boundaries

How to Know When it’s Time to Talk About Your Feelings

I’m sure you expect that as a therapist, my advice is always going to be to talk about your feelings. But honestly, there are times when that just becomes exhausting and unhelpful. I’m a huge believer in talking about our feelings! When it’s going to be helpful. And a lot of the time it is. But how do you know if it isn’t?

Unfortunately, most of us don’t talk about our feelings enough.

And that’s definitely not good either. If you are upset about something or your feelings are hurt, it is 100% going to affect the way you interact with that person if you don’t hash it out. And I know, I know, saying 100% is quite the claim, but I feel confident in that assessment. Feel free to let me know if you’ve seen otherwise. . .maybe I’ll say 98% to be safe ;-).

So it makes sense that the majority of the time therapists are screaming from the rooftops to talk about your feelings with your loved ones.

Most of the time that is probably the right answer. It’s just that sometimes it isn’t.

Take this story as an example. Imagine that you had a really long day. Work was so busy that you barely had time to pee, so naturally, eating was out of the question. You drive home through traffic and you can almost feel your blood pressure rising. You breathe through your frustration, but despite your best efforts, you can tell that your nerves are fried.

By the time you get home you just want to shovel food into your face and sit down. But when you walk in, your husband doesn’t move from the computer. What you really want is for him to acknowledge your presence, and make some pretense of giving a shit that you may have had a hard day. But he doesn’t. He grunts from in front of the computer. Doesn’t even really turn his head. You feel a burning pit of resentment get stoked deep in your chest. Silently, you stomp your way into the kitchen without so much as grunting back, and find snacks. Halfway through the bag of pretzels, you realize that actually your husband is kind of cute. And now he is talking to you and asking about your day. Suddenly you realize that you may have been more hungry than genuinely resentful. Would it have been nice for him to be a bit more responsive when you walked in? Probably, but it certainly isn’t something that you feel you need to gripe about. Your day was already long enough, and he’s being pretty solicitous right now.

This is a prime example of a time that it would not have been helpful to talk about your feelings (especially not in the moment). You were able to move through the feelings quickly and easily, and while it might be helpful to say a quick sentence about greeting you when you come home, before you’ve eaten and after a long day probably isn’t the ideal time to do it.

And honestly, this is just one of many examples of times that talking about your feelings isn’t really going to make anything better.

So yes, most of the time talking about your feelings is the right thing to do. But if you’ve ever opened a can of worms that made things worse than when you started by trying to do the “right thing” and talk about your feelings, then you know this isn’t always the best thing to do. If you follow these steps, you will have an ironclad grasp of when it makes sense to say something, and when it might make more sense to just hold your tongue. When we figure this out, you will notice that when you do choose to talk things out, it makes much more of an impact, and then the rest of the time you can enjoy way more of the time with your people.

TALKING ABOUT FEELINGS FEELS LIKE A CHORE

The thing is, if you keep talking about every little emotion that flits across your consciousness, you are eventually going to burn out. For a while you might be able to keep it up, but it won’t be long before you decide that it’s too much work, and although it may be the “right thing to do”, you just don’t have the energy. The upside of this is that things that genuinely need to be talked about end up getting ignored because you used all your energy talking about how the dishes need to be placed in the dishwasher in a more organized fashion. This gives the real issues more time to fester, and no one wants that.

COMMUNICATING WHAT MATTERS

If you can talk about the stuff that really impacts your quality of life and relationship, you get to expend your energy on conversations that really matter. This means that you get to enjoy more of the time with the people in your life, and don’t develop festering resentments. You can feel closer to the people in your life, and feel good about the way you are standing up for yourself, too.

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LEARN HOW TO TELL WHEN TO TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, AND WHEN TO LET IT GO

You may be feeling bogged down by the pressure of always talking things through. . .always trying to be open and vulnerable, and frustrated that you aren’t getting the results you want in your relationships. The key is to use your energy purposefully. That means learning when it makes sense to talk about your feelings, but also when it might make more sense to work through your issue on your own. Read on to learn easy to follow steps to determine when to talk it out, and when to wait it out.

ASK YOURSELF THESE FOUR QUESTIONS

The main issue here is that we are telling people to talk it out, regardless of the circumstances. Even good advice is bad advice if we aren’t talking about when and how to use it. It makes sense that you’re feeling exhausted by emotional discourse if you have no qualifiers to indicate that it’s the tool you want to use. So let’s talk about how to make sure that the energy you expend on being emotionally communicative actually increases your quality of life and relationships.

Question #1: How upset am I right now? Am I capable of having this conversation productively?

Here’s the thing, when we are the most upset is when we feel the most urge to talk things out. But there’s a problem. Maybe you can spot it. When you are the most upset is the exact time that you are the least capable of having a productive conversation. If you ask yourself how upset you are, and the answer is very, please, postpone this conversation for a time that you are going to be more emotionally available.

With my clients, we spend time identifying the signs and signals that we are beyond being able to productively communicate, and then we identify skills to initiate these conversations later on.

When you learn to discuss important issues only when you are emotionally available you will notice that your discussions (notice I didn’t say arguments) are shorter, less frequent, and more productive. Seriously. Do this.

Question #2: Who is this person that I’m upset with? Who are they to me and what is the nature of our relationship?

This one is a bit more complex to discuss. But the major point stands; if this person is very important to you and you have a close and important relationship, then they are worth more of your energy investment to keep the relationship healthy. If the person is not as close or important to you, it might be more of an energy drain to try and discuss the your issue. You may choose instead to either cut off the relationship, set boundaries that protect you without discussing the emotional information behind your decisions, or to change the nature of your interactions moving forward. As you can see, there are many different ways to handle a situation where you are upset by the actions of someone else. But here is the most important thing I’m going to say about it: not everyone is worth your openness, and not every relationship is owed your emotional vulnerability. I can’t tell you how often people try to have healthy, purposeful communication with people who just aren’t an important part of their lives. And usually it is not particularly cathartic or productive.

Together with my clients we identify what we want out of the relationship, and we do thought exercises about how useful we feel different types of communicating would be. This often helps my clients to hone their communication to be most appropriate to the circumstances. This helps my clients to feel confident and empowered when they are entering challenging conversations or handling uncomfortable situations.

Question #3: How long am I actually going to be upset about this?

One of my personal rules is to wait a good 24-48 hours before I talk about things I’m upset about so that I can determine if the thing still matters to me or not. If you are going to be upset about something for only a couple days, having a conversation that lasts hours might not be a good use of your time.

On the flip side of this, if you don’t talk through something but you still notice a shitty feeling every time you think about it, this is definitely not helping you or preserving your relationships.

Getting to know your unique “tells” for when something is going to bother you for a while versus when something is really just a minor inconvenience is something we can make some real progress with in therapy.

Question #4: How are you going to feel if the conversation doesn’t go well? What are the consequences?

Guys. . .this is so important. This isn’t even really talking about when it would or would not be advantageous to the relationship for you to discuss an issue or not. It’s more about taking care of yourself and making sure that you are going to be okay no matter what happens.

This is what I tell my clients. Consider your emotional state. Now walk yourself mentally through the experience of having an unsuccessful encounter. How are you? Are you angry and disappointed but you’ll take a bath and drink a glass of wine and get over it? Or are you devastated? Is this the kind of feeling that you will be able to process through in a matter of hours? Or is it going to take you days or even weeks to bounce back?

The thing is that even if it is the right thing to have the conversation, it doesn’t make sense to talk about it unless you know that even if it goes to hell you are going to be okay on the other side. That doesn’t mean that the outcome doesn’t matter to you. It doesn’t mean you’re going to feel good if it goes to shit, it just means that you’re going to be okay even if the conversation doesn’t. You can’t control the other person. That means you can’t control the outcome of the conversation. Having these talks is only the best option if you are in a place of strength inside yourself and you will be able to get through the hard stuff.

Learning when and how to talk about your feelings is honestly quite the task. Talking about things too much can be exhausting and unnecessary, while keeping your feelings inside can be really destructive both to your sense of self and also to your relationships. Learning how to differentiate is as easy as asking yourself four simple questions. Therapy can help you explore your feelings and relationships so that you can feel good about your choices to engage or not.

If you feel lost in how much to share in your relationships, I can help you sort through it. Email me today to schedule your free consultation.

How to Set a Boundary with Someone You Care About

Setting boundaries can be really scary. For one thing, you may not be able to trust yourself to set the boundary in a way that feels good to you. Even more than that just the idea of hurting their feelings is enough to make you cringe away from the very idea.

It’s just that when we don’t set boundaries regularly, things build up.

You may think you are preserving the relationship by not saying anything (you’re strong enough to deal with it, right?), but what actually ends up happening is that when you finally get fed up and set the boundary it comes out of you in. . .let’s just say not the most ideal way.

I see this cycle play itself out for so many clients. The client wants to be kind and forgiving not make waves. So they don’t set any boundaries. At first it feels fine. Little by little things start to feel more aggravating. Eventually a small thing feels like a big problem and the client gets snappy, or loud, or mean when they set the boundary. The person the client set the boundary with feels like the client lost their shit for no reason.

Nothing the client said was heard.

They end up feeling not only like boundary setting doesn’t work because no one listens, but they also end up feeling ashamed of the way they handled the situation. Unfortunately, this causes the client to swing all the way back to being passive and not setting any boundaries out of guilt. And the cycle continues; no boundaries with building aggravation swings to aggressive boundary setting, which leads to shame and guilt about boundaries.

Here’s one way it can play out. Imagine for a moment having a mom that you love very much but she drives you up the wall regularly (far fetched, I know). You appreciate her and like to talk to her regularly, but it seems every time you talk with her she seems to feel like she needs to tell you something else that she thinks you need to take care of or do differently. It makes you feel like you can’t relax around her, and often you end up cutting your time with her short.

Honestly there’s a part of you that feels really good about the fact that you don’t lose your temper with her, but you are starting to realize that the time you spend together doesn’t feel good and your relationship has been feeling more superficial and forced. One day when she makes another one of her comments you just can’t stand it anymore, and you end up snapping at her and telling her to get off your ass! But now her feelings are hurt, and you feel like a jerk.

So you feel like an asshole, your mom’s feelings are hurt, and you certainly don’t feel closer to her or like you protected the relationship.

All you ended up doing by not setting the boundary in the first place is ensured that the way you set the boundary was not the way you would have wanted to communicate with your mom.

If you can’t set boundaries and feel like things go to hell when you try, you end up avoiding the people you care about.

Look, boundaries are hard.

Finding the balance of making sure you communicate what you need in a way that is kind and neutral is hard. It’s really normal to feel overwhelmed by boundary setting. A lot of people end up just trying to suck it up (until they blow up) or avoiding the whole deal in the first place.

Difficulty with boundary setting can make you feel touchy and maybe even make you feel crazy sometimes for blowing up. If you can learn, step by step, how to set a boundary that is not dependent on how the other person responds, you can start to trust yourself to handle these situations more smoothly. When we follow these simple steps for how to effectively set a boundary, we can start to feel more in control of our communication, and we can feel heard in our relationships.

Keep reading to learn how to feel comfortable and more confident setting boundaries today.

Why bother? No one listens anyway.

The worst thing about not setting any boundaries is that your only options are to avoid people you care about or lose your temper when you can’t stand it anymore. This means you either lose intimacy in important relationships or end up feeling like a lose cannon.

At the very least you end up feeling like what you need doesn’t matter and you have to “suck it up”.

Living like this is not fulfilling at best and frustrating at worst.

Be in control of the way you communicate in relationships.

Although you struggle with the guilt that comes with knowing that you are going to hurt the feelings of someone you care about if you set a boundary, you have the potential to feel calm and in control of the way that you are communicating.

You can communicate your boundaries in a way that enhances and protects your relationships.

When we choose to set boundaries in a way that empowers us to communicate what we need with no strings attached, with recognition that we don’t get to affect the way that what you say is received or responded to, you can finally feel ready to take on your relationships in a more honest and authentic way.

This is an opportunity for you to communicate kindly and effectively so that you can feel empowered and authentic in your relationships, regardless of how capable the people in your life are at respecting your boundaries.

How to Set Boundaries Kindly and Effectively

boundaries relationships communicating no one listens authentic communication

Yes, you might be feeling frustrated with setting boundaries and communicating your needs in relationships, but the key to feeling empowered and authentic in your relationships is to set kind and consistent boundaries. It is scary to think about communicating things that are possibly upsetting to people you care about, but it feels a lot better when you can trust yourself to communicate in a way that you can feel good about. When you follow this simple, step by step path, you will start to notice that you can be more authentic and kind in your relationships.

Take a look at these steps to see how you can feel more authentic and comfortable communicating in your relationships.

Authentic, Consistent Communication

One of the main reasons you struggle to communicate your needs to the people who are important to you is fear of hurting their feelings or upsetting them. It makes complete sense that you feel guilty for making things worse or hurting the relationship when every time you try to set a boundary it ends up in flames. But it doesn’t have to stay this way when you start implementing authentic, consistent communication.

1) Identify the common thread

When you are regularly getting upset in one of your relationships, the first step is to try to understand what it is that is happening, or what you feel is getting communicated. It’s really easy to just act as though these are stand alone experiences that you can get over. When you start to pay attention, though, you’re probably going to notice that there is a theme. Maybe you get upset when you are given unsolicited advice. Maybe what really gets to you is when people flake out on plans. Maybe the really hard thing is when you feel like your feelings are dismissed.

Whatever it is, it is very likely that it happens often in the same relationship.

In sessions we will examine the instances when you feel that your boundaries were crossed or your needs weren’t met by the people in your life. We will explore other times when you have felt similarly and then find the common thread together. What we are looking for is what actually upset you and why you don’t like what happened. It’s not usually enough to just know that you didn’t like that the person was late to meet for coffee, but it is more helpful to be able to say, “I don’t feel like you respect my time.”

When you are able to identify the common thread in the instances of being angry or upset with a specific person, it will enable you to communicate more fully and precisely what it is that isn’t working and what you need next time.

2) Communicate honestly, and kindly

The two issues that I see most often that are impeding communication are either not communicating honestly or fully (“Of course I don’t mind!”) or communicating aggressively because we have waited until we are full on pissed before we said anything. Ideally we want to communicate what we don’t like and why, what we need to be different next time, and how we will react if this trespass happens again. We want to do that as neutrally and kindly as humanly possible, so that regardless of how the other person reacts, you can feel good about what you said and how you said it.

I recognize that this is very difficult. This is why in session I support my clients not only in identifying what they want to say, but also practicing how to phrase it.

We identify potential ways to respond if the communication isn’t received well, and we walk through step by step identifying how to respond in different scenarios.

This is a really important part of the process. If you can identify and feel good about how you are going to respond if your boundary is received really poorly, you are empowered to engage in the relationship only in a way that feels good to you. This is a big deal! You get to feel good about your boundary, what you said, and how you said it, regardless of the way that the other person responds to you.

3) Be consistent

This is where things fall apart for most of us. We wait until we feel like it’s a big deal before we say anything. We let it slide. We say we’re not going to put up with it anymore but then we do. In a lot of ways it is easier to just not deal with it until it feels like a big deal. The issue with this is that you will notice yourself either avoiding your relationships, or blowing up every so often when you want to set a boundary. This is why you end up feeling like no one respects your boundaries. Because you aren’t enforcing your boundaries, and that is the bulk of the work.

When you schedule a session with me I will talk with you about what boundaries you might be overlooking and how that might be impacting your relationships. We will explore what happens when you decide to let things slide, and together we will determine which boundaries you feel you need to start enforcing, and which you feel can be put on the back burner for a while.

You don’t have to take on every issue in every relationship, but when you make the decision to take it on, it’s good to stay consistent.

Make sure that you know exactly how you will respond when your boundary isn’t respected and then you and I will hold you accountable (gently and kindly of course) for staying consistent in the way you handle it.

Adding this boundary setting technique to your life will help you feel more in control in your relationships. You will notice that you don’t feel as though you have to censor yourself quite so much because you trust what comes out of your mouth. You will start to notice that you get to be more authentic in your relationships because you are comfortable with what will happen if someone doesn’t like what you have to say.

Being able to set boundaries in a kind and consistent way can be invigorating.

You absolutely can feel authentic in your relationships and still take care of yourself.

Therapy can help you to sort through what is and isn’t working in your relationships, and identify exactly how you would like to handle it from now on so that you can feel empowered and confident moving forward.

Schedule a free consultation now.

3 Ways to Tell You Need More Boundaries

Relationships are hard. Trying to find the balance between being there for the people who matter to you and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself is like walking a tightrope.

Having to deal with relationships is a constant in your life. If you know how to tell when you need more boundaries and how to use that information to take a step closer to your loved ones, your relationships can be a source of comfort and connection, rather than a source of conflict and stress.

Unnecessary and fruitless arguments can leave you feeling exhausted and discouraged. Staying in contact with people you genuinely like and enjoy can start to feel like a chore if you don’t feel like you can say “no” when you need to, and through all of this it is all too easy to feel like giving up on the whole venture.

You may have even decided that avoiding everyone is the only answer, only to eventually give in and start talking to everyone all over again.

Going back and forth between holding no boundaries at all and then feeling like you need a complete break from everyone can give you some figurative whiplash.

You end up feeling like your relationships are always on again off again, and frustrated that no matter what part of the cycle you’re living out, you don’t ever seem to be actually happy with it.

Consider your relationship with your parents, for instance. I know for many people our relationships with our parents is a prime place for this dynamic to play itself out.

Imagine that you schedule dinner with your parents once a week. In the beginning everything is great! It’s nice to be able to catch up, and since you moved out you just haven’t been hanging out that much. They are super supportive and excited about everything you're doing in school.

It makes you wonder how you have ever thought that they didn't care or ask real questions about what is going on in your life. Weirdly enough, you really look forward to these weekly dinners.

But then you get busy. Finals are a couple weeks away, and the mountain of homework you need to do is only growing. Your parents stress how important it is for you to take breaks, but they don’t seem to understand everything you have to do. It's not that you aren't mentioning how busy things are getting. It just feels like they don't hear you, and if they do they don't care.

You drop a bunch of hints about how much there is to do and how little time you have, but they just don’t seem to get it, and they are still talking like you’re going to come over this week for dinner. You go, but you are terse the whole time; irritable.

You start snapping at them with the smallest provocation, and find yourself wondering if you ever really made any progress in dealing with your anger.

When you finally leave you shake the evening off and silently determine that you aren’t going to put yourself through that again. It's true that you used to take your anger out on others, but you've worked your ass off to learn how to chill out. Then one night with your parents and here you are again.

You don’t like the person you are when you’re around them, and they just don’t get the kind of pressure you’re under.

You end up avoiding them to try and avoid something that is true about yourself, rather than learning how to interact differently with your parents so that you can feel respected and appreciated, and still get to have your time with them.

Does this sound familiar? You start engaging with people you care about and it feels good, because the relationships are important. But when you need some flexibility you don’t feel like we can ask for it.

You end up doing what is expected of you and hating it the whole time.

You have such a bad experience that you decide that the relationship itself isn’t worth having to feel that again, and you shut out people you love. It doesn’t have to be that way. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have relationship with your parents in a way that feels good to you?

Look, boundary setting is hard. It’s hard to even really determine when a boundary is necessary. So we end up lonely half the time, and smothered the rest of the time.

When we are learning to set boundaries, it is really common to feel like you are swinging wildly from one extreme (getting walked on) to the other (maintaining strict and inflexible boundaries that keep you isolated).

So then, the very first part of the work is to determine where you are on that spectrum, and what to do about it.

It’s true that navigating relationships is really hard. However, if we can learn to tell when we are lacking boundaries we can start to feel comfortable and connected in our relationships.

When we learn when we need to set some more boundaries, and get some practice at using them effectively it is absolutely possible to enjoy our relationships. Keep reading for 3 surefire ways to figure out if it’s time for you to be setting more boundaries in relationships and a good next step.

Don’t let guilt and anxiety make your relationship decisions.

Like it or not, relationships are a huge part of your life. If you continue to allow your relationship choices to be directed by your guilt and anxiety, you will end up in relationships that don’t meet your needs. While you may feel like that’s ok now, your feelings will make themselves known. If you don’t communicate with intention, your feelings may come out in a way you don’t feel good about.

If you don’t end up losing your shit and feeling like an idiot, you will likely end up emotionally distancing yourself from people you care about. The ironic thing is that this ends up harming the very same relationships that you are trying so hard to preserve by meeting their needs. As counter intuitive as it may seem, setting boundaries saves relationships.

Living this way is just not sustainable. Your relationships feel like chores and responsibilities, and you are in a constant state of vacillating between beating yourself up for not being “there” for people in the way you think you should and avoiding them altogether.

You can get your needs met in your relationships know when you need better boundaries.

Although you feel compelled by guilt to put yourself aside and focus on the other people in your relationships, you can absolutely take care of yourself and only engage in your relationships when you really want to.

If you can set boundaries from an intentional place you can feel closer and more connected to the people you love. If you can get more comfortable and noticing the signs, you will notice that you can identify when to start setting some more boundaries and enjoy your relationships more.

boundaries healthy relationship communication

3 Ways to Know that It’s Time to Set More Boundaries in Your Relationships

You are feeling lost in identifying when you need to set more boundaries in your relationships. The key is to learn to pay attention to the way that you feel about the relationship. When you think about learning to identify when you need to set more boundaries, it may seem completely out of reach.

What you are neglecting to consider is how much information can be gleaned from paying some attention to how you are feeling and acting in the relationship. Take a look at these 3 signs that indicate that it’s time for more boundaries in your relationships so that you can enjoy being around the people you care about.

Take a look at these 3 signs that indicate that it’s time for more boundaries in your relationships so that you can enjoy being around the people you care about.

1) You Notice That You’re Feeling Resentful

Your feelings serve a purpose. If you are noticing that you are starting to resent spending time with someone, or feeling bitter about the effort or energy you are expending on them, it is a sign that you don’t feel like your needs are getting met in that relationship.

It makes sense that you would be feeling resentful if you are putting a bunch of time and energy into doing what someone else wants or expects of you if you don’t feel that you are getting what you need.

Identify The Perceived Expectation and the Outcome of Not Meeting It

When you notice that you are feeling resentful, it’s time to do something to protect your energy. This is a good time to take a step back. See if you can identify what you feel the expectation is and what you fear will happen if you don’t meet that expectation.

If you decide to try counseling, this is something we can do together. When you are able to identify what you fear will happen if you don’t do whatever it is you feel is expected of you, you can make an empowered decision about how to go forward.

2) You Find Yourself Being Passive Aggressive

If you notice that you are being passive aggressive, it is likely that you feel like you need to communicate something that has made you angry. If you don’t feel like you are allowed to communicate openly without creating a really big issue, then passive aggressiveness becomes the only way to get your needs met.

Communicate Openly and Explicitly, Why You Are Upset

I know it’s hard, but communicating explicitly almost always has better outcomes. If you are being passive aggressive it is completely possible for no one to actually understand why you are upset. At least if you are open about what you need and what upset you everyone is on the same page.

Together with my clients I identify the passive aggressive behavior, explore what might have triggered that response from you. We then practice communicating the anger in a way that the client feels good about so that there’s not a need for the passive aggressive behavior anymore.

3) You Notice Yourself Avoiding People You Care About

Avoidance is a really common way of dealing with relationship issues. Sometimes that means we are just avoiding a challenging conversation, but other times it might look like staying late at work so you don’t have to deal with your spouse when you get home.

It makes sense that if every time you have tried to bring up things that are bothering you you have been met with resistance and anger you would learn to avoid the whole deal.

Bring Up the Elephant in the Room

If you just flat out identify that you are feeling avoidant because you don’t trust that what you have to say will be well received, it is the beginning of a conversation instead of the end of a relationship.

There is, of course, no guarantee that what you say will be received well, and certainly it is a difficult thing to hear and uncomfortable to talk about, but talking is a step above not talking.

Your relationships are not going to get better by not talking.

When you schedule a session with me we will identify a good starting place to open the lines of communication. We will practice different ways to have these difficult conversations in session and identify how you would know if it is a good moment to bring it up or not.

I can help you to start to bridge the chasm between you and your loved ones.

You can increase the intimacy in your relationships and enjoy the people in your life again. You can absolutely feel relief from the expectations you have been holding yourself accountable for.

Together, you and I can identify the signals that it is time for you to set some more boundaries. Then we can take it step by step to identify how to set these boundaries in a way that feels good to you and respectful of the people in your life.

Call me today for a free 30 minute consultation.

Call or email me today to schedule an free 30 minute consultation to see if we can heal your relationships.