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Setting Boundaries Protects Our Energy.

24 Aug

I think healthy boundaries are about reciprocal respect. They include setting up and communicating reasonable, clear expectations of acceptable ways for other people to behave towards us that contribute to feeling safe, supported and valued.

Leanne French – Therapist & Relationship Expert

Imagine crouching under one of those slightly dented, aluminium colanders with a lot of holes. That’s kind of what my boundaries looked like when I was a kid. 

When I first learnt about boundaries as a young therapist, I replaced that colander with a magnificent castle on a lush flower-filled island, surrounded by a moat, filled with snapping piranhas. I installed a drawbridge that only I could lift or lower because after all, the most important boundary a person can set, is limiting their availability. I also created a shield with light, bullet proof, glittery glass bricks, because the goal of boundaries is to be protected and stay connected at the same time.

My boundaries might seem like a fortress to some, but they serve to keep me clear, focused, more tolerant, and compassionately away from resentment. 

Boundaries are a self-caring way to keep our balance. They mark the edge or limits of something, so they’re important ways to create safety and trust. They not only strengthen valued and welcomed connections, they keep the light snuffers out, lower stress and reduce depletion.

I’m really clear about who I am and what I want and don’t want. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. I can pinpoint what fuels me and what depletes me. After many years of practise, I know what makes me comfortable and uncomfortable, what energises and enriches me, and what causes distress and dread. I speak up and I can definitely walk away without guilt.

I’m super grateful for my small bunch of uplifting friends, scattered across the country and planet, who have good self esteem and terrific boundaries. 

Unless we’re encouraged to have and respect boundaries as kids, they’re not always easy to set or maintain. Some of us just bumble along, allowing others to define or direct us while we work too hard at people pleasing or trying to fit in places we shouldn’t. Or, we behave in toxic ways, and lie, undermine, gossip or ridicule, collecting low quality connections and conflict in our wake. Most of us will trip over some guilt and obligation along the way until we recognise how important respect and boundaries are to everyone’s emotional wellbeing.

Children, who experienced trauma or had a parent that struggled with addiction, may have learned to put others needs before their own. Or perhaps they too, put their addiction first.

Maybe you grew up with a ‘personality disordered‘ family member who found it difficult to emotionally regulate? (This often goes undiagnosed.) Your personal boundaries were most likely routinely broken. The message you may have learnt, was that your own needs and feelings didn’t count. You were probably required to accept how others treated you, without question. While it may have felt impossible to do at the time, imagine if you were taught to say, “When you rage at me, I feel threatened. I’m going to leave the room/house until you can communicate calmly.” (Providing of course you were old enough to speak, and an exit was even an option!) I want you to know that you do matter.

Whether we grew up in a functional or dysfunctional environment, we all need the courage to maintain our personal values despite what others think or how they behave. To clearly identify our wants and needs and respectfully communicate them, while at the same time recognising that others have the right to decide how they respond or react. Otherwise it’s too easy to mix up our yes’s and no’s and not take the time to see if potential friendships, relationships or even things like jobs are suitable or not.

We’re all such interesting creatures, with different values and beliefs and triggers, shaped by an assortment of life experiences and histories, which is why it’s so beneficial to be mindfully aware of what makes for good and less good interactions.

It’s up to each of us to be clear on where we want to draw the line between ourselves and others. And for every parent out there, never ever ever use guilt to get your kids to visit or do something. Once obligation is on the table, joy flies out the window! Let love lead the way!

Boundaries will naturally differ between our professional and private selves, in our relationships and with each individual family member.

Types of boundaries include physical, emotional, financial, intellectual, material and financial, time, sexual, and digital boundaries. 

It’s good to approach boundary breaches as early as you can. Mistakes can be a learning ground to curiously observe what happened. Which people or situations crossed the line? How much stress or discomfort did it cause? Is it a one off or reoccuring? Is it possible to breathe and let it go? What could be done to prevent it in the future? Keep paying attention to how people and circumstances impact your energy, productivity, and wellbeing. 

  • Work out the feel goods and the not so goods.
  • Be clear about the responsibilities, activities, and values that you treasure.
  • Get a good sense of your tolerance limits.
  • Work out what you need.
  • Pick a good time (or way) to communicate.
  • Keep the focus on your feelings and needs while being mindful of their needs.
  • Use I statements and don’t justify, defend, over explain or blame.
  • Be kind, calm, direct and specific and use a neutral tone. 

Set boundaries in ways that create discussion and possible negotiation so everyone confidently knows where they stand and what to expect. You’re only responsible for communicating your boundary with respect, not for the other person’s response to it. Boundaries are not an attempt to control the actions of another. If you recognise you have toxic light snuffers in your life, move on and shine on. 

We can’t change or control other people, but we can take charge of our own life. We can choose to wear our own mask. We can choose whether we reply to emails at night, or answer calls after hours. We can decline invitations without explaining. We can protect our time, space and personal resources. We can say no. We can be selective. We can limit our engagement. We can choose to not participate, not react, not engage. We can block it or report it. We can also leave.

If you need help with boundaries, email me at hello@leannefrench.com to book a telehealth session.

Why Hope is Helpful in Hurtful Situations.

20 Jul
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

I don’t think I’m alone in noticing that hostility and adversity are creeping into our collective culture more and more. 

When other humans dump either of those on our doorstep, it’s such an unwelcome package. Being the recipient of threatening, thoughtless, hurtful or selfish behaviour wrapped up with string is a good time to think about Marcus Aurelius, Philosopher and Roman Emperor (121—180 C.E.) and what he wrote in Meditations about the pitfalls of human behaviour; “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly.”

To be fair, in the practice of positive psychology, where both the good and bad parts of life are equally genuine, it’s also good to remind ourselves that although people can be horrible and the news media hardly ever reports on goodness and social media might not leave us feeling content, in our real life there’s usually an abundance of good deeds, good behaviour and lovely people who display and offer honesty, justice, loyalty, decency, trustworthiness, kindness, charity, reliability, appropriateness and warmth. Let’s all take a moment to be grateful for them.

How though, can we best move through any suffering that others have caused us? Put less emphasis on why they did it, and like Marcus Aurelius, accept they do it because they can, because it’s in their nature, it’s their way of getting what they want. Working out whether they’re acting out of envy, exclusion, competitiveness or powerlessness, isn’t going to change our disappointment.

The goal is to balance out the darkness with as much light as we can, and hope helps with that. Hope moves us out of difficulty and despair. It gives us a glimmer of a better future, and begins to give us the courage and confidence to implement coping strategies that will help us find creative solutions to rise above and out of dark or difficult places.

No matter how painful our thoughts are or how distressing our emotions feel, it is imperative that we don’t react or respond, impulsively.

  • This is a good time to use the STOP skill from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. STOP stands for Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed mindfully.
  • It’s possible to find better ways to manage stress and discomfort. 
  • It’s about finding ways to cope that aren’t harmful or ineffective.
  • Breathe.
  • Feel the feelings.
  • Talk it over with someone safe.

We mustn’t allow the intensity of our feelings to stop us from doing what we can to move through the situation and over the obstacle. Getting into “wise mind” is much more helpful. Knowing what doesn’t and isn’t going to work actually allows us think of alternatives that might work. 

It can take a bit of practise to reorganize our perspective and reframe our experience.

Remember the key is being able to choose how we respond to difficult situations.

  • Rather than “this should never happen to me,” stay realistic about what others are capable of doing, and be prepared for possible consequences.
  • Meet “it” exactly as it is, with curiosity.
  • Practise paced breathing to decrease emotional arousal.
  • Focus on what we can control.
  • Draw upon resilience.
  • Get the right kind of expert advice.
  • Reach out for social support.
  • And even in the midst of processing it all, we need to do pleasurable things to make ourselves feel better, calmer and relaxed.

Hope reduces feelings of helplessness, reduces stress and improves our wellbeing. The good news is that building hope into our perspective uplifts us enough to move us out of any shock, helps us search for a helpful instruction manual and motivates us to calmly find the right path forward. Rest assured, resolution can also include a return to sender, or an instant or eventual retreat from those who tamper with your boundaries and nervous system once too often!

Surviving Love in Lockdown. 10 Top Relationship Tips.

8 May

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What if you’ve discovered you’re not one of those resilient couples, sheltering in place,  strengthening bonds, feeling loved up and loving it? What if your version has been six hideous weeks of groundhog day in inescapable confinement, filled with endless stress, brick wall arguments, unworkable arrangements and mind-numbing chores? If you’re desperate to burst your bubble and run for the hills, don’t add to the pessimistic divorce and break-up statistics, these are extraordinary circumstances.

Uncertainty spews forth a range of challenges, from financial pressures to burdens like working from home while also caring full time for children. Take away all the welcome distractions that used to exist in life before Covid, and you’ve got a source of tension even in the strongest of relationships.

For relationships cracking at the seams, although it may feel hopeless, it doesn’t have to be. Why not reframe it? Think of it as a fast track opportunity for growth because adversity

  • intensifies attitudes and inequalities
  • highlights patterns that exist and persist
  • shows us how we each contribute to conflict
  • and magnifies exactly what needs to change.

As a relationship expert with 30 years experience, I know that with help, most relationships just need a bit of tweaking and adjusting to change the dynamics. Two people don’t have to show up to therapy to fix it. Big differences can be achieved with just one willing guidance seeker. There’s definite hope. (Unless your partner is big into addiction and isn’t willing to change, or if they are psychological or physical abusers. If that’s the case, you need a safe exit strategy.)

Here are my 10 top relationship tips to help you, help yourselves.

  1. One thing you really want to avoid is criticism. Don’t highlight faults or overly focus on what isn’t working. Justifying, defending and point scoring is destructive. Be constructive.
  2. Always look for what is working, what’s good, what’s going right and genuinely praise, affirm and compliment.
  3. We each have a responsibility to manage our moods and express our needs, wants and vulnerabilities in respect-filled ways. Keep respect at the forefront. Respect feelings, and make sure you happily allow each other alone time. Solitude is vital.
  4. If what you’re saying or doing isn’t working, stop and do it differently. Before responding, count to five, breathe and consider future consequences by asking yourself “If I say this in this way, what is the likely response?”
  5. It’s way better to ask gently, than to tell, teach or preach.
  6. It’s always about what you say, how you say it, and the intention behind it. Make sure communication cultivates love and unity.
  7. Shrug off small annoyances. Unearth uncomfortable feelings that get activated in you, rather than focusing on what someone does to irritate or annoy you.
  8. Observe and become comfortable with each other’s styles, and find a way to work with, not against them.
  9. Curiosity and compassion helps you go easy on yourself and others.
  10. Be kind. Be grateful. Use humour and look for the goodness that lies within. Love simply because they deserve to be loved.

P.S These weird times will pass x

It doesn’t matter where you live, you don’t have to have a therapy session in person. Phone sessions aren’t new to me. I’ve been conducting them for a couple of decades with clients both in NZ and overseas. My point of difference is that I can also work weekends and I have telehealth. If you need me, email leanne@wolfies.co.nz to set up an appointment.

thanks to cottonbro for the image and for Wolfie making the graphics x

Don’t Blurt What Might Hurt.

23 Apr

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In these socially distant times, spending more time online is one way to help satisfy our basic human longing for social inclusion. After nearly a month, people are saying they’re beginning to feel emotionally drained, restless and disappointed in the way some people are treating others.  Others find themselves bombarded by overly strong opinions, forceful comments, put downs or really rude, sharp answers to reasonable questions, comments or status updates. When the comments stay public, they invite more negativity.

Unfortunately, because people bring to social media the ways they behave in Continue reading

Same Storm. Different Boat.

22 Apr

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While Mahatma Gandhi once said Dignity of human nature requires that we must face the storms of life, this present storm, the way we face it and the impact it will have on each and every one of us, will be incredibly diverse. 

In the midst of disruption, there are commonalities. Heightened reactions, moments of confusion and clarity, and concern for safety and security. Human nature dictates we do what we can to save ourselves and then look around to offer a (socially distanced) helping hand. 

We react in a thousand different ways because how we think, feel, act, need, want, hate, love and believe, stem from a huge variety of factors from our past experience, our resilience, the extent of support we have available, the size of our bank account, to where we’re positioned physically, socially, economically and emotionally.

While some may have anchored calmly, and others adjusted their sails towards rainbows and pots of gold, we cannot underestimate the emotional gale and financial swirl that this storm has brought upon many. Continue reading

Calm is a Superpower.

9 Apr

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If someone is baiting you to argue, don’t take the hook. Swim around and find a calm, creative response rather than a reaction. – Leanne French. Secret 59 from Fairytale Love – How to Love Happily Ever After.

Someone’s got to do it, so why not you?

  • Don’t jump to the conclusion that what’s going on has to be about you.
  • Stay focused on content that makes sense, and try to ignore emotional outbursts.
  • Be willing to check whether they are stressed or tired, and ask how you could make things better.
  • Change the mood of the conversation and trick them into escaping.

We control how we respond.

When we take our time to go within we can respond to the same event with annoyance or anger, or we can search for a more thoughtful way to respond with peace and calmness. Continue reading

Dig Deep.

6 Apr

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Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. –Victor Frankl.

While I’m not asking you to carefully craft all of your conversations, if you’re finding it challenging being confined in closer circumstances for longer periods of time than you are used to, and conflict is causing concern, it could be beneficial to learn how to respond rather than react. Especially if you want to create a more emotionally comforting bubble to hang out in.

Choosing our response is about making sure it’s calm, considered, conscious and in line with our core values. It’s driven by wanting to get the best out of a situation for ourselves and others. Responding is more about actively taking our time to work out what Continue reading

Tis the Season. Will it Be Sensational or Stink?

7 Dec

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Many Christmas’s in my life and yours too I imagine, have been so amazing, filled with love and tinsel, a sparkly stream of fabulous family, amazing food, children’s squeals, handmade goodies, laden Christmas trees, thoughtful presents, shared stories, goofy games and loud laughter.

Some are sensational and some are far from it. Some are just stink.

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Brooches from SewEmSew

There are many reasons why some homes, some years, overflow with seasonal joy, and others not so much. Life can occasionally just fall apart at the seams. Illness, loss, geographical distance, natural disasters, conflicted family, depression, dementia, stress, divorce, addiction, lack of finances, not having a home, you name it, some Continue reading

How To Deal With Verbal Attacks.

26 Feb

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Online, you can delete, block and sometimes report inappropriate or abusive comments, but what do you do if someone verbally attacks you at a dinner party or gathering?

After watching Anthony  launch into a witch hunt on Cheryl at the dinner party on Married at First Sight Australia  (series 4 episode 10) I realized a few things.

1.  A lot of people, even strong empowered ones, don’t always know HOW to stop unwanted, unwarranted, unacceptable tirades.

2. Abuse often renders people speechless and causes what I call “bunny in the headlights.”

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3. The majority of people tend to sit in a bystander rather than Continue reading

Are You A Space Taker Or Connection Maker?

18 Jan

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You asked me for space by artist Soju Shots

A young photographer came into my shop this week and as it sometimes happens when it’s quiet and the energy is good, I got to work a little on-purpose magic.

She talked about her creative process and how she loves to wander with her camera, waiting for the moment to arrive that deserves capturing. She rolled her eyes at well-meaning relatives who direct her to take this or that.  When she goes to the beach with her boyfriend she said she can’t have quiet time because he is never quiet.

So I asked her Continue reading