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Men & the Problem with Being Problem Solvers

Men & the Problem with Being Problem Solvers

Simon Niblock, MA, LMFT

He: Damn it, just let me help you! You keep going on and on about this and you don’t seem to want to do anything about it!

She: I’m not asking for your help! It’s not a problem that I want to fix… there’s nothing here to fix. Will you please, just for once stop offering me advice??!!! That’s not what I’m asking for!

He: I don’t get it! What on earth do you want? What am I supposed to do with that?

She: I just want you to listen! You seriously don’t get me. You don’t listen to me!!

He: AAAAHHHHHH!

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At this precise moment, he feels his head’s about to explode. Why does this conversation continue to happen over and over again? What am I doing so wrong? He cares about this woman and he really wants to help, yet it’s so aggravating that he can’t seem to convince her to resolve this dilemma. Seriously, it’s so damn simple. Why would someone want to torture themselves like that? His rumination resumes and he withdraws.

This scenario describes a familiar story that men say that they have experienced. He wants to ease his partners burden. However, his attempts to help her only create distance between them. He’s confused and even saddened by his lack of ability to help. He wants to help. He really needs to help. Yet, despite his insistence, his partner may not necessarily be interested in adopting a solution.

Which leads to the question: why do men have such an inherent need to solve problems? 

One potential consideration is that many men describe that this need comes from the idea of adhering to masculine norms, and that to be a man they need to ‘do’ something. This externally directed focus, or activity of ‘doing’ is consistent with more action-orientated approaches favored by boys and men (Rabinowitz & Cochran, 2002). Men frequently say that they feel utterly useless and unhinged if they can’t fix a problem. When men are attending to some type of responsibility, fixing, performing, or solving a dilemma, they know they belong.

We really don’t need to look too hard to identify where this strategy comes from. Right from a young age, boys adopt masculine-specific characteristics from a wide range of familial, social and cultural sources. One especially pervasive masculine narrative includes that in order ‘to be a man’, he should contribute ‘as a man’ by solving problems. An example of this includes providing comfort and safety to those that they care about. Such narratives have a tremendous impact on men, and they readily muddy the water by making it difficult to determine when and where a solution should be applied – if at all. 

Is there a problem being a problem solver?

What’s the problem with men wanting to be action-orientated or problem solvers? Typically, nothing. There’s really no problem being a problem solver, that is unless it interferes with a man’s ability to connect with the discomfort of their own internal experience or if his actions directly affect others. Men who reflect on this dynamic often discover that their motivation to advocate advice is to avoid facing their own discomfort when presented with an issue. The idea that their partner is hurt or confused, risks the potential of them having to face the monsters that lie deep beneath. 

As the old saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of all inventions’ and blokes have become very adept at developing strategies to deal with the things that await within.

What is a man to do when he perceives a problem, but cannot do anything about it? He’s left facing a conflict between what he has been taught and the reality of the situation. There is nothing that he can do, other than face the awkward discomfort. Over time he starts to call his own sense of relevance into question and eventually he experiences a crisis of masculine identity. Then all hell breaks loose.

What’s a positive way to address this dilemma?

So, what can men do when faced with the dilemma that there’s no problem to solve? Surprisingly there is actually something positive that can be done, even when there seems like there’s no opportunity to do anything. Kind of ironic really. The best place to begin is with surrendering to the idea that unless someone asks for a solution, then there is no problem to solve. This idea is going to be a bit foreign to begin with. 

It might even feel right down uncomfortable. The idea of surrendering to discomfort means acknowledging the experience and just letting it sit with you for a little while. This may require a conscious effort to place your ‘ego’ aside for a moment. Allowing yourself to say that you are on a different journey to the person you want to help, and that’s ok.

This discomfort allows you to create space for you to breath and gain some insight into your own needs. During this period of discomfort, it’s possible to connect with all sorts of personal insights. It can often provide very specific answers about why we find ourselves so deeply unsettled when presented with other people’s problems. 

Passion, excitement, and a wee dose of imagination

Passion, excitement, and a wee dose of imagination

Simon Niblock, Therapy for Men, Couples & Families.jpg

What happens to our intimate relationships when we find ourselves in a continuous loop of routine and familiarity?

Many of the couples that I meet and talk to in both social environments and in therapy say that they feel extremely grateful for all that they have. A loving partner, loving children, meaningful careers or enough money to live comfortably. However, some individuals have an inner dialogue that niggles at them. Something's missing in their day to day routine and it's often hard to pinpoint what that might be.

Individuals who are able to express this yearning, describe an unfulfilled expectation or hope. Some are overtly clear that there is a distinct lack of joy or passion in their lives. What on earth creates this conflict? Where does this contradiction of needs (routine & security) and expectations for something new and exciting (novelty) come from? 

Let's explore this idea.

If you can recall when you first met your partner, you were most probably in a haze of desire. Your world may have been tipped upside down. Everything was new and exciting. There was a sense of adventure, and you recognized that here was someone unique in this world. You simply couldn't get enough of each other.

You may have experienced this the first time that you traveled somewhere. The sights, the sensations, everything was brilliantly new. Every fiber in your body was on high alert and you soaked in every new and extraordinary experience. Your mind was stimulated and countless moments were etched into your memory. Eventually, the whirlwind escape came to an end and you boarded your flight home.

Each of these stories describes an instance where we have an exotic or novel experience. Participating and sharing novel experiences has the potential of growing or developing ourselves through new and stimulating experiences. When we create and share new and unique experiences with our partner, it improves our connection with each other. The level of commitment between each other is heightened.

A recent article in the New York Times describes research being conducted on the nature of ‘self-expansion'. According to Dr. Arthur Aron the concept of self-expansion is the desire to grow and change and it is considered critical to boosting a couple's level of commitment towards each other.

Self-expansion within a relationship is defined by seeing your partner as a source of exciting experiences, a support for becoming a better person, or a way to expand your own capabilities. As a result, the bond between a couple is enriched. The desire to participate in novel experience is inherently human. We all experience this desire.

The relationship therapist and acclaimed public speaker, Esther Perel emphasizes that "men and women equally have a need for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, for a surprise, for a journey, for travel.”

In her Ted Talk presentation titled ‘The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship' Esther offers a contemporary and realistic perspective on creating and maintaining a passionate marriage or relationship.

Click banner for Ted Talk: The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship.

Click banner for Ted Talk: The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship.

Esther explains that we all crave adventure and excitement to counterbalance the repetitive routine of our daily life. The irony is that we often place unrealistic expectations on our partner to be the sole provider of excitement throughout our life and that there is tremendous value for the health of our relationships in finding a balance between our need for security and passion.

Balance is created by being aware that life occurs in ebbs and flows and that imagination, playfulness, novelty, curiosity and mystery can create new and exciting experiences for ourselves and our partner.

If you and your partner feel like you're stuck in a rut, or struggle to create meaningful experiences that bring you together, then let's talk. Call me on 512-470-6976 to book an appointment.

Cheers, Simon


Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapist who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships.

Call Simon on 512-470-6976 to book an appointment today.

CLICK HERE TO EMAIL

Do You Know What You Need?

Do You Know What You Need?

rakicevic-nenad-504963-unsplash.jpg

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there. - Lewis Carroll.

I had been working with a young bloke, (let's call him Alex), for several months, when he mentioned that he had been having difficulty making a decision about a promotion that he had been offered. Alex described that he'd been successful throughout most of his career and that the company that he was working for was extremely supportive. Furthermore, he was highly respected by his boss and his peers. He felt like he had everything going for him, however, he was troubled by his lack of ‘mojo' when he thought about this new opportunity.

 So, I asked him. "Alex, can I ask? What is it that you need?

Alex: "What is it that I need?".

After a long pause…

Alex: "Damn, I don't know, Honestly, I really don't know. I've never asked myself that… you know… I've just done what I thought I wanted at the time or did what I thought I should out of obligation or loyalty… but what I need… that's a tough one".

We spent the rest of the conversation exploring Alex's needs. We took the time to separate his needs as opposed to his wants and unpacked the meaning and association of each need that he had identified. Eventually, we ended up identifying a couple of very significant needs for himself. A week later Alex stated that he had a very clear understanding of his preferred path forward. As a result, he was able to make a very deliberate and authentic decision. Alex reclaimed his mojo.

The quote above by Lewis Carroll highlights that when we haven't taken the time to explore what our needs are and what they mean to us, we might just find ourselves on a path that contradicts who we really are.

Identifying our needs is the first important step to creating meaningful relationships, rich experiences, and purpose in our pursuits.

Our needs are unique to who we are as individuals. Needs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes (see the list below) and that they constantly evolve throughout our lives. Needs range from basic existence needs (physiological and safety needs) to relational needs (intimate and social relationships and external esteem) to more complex personal growth needs (Internal esteem and self-actualization).

"A human need, or, more accurately, the object of a human need is something which a human being must have to live a recognizably human life." An important consideration is a difference between a need and want. "A want, or more accurately, the object of a want, is something which one desires to have, or the notion of preference" (Garett, 2004).

For example, an employer states "I ‘need' my employees to respect me and tell me when they need my help". This is an example of a want or a preference rather than a need. What is more aligned to the concept of a need is: "Being a trusted, efficient and relevant leader is an important need of mine".

When we are aware of our needs, it becomes easier to move towards their fulfillment. We learn to align our cognitions, emotions, and behaviors to effectively achieve them. Communicating our needs in an honest, open manner is critical. Recognizing an unfulfilled need is surprisingly relatively simple task – if we're being honest with ourselves we experience harmony with ourselves and positive connection with others. When we experience impasses or conflicts within our relationships or experience heightened emotions such as anxiety, anger or fear - it is typically an indicator that a need is not being satisfied.

Because of the heightened emotions that are connected to unfulfilled needs, it can be difficult to convey them to the people who we feel matter to us the most. We often fear what may (or may not) occur if we expressed our needs. While it does take courage to express our needs, it is also our responsibility to ourselves and to others to try.

So, how do we fulfill our needs?

  1. Recognize that having needs is not selfish, weak or dependent. It takes strength, to be honest, and attuned to our needs.
  2. Create space to explore, acknowledge and celebrate your needs. It takes time to connect with what's important to us. Give yourself permission to dig deep and when you find what you're looking for, honor yourself.
  3. Communicate your needs to yourself and to others. Convey your needs in a respectful, empathic manner that recognizes that others have needs too. Acknowledge similarities in needs and celebrate differences. Offer to help others fulfill theirs.
  4. Nurture and evolve your needs. Think of this as a life long journey. Attend to your needs as they develop.

To help explore your needs, take a few moments to reflect on the list below. This list is not all-inclusive, but it offers some ideas to get the creative ‘needs' flowing. 

If you struggle with fulfilling your needs or have difficulty communicating your needs with those in your life, then let's start a conversation. Click on the link below and schedule a free 20 min consultation. Who knows where it might lead you.

Cheers, Simon

References:

Carroll, L (No Date). Retrieved from Brainy Quotes: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/lewiscarro165865.html

Garrett, J. (2004) Needs, Wants, Interests, Motives. Retrieved from: http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/ethics/needs.htm

McClelland, D. (1961) The achieving society. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need_theory

NEEDS

Appreciation

  • Acknowledgement
  • To be seen
  • To be known
  • To be heard

Honesty

  • Integrity
  • Authenticity
  • Wholeness
  • Fairness

Connections/Relations

  • Belonging
  • Friendship
  • Companionship
  • Respect
  • Support
  • Trust
  • Cooperation
  • Mutuality

Purpose

  • Competence
  • Contribution
  • Meaning
  • Growth
  • Learning
  • Challenge
  • Work
  • Discovery
  • Order/Structure
  • Efficiency

Play

  • Expression
  • Passion
  • Sexuality
  • Creativity

Mental

  • Clarity
  • Information
  • Stimulation
  • Awareness
  • Focus

Autonomy

  • Freedom
  • Choice
  • Independence

Empathy

  • Consideration
  • Compassion
  • Connection
  • Communication
  • Reassurance
  • Love
  • Warmth
  • Intimacy
  • Companionship
  • Acceptance

Nurturing

  • Touch
  • Affection
  • Caring
  • Preservation of life
  • Bonding
  • Comfort

Sustenance

  • Security
  • Safety
  • Food/Water/Shelter
  • Health
  • Rest/Sleep

Celebration

  • Honor
  • Aliveness
  • Spontaneity
  • Mourning
  • Humor

Union

  • Connection with something greater
  • Ritual
  • Healing
  • Harmony
  • Inspiration
  • Peace
  • Faith
  • Joy
  • Balance
  • Grounding
  • Serenity
  • Hope

The Mastery of Emotion: Anger

The Mastery of Emotion: Anger

We’ve all experienced it. That bubbling up of frustration when something consistently doesn’t go according to plan, the sheer exasperation of the person cutting in front of you in traffic or the argument that goes around in circles, becoming increasingly heated by the second. We’ve all experienced anger in its varying forms. We’re often aware we have our own ‘hot buttons’ and pretty sure that everyone else knows how to push them. But how much do we really know about anger and what purpose it serves?

What is Anger?

Anger is the disruption or interference of personal expectations. It is a core human emotion, which varies from person to person in strength and frequency. It is experienced in a variety of states and intensity ranging from simple annoyance to frustration, exasperation, argumentativeness, bitterness, vengefulness, and fury (intense anger).

What purpose does anger serve?

Anger as an emotion, according to evolutionary psychologists, formed as individual response to interpersonal conflicts of interest and as a method to bargain and satisfy such interests. However, anger is far more than a cave man’s negotiation tactic. Experiencing anger allows us to identify when our needs or expectations are not being met. It highlights when our personal boundaries have been breached and can create an intention of purpose or action to overcome the deficit in what we want for ourselves.

Anger, like any of our core emotions, is impossible to eradicate from our emotional repertoire, therefore it should be acknowledged, respected and managed in a way that allows us to evolve personally and improve the quality of our relationships.

How do we become angry?

How we become angry depends on a number of elements. These elements include an event or circumstance that triggers an emotional response (triggers), who we are as a person, or our own individual disposition (emotional characteristics) and how we perceive  the situation (cognitive appraisal) and on what evidence we adopt and our method of reasoning.

A trigger may be an interference with our ability to move forward with an intended task or action, it may include rejection or criticism from someone we love, experiencing inefficiency or bureaucracy, encountering opposite beliefs, being belittled or humiliated by an employer or authority figure or worse case, being wrongfully accused.

Our own individual disposition includes the dominant qualities or temperament of our mental and emotional self. Are we sunny and cheerful by disposition or are we more cynical or irritable in nature? Our emotional outlook or attitude has the ability to create the foundation in which we respond in a given situation.

Cognitive appraisal is our own, individual interpretation of a situation. When a trigger occurs, we instantly make an intuitive evaluation of whether the situation or event is considered a disruption or interference of our personal expectations. In this process, we reference beliefs, values, expectations, hopes and needs. Essentially, we incorporate a whole range of evaluative constructions that allow us to create our own inference or perception of a given situation.

What happens to us when we get angry?

Without going into great depth into the various physiological, neurological and psychological responses, the simple explanation of what we experience when we get angry can be described as an ‘amygdala override’. The amygdala is the neurological center for coordinating behavioral, autonomic and endocrine (hormone) responses to external stimuli, especially those with emotional content. The amygdala responds to a variety of emotional stimuli, but mostly those related to fear and anxiety (Swenson, 2006).

When a threat is perceived, the amygdala bypasses the sections of the brain (the cortex) that typically provides logic, reasoning, and judgment, and switches on a mass dump of hormones. This dump subsequently activates the secretion of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol into the body. Essentially, the ‘amygdala override’ activates our flight or fight sequence that we’re all too familiar with and we find we’re flying off into a fit of rage.

How can we manage our anger?

It’s important to recognize that it’s ok to get angry. What’s not ok, is if anger leads to aggression and/or violence. When you are angry, it is our responsibility to express anger in a healthy and constructive manner. We are individually accountable for finding constructive ways to avoid losing control that could lead to aggressive, destructive or other maladaptive behaviors that may harm yourself and others.

1.     Take notice of your ability to calm down: How long does it take? 20 minutes, 40 minutes, or a good couple of hours? The various hormones that flood the body take to secrete out of our bloodstream, so the timeframe in which we need to regulate ourselves can vary from person to person.

2.     Take time out: yes, just like we do with our kids, the same strategy applies really well for angry adults. It’s important to take into account that your mental and physical tolerance may be impacted after an experience of activation, so do not re-enter a heated conversation if you’re still calming down. Remove yourself from the environment if you suspect you might be ‘re-activated’.

3.     Adopt a method of self-soothing: Ask yourself, do you release your anger out, or do you harbor it in? Explore ways to be able to find to calm and regulate your anger. What are your triggers? How does your temperament influence your anger? Are there different ways of assessing particular experiences? What resources can you utilize to positively shape your response?

4.     Practical tools: there are a wide range of tools and options to help ease the internal dialogue and physiological responce that swells up in the heat of the moment. Here’s an example of a series of internal dialogue points developed by the Anger Management Center of Toronto (2015), worth saying to yourself when the anger starts to heighten:

  • I do not need to prove myself in this situation, I can stay calm.
  • As long as I keep my cool, I am in control of myself.
  • What other people might say is their own opinion. Opinions are not facts. I am the only person who can make myself angry or keep myself calm.
  • I will allow myself to take time-out to de-escalate, if I feel that I am getting worked up or recognize my anger cues or signals.
  • In difficult or stressful situations, I do not need to feel threatened or fearful. I can relax and stay cool. This will allow me to make better choices.
  • I do not have to be strong and competent all the time. It is okay to feel unsure or confused at times. This will not make me less of a person.
  • It is impossible to control other persons and all situations. I can only influence these in a positive way if I choose to if they are open to the process.

Anger is a complex creature. As humans, we are naturally predisposed to the emotion of anger and poignant experience. Our perception of anger can vary. Some individuals avoid anger at all cost, while others express it explicitly. Anger, like each of our respective emotions, serves the distinct purpose of highlighting when we are presented with an impediment to satisfying an expectation or need, or if we are faced with a breach of personal values or boundaries. The psychological and physiological effects of anger are complicated, however, if we are aware of the dynamics that create anger we are able to manage and control this important emotion without resorting to ineffective actions that compromise the relationship with ourselves and the relationships with others.

If you would like to learn more about how to positively express your anger or have been told that you have an 'anger problem', then call me on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

Cheers, Simon

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the button below to book a consultation.

References

Image by Luis Marina n Flickr (2016) Grrr

Anger Management Center of Toronto (2015) http://www.angermanagementcentre.ca/programs-and-services/our-programs/anger-management-coaching

Center for Evolutionary Psychology (2016). http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/topics/anger.htm

Ekman, P., & Ekman, E. (2016) The Ekman Atlas of Emotions. https://www.paulekman.com/atlas-of-emotions/#actions:anger

Martin, R. (2011). Why we get angry. Psychology Today.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-the-rage/201110/why-we-get-mad

Swenson, R.S. (2006) The limbic system. Review of Clinical and Functional Neuroscience, Dartmouth Medical School. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~rswenson/NeuroSci/chapter_9.html

How to Avoid the Perils of Not Being Understood

How to Avoid the Perils of Not Being Understood

Anyone who's picked up and read the classic self-development book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Steven R. Covey, will recognize the habit of ‘seek to understand, to be understood'. This powerful paradigm shifts us away from trying to instantly gratify our needs when communicating with someone to a position where we take the time to listen and truly understand their needs first, before then conveying ours. "We typically seek first to be understood and most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they are listening with the intent to reply" (Covey, 2004).

Some folks might describe ‘seek to understand, to be understood' as active or reflective listening. However, it's much more than that. Stopping yourself from formulating a response when someone is talking is certainly a positive step in improving your connection. Listening with intent, to truly understand someone, their fears, desires, yearnings or disappointment is even more powerful. From a position of understanding, we can connect at an empathic level that forms deep levels of trust and respect. As a result, the other person is more likely to reciprocate and take the time to truly listen and understand our needs.

When there's a breakdown in communication, I often hear many couples express that "he/she just doesn't get me". When this is conveyed, I respectively check in with each partner and have them apply the principle of seeking to understand to be understood. It's not uncommon to have them turn to each other and say, "Oh! I had no idea that was happening to you! Or, I had it completely wrong, I thought you meant X, Y, Z". This common dialogue highlights the real impact when we really don't connect. As a result, the misperceptions that we create, then impact the way in which we subsequently interact with the other person, creating a cycle of miscommunication and potential conflict.

Seeking to understand to be understood, in the context of our relationships can be applied in a few simple and very practical steps:

1.     Create space to have an open, active conversation. Give yourself some breathing space and create a regular time to talk. It doesn't require hours of deep and meaningful conversation, but just make it consistent and uninterrupted so that you and your partner can connect.

2.     Be present and focused. Sure, I know it's hard to have a conversation after battling with the trials of the day. Sit together or talk a walk. Remove as many distractions as possible. Switch off the television, put your phone out of sight, whatever it takes to be present in order to create that empathic connection. 

3.     Be curious about your partner's world. Starting a conversation with a simple check in with your partner is a great way to start an active conversation. You'll be surprised at how many couples have fallen out of the habit of checking in with each other. However, once you start - listen. Listen with the intent of understanding them and their frame of reference. Be curious. It's your responsibility as a partner to understand all about their world and what's happening with them.

4.     Don't prescribe solutions. This is a classic symptom of listening to reply as opposed to listening to understand. If we jump into the conversation with suggestions or recommendations, then the other person is less likely to initiate a conversation or even seek help in future. If they want help they, hopefully, will ask for it. Then with the insight that you have about their needs, are able to offer solutions that are far more meaningful.

5.     Ask how you can complement your partner's life. This is a great alternative to offering solutions (gents, are you paying attention here?). Ask your partner ‘what can I do you make your day great? Or, what can I do to help you through the day?' These might sound a bit cheesy, but find your own language to ask these questions. The reply might be as simple as ‘can you rub my back or I would love if you could help me get the kids off to bed'. The key here is to extend an invitation to your partner to connect with them and offer support while respecting their needs.

The concept of ‘first seek to understand, to be understood' is based deeply in the power of empathic listening. It has the potential to create strong connections while respecting each others frame of reference. When individuals take the time to focus, be present and listen without formulating a response, it opens up the potential to convey needs and expectations without resorting to ineffective ways of communicating (defending positions, arguing, misinterpretation etc).

If you're unfamiliar with some of these ideas, it will take a bit of practice. Construct your own language, using these suggestions as a foundation. Experiment and take notice of what changes. The potential to deepen your connection with your partner is very real.

If you think it's time to explore how to improve communication in your relationship or struggle to express your needs and expectations with your partner or spouse, then call me on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

Arohanui, Simon

Image by kanegen on Flickr.

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the link below to book an appointment.

Healthy Boundaries - A Must For Fulfilling Relationships.

Healthy Boundaries - A Must For Fulfilling Relationships.

Image by iamdanw on  Flickr

Image by iamdanw on Flickr

With our fast paced lifestyles it’s important to step back regularly to reflect on the importance of creating healthy boundaries for ourselves. Even amid the chaos that often feels so inescapable, it’s absolutely possible to create and maintain positive and effective boundaries that allow you to have fulfilling relationships with others, without neglecting who you are and what’s important to you. 

Below is a fantastic article by Rachel Eddins, M.Ed, LPC on how to create healthy relationship relationship boundaries.

If you feel like you’re struggling with setting healthy and balanced boundaries in your life, or have difficulty defining what’s important to you, then connect with me to start a conversation.

Arohanui, Simon

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping couples and their families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships. 

Contact Simon on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

CLICK HERE TO CONNECT


Keeping Good Boundaries & Getting Your Needs Met.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed. LPC.

You may be familiar with the psychological term “boundaries,” but what does it mean and how does it apply to you?

Put plainly, boundaries are the line between where I end and you begin. Healthy boundaries define who we are in relation to others. They also help us to know what the extents and limits are with others. Personal boundaries are how we teach people who we are and how we would like to be handled in relationships. Boundaries help you to say, “This is who I am.”

Good personal boundaries protect you. Without them life feels scary and you may feel anxious. Having a sense of boundaries and limits also helps you to connect with your true self. They are based on your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, decisions, choices, wants, needs, and intuitions. They are clear, firm, maintained, and sometimes flexible.

Ultimately, when you don’t protect or overprotect your boundaries, your needs go unmet, which can lead to anxiety or compulsive behaviors such as overeating, addictions, or working too much. Setting healthy boundaries allows you to connect with yourself, your emotions and your needs. It allows you to feel safe, to relax and to feel empowered to care for yourself.

Loose Boundaries Lead to Emotional Drain

When boundaries are loose, you may easily take on the emotions and needs of others. There is a little sense of a separate self and you may experience difficulty identifying your own emotions and needs. People with loose boundaries often are hypersensitive to others’ comments and criticisms.

Common signs of loose boundaries include over involvement in others’ lives; perfectionism and people pleasing; trying to fix and control others with judgments and advice; staying in unhealthy relationships; taking on too much work or too many commitments; and avoiding being alone too much. When your boundaries are too loose you can feel responsible for everything and everyone, powerless, imposed upon, and resentful.

Unconsciously, loose boundaries may represent your own need for care-taking. Ultimately, however, they disconnect you from yourself as you’re not connected with your own emotions and needs. The disconnection can lead to compulsive behaviors such as overeating and working too much.

Rigid Boundaries Lead to Loneliness

For some people, too much closeness is anxiety-provoking. Intimacy may be frightening due to fears of being suffocated and the loss of independence. Some may also avoid connection with themselves due to a harsh internal critic. Feelings of emptiness and depression may be present, along with difficulty giving and receiving care and concern.

Ultimately, rigid boundaries can lead to chronic feelings of loneliness. It can be a double-edged sword – craving connection while fearing closeness. Rigid boundaries represent a protection from vulnerability, where hurt, loss and rejection can occur and be especially painful.

Here are some signs that your boundaries need adjusting:

  • Feel unable to say no
  • Feel responsible for others’ emotions
  • Concerned about what others think to the point of discounting your own thoughts, opinions and intuition
  • Your energy is so drained by something that you neglect your own needs (including the need for food, rest, etc.)
  • People-pleasing
  • Avoiding intimate relationships
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Believe your happiness depends on others
  • Take care of others’ needs, but not your own
  • Others’ opinions are more important than your own
  • Have difficulty asking for what you want or need
  • Go along with others vs. with what you want
  • Feel anxious or afraid
  • Not sure what you really feel
  • Take on moods or emotions of others around you
  • Overly sensitive to criticism

How to Set Effective Boundaries

If you find that you may have loose or rigid boundaries, it’s OK. Try not to judge where you are right now. Rather, approach it with curiosity and openness. Read through the following suggestions and find one thing you can start with today. Give it a try and see how you feel. Remember, it may be uncomfortable at first as you are learning a new skill. Stick with it. You deserve to be treated as valuable, which is what healthy boundaries communicate. You may need to remind yourself that this is a form of loving self-care and you’re doing the best you can. You don’t need to feel guilty for what you need.

Know yourself. This means knowing your innermost thoughts, beliefs, feelings, choices, and experiences. It also means knowing and connecting with your needs, feelings and physical sensations. Without knowing your true self, you can’t really know your limits and needs, i.e., your boundaries. This will also help you to more clearly define your needs when boundaries are crossed.

Be flexible. Having healthy boundaries doesn’t mean rigidly saying no to everything. Nor does it mean cocooning yourself from others. We are constantly growing, learning and evolving as human beings.

Stay out of judgment. Practice having healthy compassion for others without the need to “fix” them.

Let go of judgment about yourself. Easier said than done, but start practicing compassion and acceptance. When you can accept yourself for who you are, there is less need to hide your true self. A more positive inner world can help you feel safe with vulnerability. Connect with the voice of someone loving and nurturing and imagine what he or she would say to you in this moment instead.

Accept the truth in what others say and leave the rest. Feel what you feel and don’t take responsibility for or take on the emotions of others. Give back their feelings, thoughts and expectations.

Practice openness. Be willing to listen to others about how your behavior impacts them.

Watch out for black and white thinking. Do you have difficulty saying no? Try, “let me think about it and get back to you.” Do you have to do x, y, or z or else? Try to find the middle ground.

Pay attention to activities and people who drain you and those who energize you. Protect yourself by saying no to those who drain you or finding ways to reduce them through delegating, setting limits, or lowering perfectionistic standards. Add more energizing activities to your day instead.

Pause. When you feel the urge to (insert compulsion here), stop and check in with yourself. What are you feeling? Can you allow that feeling to be present without acting on it for the moment? What do you need? Dig deep and see what comes up for you. Take five or 10 deep breaths if need be, focusing on exhaling completely.

Get clear on what you value and desire. What do you really want or long for? What is truly important to you in your life? Get clear on your most important values. Use your values to guide your decisions vs. others’ opinions or expectations. Use this to help you find what is missing from your life.

References:

http://eddinscounseling.com/rachel-eddins/

http://psychcentral.com/lib/keeping-good-boundaries-getting-your-needs-met/

Couples Therapy: New Experiences, Renewed Relationships

Couples Therapy: New Experiences, Renewed Relationships

Image: t.germeau on  Flickr

Image: t.germeau on Flickr

“Will couple’s therapy help us?”

“What can we expect from couple’s therapy?” 

If you’re considering contacting a therapist, it’s absolutely natural to have a million and one questions about how it all works, what’s involved and how long it might take to feel better. All of these are common questions when couples seek professional help. 

Engaging in therapy can sometimes be as anxiety provoking as the problem you are dealing with. Feelings of shame, guilt or thoughts of failure are often normal responses when you’ve been trying to keep it all together for so long. 

The assurance here is that these feelings and thoughts are normal when you’re in the thick of things. Your therapist should take the time to deeply understand your experience in a non-judgmental and caring manner.

Will therapy help save our relationship?”

This is the elephant that enters the room when couples meet for therapy for the first time. That’s ok. It’s really important to remember that your relationship is unique and that the things that shape your world are incredibly diverse and plentiful. If your willing to invest the time and energy into trying new things that may feel outside your normal comfort zone, then there is a huge potential for real meaningful and fulfilling change. 

Take some time to talk to your therapist about your hopes and expectations about therapy. It’s ok to ask these questions. Be willing to explore your doubts and concerns. That’s what your therapist is there for. 

“What can we expect from couples therapy?”

It’s natural to want the feelings of trust and commitment back into your relationship. Couples who commit to the therapeutic process, those who put in the hard work, often describe deeper emotional bonds with each other. As a couple explores their relationship, feelings of greater emotional involvement, respect, love and a deeper sense of worthiness are created. 

These new experiences are heightened by the ability to communicate their true emotions without fear of retaliation and feelings of blame or guilt. Such experiences can dramatically shift the way couples connect, communicate and sustain each other throughout their lives.

A Recipe for change through new experiences.

To be able to create new experiences of relating to each other, therapy must include the right mixture of ingredients. An important element is the idea of open emotional expression. Open emotional expression helps tremendously in addressing old patterns of communication and interactions that in the past resulted in misunderstanding and conflict. 

However, it can be challenging for many couples to openly communicate how they are truly feeling when they are worried about the ramifications of disclosing their underlying feelings and thoughts. This requires absolute assurance that both the ‘communicator’ and the ‘listener’ are supported within an environment that is balanced and safe.

With support from the therapist, couples can learn to authentically express their thoughts and feelings to each other. The hope is to help each partner acquire a deeper understanding of each other, while recognizing their own role in their relationship experience. 

As therapy progresses, each partner learns to listen and validate their experience of the relationship of one another. Over time, conversations that may have started as awkward, foreign and possibly conflict ridden, may result in the creation of loving, secure relationship bonds that enrich the journey of the couple for many years to come.

Arohanui, Simon

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Simon Niblock is an Austin, TX based Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping couples and their families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships. For information regarding couple and family therapy services, contact Simon on 512-470-6976

Johnson, S.M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. Creating Connections. (2nd ed.), New York, NY, Brunner-Routledge.

Jacobson, N.S., & Addis, M.E. (1993). Research on Couples and Couple Therapy What Do We Know? Where Are We Going? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. February 1993 Vol. 61, No. 1, 85-93. Retrieved from: http://www.rebeccajorgensen.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Research-on-Couples-and-Couple-Therapy.pdf