Words Are Windows  (or They’re Walls) 

By Ruth Bebermeyer
I feel so sentenced by your words,
I feel so judged and sent away,
Before I go I’ve got to know,
Is that what you mean to say?
Before I rise to my defence,
Before I speak in hurt or fear,
Before I build that wall of words,
Tell me, did I really hear?

Words are windows, or they’re walls,
They sentence us, or set us free.
When I speak and when I hear,
Let the love light shine through me.
There are things I need to say,
Things that mean so much to me.

If my words don’t make me clear,
Will you help me to be free?
If I seemed to put you down,
If you felt I didn’t care,
Try to listen through my words,
To the feelings that we share.

Source: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg

Ten Laws of Boundaries

Law #1: The Law of Sowing and Reaping

Understanding that you reap whatever you sow sets up the boundaries between individuals to regulate their prospective futures. Also it helps codependent people, who break boundaries in their loved one’s lives, to rebuild a right relationship.

Law #2: The Law of Responsibility
Everyone is necessarily responsible for him/herself. Being responsible means sharing with others but also setting limits on other’s destructive and irresponsible behaviour. We can choose to treat others the way we would want to be treated, but that does not mean being one another.

Law#3: The Law of Power

We have the power to confess, ask for help and yield, seek ourselves, be repentant, humble, and make amends to injured ones. This brings fruits of victory. Also, boundaries help define what we do not have power over-we can not change others. However, we can change ways to deal with them so that their destructive patterns no longer work on us.

Law #4: The Law of Respect

If we condemn others’ boundaries, we expect them to condemn ours, which sets up a fear cycle inside that makes us afraid to set the boundaries that we need to set. If we love and respect people who tell us no, they will love and respect our no.

Law #5: The Law of Motivation

Giving should be motivated by love and lead to cheer. A lot of doing or sacrificing is not motivated by love but fear instead, such as, the fear of loss of love, fear of others’ anger, or fear of losing the “good me” inside. Many people’s giving is motivated by guilt, payback, approval, and over identification with another’s loss.

Law #6: The Law of Evaluation

Dentists hurt you but do not harm you. Sugar does not hurt you but harms your teeth. Evaluating the effects of setting boundaries, causes pain and hurt by confronting people. But if we do not share our boundaries with another, bitterness and hatred grow, which leads to harm. So speak truthfully, don’t harm, but accept pain when it is necessary.

Law #7: The Law of Proactivity

Proactive people are able to show you what they love, what they want, what is their purpose, and what they stand for. On the contrary, reactive victims feel rage and powerlessness who may suddenly go ballistic, or become stuck in a victim mentality for the rest of their life. Rejoin the human race you have reacted to establish connections as equals where you are able to use the freedom reacting to love, enjoy, and serve one another. You need to practice and assertiveness that does not need to act this out, but expresses your feelings.

Law #8: The Law of Envy

Envy focuses outside of our boundaries onto others. Boundary-less people feel empty and unfulfilled. They look at another’s sense of fullness and feel envious. Is it truly your desire? If so, this time and energy needs to be spent on taking responsibility for the lack, and then doing something about it.

Law #9: The Law of Activity

A bird must peck its own way out of the egg into the world. We have boundary problems because we lack initiative. Our boundaries can only be created by our being active and aggressive, by our knocking, seeking and asking. Trying, failing, and trying again is called learning, but by failing to try, evil will triumph.

Law #10: The Law of Exposure

Boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them in a relationship. Boundaries that exist and affect us, but are not communicated and exposed directly, will be communicated indirectly or through manipulation. This is the path to real love: communicate your boundaries openly. 

Excerpt from Boundaries (1992), chapter 3:boundary problems, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Writing Can Help Us Heal from Trauma

Even as we inoculate our bodies and seemingly move out of the pandemic, psychologically we are still moving through it. We owe it to ourselves – and our coworkers – to make space for processing this individual and collective trauma.

In the face of recession and racial and economic disparities, some are “dis-incentivized to speak openly and honestly about their stress and frustration” out of fear-or guilt according to Ashley Whillans, a behavioural psychologist at Harvard Business School. She recently surveyed 44,000 remote workers in 44 states and 88 countries to study how the pandemic is affecting workplace attitudes and behaviours.

Some cope by adopting a relativism approach, comparing themselves to people who seem to be worse off. We know the virus’s impact has varied physically, socially, and economically; Those who’ve suffered profoundly-whether they’ve lost income, loved ones, well-being-may not wish to chat about it casually with others for fear that those who didn’t experience that level of loss and are now rushing to parties and vacations and can’t relate. But what may be difficult to express out loud can be readily given voice through writing.

Why does writing intervention work? While it may seem counter-intuitive that writing about negative experiences has a positive effect, some have posited that narrating the story of a past negative event or an ongoing anxiety “frees up” cognitive resources. Research suggests that trauma damages brain tissue, but that when people translate their emotional experience into words, they may be changing the way it is organized in the brain.

Writing That Heals

Expressive writing is expansively defined as writing that helps us make sense of our thoughts and emotions. Expressive writing can take myriad forms, including journaling, memoir, poetry, opinion, or thought pieces.

In the telling, such writing transforms the writer from a victim into something more powerful: a narrator with the power to observe. In short, when we write to express and make sense, we reclaim some measure of agency. The difference between a victim and a survivor is the meaning made of the trauma. This type of immersive, reflective writing process can help us piece ourselves back together after even the most unimaginable times. In writing our stories, we retain authorship over our lives.

Practice It on the Page

1. Don’t hold back. Without overthinking, write down words, notes phrases, sentences whatever bubbles up when you think about dramatic moments from your pandemic experience, moments that have stayed with you, pleasant or unpleasant. Set a timer for ten minutes, keep your hand moving, and “free-write” in response to a specific prompt.

2. No detail too small; no feeling too large.To get to the feelings and truth of your experience, let your mind go to the detailed, specific moments. You might find that the smallest detail brings out the largest truth or feeling. Make room for all of that, and capture your experience in its vastness and depth.

3. Reach for revelation. We may have learned about what matters, what doesn’t, or what gets us through. Reach for those lessons as you write. Humans are meaning making machines, and writing is a natural way to get there.

The Only Way Out Is Through

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Thinkers from Freud to Brené Brown have since popularized the idea that there is strength in embracing our vulnerability. When we use writing to lay bare our truths, we remain protagonists in our lives, rather than victims of circumstances beyond our control.

Writing expressively can also lead us toward hope. The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is-it’s to imagine what is possible. We can write our pandemic stories to remember, to honour, to render visible, to witness, and to envision ourselves whole again.

Let’s not merely write our way out; let’s write our way into the new.

Published in Harvard Business Review by Deborah Siegel-Aceveda on
July.1st, 2021

Boundary Problems
Compliant: Saying “Yes” to the Bad

Robert was trying to understand why he had so much difficulty refusing his wife’s constant demands. “I was the only youngest boy in my family. My sisters were three to seven years older than me. They’d take advantage of their size and strength until I was bruised. The strangest part of it all was my parents’ attitude. They’d tell us, ‘Robert is the boy. Boys don’t hit girls. It’s bad manners.’ Bad manners! I was getting triple teamed, and fighting back was bad manners?” He had unearthed part of the reason for his conflicts with his wife.

When parents teach children that setting boundaries or saying no is bad, they are teaching them that others can do with them as they wish. They are sending their children defenceless into a world that contains much evil. To feel safe in such an evil world, children need to have the power to say: “No.” “I disagree.” “I choose not to.” “Stop that.” “It hurts.” “That’s bad.” Blocking a child’s ability to say no handicaps that child for life.

Adults with handicaps like Robert’s have this first boundary injury: they say yes to bad things. This type of boundary conflict is called compliance. Compliant people “melt” into the demands and needs of other people by minimizing their differences with others. The inability to say no to the bad is pervasive in keeping from recognizing evil and realizing too late that they’re in an abusive relationship.

This happens for a number of reasons: Fear of hurting other person’s feelings; Fear of abandonment and separateness; A wish to be totally dependent on another; Fear of someone else’s anger, punishment; Fear of being shamed, being seen as bad or selfish, being non spiritual; Fear of one’s overstrict, critical conscience. This last fear is actually experienced as guilt. People who have an overstrict, critical conscience will condemn themselves for things God himself doesn’t condemn them for. As Paul says, “Since their conscience is weak, it is defiled” (1Cor. 8:7). Afraid to confront their critical internal parents, they tighten appropriate boundaries. This fear of disobeying the harsh conscience translates into an inability to confront othe—a saying yes to the bad—because it would cause more guilt.

Matthew 9:13 says that God desires “compassion, and not sacrifice” (NASB). In other words, God wants us to be compliant from the inside out (compassionate), not compliant on the outside and resentful on the inside (sacrificial). Compliant people take on too many responsibilities and set too few boundaries, not by choice, but because they are afraid.

Avoidant: Saying “No” to the Good

Rachel had been the driving force of the Bible study. Caught up in her leadership role, however, Rachel never opened up her struggles. Tonight Rachel finally spoke, “After hearing all the other problems in the room, I think the Lord’s speaking to me. He seems to be saying that my issues are nothing compared to what you all deal with. It would be selfish to take up time with the little struggles I face. So… who’d like dessert?”

No one spoke. But disappointment was evident on each face. Rachel had again avoided an opportunity for others to love her as they’d been loved by her.

This boundary problem is called avoidance: saying no to the good. It’s the inability to ask for help, to recognize one’s own needs, to let others in. Avoidant withdraw when they are in need; they do not ask for the support of others. Why is avoidance a boundary problem? At the heart of the struggle is a confusion of boundaries as walls. Individuals with walls for boundaries can let in neither bad nor good. God designed our personal boundaries to have gates. We should have the freedom to enjoy safe relationships and to avoid destructive ones.

God even allows us the freedom to let him in or to close him off: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20) God has no interest in violating our boundaries so that he can relate to us. It is our responsibility to open up to him in need and repentance.

Yet, for avoidant, opening up to both God and people is almost impossible. They experience their problems and legitimate wants as something bad, destructive, or shameful.

Some people are both compliant and avoidant.

Marti laughed ruefully at herself. “I’m beginning to see a pattern here. When someone needs four hours with me, I can’t say no. When I need someone for ten minutes, I can’t ask for it. Isn’t there a transistor in my head that I can replace?” Marti’s dilemma is shared by many adults. She says “yes” to the bad (compliant) and says “no” to the good (avoidant).

Individuals who have both boundary conflicts not only cannot refuse evil, they are unable to receive the support they so readily offer to others. They are stuck in a cycle of feeling drained, but with nothing to replace the lost energy. Compliant avoidants suffer from what is called “reversed boundaries.” They have no boundaries where they need them, and they have boundaries where they shouldn’t have them.

Excerpt from Boundaries (1992), Chapter 3: Boundary Problems, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Mastering Our Anger
Some people believe that when they are cruelly provoked, their anger is something that just happens to them that is beyond their control. Even worse, popular notions suggest that once we get angry, it’s dangerous to bottle it up; when we get “hot” or “steamed,” we have to “vent,” or we’ll suffer high blood pressure and continuing stress. However, there are two huge problems with such beliefs: First, they’re simply wrong (Tice & Baumeister, 1993), and second, they promote behaviour that may actually cause higher stress that lasts for longer periods of time (Olatunji et al., 2007).

Because it takes effort to control and manage angry emotion, people often “blow off steam” by directing furious, fuming behaviour at their adversaries (or, occasionally, at innocent third parties). Releasing our ire is supposed to make us feel better, but that simple- minded notion ignores the interpersonal consequences of surly behaviour. “When you ‘let out’ an emotion it usually lands on somebody else, and how you feel—relieved, angrier, depressed—is going to depend on what the other person does” (Tavris, 1989, p. 145). Sometimes, the targets of our wrath accept our anger, apologize, and strive to remediate their sins. But in close relationships, where people expect generous and tolerant treatment from each other, aggressive displays of anger often just get our partners angry in return. And then there may be two irate people fussing and sniping at each other in a churlish interaction that perpetuates, rather than reduces, the anger in the air.

The bottom line is that “expressing anger while you feel angry nearly always makes you feel angrier” (Tavris, 1989, p. 223). People who lash out at their partners in the heat of anger often stay angry longer and suffer more cardiovascular stress than they would if they behaved more moderately. By comparison, when we gain control of our anger, calm down, and then voice our complaints in an assertive but less heated fashion, we more often get understanding and cooperation from our partners and are more likely to get what we want. The belief that it’s a good idea to vent and blow off steam when you get angry may seem like common sense, but it’s actually common nonsense (Lohr et al., 2007).

So, how can we manage our anger? Because irritation and resentment are signs that something is wrong, we shouldn’t ignore anger and pretend that it doesn’t exist. But it’s usually wise to reduce the venom and fury we dump on our partners, and there are several ways to do this (Tice & Baumeister, 1993). First, we can think differently. Anger is inflamed by perceptions that our partners acted negligently or maliciously, so the attributions with which we explain some annoyance are key. When you feel anger coming on, consider why your partner may have behaved that way without wishing to injure or annoy you; rethinking the event may keep your indignation in check (Finkel et al., 2013). It’s also helpful to pretend that you’re a “fly on the wall,” watching events unfold from a dispassionate, third-party perspective; any anger will seem more remote if you do (Mischkowski et al., 2012). Second, if you do get angry, chill out. Don’t engage in infuriated interaction. Leave the room, take a walk, and count to 10 (or 10,000). Take no more than six long, slow, deep breaths per minute and you will calm down, more quickly than you think, especially if you stop rehearsing the injustice in your mind. Finally, find humour where you can. It’s impossible to feel jocular and angry at the same time, so anything that lightens your mood will decrease your anger (Yuan et al., 2010).

All of this is easier said than done, and some people will need to “practice, practice, and practice alternative responses” before they can reform their angry habits (Notarius et al., 1997, p. 245). The time to rehearse is when small annoyances occur, and it’s very helpful when both partners are involved. And the good news is that destructive anger can be overcome; “if you each try to help the other person master a new way of dealing with anger, and do this repeatedly, you will find the old patterns giving way to change” (Notarius et al., 1997, p. 246).

Excerpt from Intimate Relationships (seventh edition, 2015) by Rowland S. Miller