Food for Thought: Waking Up to Our Boundaries

“Boundaries are the lines we draw that mark off our autonomy and that of other people, that protect our privacy and that of others. Boundaries allow for intimate connection without dissolving or losing one’s sense of self.”   

– Amy Bloom

I love this definition of boundaries by Amy Bloom – psychotherapist, author, screenwriter and probably my new shero.

Boundaries make it safe for us to engage with others, without compromising our independence.  They separate us from each other, while at the same time allowing us to be close. Rather than a barrier to relationship, boundaries give us the means to connect authentically.

But what if we don’t know where they are?

If our personal boundaries aren’t respected in childhood, we struggle to find them in adulthood.

Without an understanding of our own and others’ boundaries, relationships are tricky. What happens if someone wants more from us than we’re willing to give? How do we say no?

Boundary violations can become so habitual we never stop to consider what’s OK with us and what’s not – we just accept without question and sleepwalk our way through our interactions.

It’s hard to define something that’s invisible. But while we can’t see our boundaries, we can feel them. Rather than ignoring what it feels like when someone steps over the line, we can use that sensation as a guide to identify our line.  Then, instead of sleepwalking, we can wake up to our personal boundaries and begin to define them clearly.

Ultimately, we can learn to engage with others in a meaningful way while still protecting our autonomy, our integrity and our sense of self.

Expert Insight: The Purpose of Disappointment

“Although disappointment feels awful, it can provide you with a wealth of valuable information about yourself and your world. Its purpose is to keep you moving toward what’s beneficial and away from what’s going to come back and bite you. It’s meant to teach you how to make realistic, well-informed choices by recognizing the delicate balance between what you have power over and what you don’t. Examining disappointment with an open mind will help you distinguish between being foolhardy, childish or demanding, and courageous, generous and willing to take appropriate risks. In short, it’s there to help you get the good things you deserve.”

Karen R. Koenig, The Food & Feelings Workbook

“Examining disappointment with an open mind” is the phrase that jumps out at me in this quote. We’re often so busy trying to escape disappointment we don’t stop to think that it might have something to teach us.

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What’s the Point?

You’re having a conversation with a close friend. There’s something exciting going on in your life and you’re dying to fill them in. As you talk, you’re brimming with energy and enthusiasm about your venture. When you finish, rather than sharing in your excitement your friend says flatly:

“What’s the point?”

Slightly stunned, you ask them to explain what they mean.

“Well”, they say, “it’s just that you’ll never do it. You’ll never achieve that. You might as well give up”.

How do you feel?

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Gentle Reminder: You’re Not Who You Think You Are

Do you ever feel like a walking contradiction?

Does it feel as though you hold conflicting beliefs about yourself simultaneously?

It’s not unusual to have paradoxes within us.  The tension they create is often what brings us to counselling.

Clients frequently share with me what they think about themselves – “I’m greedy”, “I’m lazy”, “no one likes me”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a failure”.

Sometimes when they’re in the middle of describing themselves negatively, they do something quite astonishing.

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What Do Other People Think Of You?

It’s a beautiful, sunny day and you’re taking a stroll.  A group of girls approaches. As they pass you, they burst into a fit of giggles.

“They’re laughing at me” is your immediate thought, as grey clouds descend in your mind.

You’re having a meal at your favourite restaurant.  You look up mid-mouthful and catch the eye of a fellow diner who’s frowning.

The food instantly turns bitter in your mouth, preceded by the thought: “He thinks I shouldn’t be eating this because I’m fat”.

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Food for Thought: Knowing Yourself

“You’ve got to know yourself so you can at last be yourself” – D.H. Lawrence

We know when we meet someone who’s at ease with themselves.  They know who they are and they’re comfortable in their own skin. There’s no need for them to impress, play games or apologise for themselves.

If all we’ve ever experienced is disharmony within, we might envy them. “I wish I were like that”, we think.  “Life must be so uncomplicated for them”.

The irony is that in order to be ourselves we often believe we need to be someone else entirely – someone better.  Or, at the very least, we must “fix” what we believe is “wrong” about us.

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