Boundaries: Holiday Edition

Accurate, huh? I thought so, too. I think between the usual-holiday-bustle and talking about whether or not to even GATHER for the holidays, the 2020 Holiday Season feels neverending. Add in a nice dose of family dynamics to the decision-making process, and we have ourselves quite a dilemma! 

I want to give us (and yes, us, me included) just a couple practical ways to set some boundaries that enable us to love others well and remain as sane as possible over the next couple weeks. 

Relational boundary work is hard. It’s messy and it takes a lot of energy and effort, two things most of us don’t have right now. So instead of going all-in these last two weeks of December, I encourage us to be realistic in our goals. Here are a few ways we can do that: 

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Boundary Development Interrupted

In the same way a toddler learns to walk by falling (often…and for a long time), boundary development is a process that requires a lot of trying and a lot of falling. If a toddler doesn’t fall until the 5th year of walking, he or she is going to be in for a rude awakening! If she falls on day 1, 2, 47, and 564, and then falls again during year 5, quite a tolerance has been built. So, don’t go trying to set boundaries in all your relationships as soon as you finish reading this post. Believe me, it won’t go well.

Boundary development begins in the womb. Did you know that? Crazy, huh? Before we are born, our mother shares A LOT with us: nutrition, a comfy home, movement, and life-giving blood. Sometimes, she shares some not-so-good things, too. The process has to be like this; until we enter the physical world, we are completely helpless and dependent on another person. Then, during that first hour of life, we’re hit with cold air, discomfort, and voices that are NOT our mother’s. We learn to be dependent on others beside our mothers, which (depending on your story), may be a healthy or painful experience. Regardless of your position, this is development. 

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Boundaries 101

Boundaries. Maybe you’ve heard the term recently; it’s somewhat of a “buzz” word on social media right now. 

  • “I need to set better boundaries.” 
  • “So-and-so doesn’t have any personal boundaries.” 
  • “Maybe if I set a boundary, he’ll stop drinking.” 
  • And then the classic: 

If you haven’t heard of relational boundaries like the examples I just listed, perhaps you are familiar with property boundaries or professional vs. personal boundaries in the workplace. Regardless of the context of the word, the meaning is very similar across uses: a boundary typically refers to the point where something ends and something else begins. In the relational sense, a boundary is where I end and you begin. 

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The Next Right Thing v.2

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really enjoy feeling uncomfortable. Some of you may be up for the challenge, but uncomfortable to me feels icky. Icky feels like that physical “shudder” I feel when something just isn’t right. 

You may notice the title of this blog post has “v.2” in it. That’s because writing v.1 was uncomfortable, so I set it down for a week. Here I am in v.2 and yep, you guessed it, I’m still uncomfortable writing it. This time, though, I get it. I need to feel uncomfortable. Way too many people feel uncomfortable every day of their life, and have for 400+ years. I thought COVID-19 quarantine was uncomfortable. My daily routine got obliterated, I couldn’t see my friends, my favorite restaurants closed.

Then, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. All of a sudden, the discomfort of COVID-19 lost a little luster. Soon after, Breonna Taylor was murdered. Followed by George Floyd. 

V.1 of this blog had a lot of COVID-19 references in it. After some deep self-reflection and others’ input, I realized, the pandemic had become comfortable to me! 

Because the subsequent murders of three Black people was far more uncomfortable to talk about, let alone think about. 

I sat with this new level of discomfort – the awareness that I was doing what I had always done – what we have always done – ignore, avoid, shy away from, claim I “don’t know what to say,” give money anonymously, the list goes on and on. Until one day, I couldn’t avoid myself any longer. No more waiting to know what the “right thing” to do is. “Just do the next, right thing, Lauren.”  

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Another Zoom meeting??

Connection looks a whole lot different these days, doesn’t it?! Just a few months ago, connection often meant a family gathering around the Christmas tree, friends reconnecting at a local restaurant upon returning to college in January, and 24 Kindergarteners sitting on their carpet circles sharing Show and Tell stuffed animals. Now, in April 2020, connection looks like a bunch of Brady Bunch squares on a screen and sounds a lot like, “I have a Zoom meeting in 30 minutes.” 

Do you know…all five people in my house had a Zoom meeting at 9 a.m. one day last week? That means finding enough devices, headphones, and sort-of-quiet rooms for each person; a task that, in my opinion, counted as “work” for the whole day. 

I read an article recently on a new phenomenon called “virtual fatigue.” The premise is just as it sounds – virtual communication may cause us to feel fatigued. Logically, it’s hard to understand – I mean, we’re just sitting in a (hopefully) comfortable chair, staring at a screen, talking just like we would in-person. What’s so fatiguing about that? On the other side of logic, virtual fatigue also means we’re subconsciously reminded of the stressful time we’re in – the fact we have to work from our bedroom or closet. We have to catch up with our friends and family from the same space in which we work, which may feel like work all over again. 

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Will my relationship survive this storm?

I get it. Tension is running at an all-time high within your four walls. You’re stranded in your house, maybe with a couple little kids creating blanket forts (read: creating more laundry) and playing hide-and-seek in the pantry (read: eating all the food). But today, we’re not going to focus on the children.  We’re talking about the fact you’re stranded in your house with…your partner. Yikes!

When a couple walks into my office, they are typically not in the best shape, emotionally. Oh, it may appear everything is “fine.”  You know, that kind of “fine” where you can be gritting your teeth, fighting in the car; and then walk into my office with the biggest smile on your face, holding your partner’s hand, hoping I don’t see you digging into their skin with your fingernails. Welcome to couple’s counseling. (For the record, I’ve also been a half of one of those couples in a counseling room. I get it). 

How do we get to this “fine” place? Even more so, how do we survive this place in the midst of a pandemic?! 

Relationships don’t just fall apart on their own, even though it often feels like they do. We get bored and antsy and irritated and wonder if the grass is greener. The early days of fireworks and late-night talks and weekly date nights fade into the mundane of demanding jobs, strained finances, and a few-too-many Happy Hours. So, someone gets frustrated enough, calls my office, and says, “My spouse and I just don’t know how to communicate anymore. Everything is an argument! We need therapy.”   

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Spatial Distancing

Hello, I hope you are all fairing well and taking good care of yourselves through this pandemic.

It is an understatement to assert we are living through unprecedented and challenging times. Uncertainty, fear, anxiety and distrust abounds. How can we help in this time of crisis? Some people are in shelter or doing distancing alone and some are with large families that have never had to spend this much time in their homes. Many are working from home and school. There are so many issues going on in so many directions and every day it changes. Uncertainty seems to be the only thing we can count on at this time. It is important to remember even if you are lonely, you are never alone. Help is always a phone call away. We are still available and doing phone and video sessions that are going quite well.

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Reactions to the Pandemic

My wife and I are newly “empty-nesters”. A month ago, two of my kids were away at college and my oldest was in the process of moving from California to the East Coast. I was busy at work and planning a vacation in April.

Everything has changed: colleges are closed, CDC guidelines are in place, and stay-at-home orders issued. My three children returned home to shelter with us as their schools and jobs ended or switched to online. We have all had to adjust to living together again (and not just for a week over spring break!).

It has been good to be with my family. In a time when going out becomes a risk/benefit analysis and a series of trade-offs, having my family home helps me feel safer and better able to be present in the world.

I had been watching the news and following the coronavirus spread for several months but only as a spectator. I was taking precautions, washing my hands a lot, and social distancing but did not really understand what was happening. It came home for me when I learned of the death of a Boone County resident. The first death from Covid-19 in Missouri.

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Friday During a Pandemic

We made it to Friday — Friday during a pandemic. Feels a little more like this week was a week of Mondays on repeat. Nevertheless, here we are. 

I have had the words for this blog post in my head for a little over a week now, but to be honest, I’ve spent a lot of the past few weeks feeling paralyzed. Frozen. Stuck in one of those whirlpools that keeps you moving but you don’t even go anywhere. Maybe you can relate. 

When COVID-19 made its way to my area, so did a whole host of feelings. And you know my opinion about feelings … the more conflicting, the better 😉  Feeling conflicting emotions = reality. And there’s nothing that’ll bring us back to reality like an international pandemic. 

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Different Types of Group Therapy

After reviewing what group therapy (a.k.a. a counseling group) is and how it may be helpful to connect with others as we navigate our own journey, I want to take a few minutes to help familiarize us with different types of counseling groups and the purpose and benefits of them. Depending on where you live, some or all of the types of groups may be offered at varying times and a simple Google search may connect you with them and the counselors who lead them. 

Skills-Based Groups. A skills group commonly has a title that reads something like “8 Weeks of Group Guided Meditation.”  These groups encourage people who share a common interest to come together to learn and practice skills such as meditation, deep breathing, healthy communication or conflict management. Often, these groups are time-limited and structured in their content and homework. Skills groups are very common as many people find value in learning alongside their peers well after their “school days.”  

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