Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Boundaries, those invisible lines of protection you draw around yourself, let people know your limits on what they can say or do around you.

When personal boundaries are too weak, too soft, you’ll allow others’ actions to harm you. When they’re too solid, you’ll build walls. But boundaries that are just right make for good relationships.

The problem is, it’s not always clear where our boundaries are or need to be. It’s helpful to start by learning to recognize the signs of ignored or ineffective boundaries, as these “symptoms” give clues to the needed boundary. See if any of the following ring true for you.

Aloofness and distance. When you are fearful of opening your space to others, or when you build walls to insure that others don’t invade your emotional or physical space, this may be a defense against cruel behavior, abuse or neglect that you allowed to happen. A person with healthy boundaries draws a line over which they will not allow anyone to cross because of the negative impact of its being crossed. They recognize their right to say, “No!”

Chip on the shoulder. This kind of attitude declares, “I dare you to come too close!” and is often the result of anger over a past disregard of your physical or emotional space by others. Healthy boundaries mean you are able to speak up when your space has been violated, leaving you free to trust that you can assertively protect yourself to ensure you are not hurt.

Over-enmeshment. In this game, the rule is that everyone must do everything together, and must think, feel and act in the same way, without deviation from group norms. Healthy boundaries acknowledge that you have the right to explore your own interests, hobbies and outlets.

Invisibility. The goal here is not to be seen or heard so that your boundaries are not violated. Healthy boundaries are in effect when you stand up for yourself. Others can learn to respect your rights, needs and personal space.

Disassociation. If you “blank out” during stressful emotional events, it results in you being out of touch with your feelings and unable to assert your limits. Healthy boundaries allow you to assertively protect yourself from further hurt and to choose to end relationships with those who will not respect them. With healthy boundaries, you can begin to feel your feelings again.

Smothering and lack of privacy. When another is overly concerned about your needs and interests, or when nothing you think, feel or do is your own business, it can be intrusive into your emotional and physical space, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or like you are being strangled. Healthy boundaries ask that others respect your uniqueness, your choices, your autonomy.

Here are some strategies for applying limits when your boundaries are intruded upon:

  • Calm yourself and take deep breaths.
  • Remember your right to set limits.
  • In a firm and composed manner, tell the other person how you feel.
  • Communicate clearly what your limits are, especially when you are extending a new boundary.
  • Ask the other person to respect your boundaries.
  • Make decisions about the relationship according to how the other person responds to your requests

The Answer Is Not Better Productivity and Efficiency

Does the thought of doing absolutely nothing for an entire afternoon seem as wasteful as throwing a week’s worth of groceries out with the garbage?

But there are bills to pay, you might say to yourself. I’ve got to get the laundry started. Oh, and return those screws that were the wrong size. While I’m out, I should stop by Costco and then drop off those boots that need new heels. And the garage is just sitting there, waiting to be cleared out…how can I just do nothing?

Free time with nothing to do can generate near panic if you’re chronically overloaded and time-starved.

“We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture,” says Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul. “Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.”

And yet, the harder we push, the more we need to replenish ourselves. As Stephan Rechtschaffen, author of Timeshifting, says, “Each of us needs some time that is strictly and entirely our own, and we should experience it daily.”

The importance of this downtime cannot be overstated. We see more clearly, we hear more keenly, we’re more inspired, we discover what makes us feel alive.

On some level, we know this already. But claiming time to ourselves— time that is often labeled “unproductive”—and sticking to it can be difficult. We need to establish formal boundaries around our idle time to ensure that others—and we, ourselves—honor this time. Some ways to do this are:

  • Make a date with yourself. Get to know someone who deserves your attention—you.
  • Stand firm. Learn how to say “no” to co-workers, children, a spouse or a friend. In just a short while, you can say “yes”; now is your time.
  • Be clear about your needs. It’s not, “I need more time to myself.” It’s more like, “I’d like to spend 20 minutes by myself in the morning before everyone gets up.”
  • Be on the lookout for stolen moments. Use a canceled dental appointment to sit on a park bench watching pigeons.
  • Practice doing nothing. “Doing nothing” is an art, and like all art, you need to practice it to reach your highest potential.

How we define idle time varies by individual. For one person, gardening may be meditative downtime, whereas for another, it is one more item on the to-do list (to be done as quickly as possible). A walk through the woods is, for some, an opportunity to be in and with nature; for others, it’s a great place for a power walk while dictating letters into your phone.

Our idle time should be like a beautiful flower: it has no purpose– it’s just there–yet it refreshes us and reminds us of nature’s glory.

Do something that has no purpose other than joy. Take a half-hour a day to surprise and delight yourself. Keep it simple, and keep it consistent.

There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself happier, kinder, more inspired— and more successful with all that you do

We tend to focus more on gratitude and giving thanks in the fall. Consider, however, all there is to be grateful for every single day.

  1. Color. Sunsets, Gauguin paintings, green peppers, blue eyes. Imagine a world without color.
  2. Beauty. What do your eyes feast on? What splendor makes your soul rejoice? It is all around us every day. How often do you stop to drink it in?
  3. Music. What inspires you, lifts your mood? Rock & roll, African drumming, violin concertos, Turkish ud, gospel? A nightingale?
  4. Young children. They model for us innocence, faith, resilience, playfulness and unconditional love.
  5. The ability to learn. There is no age limit on learning. When we stop learning, we really stop living.
  6. Opportunity. It’s our steady companion, and it’s always ready to take us down a path yet unknown. (Hint: We just have to say “Yes!”)
  7. The plant world. From the productivity of a late-summer tomato plant to the delicate unfurling of a fern, nature’s exuberance and tenderness is something to behold.
  8. The ability to give. Every act of love benefits the giver as much as the receiver.
  9. The senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—daily miracles each of them.
  10. Change. It’s unavoidable; the only constant. Change can be unsettling or challenging. But the mystery of it and what lies beyond it can keep us young at heart.

Too much to do, too many places to be, too little time to do it all. It’s like our national anthem.

In all areas of our life—home, work, school—we are increasingly imprisoned by the perception that time is a scarce and limited resource. We rush from one commitment or activity to another and believe that we haven’t a minute to spare. We yearn for more time, yet we often feel anxious and guilty when idle.

Is this how life is supposed to be?
No! Nor does it have to be.
But until we change our relationship to time, our lives will continue to speed away from us—at enormous cost to our health and to direct experience of ourselves and the world around us.

“There is no issue, no aspect of human life, that exceeds this in importance,” says Jacob Needleman, author of Time and the Soul. “The destruction of time is literally the destruction of life.” Read the rest of this entry »

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