LeAnn O'Neal Berger, Psy.D., L.M.F.T.
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|Posted on February 7, 2015 at 11:27 PM||comments (1314)|
Strong Relationships Balance Intimate
Openness with Respectful Limits
When I was a little girl, the rules in our house were that everyone must be seen and not heard. I was considered “too sensitive”. I was encouraged not to cry and to keep my “opinions to myself”. It wasn’t okay to ask too many questions, or talk about interpersonal dissatisfaction, “be grateful for what you are given and keep your mouth shut”.
Instead, I learned that others' needs were more important than my own desires, that it was impolite to share my own experiences, and that it was dangerous to let others know what I really thought and felt. Many people seem to have grown up with similar dysfunctional family values -- one reason that boundaries are a favorite topic of psychotherapists. Balancing openness, intimacy, and limits while owning our own "stuff" and letting others own theirs, are the hallmarks of the good boundaries required in solid interpersonal interactions. Learning to form strong relationships that are healthy in emotional intimacy and open in clear, respectful communication is not a trait that seems to be coded in our DNA -- we've got to be taught. Therapy clients are frequently assisted in being open with their feelings without being manipulative, and to grow a strong enough sense of self to stay no when appropriate.
Porous Boundaries and Unhealthy Walls
For the sake of confidentiality, I will share examples which are common but these examples are not related to any particular person. The names are just names I like. Beth’s relationship problems revolved around over-compensating for feeling unworthy and flawed. Believing she was unacceptable and unlovable, she had trouble setting her own boundaries for fear that friends would walk away if she asserted her needs. Once in a while, though, Beth found herself using her emotions to manipulate others into getting what she wanted, and thereby breached others' boundaries in the process. She resorted to this tactic because she didn't believe she would be accepted if she directly stated her own preferences. Her porous boundaries left Beth without a strong central sense of self.
Open communication doesn’t automatically assume that the other person is at fault. Speaking up for yourself is essential, and it's necessary to listen carefully, too. Voicing and checking out assumptions and perceptions, avoiding easy and harsh judgments, and being discerning in your conclusions are all part of open communication. This is hard work. It’s difficult not to place blame or take things personally, and to approach situations honestly with beginner’s mind, always willing to see things in a different light when appropriate. It helps to be transparent and explicit in communication.
Don't assume that the other person will see things as you do. Take risks in opening up. When allowing the possibility that we are wrong in our viewpoint, the challenging skill of self-reflection becomes necessary. This can be learned, but we must practice it daily for it to be effective. These are the essential steps in establishing good boundaries, personal balance and relational intimacy.
The loneliness Diane sought to heal in counseling stemmed from protecting herself in friendships by building thick emotional walls that kept people from getting too close. Afraid of rejection and judgment, she sabotaged several relationships with this strategy designed to keep from getting hurt. Not able to risk being interpersonally vulnerable, she kept people at arm's length, and made them work hard to get to know the real her -- an effort that most didn't bother to make. The unhealthy walls that Diane hid behind robbed her of gaining the intimacy in friendships that she craved.
Holding Respectful Limits
In order to hold respectful limits, we first must treat ourselves and others as if we all have value. This starts with believing that the way we feel and think is in fact very important. Respect for self and other can be practiced by never saying things to yourself that you would never say to another person, and vice versa – such as “You don’t deserve to be happy,” or "What you want doesn't matter." When Juana learned and began to practice this, her relationships improved. Limiting negative self-talk and other-judgments plants seeds of clean boundaries rooted in a clear understanding that we are all responsible for the ways we behave. We are not responsible, however, for the ways others behave or how they feel. Each of us must establish our own limits that protect ourselves without harming others. At times we might think that being respectful requires allowing others to walk all over us. Conversely, we may think that since others don’t respect us, we don’t need to respect them. Both these attitudes sabotage relationships. Good boundaries strike a middle path of balance.
Engaging in Open Communication
Beyond saying what you mean, asserting your needs and owning your feelings, engaging in open communication requires creating a space in your life for someone else. To do this we must be willing to be open and honest in discussing the details of our relationships. When things are going smoothly this isn’t too hard. But when troubles or misunderstandings come, as they invariably do, we must be prepared to share our thoughts and feelings. Hiding or burying feelings, assumptions, perceptions, and needs under a blanket of self–effacement or recrimination may seem self-protective but in reality, it's poor boundary maintenance. When Diane learned this crucial principle, and began to share her thoughts and feelings more freely, her relationships improved.
“I” statements -- like “I feel hurt by what's happened here”, or “I feel we need to talk this out so that it doesn’t build resentments that can linger for years and turn into a full scale grudge” -- put voice to self-reflection and boundaries. They help us admit our own part in the situation and serve to courageously address the problems.
Keeping clean boundaries and having respectful, open communication are ongoing efforts that require allowing others to be themselves without compromising yourself in the process. These relationship maintenance skills take care of yourself first by being authentic, while also being caring of others as well. Better boundaries can improve your relationships.
Please contact me, LeAnn O'Neal Berger, psychotherapist and relationship coach, today to find out how you can be assertive and open in communicating your needs to others.
|Posted on May 30, 2011 at 2:32 AM||comments (0)|
Forgiveness and letting go of the outcome have been concepts I have built deep relationships with throughout my life. As a teen, Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” song drew me closer to that feeling of confusion I felt deep inside each time I disagreed with my Mother or my Father. It was my Father who seemed too far away in his understanding of the world and what seemed to me the distance between us. He was right and I was wrong, or so it seemed. What did I know anyway? My feelings and viewpoint were mere shadows of his. Sure, I know, I was not his son: he had four of those anyway. I was his only daughter. To me, this sealed the deal that he and I would never understand each other. He would talk and I would listen. My voice, soft, shaky and unsure.
Generations continue to struggle with parents letting go of their children as they grow to adulthood and adult children letting go of who they thought their parents were. If either takes the time to consider these positions through their judgments and protective stances understanding comes natural. Life itself will reveal how forgiveness of the lack of understanding and letting go of an idea of who someone is, parent, child, sibling, lover or whoever, will bring new possibilities for closeness.
As Cat Stevens’ lyrics play over and over in my mind while I write this, it is clearer to me how I felt both Father and Son when I was a teen. His lyrics and song helped me feel, as music often does, the emotions I was unable to share with my own Father or Mother at that time. It was not until years later, with many years of education and even more credentials earned through raising four children of my own through adulthood, that I would be brave enough to share the heartfelt sincerity of understanding how a parent must let go as the adult child must move on alone.
It is not that we are all alone as adults. It is that the adult child must know deep within themselves that they can make it on their own. As a Mother, instinctively I felt it was my duty to continue to learn to let go with each passing year so that by the time my children were adults, they could make it without me. I have been and still will be here for them as a person, a real person, not some idea or authoritative presence they struggle to get out of their heads. Someone who cheers for their own visions and developing their own perceptions and beliefs. I honor their right to be free from my holding on.
Only now am I able to understand that my Mother and Father taught me to let go. I put them in boxes which I created so that I could understand why they were so different from me. By forgiving myself for this unfair yet necessary masking of who they really were, I am free to embrace all the gifts they gave me. As a teen, I could not feel my parents’ hopes and dreams for me, let alone their fears about what may happen to me. Now, with four grown competent adult children, I have hopes, dreams and fears related to all of them and I must let go.
If you are struggling with your relationship with your parents or children, please feel welcome to call me if you like. I will do my best to assist you with forgiveness, understanding and letting go.
LeAnn O'Neal Berger, M.A., LMFT
|Posted on April 3, 2011 at 5:39 PM||comments (0)|
Please note that some topics relating to emotional pain may remind you of severe emotional trauma. If you begin to experience anxiety or sadness while reading this blog, simply stop reading it and contact a mental health professional or contact me for further assistance. If you feel you need immediate assistance, contact your medical doctor, nearest hospital emergency room or contact your county mental health resources.
Emotional pain has degrees of intensity that we want to assess quickly to provide the best assistance to YOU.
Let’s recap what we covered in Forgiveness 1. You have a natural response to emotional pain called avoidance: distracting, becoming emotionally numb, and behaving in ways that keep you from feeling. These are just a few of the methods you use to defend yourself against emotional pain. You protect yourself without even thinking about what you are doing: an unconscious reaction to anxiety, worry, fear, stress, depression, sadness, grief, loss, trauma, heartbreak and old emotional wounds. Automatic responses to emotional pain are your way of coping with what you perceive as a threat to your psychological, emotional or physical safety.
When it comes to ‘forgiveness’, you have developed a belief about what this word means. This definition may be working for you or not. You be the judge. If your belief keeps you from moving on and you continue to experience emotional pain when confronted with reminders of the painful event, you may experience anger, irritability, deep disappointment, sadness, feelings of ‘what’s the use’, or believe you have been betrayed. Try asking, “How will I ever let go of my belief about this situation so that I can stop harming myself with these memories and thoughts?” Seem impossible? It isn’t!
You may have heard or read that ‘forgiving benefits you most’. It doesn’t matter whether you continue to be in a relationship with mounting past betrayals or just a few unforgiveable behaviors. The more important concern here is ‘how will YOU stop hurting or hiding from the emotional pain that NOT forgiving causes YOU?’.
Since you are unique, there are right techniques or skills that will assist you in forgiving, and they will create more freedom for you to feel well again. Forgiveness will remove obstacles in connecting with new people or even allowing more intimacy into your life. Most of all, forgiveness will bring you closer to inner harmony and peace.
What forgiveness does not mean:
What forgiveness does mean:
There are many techniques which will assist you in forgiving and inspire inner harmony and peace.
Start your forgiveness with the idea that it is a gift you give yourself. Some memories or situations are much too painful to open up when you are reading an internet blog. I do not provide specific techniques and skills on this blog because I have no idea how you may react to them. If you are experiencing painful emotions right now, please contact a mental health professional, Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Psychologist, Psychiatrist or your primary care physician. If you feel you are in danger please immediately contact your nearest hospital emergency room. If you are having extreme anxiety, depression, and/or thoughts of suicide, please contact the national suicide hotline at (800) 273-8255.
You are free to read more about forgiveness on your own or contact me for more information. I wish you all the best in your search for your unique path to healthy, liberating forgiving.
LeAnn O'Neal Berger, M.A., LMFT Assisting, couples, singles, those dating, couples counseling, forgiveness, marriage, anxiety, depression, betrayal, spiritual counseling, spiritual teacher, psychotherapist, psychocotheray, Marriage and Family Therapist, Counselor.
|Posted on February 26, 2011 at 7:02 PM||comments (0)|
Why does ‘forgiveness’ seem so difficult or even impossible?
One of the well known psychology family systems theorists, Murray Bowen (1913-1990), introduced us to ‘emotional cutoff’. He was referring to a way people reduce the chance of emotional pain related to their family, friends, and others.
Rather than addressing their emotions, people distract themselves with staying busy, workaholism, obsessive attending to things that are not related to current the situation or conversation, moving away, avoiding, remaining silent or changing the subject when emotional issues come up. Checking email, reorganizing things on a table, texting, interacting with children or animals, cleaning: these are all examples of the above, especially distraction and obsessive attending. You can avoid dealing with emotions in this way and these methods of coping are effective for a short term. Your anxiety will be reduced for the moment but these unresolved emotions will fester and invade other relationships.
Anxiety interferes with your inner harmony and is a major distraction for you, too. This symptom is a way for your body to tell you that something is wrong but often you have no idea ‘what is wrong’. Instead of realizing that you are responding to emotional pain, you deny it by avoiding and withdrawing. Reacting out of fear is an automatic response to stress and anxiety. The fear is connected to ‘what is going to happen?’ and rooted in ‘fear of something in the future’.
You may notice that ‘forgiveness’ seems like it has nothing to do with ‘emotional cutoff’ or ‘fear’. Aw, but it does! You use the defense of ‘emotional cutoff’ to protect yourself from emotional pain. You relieve anxiety or possible anxiety by avoiding subjects and situations which have led to the emotional pain you had in the past or may be experiencing in the present. Your mind, clever as it is, remembers the past pain, unresolved emotional issue or recognizes current danger and goes into ‘defense mode’ to keep you safe. Sounds like the right thing to do, so you do it. It is a ‘quick fix’ for the issue which has brought the pain to your attention.
The problem with emotional cutoff is that it will create behaviors and self sabotage in other relationships and areas of your life. You may find yourself avoiding a boss who has behaviors or character traits which seem similar to someone you emotionally cutoff in your past (family or friend). You may find yourself feeling sick to your stomach every time you think about going to work, but you don’t connect that the unresolved emotional pain has a deeper root in a past relationship. You thought you ‘got past that’ so you don’t even allow yourself to let that situation or conflict surface in your awareness. You may not feel anything in response to a current situation that anyone would have an extreme emotional reaction to, numbness sets in. You don’t notice that the pysical symptoms and your behaviors are occuring because of an emotional response.
How does ‘forgiveness’ come into play here? Forgiveness is related to ‘letting go’: letting go of how you thought you or someone else should have behaved or still should. It is about becoming aware of your own resistance to feeling your own emotional pain and overcoming it without defending yourself by distracting or avoiding. Forgiveness includes forgiving another and yourself for the imperfections that have been the foundation of judging others and yourself.
Forgiveness does not mean that you must spend time with or confront someone who has hurt you or caused you to suffer emotional, physical or psychological pain. Forgiveness is a deeper process that serves to restore YOUR inner harmony and peace. It is an acceptance you feel once you have made sense of your own emotional response to the suffering you have experienced.
Please check in again soon for an additional Inner Harmony Blog about facing the emotional pain related to ‘forgiveness’. Until then, set your attention to noticing your distractions and paying attention to what you avoid.
If you would like assistance in facing ‘forgiveness’, please contact me via email at [email protected].
Psychotherapist, Spiritual counseling, LeAnn O'Neal Berger, M.A., LMFT, anxiety symptoms, couples counseling, self discovery, dating, Singles, marriage ,forgiveness, psychotherapy, spititual teacher.
|Posted on February 19, 2011 at 9:28 PM||comments (0)|
Heartbreak may not be recognized as heartbreak at first. The pain source may be obvious to you if you just experienced a recent break up or betrayal in a romantic relationship. The feelings are not always related to your physical heart but they can be. Sometimes you feel a sharp pain in the middle of your chest, a deep void, a tremendous and unbearable weight, a feeling of falling, a rush of sadness that drops you to your knees, moments of disbelief, and other metaphoric descriptions your mind conjures up to frighten you into despair.
The heartbreak feeling can come in subtly after the numbness and disbelief leave you. A denial that anything has happened as you go on with life as usual by distracting yourself with social activities or hitting the dating scene immediately. You tell yourself there is no time to deal with how you feel and besides, you don’t really care anyway, you’ll just move on.
Other common responses to such severe emotional pain are feeling as if you are not even in your body, becoming physically ill, nauseated, panicked, feeling like you are dying, or experiencing a sense of hopelessness. There are many ways to experience and describe your own unique and similar emotional response to heartbreak. Your mind will remind you of all the other times similar pain has struck, and the memories from those experiences can sometimes feel as if they were happening all over again.
Psychotherapists, psychologists and marriage and family therapists have diagnoses for some of the combinations of emotion responses that create physical symptoms resulting from a heartbreak. Medical doctors treat physical symptoms brought on by heartbreak.
The emotional pain is sometimes so devastating that you may spend the rest of your life thinking about it and feel wronged with little to no relief in sight. Depression sets in and you become extremely anxious at even the slightest hint of possible rejection (a second date or a hint that a relationship is moving toward commitment can set in motion your avoidance routine, “the great escape”).
You may fall into a lifestyle that proves life is just one Heartbreak after another. Your brother stole your tooth fairy money just after you placed it in a hiding place for safe keeping until your Mom could take you to the store to buy the candy you have been dreaming of. Your brother comes home from school a few days later with all the candy you told him you wanted to buy the next time you had money. That hurts! A betrayal by your close family member and the big “in your face” a couple days later. The story of injustice here may seem silly to most, but for you, in the moment, it may be one of the heartbreaking experiences that built your perception and understanding of what heartbreak is to you.
As life moves along you are challenged by relationship failures and rejections along with career disappointments. These experiences create a world of 'pain stories' which help you prove to yourself that you must avoid commitments, relationships, steady jobs and other areas where you might experience rejection. They also create a negative self talk which reminds you that you are helpless to do anything about it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although a lifetime of beliefs and perceptions can lay a foundation of grief and loss, you are capable of moving through each and every situation and circumstance of heartbreak without resistance or denial. “That which you resist will persist.” You may find yourself avoiding the reminders of a heartbreak. This avoidance can create isolation, depression, severe anxiety, and other uncomfortable/harmful consequences: the results of your refusal to let yourself move the emotions that come up with a Heartbreak. When the emotion of heartbreak or emotional pain is not allowed, you are at risk of deeper emotional problems that surface in your behaviors or even in your physical body. You can become bitter and miserable.
It is possible for you to search for and find every opportunity to become more comfortable with your own emotional responses through facing your own Heartbreaks with curiosity and openness. Facing your emotional pain will release it and assist you in times of future challenges.
“Painful moments are opportunities for expansion and growth.”
~ LeAnn O’Neal 2007
Once a Heartbreak is recognized, what a great opportunity to change your life! What a perfect time for you to open to new possibilities with a fresh view of the situation when you realize you have been “stopped in your tracks” by this jolting experience called “Heartbreak”. An opportunity to look around you and search for a new reality, a new life, a new way of thinking, a new piece of life you had not noticed before. “When one door closes, another opens”.
If you are struggling with seeing the joy and love in your life or you are experiencing a combination of some of the symptoms describe here, please contact a professional to assist you in assessing your options to find the love and joy in the world.
Healing begins inside of YOU. Once you understand yourself from the inside out, you choose differently and create a life that changes on the outside.
You may contact me if what I have shared speaks to you and you would like to explore healing options.
~ LeAnn O'Neal Berger, M.A., LMFT
2007 - 2011 Copyright LeAnn O'Neal Berger, M.A., LMFT