Viewing entries tagged

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.


Why Do Some Friendships Last A Lifetime?

Why Do Some Friendships Last A Lifetime?

Have you ever stopped to consider why some friendships transcend space and time and can last a lifetime, yet others seem to have an expiry date and fizzle out?

Friendship is an incredibly rich experience that connects us with the world around us. The connection that friendship fosters, allows us to grow and evolve as we travel through all stages of our lives. Our friends influence us, and we influence them - hopefully in positive, fruitful and meaningful ways.

From the second that we step foot onto the playground on our first day of school, we learn the importance of establishing friendships. Our friendships often hold more significance in our lives, sometimes, on occasions, more than our own biological families.

We absorb everything from our friends - our language, our mannerisms, ideas, values, and principles, as well as the odd questionable fashion decision. As we grow much of our personality builds from the characteristics and qualities of our friendships.

In terms of cognitive and social development, it is considered that much of our personality throughout all stages of our life is mirrored, and absorbed from our compadres. “Smarter friends make us smarter; more social friends make us more outgoing; healthy friends make us more health conscious. Who they are [our friends] becomes part of us” (Fishman, 2015).

Friendship offers frequent boosts of happiness and joy, as well enhancing your sense of purpose and belonging. Positive friendships reduce stress and anxiety and improve your feelings of strength and self-esteem. When times are tough, they help cope with trauma and loss, while decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

How we establish a friendship is often as unique as the person we connect with. As eloquently stated by C.S Lewis, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” What is equally unique is the nature in which relationships evolve or dissolve over time.

So, if we’re able to experience such a significant connection with a friend in the beginning, then why do some relationships continue to enrich our lives, while others slowly fizzle out?

Unlike our relationships with parents or siblings, our friendships are especially unique because they are completely voluntary in nature. Nothing binds us within a friendship and we make an active, conscious choice to establish them.

However, as we are drawn to a friendship because of the lack of formal structure that we experience in family or romantic relationships, the ‘voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life's whims in a way other relationships aren't’ (Beck, 2015).

Like any other relationship, friendships need active, conscious effort to keep them flourishing. “Whether people hold onto their old friends or grow apart seems to come down to dedication and communication” (Beck, 2015). When mutual reciprocation of needs and expectations are offered in a friendship, it is very possible for it to thrive, even when time and distance is present.

Research has found that people need to feel like they are getting as much out of the friendship as they are putting in, and that that equity can predict a friendship’s continued success. This means that if the right conditions are fostered, ‘long distance’ or ‘time challenged’ relationships can pick up where they left off with incredible fluidity.

These are the moments when, after years of not seeing each other in person, your able to enjoy a four-hour marathon meal, with accompanying conversation (as well as decent wine) and feel like only an hour and a half has past.

Yet, life dramatically shapes and tests our friendships. From our adolescent years where friendships are the core of our universe, across the lifespan to our retirement years, our ability to establish and preserve friends changes dramatically. The number of friends that we have starts to decline around the age of twenty-five.

There are a plethora of reasons why friendships fizzle out, some key reasons include various life events that distract us as well as failing to nurture our relationships. Other influences include changes in personal values or worldviews over time that challenge the compatibility and subsequent reciprocation between friends.

So, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the friendships that you have in your life. Some friendships might be chugging along happily on their path, others might need some tender love and attention, others might need to start a new chapter. Determine what’s required to foster their continued success? What’s necessary for them to survive life’s varied chapters, or even transcend space and time itself?

- Simon


Fishman, T. (2015). Don't underestimate the power of friendship. Retrieved from

Beck, J. (2015). How Friendships Change in Adulthood. Retrieved from:

Bhattacharya, K., Ghosh, A., Minivans, D., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Kaski, K. (2016). Sex differences in social focus across the life cycle in humans. Royal Society Open Science, 3(4), 160097.

The Importance of Relationships

The Importance of Relationships

The Importance of Relationships

As human beings, we are born with an innate biological and neurological need to establish connects or bonds with other human beings.

We are essentially the sum of the quality of our relationships with others. We are not hard-wired to be detached, free-floating islands, however, we can often find ourselves experiencing moments of utter isolation, even when we are surrounded by others.

We acknowledge that humans are social creatures and that establishing positive and reciprocal relationships are critical elements to our overall sense of wellbeing. As individuals, we are happier and healthier when we develop healthy bonds with others throughout all stages of our life.

Why are relationships important to us?

As eloquently described by Balfour and Vincent (2012) ‘The evidence now is clear: the quality of our relationships has profound implications from our earliest years, for the emotional, cognitive, and physical development of our children, to our latest years, in old age, affecting the likelihood of hospitalization, the rate of progression of disease in dementia, and even some mortality rates. In these materialistic times, we can say with some certainty that the apparent nebulous world of our close attachments to our partners [and relationships] has the most material, measurable consequence for our lives’.

The quality of our relationships and connections with others, such as our parents, siblings, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, mentors, and tribes, have the potential to directly influence our ability to create a prosperous, healthy and meaningful world for ourselves. Quality relationships assist us in dealing with life’s challenges and pain.

Human beings need connection and relationships when they are afraid, anxious, or unsure of themselves and want to compare their feelings with those of others. Relationships help people to confirm and validate thoughts, feelings and experiences as well as creating a foundation of self-esteem and self-worth.

What happens when we lack positive relationships in our lives?

In our technology-pervasive world that we find ourselves living in, a lot of us have seen a dramatic shift in our ability to connect. The world almost seems smaller. The elements of distance and time are no longer barriers to communicate and the volume of social connections has significantly increased.

Then why do so many people nowadays feel alone or isolated? It’s due to the quality of our connections or relationships. Not all relationships are meaningful, nor do they satisfy our most basics needs or yearnings for connection. Some relationships can be harmful, considerably impacting our health, our well-being and sense of self-worth.

How can we establish positive and nurturing relationships?

Relationships are fluid, evolving entities and they require ongoing care and attention. Comparable to the idea of self-care, we need to care for and nurture the relationships that in turn, support and nurture us. This reciprocal relationship takes time, patience and energy. Developing quality relationships also entails some basic proficiency in connecting with others and being open to the experience. Here are some interpersonal elements to consider when creating healthy bonds with others.

  • Define your relationship needs: what is a positive, reciprocal relationship to you?
  • Identify, establish and manage healthy boundaries.
  • Accept and celebrate differences in others.
  • Offer compassion and express gratitude.
  • Create space and time to connect.
  • Listen and be present.
  • Forgive and offer exoneration.
  • Develop effective communication skills.
  • Be open to offering and receiving constructive feedback.
  • Learn to trust and respect others.
  • Be open to the experience of connecting.
  • Manage conflict quickly and considerately when it arises.
  • Be real - as Oscar Wilde cited, ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken’.  

Practical Exercise

Take a few minutes this next week to write down a short list of some of the more important relationships in your life.

Think of a relationship with another person who consistently recognizes you, acknowledges you and endorses your feelings and ideas? How important is this relationship to you?

Next, write down a short list of the relationships you would like to nurture. Take mental stock of why each of these are important and how you would like to enrich the relationship.

Over the next 4-6 weeks, connect with each person. After this period, sit back and reflect on how your life has been enriched.

If you would like to learn more about forming positive and reciprocal relationships then let's connect. Book a free 20-minute consultation below and let's 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.


Balfour, A., Morgan, M., & Vincent, C. (2012). How Couple Relationships Shape our World Clinical Practice, Research, and Policy Perspectives. London: Karnack Books.

Web, L. (2013) Developing positive relationships. Retrieved from

Flickr image by: Farhad Sadykov

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.


Image by Luis Marina n Flickr (2016) Grrr

Anger Management Center of Toronto (2015)

Center for Evolutionary Psychology (2016).

Ekman, P., & Ekman, E. (2016) The Ekman Atlas of Emotions.

Martin, R. (2011). Why we get angry. Psychology Today.

Swenson, R.S. (2006) The limbic system. Review of Clinical and Functional Neuroscience, Dartmouth Medical School.

5 Tips to Be a Normal Guy

5 Tips to Be a Normal Guy

I’m sure the moment you read the title, you knew that I wasn’t serious. You might have felt compelled to read on to get the twist - or you are genuinely curious about how to be a normal guy. If it’s the latter, give me a call and we can talk.

Let’s clarify something up front – there’s no such thing as normal. Sure, there’s the ‘usual’ and the ‘average’ and possibly the ‘typical’ but normal is a whole different kettle of fish. It’s not uncommon to hear people say, I just want to be normal, or I want to know that I’m normal. However, when we explore what normal means, we quickly realize that it’s like playing on a field where the goal posts are completely invisible.

Pursuing a sense of normality can take an incredible amount of energy. This pursuit detracts from experiencing the best of what life has to offer. A good proportion of the ‘norms’ that we attempt are completely misguided, misinformed - and more importantly they always belong to someone else. Attempting to adhere to a sense of normality can have huge personal, social and cultural ramifications.

If you want to be be normal, here are five ways to get there:

1. Accept the Status Quo.

This implies that we accept and attempt to preserve certain values, principles, concepts and structures. The nature of the status quo is often so deeply entrenched in our lives, that we often don’t recognize it. For some, the status quo means that their circumstances are accepted without considering the potential for change, regardless of the potential. Maintaining our status quo, leads to discontent. If you want to be normal, accept the status quo, as the status quo.

2. Agree to all social and cultural norms and principles.

Social and cultural norms are an incredibly strong influence in our lives, often in ways that we are unaware of. These governing norms create the parameters of what behavior, views or opinions are viewed as acceptable or unacceptable. They also attempt to influence what will be tolerated and what could be considered abnormal. If you want to be normal, accept the mainstream view of how you should live your life.

3. Never critically question - anything.

As the old quote states; a life unexamined is a life not truly lived. The challenge here is that it requires us to examine and attempt to solve our own problems by applying various decision making process. Sometimes, it just feels easier to let others make decisions for us. Critical thinking helps create improved intellectual, emotional and spiritual self-mastery. If you want to be normal, sit back, relax and accept all arguments and assumptions that you observe.

4. Constantly compare yourself to others. 

There is an instinctual desire to quantify where we sit in the grand scheme of all things. We look at others to satisfy this need, whether it’s the type of car we drive, how buff you look compared to the dudes in the movies, or how long can you satisfy your partner in bed. To be normal, is to accept only part of the picture presented to you and to create a foundation of competition rather than collaboration. It also makes it easier to avoid being present in our own unique experience of this life. Just join every social media channel available, spend hours ruminating over what’s posted and you’ll quickly start to feel normal.

5. Accept and conform to medical, social and cultural labels.

Conforming to labels is an Olympic sport for some and is highly regarded in many social environments. It’s easy to understand and accept things we’ve not critically explored when there’s an easy way to pigeon-hole, stereotype or classify something or someone (including ourselves) that we don’t understand. It provides a simple and effective way to discard accountability for the things we deep down know we need aren’t quite right.

If we’re brutally honest, the real question that many guys ask, is not what is normal, but “am I OK and do I fit in?” Such questions relate to a sense of self-worth.

A healthy sense of self-worth requires the ability to believe and trust in ourselves and that we as individuals matter, as opposed to seeking validation from external elements, i.e. social expectations of what normal is.

When we dig deep at how we feel and think about ourselves, it’s possible to see that one’s self-worth has most likely been conditioned by an intricate web of pervasive, invisible standards, narratives and statistics for a long period of time. With this knowledge, it’s possible to step back and answer the real questions we seek.

If we don’t like what we discover, then the next step is to be active in reconstructing new ways to empower ourselves and create ways to believe in ourselves and the value we bring into this world.‘Without self-worth, doubts and fears about our very existence will persist until they invalidate our dreams and vision, and undermine our greatest accomplishments’ (Bogee, 1998). 

That’s certainly not being normal. Far, far from it. 

Image by Josh Hallett on Flickr

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

Call Simon on 512-470-6976 or book an appointment below:

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.


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.


Lost In Translation: The Language of Emotionally Expressing Ourselves.

Lost In Translation: The Language of Emotionally Expressing Ourselves.

Image by  Izzah Zainab  on  Flickr

Image by Izzah Zainab on Flickr

Regardless of who we are, our age, or which part of this big blue planet we come from, most of us have a desire to live having experienced the joy of truly loving and meaningful relationships.

Throughout our lives we invest an enormous amount of time and energy into creating and maintaining connections with others. Over the years, we will create an assortment of relationships in a wide variety of shapes, colors and flavors in order to satisfy our need of feeling connected and secure. Some relationships are constant and inseparable (i.e. our own families) and others are fluid and varied.

However, one universal truth remains; there is no escaping the innate need for safe, secure emotional connection with others. It is an essential part of the human condition. Yet, with this consideration there is one question that always surfaces.

If this innate need is intricately part of our human nature, then why at times do we suffer the irony of hurting or disappointing the ones we love the most?

This paradox occurs when the person we love the most is both a source of love, comfort and safety and during times of conflict, the source of emotional and/or physiological risk. (Gerhart, 2016). In moments of high conflict with the one’s we love, we seek to protect both ourselves and the relationship that we have established. In an attempt to protect ourselves emotionally, we react. When we react, we often become angry, frustrated and in some instances we withdraw altogether in order to avoid feelings of vulnerability.

The challenge with this dynamic is the way in which these emotional defenses are communicated to and received by the person we are trying to connect within those moments of heated exchange. Our real emotions become quickly lost in translation and our relationship takes a hit.

What can we do to navigate this dilemma?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge your experience. Take time to reflect on what’s happening inside of you when faced with a relationship problem. Try to identify the underlying emotions of your response/reaction and how you both interacted with and towards each other in the heat of the moment. Take a few moments to understand the connection between your experience and what you deeply need from your partner, parent, loved-one, etc.

Secondly, identify and communicate the emotions that occur in the immediate moment of your experience. For example, if our partner forgets to fulfil a promise, we communicate our primary emotion of feeling unappreciated as opposed to expressing anger or frustration. If we’re the one who may have forgotten to fulfil a promise, we express our emotions of inadequacy or even shame as opposed to withdrawing or defending our actions.

Exploring and communicating our underlying emotions doesn’t come natural at first. It takes tremendous courage and practice. It requires an agreement to honor and respect each other in expressing the most basic of emotions that occur when things don’t go well within the relationship. 

If the right conditions are created, our emotional needs can be safely expressed in a way that reduces the need to react defensively, thereby improving the quality of our relationships.

Learning how to interpret and communicate your emotional needs successfully can feel like learning another language. Learning this valuable skill increases the potential to translate your needs, hopes and expectations in an authentic and constructive way. It allows you and your loved ones to successfully navigate the toughest of times, while developing strong, loving relationships.

~ 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. For information regarding couple and family therapy services, contact Simon on 512-470-6976.

Reference: Gerhart, D (2016). Theory and treatment planning in family therapy. A competency based approach. Engage Learning. Boston, MA.