Monday, December 10, 2012

Informing versus Consulting

Most people with boundary issues have two different problems: one with drawing their own boundaries, and another with recognizing when their boundaries are being drawn for them.  

My last blog post addressed the first problem and talked about the importance of showing your boundaries rather than just stating them.  This post is about the second problem (which is actually just the flip-side of the first): how to know when someone is crossing your boundaries when drawing their own!

I came across a good example today:

A mother told me she was in the car with her son heading home for supper after picking him up from classes.  She stopped at a family friend’s along the way to collect a parcel and asked her son to go in and get it for her.  When the son came back to the car, he gave his mom the parcel and announced, “Here’s your bag; I’m staying for supper”.  His mother told him that she had already planned the meal and that he should have asked her first.  He said “Mom, you’re crossing the line.  I’m not a kid anymore and I don’t need your permission”, and he left.  Mom was disappointed and hurt but didn’t want to be a nag so she just drove away… 

What is wrong with this scenario?  

Well, the kid is certainly old enough to make his own supper plans; there’s nothing wrong with that.  He’s not breaking any rules.  Mom is old enough to make alternate supper plans; she's done it tons of times before.   So what’s the big deal?  

The deal is that Mom was informed, not consulted, about a decision that involved her.   Her son not only planned his evening, he planned hers as well.  She didn’t cross any line, he did. 

Nobody wants to be told they have to ask permission to live (especially not teenagers!), and I am not advocating that.  But when someone doesn’t check in with you about plans that directly affect you, it is more than thoughtless.  It’s a violation of your boundaries.  

You cannot tell someone what to do, but- if it involves you- ask to be consulted, not informed. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012


"Show me this mind of yours" 

 A lot of people have boundary issues in their relationships.  

Parents with boundary issues usually don’t know how to deal with their children when they ignore or break house rules.  Friends with boundary issues usually don’t know how to get away from investing more of their time and energy than they had wanted into their friendships.  Lovers with boundary issues usually end up over-functioning and turning their partners into co-dependent under-functioners, an imbalance that they end up regretting and then, often, complaining about but cannot seem to change.

The problem is one of an inability to defend our boundaries, an inability that often gets projected outward onto someone (our child, friend or partner) whom we accuse of having violated us when it is we who have set ourselves up for the violation.  In essence, we have violated ourselves. 

I hear a lot of people say “Yeah, well, I TOLD him the rules”, or, “I TOLD her what I wanted”, or “I TOLD him to leave me alone”.  We TELL people our boundaries but the problem is it doesn’t DO a damn thing!  That is because we haven’t SHOWN them what they are.

Showing our boundaries is the only effective way of defending them.   We do this by shaping a situation to suit our own needs and by refusing to be a part a situation that is not what we had in mind.

How?  Well, definitely not by talking about it.  You have to translate speech into action, or non-action, as the situation requires.

For example:
The mother who tells her son to get his homework done before supper has to stop feeding him supper before the homework is done.  The man who finds himself waiting for a friend who (for the umpteenth time) is over thirty minutes late, has to leave.  The lover who has asked her boyfriend not to flirt with other women has to disengage from the relationship until he changes his ways.   The goal is not to withhold privileges, but to create the kind of situation and relationship you want to be a part of.

Stop defining your boundary.  Claim it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


We dance around a ring and suppose
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows
~Robert Frost

I've managed to fix most of the bugs in my head by cutting into the loop of obsessive thinking.  So far, so good- I actually think I can go forward with this.  But coming off the cycle, I somehow face a different, new and astonishing problem.  It feels like my brain is looking for something to stimulate itself like something intellectualizing to focus on.  It feels as if my brain is bored and needs something!  So I currently feel like Renton in Trainspotting when he's trying to come off of heroin (ok maybe not that extreme but you get the picture).  In his words, my brain would need a hit! Is this common in recovering OCD patients or am I just too smart for my own sanity?

I am so glad that you are making headway.   In terms of your feeling like you are coming off a drug, that is perfectly normal.  Obsessive thinking is like a vortex into which we leap whenever we feel anxious.  It is exactly like a drug that “fixes” anxiety, and its incessant loop an addiction.  There is no escape until you cut into it, as you are doing now.   

What you are experiencing is freed energy that used to be poured into the vortex of obsessive thoughts: maybe I should, what if I don't, what if, what if, what if...

What can you do with the energy that has been released from the broken loop of such thoughts?  Nothing.  Seriously!   Do nothing.  You have heard the expression "don't just do something, sit there"?  That applies here.  Just be with your anxiety and breathe.  The craving for a fix will pass.  As you experience this over and over, you will learn that you can survive without a hit, counteracting the thought that you must do something.  That is freedom.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

transference healing

Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am home again
Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am whole again
~ The Cure

I was listening to an interview with Fran├žoise Dolto, a famous French child psychoanalyst, and she said that transference* was necessary for psychological healing to take place.  Do you think the same is true for adults?

Great question!

First of all I agree that, yes, in order for therapy to be healing, transference has to occur.  It works the same as an infected wound.  It has to be opened in order to heal again.  In psychological terms, this means regressing to the emotional stage when a trauma first transpired.  Transference facilitates that process. 

But there are various paths to healing.  Psychoanalysis is one path, but it is long and arduous and does not work for everyone.  EMDR is another path.  EMDR facilitates regression but without transference onto the therapist.  It is immediate and effective, but it is not a path that is suitable to complex relational trauma.  Couple therapy is IMHO the most promising path of all.  It is relationally-based, accessible to anyone, and more efficient than psychoanalysis.  Why?  Because, if we are in a love relationship, we have probably regressed to exactly where we need to be in order to be healed from past wounds.  Transference, in other words, has already occurred. 

That said, not all wounds need to be treated with therapy.  Getting hurt is a normal part of human existence and, given time, most wounds will heal all by themselves.  

"The way out of suffering is through it."

*transference is the unconscious projection of feelings (usually those felt for a parent when one was a child) onto another person, causing the transposition of past interpersonal dynamics onto the present such that one’s childhood drama is re-enacted.