Ask Us Anything! Real Therapists Talk "Boundaries & Family Drama" (2023-07-18 Transcript)
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Sarah Czopek: Welcome to our Q&A. Ask us anything on Boundaries & Family drama. I picked this topic for a reason, which is that we see a lot of it come up, not only just in our practice, but I think, I personally see a lot of it happening on Facebook and social media. And people coming on with big questions about how to deal with certain situations and not really having the skills to navigate through difficult circumstances. Boundaries and family drama are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes they're going to overlap and sometimes we're talking about two separate things. So what we've done is we've compiled kind of a list of some different scenarios that people either submitted or that we've just noticed and kind of summarized, and we're going to talk through those. Before we dive into those questions, those real life scenarios, I’d love for us to just chat a little bit about what the heck boundaries even means because I feel like people have all kinds of ideas about that. So, Sumiaya and Liz, what are your thoughts on, when we say “boundaries” what are we actually talking about?
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah, so when I think of boundaries, I think about rules or expectations that I am setting for myself, based on my own personal decisions and what I need to do to take care of myself. And that feels different to me than wanting to control someone else. So to me that’s what I think of, I think of boundaries as what I can do to regulate or take care of myself versus controlling someone. So I don’t think a boundary is making a demand of someone, or telling someone what they can wear, what they can do with their body. I think it’s very much so personal to you.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, Liz. How about you?
Elizabeth Bohnsak: Yeah, I definitely agree with Sumiaya and I also think adding on to that is the boundary of what you're willing to experience. What feelings you're willing to experience. Sometimes there are certain people that trigger a response in us that may be unpleasant or unsettling, and creating boundaries with certain people that trigger that response in us. So, sometimes a boundary can be a physical one, where we’re not letting different relationships have as much of an impact on us. So maybe we are putting some space in between certain individuals or we’re limiting our emotional time that we spend with them in order to protect ourselves, so that we’re creating the best life and experience possible.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I want to share kind of how I explain boundaries to my clients. Before I dive into that, I realized, I wish I had done a little bit of an introduction for anybody who listens to this audio or watches this video in the future. We are therapists from Grace and Gratitude Counseling, which is a practice in Downers Grove, Illinois. And we work exclusively with women and teen girls who are experiencing anxiety, trauma, and a lot of other concerns that kind of go hand in hand with those two big ones. So, Liz, Sumiaya, and I are all licensed therapists who work with that population really closely, and this is one of the issues that we see. So, just to put that out there.
How I tend to explain boundaries to my clients is, everything that you both just said. But I also talk about how much control you have over your boundaries because I think some people sometimes see boundaries as something that they don't have control over. There isn’t a boundary or there isn't a firm boundary, or they don't feel like they can actually strengthen or reduce boundaries and so we talk about the control. I explain it with this visual of “Imagine you have a home and you have a fence that goes all the way around that home, but it's like a magical Harry Potter fence, where you can change how the fence looks depending on who it is that's trying to enter your space. Your emotional space, your physical space, your spiritual space, whatever that may be for you”. So for some people, you're going to have that white picket fence where it's like, “oh, how nice? You can kind of wave over the fence and come into my backyard when you feel like it. Come share my garden. It's okay”. For other people, you're going to have a six foot privacy fence, because you really just want a little bit of distance.
Sarah Czopek: And further yet you might have persons for whom you need to create that stone wall. Those highway retaining walls that are super high that are just impenetrable because that person's just not healthy to be in your space, you need to protect yourself. What we don't want is a fence where you kind of go along and all the panels are looking good, and then all of a sudden there's one falling over that’s kind of dilapidated, right? It's not firm all the way around. You need to understand what kind of boundary that you do need with that person, and there's a lot of work that has to be done in that and understanding what is comfortable for you, what is okay for you, what is healthy for you, rather than thinking, anybody can just come, and come in and go as they please. So that's a little bit of how I explain it. Any thoughts to add to how you would explain boundaries to your clients?
Sumiaya Caughey: No, I liked that metaphor. That was good.
Sarah Czopek: The magic Harry Potter wand. I don't know what the spell would be for that. So let's dive into some of these scenarios and talk through what questions we have for a person that would come to us with these scenarios, and how we might help them to find resolutions around boundaries or family drama that might be coming up. So I'm going to pick one at random to start with here. I printed them off for my ease, so that I don't have to be flipping between tabs on the computer. “My husband's family comes from money and mine does not. Every time there's a birthday, baby shower, Christmas or other gift giving holiday, this seems to become an issue. It's like they expect us to contribute the same amount of money that others in the family can. Even though we've told them we can't afford it. But then in the same breath, they make fun of us when we do splurge on something like a vacation that we saved for. How can we talk to them about this without it becoming a huge thing?” All right, therapists, what do you hear in there?
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah, I mean I feel like there's definitely some people pleasing there. Right? Some fear of being able to create some of those boundaries and assertively communicate them for sure.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, you bring up a good point, that “People Pleasing” term. Lets stay on that for a hot second. Something that goes hand in hand with poor boundaries, also, this notion that we, particularly as women, need to be constantly putting the needs of others before our own needs. So “People Pleasing,” we see that a lot. So much, we have a whole page on it on our website, because it is just really pervasive in our culture. It does result in really weak boundaries, because how can you have a firm boundary with someone if you’re like, but what they’re asking is more important than what I need. So I need to bend to them. I need to do what it is that they want. If they want me to spend or contribute fifty dollars to this family dinner, and I only have twenty-five to give, I'm just going to have to cough it up anyway, or they're going to be mad at me. There are fears under there. “They’re going to be mad at me.” “They’re going to think I’m a bad person.” “They’re not going to like me or accept me.” All that stuff can be what’s underneath an unhealthy boundary. Liz, what are your thoughts on this one?
Elizabeth Bohnsak: Yeah, I definitely heard kind of the same tone of the people pleasing, and also the fear of judgment. And I think a lot of our clients have these underlying fears of judgment from others and some are definitely, I think, weighted more than others. And so, what I hear in this is this fear of not only causing trouble or problem or a fight, but also this underlying assumption of what that means if we don't have that same amount of money. Those are kind of ingrained beliefs in people that are really hard to undo and do take a lot of work but I think, in that process being able to let go of that judgment of others and letting go of that needing to please, they kind of go hand in hand right, is addressing that fear of the judgment along with creating those healthy boundaries to protect yourself.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah. It is protective. I think we do a lot of what we call parts work in our practice as well. Internal Family Systems which talks about how we all have different parts of ourselves, many of which are really protective. So this kind of protective part that's like I must please other people in order to keep myself from feeling like I'm not accepted, or from being alone or any number of other things feeling like I'm a failure. Who knows what that thing is. But these parts of us kind of come out and take over and that can lead to some really poor boundaries. What about next steps for a client like this? If someone like this was in one of our offices, what would be the first thing that you would maybe start to try and help them to not just see, but take action toward.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah.
Elizabeth Bohnsak: I think I would like to build the client’s communication, and building that effective communication. Part of that is kind of owning what it is that they feel and being able to communicate that effectively. Being able to communicate that with those “I-statements” and focusing on how taking ownership of how that individual client feels when they're feeling pressured to give more than they're able to, or that feeling of judgment and acknowledging that sometimes even when we communicate our feelings, it may not be received the way we hope. We can only control how we interact with the world and taking that ownership and knowing that we are communicating our true and authentic selves, even if it's not received well, it does feel a little bit better than trying to contort ourselves to the expectation of others.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, and to anyone listening just to audio of this in the future. There's some vigorous nodding happening here. We’re all like, “Yes! Yes! Communication, right?” That's absolutely critical when trying to improve your boundaries because people aren’t mind readers, they can't read your mind and think, “Oh, I know exactly what you're feeling on the inside about me crossing this boundary or assuming that I have.” They don't know that, right? To add to that, you have to build your assertiveness skills to be able to be comfortable enough putting those things out there without fear. This massive fear about how that could blow up. And that could take a lot of work. A lot of therapy. It really can. But it is completely possible. I love what you said also Liz about how we can only control what we say. And we can’t necessarily control the response. I'm always telling my clients. You have to let go of the outcome because the outcome is not actually what's important and we get fixated on that. It’s the process that’s actually important. The process by which you become empowered enough to say, “No, I can't spend that money. No, I cannot attend that family event, even. No, I'm not willing to even exchange gifts this year. It’s just not in my realm of possibilities.” That process of empowerment, regardless of how it's received, is the change agent for you. We have to let go of that outcome and work through the process. Love that.
This question specifically asks, “How can we talk to them about this without becoming a huge thing?” Liz, you mentioned “I-statements,” but there may be listeners or viewers who have no idea what that is. I caught that little kind of blip in there. Can you share a little bit about what “I-statements” are? How to use them?
Elizabeth Bohnsak: Sure, “I-statements” are a strategy, or a formula of how to communicate your thoughts, your feelings, your needs. So it's really just focusing on, starting off with the “I feel…,” “I think…,” and expressing those feelings. So, “I feel pressured” or “I feel unheard,” and kind of owning your feelings, instead of using that blame. “You're making me feel pressured,” “You're making me feel obligated in a way that I'm not comfortable with.” So it's taking away this back and forth nature that can sometimes happen when there's conflicting feelings. It's really just kind of taking ownership, “Well, this is how I feel” and kind of giving that to that other person to kind of meet them halfway.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, and there's the absolutes too in that kind of blending language. The, “you always,” “you never.” Those kinds of extremes that kind of sneak in there. What I tend to tell people is that if you were hearing that language, “You, you, you, you, you,” and I'm gesturing and kind of looking a little more intensely at the screen right now. That feels attacking and when you feel attacked by another person, your response is going to be like, “Oh, yes, I understand your feelings. Let's talk about that.” You're going to get probably attacked in response, right? It's going to agitate the other person. They're going to get worked up or you're going to be met with silence, like someone who's going to freeze up and just walk away and just completely disengage. Neither one of those is actually going to accomplish what it is that you're trying to do, so definitely “I-statements” are great. I'm a fan of another formula that I honestly don't remember where I learned at some point in my clinical history but it is simply a fill in the blank. “When you…(fill in the blank), I feel…(fill in the blank) because…(fill in the blank).” “What I need from you is…(fill in the blank).” ”Can we do that?” “Can we try that?” “Are you going to work on that?” “Would that be okay?” One of those kind of soft questions at the end. So having just that formula in your mind. When this happens, explaining the history, this is how I feel. Explain a little bit about the why, and here's what I need from you. This is what I actually need. So in this sort of situation, it might come out like, “When you tell me that we have to spend the same amount of money as you, even though we've told you, we can't afford that, it makes me feel like you aren't respecting our boundary around money or our financial situation. What I need from you is to respect that and to understand that we're absolutely willing to give as much as we can and we want to do that, but we have to draw a line somewhere because we just don't have the same level of needs as you. Can we talk about that?” There's nothing attacking about those statements. There's nothing like you do this. You do that, whatever. It's just, “Hey, when this happens, when you say these things, this is how it makes me feel. And here's the reality. Can we just engage about it?” It becomes a lot more of a gentle approach.
Sarah Czopek: Let's check out another one. Let's see here. “I need some advice. My daughter's friends seem toxic to me, but she hates it when I say anything. There's a group of them and they act like it's not fair if one of them hangs out with another without including the rest. They go on TikTok and Snapchat, and post mean messages. And overall my daughter's behavior and attitude just seems worse when she's been around them, but she blows up at me if I try to talk to her about it. How can I teach her to have better boundaries?” That’s a different situation. I would assume this mom is talking about a teenage daughter, based on Tik Tok and Snapchat and just the content there. The question is, “How can I teach her to have better boundaries,” but I’m also hearing in there, the conflict that’s happening between the mom and daughter. So, tell me what you two hear? What would be your first questions?
Sumiaya Caughey: I think my first question would be, she said, her daughter really hates when she tries to approach this with her and that makes me curious about maybe what those conversations look like, and I wonder if the mom has that worrier or fixer part of herself that's really coming out there in those conversations where she's not able to have this very open and welcoming kind of conversation that she gets to explore how her daughter is feeling. I wonder if it could feel more like “I'm telling you what to do,” because the mom may feel really worried and concerned about her daughter, and that may not be the best approach to get her daughter to feel like she can open up and explore, actually, what's going on in a non- judgmental way.
Sarah Czopek: This makes me think about how sometimes boundaries can become too strong, when we’ve misinterpreted another person's intentions. So in this case, it almost sounds like, and we're interpreting a lot here, but this is all we've got to go on. It almost sounds like the daughter's boundaries with the mom are going up. “I'm putting this big wall up. Don't even come at me with this stuff. I'm not talking about it. I don’t want to do this. I hate it when you say this stuff.” Because she may see it as controlling, when really the mom’s intention is to help. She clearly wants to help her daughter to have better boundaries, but she’s triggering her daughter to have an unhealthy boundary with her in the process. So this again goes right back to communication. How would you suggest that this mom attempts to, not knowing how she is trying to talk to her about it, but what would be a healthy way to try and talk to a teen girl about an issue like this?
Elizabeth Bohnsak: I really think, parenting teens, kids, adult children, it's really about connection and it's getting on their level because, again, Sarah, when you were talking about that communication of telling you what to do, that type of relationship can be even more threatening looking, coming from a kid, from a child's eyes. So really trying to kind of work with the anxiety that the mom is feeling, that I'm sure she has about the situation, and really trying to just meet her daughter where she's at and forming some type of connection. Whether it be going out to dinner, going to get ice cream, something that the daughter really likes to do and having that mom just show genuine interest without seeming like there's an agenda. Where the child can feel safe, feel that connection, and really focus on the relationship of the mother and daughter, where trust can form again and communication can be open, and where the child will feel safe and feel that she's not trying to control or dictate what she's doing, but having her be that source of guide and support in her life.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, yeah. I got this visual in my head again of that fence. I think part of the issue here is rather than trying to make that connection and two neighbors chatting over the fence, right? Getting to know each other and trying to build that relationship in a parent/child relationship often, the parent is like, “well there's no boundaries here, that’s my kid, right? I’m allowed in that yard. There’s no fence here. What fence? Kick it open. I'm just going right in.” And of course it’s this mama bear instinct to rush in there and try and help, and try to fix the problem or try and discipline, or whatever the case may be. But especially when you get into those teenage years, that fence needs to exist. She needs it. You need to respect it. So there has to be conversation around the fence and an invitation to come in. An invitation to walk into that yard, and sit down together, rather than just busting through the door and saying, “Hey, here's what's not okay about what's happening in your life. Here's what I don't like about it. Here's what's unhealthy. Here's how to fix it.” No teen on the planet is gonna receive that well.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah, and I think of also, instead of maybe Mom telling her, “I see these relationships as being unhealthy,” having these open conversations so she can encourage her daughter to reflect on maybe how she feels after spending time with these friends. So her daughter can come to that conclusion on her own. I feel like making that connection is much more powerful when it comes from her.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, absolutely. When I work with other therapists, a lot of times, I'll say, “Don't steal your clients epiphany.” You might have arrived there sooner, but you don't want to steal that moment from them. It's the same in parenting, sometimes, and we have to let our kids figure that out. Me telling my daughter XYZ is 9 times out of 10 not going to result in her getting it, but she'll figure it out on her own. Eventually. Love that. All right, let's see what else we've got in here. Here's one that sounds like it's more like a college age and making assumptions but it says, “I feel like I'm just too much or something. I try to talk to my friends in our group chat about things that are important to me, but I always get ignored or they skip over my comments and no one says anything about them. Then, when I try to tell them how it makes me feel, I get labeled as ‘too emotional’ or ‘sensitive’. I don't want to lose my friends, I just want them to care more. I'm not sure what to do.” Initial thoughts about that?
Elizabeth Bohnsak: I hear a lot of hurt in that question and a lot of insecurities and feeling a little lonely, I think, and not really knowing what to do with that. It almost sounds like she may be questioning if these friends are really true friends, and that's a hard realization to come to and it may not be even at the forethought of what she's thinking right now, but it's just kind of feeling that loss of belonging, and that can be really hard and really draining on a person.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, and that leads me to, sometimes boundaries are saying goodbye. Sometimes boundaries is literally walking away from situations that just are not serving you. It may not be about offense at all at that point. It may be like “I'm relocating my house to another place, or whatever.” Yeah, because in a situation like this, I can definitely see how much pain is there. If somebody's completely ignoring you frequently, often, not responding to you, talking about other things, but not like responding to your stuff and then calling you emotional and sensitive. Is that really the kind of friendship that you want? Is that really the kind of situation that you want to stay in? “I don't want to lose my friends, I just want them to care more.” That feels to me like maybe a disbelief that there's more out there. That there actually could be friends that react in a more healthy way. Which is kind of why we're talking about this because I think a lot of people don't know what healthy boundaries actually look like. Let's land on that for a moment. What does healthy communication and healthy boundaries look like in female friendships? Chew on that for a second and let me know your thoughts.
Sumiaya Caughey: I think, one thing is that the relationship isn't one-sided, right? There's not only one person that's always the one that's checking in, or reaching out, or organizing things, or all those kind of things. So that's kind of a big sign that I hear a lot with clients where they say, “It's always on me to do, to keep the friendship going,” and that feels like maybe a little warning sign that we should kind of pause and reflect and see what's going on there? Why does it feel like it's a one-sided situation?
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, it should be reciprocal. I think sometimes with women that I've worked with, who kind of come in with these similar sorts of issues where they feel like their friendships are one-sided. They've not been modeled good relationships earlier on. So maybe in their own family relationships they've not been modeled what that looks like and it does seem to be one-sided, or maybe Mom's really self-centered. It's always all about her. And so you kind of like you gleam onto that and then that becomes your reality later on. If it makes sense, to see some of those patterns repeating themselves and what the most important thing to know here is, that that's a cycle that can be broken by learning what healthy relationships actually look like. Yeah, I’d consider these red flags. Is what I would consider. So that's my thoughts. Liz, did you have anything to add on this one?
Elizabeth Bohnsak: Definitely that reciprocal type relationship and also the absence of shame and guilt. I think that especially as we get older and have families or obligations and work things that we have to do, life can get really busy, and communicating that first and foremost of our time and if there has been a gap in things, but also feeling that the absence of fear that you're going to be shamed for things if it's been a long time and as long as we're reaching out and reciprocating communication and having that openness, while not having that obligation with that friend. So we don't want to feel that these people in our life are criticizing us, where, in that example, they're calling her too sensitive or over emotional and kind of really shaming her in a way. And that doesn't scream healthy boundaries or healthy communication to me in a friendship. Friendships are there to build us up and have pillars of support and if you feel like they’re kind of knocking you down more often than not, that definitely would be a red flag and cause for re-evaluation of that relationship.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, that's their stuff, not your stuff. I mean you're allowed to share your feelings and to say what's going on, what's bothering you, to name that you're feeling ignored or that you're feeling slighted in relationships. You have to do that in a healthy way, like we just talked about, with appropriate “I-statements” and that gentle communication, which could be a piece here. How's that being communicated? But you absolutely have the right to communicate those things and if you're doing that and people are just throwing you under the bus, there's something going on there on their side. Take your same healthy communication and plug it in to a different friend group, you might have a totally different reaction, different response. So, do that, don't feel like you have to stay in these kinds of relationships. You can draw your boundary.
Alright, let's talk about one that sounds like a romantic relationship situation. A really short one here. It just says, “My significant other gets mad when I call them while they're at work or just not at home, is that normal?” I think that's a very short, gloated question.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah. I feel like I need a little bit more color around that question to really lead into it, but my gut instinct goes, I feel a little bit red flaggy about that in general. Why is somebody getting mad when you're just trying to reach out to them? But, then I also wonder, are you reaching out to them excessively? Are you like texting them every 20 minutes? Are your boundaries too sketchy around how you're doing that? Those are all questions I would have. How about you guys?
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah, the first thing I thought was, I don't know that, I don't love the word ”normal”.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, true.
Sumiaya Caughey: So I would say, let’s not focus on what's “normal” or “not normal.” Let's focus on how you feel about it, and let's focus on what's going on with your spouse because everyone has varying preferences and dynamics in boundaries. That’s what’s important. Not what is “normal” or abnormal in these situations. That’s the first thought I had.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah.
Elizabeth Bohnsak: Definitely. That's kind of the same kind of thought process I was thinking, Sumiaya, that there is no normal. There are many people that have different communication styles. There are some people that desire more communication throughout the day and there are other people that are perfectly content with a check-in here and there. So it's opening up that dialogue, and that's the important part, not necessarily deeming what is normal and what is not. I would also ask some questions regarding trust and I think that can be a really big key in setting boundaries and voicing boundaries. If someone is feeling that they may not have as much trust, or they have some insecurities around trust, there could be past instances that could be contributing to their stability and security in relationships. So, as a therapist, I would dive more into that client's perception of trust and where they feel would be more security in their relationship and kind of wondering if they're receiving that, or if the perception, you know, what it is that they would need to feel more secure in that relationship.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, my brain definitely goes there into that whole, are there trust issues at play buried within this question? Because it could easily be a situation where this person has had other relationships where they have been cheated on or lied to excessively, and so she's constantly calling the partner. Maybe that partner has had someone who has been overbearing in the past so they're ultimately, very over sensitive about getting those calls. The other question that I have about this one is what does this person do for work? Because as a therapist, I would be irritated if my spouse was calling me all the time, too. I literally can't answer. I'm on sessions with people.
Sumiaya Caughey: Right.
Sarah Czopek: Please text me or talk to me when I am home. It boils down to, hey, don't be afraid to have a communication conversation around this with your significant other, instead of asking the internet. Go talk to this person and figure out what's really going on there and do that in that gentle assertive way we talked about before.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah. And it may be something as simple as finding designated times where you guys can check in with each other. Or, a text message or something. But finding that kind of middle ground that would meet both of their needs, I think, is important because it is about compromise, too.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah yeah, definitely. We have a couple more scenarios here to go through, but we also have a couple people that are viewing right now and if either one of you wanted to submit a question in the chat, we're happy to take a look at that, also. We have about 20 minutes left. So, we'll go on to the next one, but if anybody who's watching wants to submit a question in the chat, that is absolutely fine to do. All right, let's move on to the next one here. I'm going out of order, so I’ve got to figure out which one I've done already. “I'm constantly overwhelmed by how much is on my plate. At work, especially. It's like I get handed every project that no one else wants to do. It's not like I can say no. This is my job. But I'm starting to feel really resentful and stressed out all the time and even snapping at my kids and they didn’t do anything wrong. I want to know how I can handle this better.” All right, what do we hear?
Sarah Czopek: Tell me about the perfectionism that you hear.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah. Well, this expectation that she should be able to do it all. Right? “I should be able to say yes to every single project that comes my way and do it well, and it shouldn't affect my home life and it shouldn't cause me stress, and I should be able to say yes to everything and do it well”. Right? And the reality is we can’t. Nobody can. We are humans and we do not have infinite capacity.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, I call that Superwoman Syndrome kind of jokingly but I do say that to clients all the time. Oh yeah, you got Superwoman Syndrome. You think you need to slap a cape on your back and can just take care of everything. You have to say no sometimes. Another thing that I'm fond of saying, and this often results in client's eyes widening and kind of light bulbs going off is, hey, it's not that you can't do it all, it’s that no one could do all of that. It's simply an impossible amount of things that you're being asked to handle, and it's not a personal failing. No one could accomplish that. No one. And there's this instant, “Oh, oh okay, right, but then what?” Here's the boundary part. How do I draw these boundaries around these things and handle that better? Liz, what are your thoughts on that? She said she’s feeling resentful, stressed out all the time, snapping at her kids. This is especially having to do with work stuff. What advice would you give?
Elizabeth Bohnsak: Yeah, I mean when you first were reading that, I definitely could imagine many clients that I work with having these same types of issues. And I hear a lot of that perfectionism and that loss of control. And I feel that a lot of times when we feel a loss of control, when we feel this obligation towards one area of our life that we're not feeling, really buying into that, with this work obligation and taking on more than she wants to be. We do feel that resentment because it's not our choice, and that autonomy is taken away. And so I would work with that client to build those empowerment skills in a way to work out strategy, to work with their employer to talk about problem solving methods. In that question she says, “Well, I can't say no because it's work. This is my job.” And I would kind of push back on that gently. What’s the end? Where's the limit? If there is no limit. That seems unreasonable.That seems
pretty hard to manage like you said that no one can do all of that. And so I would want to work with that client to first build those empowerment skills and then kind of have that conversation of boundaries, healthy boundaries with work, and knowing what is an acceptable amount of work that can be put on her plate. And being able to use that voice to, whichever management that she needs to talk to, to kind of advocate for her needs.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, I feel like a lot of women I've worked with have an exceptionally hard time with that, talking to management, talking to superiors, people in authority about being overworked or being treated unfairly. I think, for some reason there’s something about that that feels really difficult for a lot of women. And I think that ties in with that people pleasing, like we talked about. Just being afraid of what that might mean, or how that might fall back on them. I also feel like there's something in there about security. Many many more women today than in history are single moms, or you need to work to help support their household in some way. And the idea of rocking the boat in some way that could result in financial insecurity, being fired or being demoted, or any number of things. The reality of that can be terrifying for many people, and fear is a strong motivator. And what it's doing here is it's motivating you to keep your mouth shut and not say no and just keep your head down and do your job, get the work done and yes, it sucks. But I'm just gonna power through. But what if there was a way to make your voice heard without endangering your financial security? I think that's really what we're asking here. And the way is setting appropriate boundaries in a healthy way. This is not walking into your boss's office and saying, “This is crap! I'm working 16 hours a day and you’re paying me XYZ and I’ve been here for 15 years!” Right? “I deserve a raise or I'm going to walk out the door. I'm giving you this ultimatum!” That’s not the way to handle it. The way I probably would handle it is I would document a lot of things for my own safety, I think. And noting what types of things I'm being asked to do, the length of time it is taking me to complete those things. How much work is on my plate? Whether I'm being compensated for that. How much differs from the actual job duties that I was told that I was supposed to be doing, what I signed up for, what I'm supposed to be being paid for, and then you have evidence to walk into an office with and have a starting soft conversation. “Hey, I have some concerns about the way that things have been going lately and I wondered if you might be open to just hearing me out because I have kind of a record here of what I'm starting to feel like is me being overworked, and I want to come up with a solution because I enjoy my job. I like working here. I want to stay, but in order for me to do that, I think I'm going to need to find a little bit more balance and I need to have a conversation with you about that.” There's a gentleness there. I saw a question pop up in the chat. I'm going to pull it open and just read it.
Sarah Czopek: Okay, a viewer asks, “How do you deal with the aftermath of setting a boundary?” And this is a good question. “For instance, if I have set a boundary with family members and they do follow through with it, I start to feel so guilty that my boundary may have hurt or upset them.” Oh man, this is so hard and I completely get it. I think my first thing I have to say to this is your boundary may have hurt or upset them. That may be true. That may be true. Does it change the fact at all that you should have set that boundary? No, it doesn't. Right? We have to be able to separate our own emotions from the ones around us. That doesn't mean that we become cold-hearted biotches who just don't care about the ramifications of our decisions, but it does mean that you deserve.
You deserve to set healthy boundaries and to not be guilted into reducing those or changing them in some way simply because other people don't like them. Sumiaya and Liz, what thoughts do you have on that one? It's a really good question.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah. I was just going to say, I go back to that feeling of, is this boundary about me and taking care of my own needs, not controlling other people. Does it align with my values? And if I can say yes to those two questions, then I feel pretty certain that this is a boundary that is important to work on that step of letting go of the outcome. Right? Because I know inside that this is a boundary that is right for me, right? And I would also say that it's surprising, but if we set a boundary and we stay firm about it, people have a shocking ability to adapt, that you may not think so. If we're really consistent, we think people are going to be so mad at us for so long and you do this thing for two weeks and then, boom, they're like, “Okay, I can't whatever anymore.” So, I would say, give yourself some time for you to get comfortable with it and to let these other people adapt as well.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, and honestly I think there's something in there about healthy modeling too and again not that you can control the outcome of what they're going to do or how they're going to respond, but, I think it can be a gift to set healthy boundaries, especially with people that we love and that we’re very close to, who may not know what a healthy boundary is or looks like, or be confused about that. Because when they start to learn that they have permission to do those things too. I think a lot of times when we’re in family systems where there's a whole lot of unhealthy boundaries going on, people just don't know how to do it. So, it takes one or two people starting to make change and then it spreads. People start to understand that’s what that looks like. What if you setting that boundary is setting something good in motion for your family. I get a little bit of chills thinking about that. What if that action that you’re taking is what leads to healthy change in the overall family system? And how cool is that? How brave. How brave of you to do that.
Elizabeth Bohnsak: I also note, when she said they're going to feel upset and I feel like a lot of times, we equate negative feelings, anxious, and kind of upset feelings, as indication of something that is bad. And, I reiterate to clients a lot that those feelings are not always indicative of something that is down a wrong path or something. Sometimes, when we are ingrained in that people pleasing mentality, and we're wanting to accommodate the feelings of others and putting our needs last, that discomfort of someone else being upset can feel very difficult. It can feel very anxiety ridden for us because we want to rectify it. Our brains are used to wanting to accommodate other people. And so when we have that indication that someone is upset with me that kind of sets off fires in our brain of like, “Oh no, we have to fix this.” We have to engage in that people-pleasing mentality and so kind of refraining from doing that is also building your capabilities of detaching yourself from those people-pleasing mentalities. It's kind of allowing yourself like, “Okay, I'm going to be uncomfortable in this and being uncomfortable will not kill me. I will be okay. That it is understandable for me to feel uncomfortable, because this is a big shift in engaging in these types of people-pleasing tendencies that are actually kind of hurting my own boundaries.” And so, kind of accepting that these difficult feelings are going to be a part of setting healthy boundaries. Allowing yourself to feel them. And also knowing that they will not stay forever. They will eventually subside like Sumiaya said. The other people will adjust and you will adjust too. And those feelings won’t feel as heavy as they do when you’re initially setting those boundaries.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah. Yeah I hope that helps. Those answers. One more quick one and then we'll kind of wrap up for the evening. This last question says, “My mother-in-law is always saying she wants to spend more time with us and our kids, but has zero follow through. Yeah, we see her hanging out with other family members and their kids all the time because they air quotes need her more. Are we wrong to be upset? At this point we don't even want to hang out, but then we would be the ones causing drama if we said, ‘no,’ the next time she brings it up.”
Sarah Czopek: What are we hearing here?
Sumiaya Caughey: I hear some hurt in there and that defense mechanism coming up. Right? Well, I don't even want to hang out with you. And why?
Sarah Czopek: Yeah, forget it.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah, because I’m hurt. It hurts that my kids get excited that we get excited and then it doesn't happen.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah.
Sumiaya Caughey: I hear pain there for sure.
Sarah Czopek: That is so painful. I feel for this person's question.
Sumiaya Caughey: Yeah.
Sarah Czopek: So, no, you're not wrong to be upset. Absolutely, you have a right to feel upset by that. It doesn't sound fair. It doesn't sound kind. Yeah, I think I'm curious about, again the conversations, the communication. What communication has happened around this issue? This sounds like a perpetual problem. She's always saying that she wants to do this. Never has any follow through, so it's happening often. So when there's a pattern like that, hey, it's something that needs to be aired out. It needs to be talked about, so I would be curious about that prior to setting a new boundary. Let's have a conversation before we figure out what kind of boundary we actually do need to set here. If that conversation does not go well, then we have to raise our boundaries up a little bit more. But it could result in who knows what. Who knows what might be the extenuating circumstances, or the reasons that may come out there, that may have nothing to do with whatever assumptions this person may have initially.
Sumiaya Caughey: I also just want to point out, I feel like in several of these scenarios we've talked about, trying to sit down and have a real conversation, right? It's important for us to also kind of preface that with, we want to create the right environment to have these conversations too.
Sarah Czopek: Yeah.
Sumiaya Caughey: So you don't want to have a conversation when you're feeling really escalated and agitated and you might have this really reactive response, right? You don't want to have a conversation while there's 10 other things going on. Right? Maybe you don't want to have a conversation over text message or something, right?
Sarah Czopek: Just getting started.
Sumiaya Caughey: We have lots of problems with that. We want to set this conversation up for success and so I think it's really important to think about that. What would make some of these potentially challenging conversations successful? Let's put those things in place before we jump in and have this potentially hard conversation with someone.
Sarah Czopek: I'm so glad you brought that up because we talk about how you can't control the outcome, right? But you can set yourself up in the best way possible and potentially have an impact on the outcome. You can't control it, but you can absolutely influence it by setting things up in a good way. So yeah, texting, having long text conversations, that is the worst. From about 06 and beyond. I'm like, okay, we need to go backwards to, I mean AIM was better than that. Remember we would just message each other in college, right? I just dated myself there, but that was even better and more like real time, long lengthy stuff but yeah it's just not the easiest way to get your tone across. Timing gets lost in translation. People wind up really misinterpreting a lot of things. Have these conversations in person, or at least on FaceTime or some way where you can see the other person's facial expressions and read their body language, and hear their tone. It's exceptionally important. And plan for times when you know that you can be regulated and you know that other person is in a good space where you can actually come together in a calm way and communicate when your brains are both online and not hijacked by anger or hurt or any number of other big emotions. Right? Yeah.
Sarah Czopek: Well, we're gonna wrap up. I see the time, I don't want to keep people too late, so I want to thank everyone for contributing questions and for those who are here tonight live viewing and those who will listen to this in the future. Special thanks to Liz Bohnsak and Sumaiya Caughey for showing up tonight and serving as a therapist on this panel with me. Again, I'm Sarah Chopek, the owner of Grace and Gratitude Counseling. We are located in Downers Grove, Illinois, but we provide in-person services and teletherapy services throughout the state of Illinois for female clients who are about age 14 and up. Teens and then adults of all ages. So if you find yourself in need of a therapist, or looking for some more resources, you're welcome to go to our website, which is simply graceandgratitudecounseling.com. I hope you all have a wonderful night. Hopefully, we'll do something like this again soon. Pick another topic, you can go at it. And that this helps someone. That's our main goal, that this helps someone out there to communicate their boundaries in a better way. Have a good night everybody. Take care!
Sumiaya Caughey: Thank you. Bye.
Elizabeth Bohnsak: Thank you.
Meeting ended after 00:56:21 👋