My life started to give me much-needed and valuable freedom of choice when I finally put major emotional, cognitive, behavioural and physical boundaries in place. Previous to that I was forever delving into people’s private lives, haemorrhaging at emotional paper cuts, having concrete, rigid and inflexible ideas on everything and having anger management issues at lampposts and letterboxes.
Other People’s Boundaries: I used to think if you were my friend you would tell me everything about yourself simply because I had this uncontrollable urge to spill my guts to you. Now I choose to tell certain people certain things in a certain way and when I get that warning signal in my gut, I know it is not a good idea to share that particular story. I finally learned this from sharing a story I should have left well alone during a peer workers course I undertook for my employment.
Your Therapist’s Private Life: I learned the hard way about this. If you want therapy to succeed within a time frame, then stick to your own agenda and don’t get entangled in your therapist’s life. That of course means your therapist must (and not all do) understand boundaries and carry them out in a firm but gentle manner. I asked my long-term therapist a personal question and she got angry, shouted at me and bit my head off. That was six months ago. My stomach does flip-flops whenever I think about it, but I also know it is single-handedly the main event that keeps my boundaries water-tight. I do not define our long-term relationship by this one event; I have an overall holistic view. Her lesson worked but it still hurts.
Concrete Black and White Thinking: “You could be right,” “I got that wrong,” and “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.” These are the most liberating statements I have made recently. There are many multi-layered perspectives on different levels to any one question, and I do not have a definitive answer. I used to think that “every woman would be unfulfilled if she did not give birth to a least two children” (I can hear some of you laughing out loud across the Pacific Ocean – including myself). But that was how I thought and there were no exceptions to my rule. That was until I gave birth myself and as they were growing up I changed my mind and realized I was wrong – very, very wrong. And if I could be wrong on that I could be wrong on many other things as well.
Personal Boundaries: Recently I had a major disappointment within my job. I felt flat and out of sorts. Someone had said no to part of a project I was developing and I was very disappointed. So I bought some chocolate ice-cream and went home. I knew I was disappointed and out of sorts, but other ideas were bubbling in the back of my head and by the next morning plan “B” had taken effect and I was happier. This is how normal people approach setbacks in life. There was a time when I would have ranted and raved (and called it healthy venting) for the next six months, eaten, drugged, drank and smoked myself into oblivion and not have been able to enjoy the luxury of letting go and moving forward. I would have taken a professional decision personally.
Anger Management Issues: I used to think venting anger by screaming, smashing cups, plotting revenge and having a meltdown was a healthy and liberating way to express sadness, disappointment, hurt, fear and frustration. Now I truly believe in not getting angry in the first place regardless of the provocation or situation. It allows my headspace to remain crystal clear under intense pressure (thank you yoga). I have learned to stand back and observe proceedings in an objective manner so that when the situation is later endlessly debriefed, I always come out smelling like Chanel No. 5 and the local psychiatric hospital has had an extra spare bed for the night. Ahhhh, I love the smell of personal boundaries in the workplace.
For the major part – my life now works.
This guest post is by Sonia Neale who started therapy writing for post-natal-depression and anxiety. Sixteen years later she is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three teenagers, has a certificate in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree and a certificate IV in Mental Health. She currently works as a facilitator in the mental health field as well as assisting with communications, media, public relations and events mangement.