Boundaries, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Striving Styles, Victim mentality, Who are you meant to be?

We're better with boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brene’ Brown

I struggle with boundaries in certain areas of my life. And I’m quite certain that I’m not alone. I believe that a lack of boundaries is at the center of so many of the issues and relationship struggles I discuss with clients, co-workers, friends and family. Both personally and professionally, having healthy boundaries are essential to our happiness and well-being, and can help transform our lives.

Establishing healthy boundaries can be very difficult. It can feel extremely uncomfortable upsetting or disappointing others. Putting their needs before our own and ensuring their happiness seems like, on the surface anyway, the best way to keep the peace. But taking responsibility for everyone’s happiness while ignoring our own needs doesn’t actually make others happy. Nor does it make us happy. In fact, you’ll actually become very unhappy. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene’ Brown describes that before she established healthy boundaries she was “sweeter on the outside” but “judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside”. I can relate. Can you? Because really, can you truly be happy if you’re always trying to please others? I mean, I’m sure you don’t believe that people are responsible for your happiness, so why would you believe that you are responsible for their happiness? At the end of the day, no matter what we do or don’t do, I know we can’t really control the happiness of others.

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice.” ~ Brene’ Brown

The way we treat ourselves sets the standard for others around us. If we don’t put the effort into clearly establishing what we want and don’t want, then how can we expect others to know what we want. They can’t read our minds so if we don’t define them, then someone else will. Having healthy boundaries in place will help you realize your self worth, and demonstrate that your needs and feelings are valid and important. You’re worthy of being seen and heard and of putting your needs first. You deserve to have a voice and an opinion. Of course, for some, it may be a bit more difficult to find your inner power and firmly define your boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. There’s no doubt that it’s hard but anyone can do it with time and practice. At first you’ll feel uncertain and a bit scared, and your boundaries will feel a bit shaky, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will feel. In the beginning you’ll likely feel bad or guilty if others aren’t happy, but you can’t please everyone.

Just like other people can’t read our minds, we can’t read theirs. It’s not our business to try and keep them happy or avoid disappointing them. In fact, in doing this, we also kind of take away their power from them by trying to avoid upsetting or disappointing them. We don’t need to filter ourselves for the sake of others. We’re allowed to feel what we feel and it’s not our place to manage other peoples emotions, even if it comes from a caring place. We may think we know what’s best for everyone but sometimes we need to take a step back and allow other people to decide how to feel for themselves. All we can really do is have our own boundaries in place, honor them, and express what we need and how we feel.

Having healthy boundaries can help change our lives. They can help you express your needs and desires without feeling pushy, rude or guilty, and they help you strengthen your relationship with yourself. When you get clearer about what you want, what you are here for, you’ll no longer feel the need to hide or filter yourself. The more self-aware you are (see previous post), and the better you understand your Striving Styles predominant need, fears and triggers, you be able to identify who you’re meant to be and know that you’re worthy of feeling good and honoring yourself. Your well-being doesn’t have to come last.

Signs you lack healthy boundaries

A lack of strong and clear boundaries can result in feeling worthless, weak, or not good enough. Here are some signs that you are lacking healthy boundaries in your life:

  1. you find it diffcult speaking up when you feel mistreated.
  2. you find it difficult making your own goals a priority.
  3. you do things when you don’t want to. You have a hard time saying no.
  4. you go out of your way to please others and seek their approval.
  5. you overcommit and give away too much of your time, making too many sacrifies at your own expense.
  6. you get guilted into doing things for others.
  7. you agree when you actually disagree.
  8. you feel guilty taking care of yourself, and taking time for yourself.
  9. you feel guilty when someone else feels bad, like you are responsible for other peoples thoughts, feelings, and actions. You feel guilty when others aren’t happy.
  10. you feel taken for granted by others.
  11. you give your time away for free.
  12. you do or give away things that you can’t afford.
  13. you feel like you have failed someone or guilty if you say no to them.
  14. you feel resentful and complain even though you agreed to the request or the expectation.
  15. you are what others want or need you to be, and not what YOU need to be.
  16. you are almost always comply with those in superior positions (boss, parent, etc.)
  17. you have toxic relationships or stay in unsatisfying relationships or situation.
  18. you let others describe your reality.
  19. you minimise your own feelings and needs.
  20. you do things out of obligation.
  21. you are consumed with what others think of you.
  22. you over-share details about your life.
  23. you often feel like a victim (refer to previous post)
  24. you attract people who try to control or dominate you.

If you identify with any of these then stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I’ll be discussing strategies and tools you can use to define, develop and honor healthy boundaries in every area of your life. While initially it won’t be easy, having healthy boundaries can really help you navigate life situations without feeling guilty or bad every single time. By leaning on the understanding that ultimately everything you do is for the sake of yours and others well-being and that you are always doing your best, you will soon realize that you’re worthy of taking care of yourself and that there is nothing wrong or bad about it, and eventually you’ll feel less and less guilty.

Healthy boundaries* include:

  1. saying no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have the resources to do.
  2. leaving situations that are harmful to you.
  3. telling others how you want to be treated.
  4. being aware of your own feelings and allowing yourself to feel differently than others.
  5. not trying to change, fix, or rescue others from difficult situations or feelings.
  6. allowing others to make their own decisions.
  7. prioritizing self-care.
  8. sharing personal information gradually based on how well you know and trust someone.
  9. recognizing which problems are yours to solve and which problems belong to others.
  10. communicating your thoughts, feelings, and needs.
  11. having personal space and privacy.
  12. pursuing your own goals and interests.

in the following video clip, Brene’ Brown explains, in her typical humorous style, how to let go of the person we think we’re supposed to be and embrace who we are. And when we have the courage to set boundaries, we engage with our worthiness.

THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION: LIVING WITH COURAGE, COMPASSION AND CONNECTION | Excerpt | PBS
•14 Feb 2011 PBS

Book recommendation:

Now, it’s your turn.

What you would really want to do if you knew that it wouldn’t disappoint others? Which area(s) of your life are boundaries the most difficult to maintain? Which of the unhealthy sign(s) did you identify with? I recommend journaling or mediating on them. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (view of Stanley Park from Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC)

*Sharon Martin, LCSW

Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Self-Awareness, Vulnerability

The difference between Empathy & Sympathy

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Empathy is easily and often confused with sympathy, where giving advice and judgement are disguised as concern. I consider myself an empathetic person. In fact, I believe having empathy is fundamental in my career as an HR professional, leader and coach. I also believe empathy is a requirement in the field of anthropology and the study of peoples and cultures, in which I did my undergrad. So, after reading Brene’ Brown’s book “Dare to Lead” I’ve been thinking a lot about it and recognize that I have a lot room to improve. And, also that others do as well. It made me aware of how much I crave empathy from others. Sometimes we just need someone to simply be there. Not to fix anything, or to do anything in particular, but just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported. Empathy is key to developing greater connection in our daily lives, as well as within the broader world. To add or improve upon our empathy skills, we need to learn and practice specific skills, and readily distinguish empathy from sympathy.

So, drawing from the definitions and examples in “Dare to Lead”, I’d like to explore the practice of empathy. Simply put, empathy is putting yourself into someone’s shoes. It includes trying to imagine how another person thinks, feels, and moves. It includes trying to imagine what it is like to live in this person’s skin, in their world, with their thoughts, emotions, perspective, and outlook. When we practice empathy, we try as best we can to suspend our judgement, to be open, genuinely interested and curious. Sympathy, in contrast, includes feelings of sorrow or pity for someone else’s misfortune. Empathy is easily confused with sympathy, where giving advice and judgement are disguised as concern. Sympathy separates us while empathy connects us.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “you’re not alone”. ~ Brene’ Brown

What gets in the way of empathy?

Let’s explore what gets in the way of empathy. As humans we tend to respond in two ways when people share their challenges or pain with us. We either try and make the person feel better by encouraging them to look on the bright side or we attempt to offer a solution to the problem or situation at hand. Neither of these are empathetic responses. How often when someone shares a challenging experience do we respond with phrases that start with “oh, well lucky that…” or “at least…” or “if you think that’s bad…”. Here are a few examples:

“My daughter has been really sick all week”, the likely response “Oh too bad, but lucky your son didn’t get sick too”.

“My partner and I had an argument last night and it’s left me feeling upset”, response may follow “don’t worry about it, you two have such a strong relationship”.

“I’m feeling so stressed and tired with work and the family, I just feel so overwhelmed”, someone responds “you just need a nice warm bath and an early night”.

“I’m so tired of driving my kids around, I never seem to have any time to myself”, and the response “that’s nothing. Let me tell you how much I have to drive” or, “at least you still have kids to drive around”.

These are all examples of our habitual desire to make people feel better by pointing out the bright side or to make the situation better by offering a solution. While these sentiments are generally well-intended, they rarely help the suffering person. What people usually need is to feel seen and heard as this fuels connection and healing. The key is keeping the focus on the person sharing or struggling and not making it about you. Only after this soothing experience of connection and empathy can people be open to solutions to their problems or the glass half full approach.

Here are some examples of more empathetic responses:

“Oh it sounds like you’ve had a really rough week” or “I can feel your pain” or “it sounds like you’ve got a lot going on in your life right now”. It is worth taking a moment to reflect on our tendency to respond to other peoples challenges the way we habitually do. Our human tendency to offer solutions or to make people see the bright side may actually be a way for us avoiding this sense of shared vulnerability. For in focusing on the solution or the glass half full perspective, we can brush off the sadness or vulnerability that is present for the other. This in turn protects us from our own vulnerabilities. And here we are reminded that the path of self awareness requires us to show courage and to face our vulnerabilities with a sense of shared curiosity.

In this short video Brene’ Brown explains the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Brene’ Brown on Empathy vs Sympathy

Now, it’s your turn.

When you’re sharing a challenging experience with someone, what are the empathy misses that shut you down? What emotions come up for you when your sharing meets one of these barriers? On the flip side, how do you rate your empathetic skill? Are there one or two responses that you typically use that you need to change? Share your responses in the comments below.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Mindfulness

The Gift of Presence

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I feel extremely fortunate to have had people in my life who have made me feel special.  While we all want to be liked, loved, and happy, there are some people who have made or make us feel valued.  They make us feel special.  My grandmother was one of those people.  Although she passed away thirty years ago, there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.  What a gift and legacy she left!  I think about this a lot because I’d also like to leave that legacy with the people that I love.  But if the past few weeks are any indication, I have a lot of work to do.  So with this lofty goal in mind, I’m prompted to ask:  How can I be a better mother, spouse, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend?

Once again, I find the words in Maya Angelou, who sums it up so well “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What was it about my grandma that made me feel so special?  How do I (or we) do this? The answer is – by being present.

How we nurture relationships by being present.

So many of our lives are filled with making lists, checking them off, all the while thinking about the next thing we have to do. We’re constantly busy in doing mode and it can sometimes feel like a burden or an annoyance to have to stop, even momentarily, for the people we love.  And this can be really difficult sometimes, at least for me it is.  With juggling my business, my family, and all of the other responsibilities I have, I often have a difficult time being fully present. I am guilty of daydreaming when I should be focused on tasks, looking at my phone while also having a conversation, getting caught up in multitasking and rushing through my to-do list. More often than not, I’m not 100% engaged in any given moment.  Yet, there are so many advantages that come from living in the moment.

Getting present requires a certain level of self-awareness. It’s about putting aside your own thoughts, worries, fears, and insecurities and genuinely taking an interest in what that person is saying.  There’s a saying that how you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you.  When you lack the ability to make people feel good about themselves it does nothing more than highlight your own inadequacies.

Whether you’re a parent, spouse, friend, or leader, if you believe that people matter, you must become good at making people feel great.  If you want to build and maintain lasting relationships, to consistently positively influence people, to make people feel good about themselves, and to be the kind of people everyone wants to be around, you must make them feel good.  When you press pause—physically and mentally—and hold a space for a person to fully express themselves, that person feels valued, heard, seen, and loved.  Isn’t that what all us ever really want?

How we become more present in our relationships.

  • Be intentional . Start with setting an intention to be more present. It sounds simple and it is. Yet most of us don’t think about how we want to show up in our relationships.  As you begin to engage with the people, having an intention to be more present acts as a reminder, anchors you in the present. You become aware of those times when you are the most present and those times when you’re not. Start to notice what distracts you from the present moment. Phone calls, to-do lists, busyness overload, social media—whatever it is. When you become aware of this stuff, you can work with it or eliminate it so it doesn’t keep distracting you.
  • Create boundaries around your time. Make sure you factor in yourself when organizing your day.  Be sure to schedule your time to include getting your needs met, physically, mentally or emotionally.  Schedule time to get your work done and focus on your priorities during that time.  Then be sure to schedule the time to be present for others.  Say no if it doesn’t fit with your goals or priorities.  I like the expression “if it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no”.  It’s can become very easy to drop what you’re doing and focus on others’ priorities, but we all know that we can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves first.
  • Pay attention to how you feel around certain people. Unfortunately, there are people in our lives who do not make us feel good about ourselves, who can take up a lot of our time with negative energy, and can bring us down.  Next time you’re engaging with that person, take a moment to check in with where you’re at and ask if you’re supporting yourself. For example, are you feeling centered, confident, and calm? What story are you telling yourself about this situation?
  • Put your stuff away. My personal pet peeve is when I’m with someone, in a meeting, having a conversation, or at a dinner, etc. and they are constantly looking at their phone, or prioritizing answering a text or call (unless they have expressed they are expecting a call). Doing this suggests that they you are not their priority.  At least turn off the sound.  Be sure to put your phone away when you walk in the door, especially if you have kids.  And please, don’t walk in the door on a call – finish the call before you come in.  It’s a good practice to put your phone or computer away while in a conversation.
  • Be authentically interested. Lean in, keep eye contact, and listen more than you talk.  One of our deepest human needs is to be understood, valued, and respected for who we are.  However, most people seek to get their point across and be understood first.  In Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Principles of Highly Effective People”, the 5th principle is to “seek first to understand, then be understood”.  Here are the three steps he suggests:
    1. First, listen with your eyes, heart, and ears – listening with your ears isn’t enough. Only 7% of communication comes from our words.  The rest comes from body language (53%) and the tone of our voice (40%).  To hear what other people are really saying, you need to listen to what they are not saying.
    2. Second, stand in their shoes. Try to see the world as others see it and feel as they feel.
    3. Third, practice mirroring. Repeat back to the person what they just said.  It is not mimicking.  Put it in your own words.  This lets the person know you understand what they are saying without judging or giving advice.  Mirroring phrases “so, as I see it…”; “I can see that you’re feeling…”; “So, what you’re saying is…”
  • Practice mindfulness and learn to meditate.  I started my practice a few years ago as part of the Striving Styles certification process, not only because is it part of the curriculum I teach, but because I realized it’s a vital step in becoming more self-aware and personal growth.   It’s pretty difficult to be present in our relationships if we aren’t present with ourselves. For example,  I was away a lot over the past month and wasn’t meditating or practicing mindfulness regularly. I really noticed how this negatively affected my patience and presence in my relationships.   Being mindful and practicing meditation has so many benefits, not only for ourselves but also for those close to us.  I encourage you to watch the TEDx talk: The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger, by Shauna Shapiro if you would like to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  But really, practicing mindfulness is really very simple.

What is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.”   – Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness is our ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity and without judgement.  Mindfulness can be cultivated through a formal practice like meditation…and we can bring mindful attention to our daily activities.

Here are five simple ways to practice mindfulness in your daily life:

  1. Focus on your breath. Take a few really deep, controlled breaths. Deep breathing helps reduce stress, a source of fatique, and increases the level of oxygen in the blood.  Techniques can be as simple as inhaling for five seconds, holding your breath for four seconds and slowly exhaling for four seconds.  You can also try other techniques, which require different positions.
  2. Go for a walk outside. Being in nature can both invigorate you and make you feel more focused.  Here is a simple walking meditation:
    1. Simply close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature. Stand solidly on the ground and spend several moments noticing how your body feels. Start with the soles of the feet and work upward, relaxing each body part as you become aware of it.  Then, open your eyes and begin to walk slowly, focusing on your surroundings and what you see, hear, smell and feel. Pay close attention to the sensations of the sun, wind and grass on your feet and skin.
  3. Use a meditation app. I really like guided meditations. I enjoy listening to the messages and I like the instruction and structure.  You can decide on the length of time (5, 10 minutes), choose your topic (relax, sleep, focus, anxiety, self-compassion, manifestation, morning, etc.).  Here are a few apps you might like to check out:  Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace, Deepak Chopra.  You can also search guided meditations on Youtube.
  4. Focus intently on the task at hand. I can get easily distracted and overwhelmed when I have a lot of different tasks and things I’m juggling, so picking just one and focusing on completing it helps me be more mindful.
  5. Observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them. Notice when your mind is in the past or future, and gently return to the present. Ideally write them down.  Even if you’re not a writer, giving yourself the freedom to put pen to paper, without judgment, can be a helpful emotional release as well, freeing up your mind to focus on what’s happening in the current moment.

Advantages of being fully present in relationships.

Calmness.  There’s a real sense of peacefulness that comes when I’m not all agitated thinking about everything I need to do, and instead just focus on being with that person, enjoying the here and now.

Increased empathy and compassion.  Having empathy improves relationships.  Brene’ Brown explains,

“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” – Brene’ Brown

So having empathy helps us understand others when they communicate with us. Plus, it can reduce the amount of conflict in the individual’s life. The most common reason why other people become angry is they feel misunderstood.

Clarity and focus.   I do a better job and enjoy the process more when I give my full attention to whatever I’m working or on whom I’m working with, whether that’s spending time with my kids, writing my blog, working, gardening, etc.

Increased happiness and optimism.  When I’m more aware of my actions and more engaged, no matter the task I’m performing, it improves my outlook on life. Feeling more gratitude and focusing on the positive develops stronger emotional bonds with others.   I adopt more of an abundance mindset when I’m more self-confident.

More meaningful conversations. When I’m actively participating in a conversation and truly taking the time to listen to what the other person has to say, I find that I always take something important away from the discussion. Whether it’s a lesson or something I learned about the person, there is a lot to be gained from being present and actively engaged.

Appreciating the little things more.  It’s easy to overlook all of the simple pleasures in life when we are trying to do too many things at once. It’s really a shame, because sometimes we can be so fixated on creating our ideal, happy life, that we forget to see the happiness and pleasure that are already right in front of us.

“Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.” – Stephen R. Covey

What Do YOU Think?

Do you struggle with being fully present? What are some ways that you’ve found are helpful in being more present?  What are the biggest challenges to staying in the moment? Let us know in the comments!

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Photo source: Barefootblonde.com

Communication, Emotional Intelligence

How’s your emotional literacy?

“And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in.” ~ Jane Austen

Knowing how you feel and how to accurately identify your emotions through words – spoken or written – is a powerful way to improve our connections with others, build understanding, and enriches our relationships.  Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.  Learning the language of emotions is difficult, and describing your feelings is tough.  At least it is for most of us.  According to Brene’ Brown’s research, the majority of people she interviewed are not comfortable with emotions and far from “fluent in the language of feelings”.

What is an emotional vocabulary?

An emotional vocabulary is one in which language accurately describes how you are feeling. While parents or adults often encourage kids to express their feelings with words (we tell them to “use your words”) we often fall short ourselves.  We often instinctively restrict our vocabulary to anything but the broadest terms (such as “angry” or “happy”) or adopt lingo (like “cool” or “awesome”) to abstract and generalize our feelings.

Why are emotions so hard to explain?

Emotions are very nuanced, with slightly different meanings, and can be very hard to explain. Imagine trying to describe a particular shade of blue – is it more purple than green? Bright or dark? Is there a specific name for that shade such as sky, navy, or indigo?

Emotions are often mixed, and to explain them, you need to be able to identify and label the tones of emotion that make up what you feel. This can be difficult for people who are adept at expressing themselves emotionally, forget those of us who haven’t had much practice developing those capacities for recognizing what we feel.

As a result, we will often forget how to express our emotions verbally, even resorting to emojis, LOL’s, etc. my personal go-to’s, ;), to clarify our feelings. These behaviors are not only adopted by our kids but encouraged culturally as the very speed of communications shortcuts vocabulary and expression to anything but the mere essentials.

Why emotional literacy is so important.

Many of us only know or rely on a few emotional descriptive words, such as mad, sad, happy. How often do you use an emotional word in everyday speech? Can you describe your emotions?   Many of us haven’t been taught.  If our family didn’t discuss emotions on a regular basis, or we were shut down when you tried, we wouldn’t have learned all the ways they can be described and communicated.

Emotional literacy is an important aspect of language.  If we can’t name or articulate what’s happening to us emotionally, we can’t address it correctly.  Much like when you go to the doctor and you are must describe your symptoms.  Without the right descriptions or words, the doctor is unable to accurately diagnose you, and therefore, offer the right prescription or treatment.

Learning to use accurate feeling words when expressing ourselves supports emotional growth.  Developing and expanding our emotional vocabulary will help us approach feelings and relationships in a more sophisticated and well-adjusted way.

Here are some words to describe emotions (from Brene Brown):

Anger

Anxious

Belonging

Blame

Curious

Disappointed

Disgust

Embarrassment

Empathy

Excited

Fear| Scared

Frustrated

Gratitude

Grief

Guilt

 

Happy

Humiliation

Hurt

Jealous

Joy

Judgment

Lonely

Love

Overwhelmed

Regret

Sad

Shame

Surprised

Vulnerability

Worried

 

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (lavender fields in Provence, France)