Teaching Others How to Treat Us

There are many skills that we are not taught prior to reaching adulthood. They can have lasting impacts on relationships and the communications therein. Boundaries are one such skill that many people seem to miss on their developmental journeys toward adult independence. Boundaries have been described as many things: the ability to say no, determining limits on your physical person, thoughts, and emotions. Boundaries are limits that one sets for themselves to protect not just yourself, but also relationships with others.

Setting effective boundaries can be difficult when you constantly put others’ needs and feelings before your own, you don’t know yourself very well, you fear boundaries will compromise a relationship, or you don’t feel you have the right to instill boundaries. Many people assume boundaries are selfish. This is not true. Boundaries do not say: “You are not allowed to treat me this way.” Boundaries do say: “Should you choose to treat me this way, I will instill a consequence/ boundary.” The difference in these two statements is that in the first statement the use of boundaries is in an effort to control and manipulate. In the second statement however, proper responsibility is placed on the proper parties. For example, a healthy boundary might be: “When you yell at me it makes me feel threatened. I am going to leave the house until we can speak calmly.” This communication is clear, direct, assertive, and calm; it seeks to protect the self and the relationship.

Without boundaries, we can feel taken advantage of or that our desires are unimportant. We become frustrated and angry that our boundaries are violated yet we are unable to express what our boundaries actually are. Constant yielding to a family member or friend becomes our habit. We lose our own sense of self and often find ourselves in unhappy relationships, jobs and life situations. Resentment, anger, worthlessness, and feeling taken advantage of are common experiences to a lack of boundaries. Setting and maintaining boundaries is an art, and it is a skill that takes practice.

Unhealthy boundaries are:

  1. Controlling or manipulative
  2. Invasive or dominating
  3. Set for us by others
  4. Rigid and immovable

Healthy boundaries are:

  1. Clear and firm
  2. Appropriate
  3. Determined by us
  4. Flexible

At the end of the day, people can treat you however they want, but it is up to you to teach them what is, and what is not, appropriate. If you desire a healthy relationship with friends or family members, it is important to own your responsibility in various matters, and live out self-respect by enforcing boundaries that not only show you care about your heart, but you care about the relationship, and their heart as well.

Memorials

American culture is noted for its busyness. Friends of mine who have lived overseas in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain are fully aware that life is lived at a much slower pace. Here in America we rush around, often impatiently, trying to get on to the next event, haircut, or simply the grocery store. When we have downtime, it tends to be filled with any number of electronics which serve to numb out and distract, or mindlessly entertain. What might it look like to allow quiet space in to your life for the purposes of reflection and remembrance?

We are fickle people who easily forget, especially when it comes to God. A new challenge in our lives confronts us and the stress mounts. We think about what we can do, what more we can do, to overcome or accomplish in our own power. What Jesus asks of us is to rest in him and trust him. We are asked to remember the good things we’ve experienced from him in the past.

Reflect on past stressful circumstances and think through what you:

  1. Leaned on for comfort
  2. How you derived a sense of control
  3. What lies you believed (I’ll never make it; I’m not good enough; I don’t deserve it, etc.)
  4. What unhealthy behaviors you reverted to (over/under-eating, porn, drugs, anxiety, etc.)

When we look back at hard times and easy times, it’s important to assess what we did and how we thought and the consequences of our actions. It’s also important to note how God worked in the midst of those things. How circumstances may or may not have worked out.  Take some time to think through what God did in the midst of a previous nerve-wracking situation.

When difficult and stressful circumstances arise in our lives, it’s easy to hone in on them and allow the weight and the fear of their imposition to overwhelm us. When we remember, we can choose to shift our focus off of ourselves and our stressful situation and onto the goodness, mercy, grace, and kindness of God. We can choose to see how he is carefully orchestrating every scenario of our lives to make us more holy, and bring him more glory.

Many have heard of Moses parting the Red Sea, but not as many have heard of Joshua parting the river Jordan. In Joshua 4, to show that God was with Joshua, he parted the Jordan’s waters for the Israelites to cross into the Promised Land.  Joshua then instructed the Israelites to create a memorial of that event so that they would be sure not to forget the power of God, his presence with his people, and that he is worthy of honor and worship. They were to stack up some rocks taken from the bottom of the Jordan River. “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4: 5-7).

We can so easily forget things that were hard, but also things that went well for us. Reflecting gives us the opportunity to give honest thanks for what has occurred in the past, acknowledge what has happened in the past, and create our own memorial. Remembering shifts our focus from our own striving to the one who is in complete control of all things. Remembering and giving thanks can bring us to a place of rest, freedom, and greater understanding.

Story-Telling

We were never meant to be alone. A factor that can influence severity and duration of various mental illnesses is whether or not a person has a supportive community. Isolation can lead to a downward spiral. It has been said that joy is not complete until it is expressed, shared with others. We need other people. And not just those superficial conversations about the weather and clothes, but rather authentic soul-bearing friendships that allow us to share the ugliest parts of ourselves and still be accepted. Those types of friends are rare, I admit, and I don’t recommend leading into a new friendship with that type of content. But when we can be vulnerable and share our stories, we invite others to become vulnerable as well.

It is important to share with others the good and the bad in our lives. It helps to lessen the burden of the painful. It allows the blossoming of the joyous. But what if you have a hard time expressing your story?

In his new book The Examined Life, psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz also discusses the importance of telling your story. In a conversation with Jane Clayson for On Point radio, Grosz talks about the emotional damage that results from an inability to express your life in stories.

I’m really interested in what happens when people can’t tell their stories. So often people come to see me and of course the most difficult story from their childhood was the one their parents…didn’t help them find the words for. ..maybe because of guilt…[the parents] don’t know how to help the child articulate their feelings…Sometimes we don’t know how to put into words the most important things that a child may be going through. Those stories don’t go away, they get buried in us, and they come out in all sorts of different ways. And part of what therapy may be about…are people who are then troubled or caught in an impasse because of these stories not being known to them, not having the words for them.

Stories are important because it helps us to understand ourselves, our world, and those that inhabit it. Stories help us to make sense of things, and to heal. We all have the ability to hold memories. Perhaps these memories are accessed as feelings first, with no real content. And then as one begins to untangle the confusion, the memory emerges in more clarity as a coherent story and can be dealt with in a healthy way. It might involve grief, it might involve anger, or any other slew of emotions, but the power behind the memory can be dismantled. We need trusted others in our lives to give us the space and the grace to process these things. To help us articulate the pain. Or to simply sit with us and acknowledge our tears. In this chaotic world, we were never meant to be alone.

Some ideas on articulating your story:

  1. Try journaling in an attempt to articulate your story
  2. Read memoirs or other biographies to help inspire and bring your story own to life
  3. Talk to a trusted friend
  4. Paint your story, or aspects of your story

Cows and Buffalos (Thoughts on Depression)

Image

Courtesy of James Douglas

Around 1 in every 6 people in the United States will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime. Women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression in their lifetime. Only about half of those with diagnosed depression seek treatment, which can skew the numbers and indicate that the prevalence rates are higher. In any case, hearts are struggling.

When a storm is coming, the animals seem to have a keen sense of it. As humans, we may not be as attuned to nature as the birds, but we do tend to be aware of when our hope begins to fade and the darkness of depression threatens. When the clouds gather and the thunder grumbles, cows do what any sane animal might do, they run away from it. Not desiring to be trapped under a deluge of water or the strobe effect of lightening, they run as far away from the oncoming system as they can. Unfortunately, nature has a way of winning out and moving faster. The storm, unless it dissipates, will overtake them. Buffalos, though, go a different route. They run into the storm. They turn toward it and enter in to fear and the darkness. And they make it through to the sunshine in much quicker time.

Depression is a lot like that. People’s greatest fears concerning emotions, according to Brene Brown, are shame and grief. Depression touches on both of those emotions. It says you are helpless, hopeless, and you can experience isolation in your despair. If we want to avoid feelings of shame, grief, sadness, and pain, we will do whatever it takes to fight it off and bolt the opposite direction. Depression is the oncoming storm, and should you choose to run away from it and fight it, you will linger in the darkness for much longer than you would desire. Entering in to it to learn what it has to teach you is the pathway out.

There is no quick fix to depression. But I believe God gave us feelings as signals in our lives that are worth acknowledging. There are many instances of characters in the Bible who struggled with depression (Jeremiah and David to name a few). The Psalms are filled with laments and grievous words. Yet these people were chosen by God. Sometimes it was a consequence of unconfessed sin, or the overwhelming pain observed in the world, but there was always a purpose. God can use anything, and he certainly uses depression in the lives of men and women. Perhaps it’s a wakeup call, a signal things are not right, a growth experience, or even a doorway to greater freedom. It takes great courage to walk in to the storm. Being honest with your self, and with your experience is a step in the right direction.

[Depression is a painful and difficult illness, sometimes chronic. If you feel you are experiencing depression please seek help]

How Does That Make You Feel?

IMG_20130725_015819   This question was epitomized by TV therapist Dr. Phil. Unfortunately it has been broadly, and scoffingly, ascribed to all counselors as their “go to” question. There is so much more to therapy than getting a person to share their feelings. Yet, like all stereotypes, there are grains of truth embedded. Why do counselors spend time at all with clients unraveling the tangle of their emotions? Our culture defines male masculinity as strong, stoic, and emotionless. Assertive females who show little emotion are viewed as sexy and mysterious, aloof and powerful. Openly expressing and sharing emotions is culturally seen as embarrassing, immature, and weak. But if a friend came to you in grief because they lost a loved one, a job, or even a cat, would you treat them disdainfully? My hope is that would not happen; but my guess is there might be some mild discomfort. Most people are uncomfortable with deep expressions of emotions (like grief, despair, depression, etc.) because they are not comfortable with their own pain.

As human beings, made in the image of God, we have feelings- and LOTS of them! They are neither good nor bad. It is what we do with them that can be good or bad. They are signals that things are going well, or flags that they are not. Our culture teaches us to quiet the sirens, numb the feelings, avoid the pain. In other cultures there are dances and songs to wail out when one is experiencing pain. Our culture has no such practices. When we stuff down and ignore we grow more and more disconnected to our authentic selves and our relationships. Not living out of an authentic self, journeying toward greater emotional disconnectedness, many things are affected.

  1. Relational intimacy is sacrificed. That goes for platonic and romantic relationships. It affects how close you are willing to get to others. If you avoid hard emotions within yourself, then you are most assuredly avoiding those same emotions in others. Relational connectedness suffers.
  2. Physical and/or behavioral concerns grow. When emotions are stuffed oftentimes anxiety develops, depression can flourish, anger/rage increases, to name a few. Body aches can increase, especially things like migraines, shoulder pain, neck pain, and digestive issues.
  3. Your life is lived in the grey rather than the brilliant colors offered. When we avoid the negative, it doesn’t mean the positive reigns. It means they both are dulled. Author and pastor Henri Nouwen says suffering and joy are two sides of the same coin. To numb one consequently numbs the other.

Avoided, unnamed, and buried emotions can leave us stuck and imprisoned. It can be difficult to name the emotion if you’ve lived this way for a long time. Happy or sad are the two descriptors most cited. To begin living more fully, I would suggest a few things:

  1. Give yourself space and quiet. We live in such a busy time, and that makes it easier to avoid and numb out feelings. Find some space to reflect and assess where you’re at.
  2. Think through events that have occurred throughout your day or week. Do you feel anything in your body? If so, where? What are the thoughts that accompany those experiences? What does it feel like? Looking through a list of adjectives can be very helpful. Or using a search engine to find a “Feelings Wheel” to help narrow things down. Sometimes we need someone else to use the language for us before we can use it ourselves.
  3. Find a trusted person to discuss some of your discovered feelings, and own it. They’re yours. They aren’t good or bad. It will help you understand them better.
  4. Choose to enter into the difficult, the painful, the confusing. Choose again. And again. They will become less scary, and you will find greater freedom and authenticity in your life.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to start asking ourselves: “How does that make you feel?”