you don’t.
“God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
When it’s about the addiction, the alcoholic can’t be rational. Looking to them to fulfill your needs when they can’t take care of themselves is a set up for resentment. Realize that you can't control or change the addiction. The addict is the only one with the power to change their own circumstances. All you can do is lovingly detach and find your own recovery.
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