Are you a yes person? A people pleaser?
Are you the one who always listens to other people?
Do you seem to miss your turn receiving support? Do you take on more than you can manage?
Boundaries help us maintain relationships, and maintain our authenticity – or our connection to ourselves.
Agreeableness is a scale that we all fall on somewhere. Being agreeable, or self-sacrificing can be a strength, but it can also be a weakness. You may be really good at listening but have a hard time expressing your own needs and desires.
Why is it a strength? You have a lot of empathy, you are attuned to the feelings of others and you know how to make them happy. People like you. You may also achieve a lot by virtue of taking on a lot.
However – A strength overdone can become a weakness!
How is it a weakness? People who can’t say No may build up anger and resentment towards themselves and others. You may not even realise this, but it can manifest as depression, burnout, emotional numbness, headaches or other bodily pain. Pleasing everyone else can leave you feeling stressed and unfulfilled.
Patterns of agreeableness often have their origins in our childhood. We may learn to suppress our authenticity, our true feelings and needs, to maintain a close relationship with our family members. This is a very adaptable coping strategy for a little person, however, it can lead to having unhealthy boundaries as an adult.
How can you develop healthier boundaries?
- Tune into your body – what is it telling you? What is your gut feeling about being asked to do x y z?
- Tune into your needs and desires. Write them down. What is it that you really want in your life?
- Turn your compassion for others’ needs to express and be heard, inward. Start listening to yourself as well as you listen to others.
- Identify what it is your inner critic has to say – probably something that makes you feel guilty for saying No. Write a rebuttal and practice delivering it regularly.
- Identify the areas and people you find it most difficult to say No to. Maybe it’s your boss, or a parent. Delay your response. Don’t say yes straight away. A line such as ‘I’ll get back to you’, gives you some time to prepare to say NO.
- Practice expressing your needs and desires with people you trust. What is the outcome for you, for them, for your relationship?
- Support – have someone who understands you, encourages you, validates you, and helps hold you accountable for practicing these things.
Developing healthier boundaries doesn’t mean you have to give up your strength. You can develop more flexibility and control of this attribute, and having healthy boundaries can become your new strength. Our therapists can help you understand your patterns of interaction and how to break free from stressful and unfulfilling relationships.
Limit the ‘Noise’
In today’s busy world it’s easy to get caught up in all the distractions. It can be a novel exercise to start to really notice what you are letting into your psyche, your consciousness – and to make an active choice as to whether it’s good for you or not. Are you controlled, at least in part by social media? How many times a day do you check the myriad of notifications your devices throw at you? Do you actually enjoy and value your time spent on Facebook, Instagram or checking emails? Are these behaviours driven by a compulsion to do so or do they actually bring you joy or add value to your life? Asking yourself these questions can get you thinking about what you value and what’s really important to you.
If these checking impulses are contributing to your feelings of stress and overwhelm, then maybe it’s time to set yourself some helpful and thoughtful boundaries. Thinking more about how, when and why you engage in the technological world could be a good place to start. When these wonders of the modern world start to take away more than they add to your life, then you know something’s out of whack and you need to make different decisions about how you spend your precious time.
Seek out the Joy
Did you realise that sometimes you actually have to seek out and schedule in the joy to maintain your mental and physical well-being? Psychologists refer to this as Pleasant Event Scheduling, and it involves deliberating making time for the things you enjoy doing and those that boost positive emotions. Sometimes people have the mindset that doing this is ‘selfish’, ‘indulgent’ or a ‘waste of time’. However, these beliefs often stem from your inner critic and are linked to having unrelenting standards for yourself and others (including a high level of ‘perfectionism’ which gets in the way of allowing yourself relaxation and down-time).
If you are feeling low or if you’re suffering from depression, it’s even more important to deliberately factor in both pleasant events and activities which make you feel good about yourself. Also, a focus on increasing pleasant sensory experiences is important for people with low or depressed mood. Think about your 5 senses and how you can boost feelings of sensory comfort, security and pleasure. Doing these activities mindfully is also important. Examples might include – taking a warm relaxing bath, swimming in the ocean, using heat packs, getting a massage or some reflexology, tasting your favourite foods and drink, using aromatherapy, getting more hugs from friends and family, listening to soothing, joyful or upbeat music.
Prioritise Restoration and Listen to your Body
Life is not a race. There are no prizes given out for reaching a point of ‘burnout’. Do you deliberately make time and room for slowing down? Everyone needs time for emotional and physical restoration and we all need to take refuge on a regular basis. If you don’t listen to your body and give it what it needs, it usually starts screaming at you in the form of headaches, fatigue, stomach upsets and other physical manifestations of chronic stress. Instead of racing through the day and crashing from exhaustion at the end, you could factor in ‘mini breaks’ and brief periods of mindfulness when you stop and notice.
You don’t always have to multi-task. Try doing one thing with full attention rather than 5 things with minimal or scattered attention. You can take your time to practice pauses during the day when you stop, breathe, rest and reflect mindfully on the day and how you are feeling. Checking in with or coming to your ‘senses’ regularly throughout the day, means that you can notice when you need to slow down and take a break. It’s when you don’t even notice what you need, that problems start to arise.
Stop the Comparisons
Comparing yourself to others is often a futile activity which can lead to an extra sense of pressure and stress that you don’t need. It’s a life-trap which can fuel the ‘inner critic’ and make you vulnerable to feeling like an ‘imposter’ and even a failure – especially if you’re rating yourself against your peers on measures of performance and achievement.
It’s often more useful to compare yourself with yourself! This practice encourages you to see the progress or the positive changes you have made over time, which is a more realistic and kinder approach. For example, you may have conquered a particular fear, achieved a life goal, or reached a realistic target that you have set for yourself. Maybe you have come a long way in healing yourself after an abusive or difficult childhood. Make time to congratulate yourself for having moved forward and changed for the better. Focusing on you and your positive and healthy progress, rather than how you measure up against others, is much better for your mental health.
When we compare ourselves with others, it’s usually not a realistic or fair comparison. We can never really know what’s happening with the other person, what motivates them, their personal history or what goes on behind closed doors for them.
Value what you have
Deep down, we all know the value of appreciation and gratitude. It’s easy to forget and get swept away with daily hassles and worries – this is normal. As humans, fortunately and unfortunately we have a very sophisticated brain that is prone to get caught up with too much thinking and anxious rumination (e.g., future forecasting, worrying, ruminating and ‘catastrophizing’ about what is going to happen). We don’t have to blame ourselves for this, this is how our brains have evolved over-time. We are human and therefore we worry and get stressed out!
There are many antidotes to this, but one is to make more room for thoughts which are thankful and appreciative. Our minds tend to naturally focus upon what is missing, what is wrong and what is not there. It’s due to an inbuilt survival mechanism which has gone haywire. We have a ‘fault-finding’ mind which keeps us alert and keeps the threat system of the brain overly activated. When we deliberately think about the things we are happy with, thankful for and working well in our lives, our brains calm down a little (ie, we can down-regulate our anxious nervous system). Thankfulness helps us foster a sense of greater relaxation and therefore positive emotional states are much easier to access.
Try and make room for moments of gratitude and being thankful for the things or life conditions that you have and want and don’t have and don’t want, rather than the life conditions that you want but don’t have.
Imagine that your mind, your worrying mind is a glass of water into which you have just dumped a handful of muddy sand. If you keep agitating the glass, if you keep turning it around and lifting it up & down, then the dirty sand will never settle. It will remain unclear, cloudy and busy, full of moving particles. This is like what happens when you let your mind follow unwanted, unhelpful or ‘unresolvable’ thoughts. When you ju…st leave it, when you don’t keep touching the glass, the muddy sand eventually finds its resting place at the bottom of the glass. The water which was completely occupied by cloudy sediment just a few moments ago, is now crystal clear. This is one of the benefits you get from practicing mindfulness and mindful meditations. During a mindful meditation to breath for example, you can let go of agitating the glass that is your mind. By not following and getting seduced by the craziness of your thoughts, you make the decision to simply place that glass onto a table next to you and let it be. Clarity follows, as does an opportunity for refuge from the daily hassles of life and the hassles of your mind. Taking refuge in a daily meditation practice, no matter how small, is a gift to your body and mind. It allows, if only for a short time, for you to see through the glass to the other side. That transparency is nurturing and sustaining.
For help with mindfulness-based exercises and meditation practices, contact us at the Good Mood Clinic. Gemma Gladstone
Self-compassion is a human imperative. Self-compassion is the ability to look at ourselves with loving kindness. It is also the ability to acknowledge and accept all parts of the self and then to decide which parts might need to be healed, let go of, improved upon or changed in some way. Self-compassion is about loving and accepting your vulnerability and loving and caring about your own suffering as well as that of others. Instead of disowning the parts we don’t like or want to forget (because they are linked to pain and suffering), we need to accept their existence and be kind to them. Try remembering a time in your life that was difficult, then get an image or memory of yourself at that time. Think about how you felt at that time and while doing so, put you hand on your heart and say “I care about my suffering”. Say this several times until you really start to feel it. Imagine yourself as you are now, giving that part of you a hug and reassuring that part by saying how much you care about them and what they went through.
Impermanence is at the heart of love and compassion. When we truly see and know impermanence we can fully experience mind-body love and compassion. Knowing at the deepest level that nothing is ‘forever’, that everything passes, changes or fades is a real gift. When we have this we can experience the deepest appreciation for what is present in the moment before it fades. So impermanence and compassion are inherently connected. The concept and acceptance of our own impermanence can help us turn towards self-compassion. So don’t be tempted to waste time with ill will towards yourself, by getting hung up upon your faults or failings. Instead, try to collect all parts of yourself and see what is really there through the lense of loving kindness to yourself and what you have suffered in the past.
Mindfulness as a concept and practice has been in existence for at least 2500 years in the Buddhist tradition both as a form of meditation and an approach to Human existence. Today it forms a component of several of the modern psychotherapies and is used in psychology to help us cope with our mind’s tendency to wander off on unhelpful tangents and worry uncontrollably. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for example includes the practise of mindfulness as a core treatment module and teachers us to deliberately notice our experiences and to fully participate ‘one-mindfully’ in whatever it is we are doing.
In essence, mindfulness is defined as the practice of intentional awareness of what is arising in the present moment – either within us, or around us. It is a deliberate process in which we choose to partake, to notice what is happening for us, when it happens. To notice our mental states, such as our thoughts and our emotional states along with the senses we feel. Mindfulness is about noticing the activity of our mind, noticing when and how we are being mindful and the realisation that our mind’s focus has moved away from the present experience and to guide it back. On a continuum, mindfulness sits at the other end of ‘dissociation’ or ‘numbing out’.
But what is Interpersonal Mindfulness and how might this be useful? I often talk about interpersonal mindfulness with my clients as a way of handling our reactions to others, including those times when we have strong feelings because a person has said something which has activated (or triggered) something in us. In these moments it is useful to try and find the ‘gap’ between the stimulus and the response and to sit there for a while, to find a valuable pause within that process. I suppose this is the opposite to a knee-jerk reaction. The English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) talked about the ‘transitional space’ as the place in between where we have been and where we are about to go. In a mindfulness sense, it is the place of pure observation. To dwell a little while in this space can be powerful and transformational. Observation is power. It is the power to choose to act in a particular way, or to respond or not respond in a particular way. Interpersonally, this has great value and can assist us in our journey toward becoming a psychologically aware and integrated person.
Some steps for interpersonal mindfulness:
- Notice what is being activated or triggered in you in response to what was said.
- Note your feelings and emotions (e.g., anger, annoyance, irritation, disappointment)
- Observe how these emotions feel in your body
- Observe your accompanying urges, what do you feel like doing or saying?
By this stage you have created a mindful ‘pause’. You have noticed both the feelings and the urges with utmost curiosity and already the desire to react on impulse has been diluted.
This mindful process also involves an acceptance of your internal state, a willingness to observe and allow, without condemnation your own emotional reactions to what has been said. Once you have spent some time in this ‘space’, this ‘pause’, you are then in a better position to respond effectively, if indeed any outward ‘response’ is warranted. It is often enough simply to observe and describe your own internal reactions in order to create the gap which is needed for clarity and for extinguishing any urge to react mindlessly (e.g., with defensiveness).
Interpersonal mindfulness can be tricky, it is best to practise it first in less challenging situations, when it comes to mind. With practise however, the skill gets easier and you will notice the benefits.