Sure, we know that it's popular these days to have something called "healthy boundaries". If we leave our work at the office, say "no" to offers we don't like, and ask people to step off our toes when they're too close, we may think we've got the whole boundary thing licked. But there’s more to boundaries than we typically tend to think.
Fundamentally, boundaries are meant to help us find safety. They delineate where our (mental, emotional, physical) space ends, and where another's may begin. When we have healthy boundaries, we take responsibility for our needs, thoughts, and feelings, and we allow others to have their own needs, thoughts, and feelings, without taking responsibility or needing to somehow change them. When we honor our boundaries, we set limits, and take adult responsibility for our experiences.
One way to think of boundaries is to recognize how we interact with them in several different categories:
1. Physical: How much space would we like between ourselves and others? What sorts of affection and touch do we want, and not want? How much sleep and self-care time do we need to feel our best? Usually, traumas such as accidents are primarily physical boundary violations. We can feel violated by life itself—as if we have lost trust in the integrity and ongoing well-being of our physical self. Sexual and physical assaults, while of course being physical boundary violations, can also be emotional and energetic boundary violations.
2. Emotional: How would we like to be spoken to? What sorts of feedback feels good to us, and what is unnecessarily hurtful? Can we allow other people to feel sad, angry, hurt, or fearful, without needing to “fix” them in some way? Can we allow ourselves to feel sad, angry, hurt, or fearful, without blaming it on anyone or anything else? Can we choose what we’re ready to share about our inner life with another person, at a pace that honors the safety and trustworthiness of the relationship?
3. Intellectual/mental: Can we respect other people’s viewpoints and ways of seeing the world, even if we strongly disagree? Can we respect that other people want to do things differently, have different preferences, and may understand certain concepts and situations differently than we do? This can be especially challenging in situations involving politics that we feel strongly about it, or if we feel we know "best" about how to do or see something.
4. Spiritual: Can we allow others to have their chosen spiritual life (or lack thereof), without feeling the need to change them, convince them of their wrongness, or force them to see things differently? Do we honor our own need for spiritual engagement or lack thereof, without needing to explain, justify, or rationalize our chosen belief system? Do we respect our need to honor our spiritual values instead of letting them take a backseat to our more everyday concerns?
5. Energetic: What kind of people do we want to be around, and what kind of people are toxic to us—and can we honor the need to chose our relationships carefully? If we can’t choose the relationship, can we arrange ourselves in a way so that we minimize contact with the unhealthy other? What sort of spaces and situations do we repeatedly find ourselves in—are they chaotic, confusing, abusive, and messy, or loving and joyful? The energetic boundary is closely related to physical and emotional boundaries. You may feel violated energetically if, for example, you are visually “sized up” by another person, or you find that someone has looked through your personal belongings or space without permission.
Oftentimes, our boundaries change over time, as we develop emotionally. Many people in early recovery from trauma, addiction, or substance abuse find that they need to uncover or develop their personal boundaries, to both protect them from relapse or further traumatization, and to encourage emotional growth.
I’ll post on How to Set Healthy Boundaries in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
You're not alone.
Most people feel some ambivalence about changing a long-standing behavior, no matter how much it could benefit them to do so. It doesn't matter if the behavior relates to alcohol, food, exercise, leisure time, or anything else; the change-making process works in predictable ways. It makes sense to want to explore the reasons for the change, the potential consequences, and likely outcome before committing. There's a good reason for this: the behavior is serving a purpose (or at least was at one point!)
Some reasons that people drink include:
*to connect more easily with others
*to have fun
Drinking for these reasons, for many people, are not necessarily a problem. Alcohol is used so commonly throughout time and across cultures because it's effects are predictable and usually enjoyable for most people. However, some people find that drinking becomes a way to deal with life's stresses or to forget pain. This type of drinking can bring more questionable consequences, especially when the pain or stress are not dealt with directly through healthier means. No matter the reason for drinking, some people find that it can lead to:
*risky behavior such as driving while intoxicated, or unsafe sex
*being loud, hurtful, or obnoxious with others
*losing sight of values such as self-care, healthy relationships, work goals, etc
*a lost opportunity to learn more direct and healthy coping skills
*increased tendency toward depression
*loss of self-respect
*negative impacts on important relationships
*health problems (present or future)
If you're considering changing your drinking behavior, but don't feel ready, that's no problem. Most people who successfully cut down or quit drinking entirely went through a period of questioning what it would mean for them, and the likely outcome of no longer having alcohol in their lives.
Many people have questions such as:
"How would I have fun without it?"
"How would I unwind without it?"
"What would my friends, colleagues, or family think?"
"What if it hurts my relstionships?"
"What if I don't know how?"
"What if I can't?"
I find it's helpful to explore in detail with my clients:
*what is helpful or enjoyable about the drinking
*what the potential reasons for quitting or cutting back might be--whether related to health, finances, relstionships, values, spirituality, work, or self-esteem.
*what the benefits might be
*what's gotten in the way of changing the behavior so far
*how life might be different in 5 or 10 years if they continue drinking at the current rate, and how it might be if they stopped
*how it might affect important relationships
*what else might be needed in place of the alcohol (alternative pain management techniques, grief or trauma work, healthy coping skills, different options for having fun, relaxing, and socializing, etc)
*treatment options that may be helpful
Usually, after these questions are explored in detail, those I work with have much more clarity about their relationship to alcohol, and whether or not it makes sense to take any further steps to pursue a change.
If you're interested in exploring your relationship to alcohol without feeling pressured to "hurry up and change", I'd be happy to talk more.
Teri Dillion, MA, LPC, LAC