The Boundary Discussion

The first three months of 2014 were a struggle for me.  It was different than how I usually experience depression, I was under-functioning to the point that DH needed to over-function (bless him).  I knew that the origin was from not protecting myself well enough during the FOO holiday visit last year and it didn’t help knowing I was heading back in three months.  I thought about canceling the March visit but something in the back of my head said “it is time.”

I needed to do something drastically and desperately different because I couldn’t have another three months of being ill – emotionally and physically.    I read two boundary books and I began to put together patterns in myself.  Although I have set boundaries in the past, I always withdrew them later.  I would set a boundary once and then allow it to be adjusted the next time.  Rewind, play, repeat.

My pattern with boundaries were at extremes.  I’d shut down and then feel guilty/shame about it.  I wasn’t able to set them in a way where I kept myself healthy and allowed for flexibility.  After reading Katerine’s books and bloggers’ advice I focused on my time boundary with my FOO and my in-laws.

During the March visit, I set and held my time boundary with my FOO and then next up were my in-laws.  The first evening with DH’s father (FiL) I started to feel drained.  I woke up the next morning not feeling 100%.  I told DH that I wasn’t going over to FiL’s apartment that day and that I would meet up with DH that evening for dinner with friends.

This one sentence was met with ‘negotiating’ techniques.  You see, DH negotiates for a living and he is good it.  In the past, I would suggest not participating and I would allow myself to be convinced otherwise or would hold the boundary once and feel guilty after and give in the next time (rewind, play, repeat).  I hadn’t connected the dots with my patterns like that before.  The ‘negotiating’ attempts went like this (paraphrasing):

  1. “Come over today and take the next day off.”
  2. “What am I going to say to my father about why you are not there, I am sick of lying.”
  3. “You sound sarcastic as if this is fun for you.”

All of these tactics worked in the past because these are the three I am most vulnerable to in this order: 1. Reasoning/Rationalization 2. Debasement (I’m the victim) 3. Social coercion (through criticizing) – 3 out of 6 manipulation techniques that Braiker² highlights in her book.

DH and I did not want to go down that path again and luckily in her second book³ (“Where to Draw the Line”, p. 154-155) Anne Katherine talked about speaking with others (who are affected) about boundaries in advance.  I used her guidelines and wrote down questions that DH and I answered separately and then we discussed our answers.  It worked well for our last visit this summer and we plan on using them for our upcoming FOO holiday visit.  The purpose is to have a clear picture of what you and the other person wants/expects.

Boundary Discussion Questions (based on Katherine’s How to Create Successful Holidays Guidelines):

  1. What activities would you like to do? (my answer: see good friends, workout, downtime, shopping) Any specifics? (example: preparation needed, order of events, etc.)
  2. Who would you like to be included/see during this event(s)? (I listed the people I would make time for and DH listed his – where we agreed we went together, where we didn’t we went separately)
  3. What are our time limits/constraints with the people we will be seeing? (this can also be used for food, money, etc.) (my answer: I will participate in two meals with FiL and BiL)
  4. What are each person’s responsibilities (when interacting with our FOO)? (combined: use “I”, not “we” statements, let me answer questions directed towards me the way I want to answer them – if you find it inappropriate give me the feedback later, no triangulation, no lying)
  5. What has not gone well in the past, what did you dislike about the past events/holidays? (my answer: I need planned downtime to recover from my FOO and DH’s FOO and I will help FiL only on tasks that he physically cannot do himself)

The conversation was eye-opening and surprisingly we stuck to most of our answers during the summer visit – there was some negotiation. 😉  Katherine also suggests to review our answers after the event.

What worked well:

  • DH handled triangulation well
  • DH handled his father’s attempt to manipulate him into doing something he didn’t want to do
  • I didn’t fall into my severe under-functioning state after the visit

What didn’t work well:

  • DH tried to control my ‘changed’ response to questions from FiL that were directed to me
  • I over-functioned in anger and shame for DH, I need to give him room to feel his own emotions and process it himself

Footnotes

¹Katherine, Anne, M.A. (1991). “Boundaries – Where You End and I Begin”. New York: Simon & Schuster.

²Braiker, Harriet B., Ph.D. (2004). “Who’s Pulling Your Strings? – How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life”. New York: McGraw-Hill.

³Katherine, Anne, M.A. (2000). “Where to Draw the Line – How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day”. New York: Simon & Schuster.

katherine

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Book Review: The Dance of Anger

I recently finished the book, The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner Ph.D. and at the same time it is celebrating hitting 3 million copies sold – Lerner discusses the book that took her five years to get published in a recent interview.

Overall, I found the book slow to read but full of necessary learning points about anger.  She does not focus on the psychology of the emotion and instead each chapter focuses on a clinical example to illustrate the message anger tells us.  Her lens is one of a woman and focuses primarily on the family (of origin and choice) and in the later section addresses anger in triangulation.

anger

“Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.” ~Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Her opening line is her most quoted and one in which she illustrates how society, especially women, has subtly taught us to ignore this signal.  Often, with women, anger is met with rejection and disapproval from others.  Her stance is:

“Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless.  Anger simply is.” ~Lerner

To say anger is good or bad is not the point.  The point, like all other emotions, is that it exists and it has a purpose.  Therefore, it deserves our respect and attention.  The book’s main purpose is to understand and gain more clarity about its source.

“It is amazing how frequently we march off to battle without knowing what the war is all about.” ~Lerner

Gaining a clarity of ‘what the battle is’ is often the most challenging aspect of anger.  Anger is a powerful signal that is often unclear and requires further investigation.  We can spend enormous amounts of time and energy in endless cycles that won’t help us move forward.

“If feeling angry signals a problem, venting anger does not solve it.” ~Lerner

This was a hard pill to swallow.  I have often vented anger to my husband and here on this blog.  If venting allows one to reveal the source of the anger and gain clarity about why we are feeling it then, yes, venting can help.  Venting to vent will help maintain the status quo and perpetuate an endless cycle that will not bring about more clarification about the self.

“Anger and guilt are just about incompatible.” ~Lerner

In some dysfunctional families, guilt is the main currency and it is no wonder anger takes a back burner.  Lerner adds that guilt has to do with not giving or doing enough while anger is about not getting enough.  Guilt and self-doubt are blockers to being aware of our anger.

“Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others.” ~Lerner

This one sentence addresses a lot of what I took away from this book.  First, anger is the emotion that can lead us to make a change.  It can, when managed appropriately, be a powerful agent for personal growth.

The second message goes back to identifying the ‘battle’ we are actually fighting.  Anger often leads us to focus on the other person.  “She attacked me, she wasn’t empathetic, he wasn’t listening.”  But the source of the anger and the ‘battle’ we are fighting is about the ‘self’.  It is about taking responsibility for ourselves and often assuming less of the other person’s.

In any type of relationship anger becomes a struggle for the ‘self’ (the “I”) versus the ‘we’.  Anger is about my needs, feelings, thoughts, opinions, etc. not being addressed.  Disrupting the status quo of pushing my needs down while another’s is met brings about the conflict of honouring myself while having a relationship with another (the Narcissistic Dilemma).

Obtaining clarification of why we are angry (its source) has to do with the ‘self’ and our protection of our sense of self.  It is about understanding what our needs are in a relationship – not always evident right away.  Anger can be useful even if it only helps us take a step back to find that clarification about the self.

He doesn’t listen ⇒ I need to be seen and heard

She attacked me ⇒ I need to be respected and valued

She’s not empathising ⇒ I need understanding and comfort

So, when I wrote the ‘fake’ letter to my friend in anger (see post), it was all about her and her behaviours.  Instead of saying ‘she wasn’t empathetic’, I realised that ‘I needed my story considered, I needed my feelings and situation to be heard.’  This is what I needed from our friendship.  It may very well be an expectation that she doesn’t agree with and that tells me what my bottom line is.

After finishing The Dance of Anger, I read another book by Lerner entitled The Dance of Connection.  I found this book to be a nice complement and one where there were some practical ways in which to deal with someone when angry, hurt, etc. (more focused on romantic relationships but still applicable to other types).

The quote that best summarises Lerner’s The Dance of Anger:

“Many of our problems with anger occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.  This book is about having both.” ~Lerner

Further Reading & References

Lerner, Harriet Ph.D., The Dance of Anger;  Harper Collins Publishers; 2005.

Lerner, Harriet Ph.D., The Dance of Connection; Harper Collins Publishers; 2002.

For a bit of humour Karla McLaren shared this video.