The Healing Process

Birdbath in the gardenIt only takes a few minutes to hurt someone, but sometimes it takes years to repair the damage.

I work with clients on a daily basis who are still trying to heal from emotional, mental, and physical wounds inflicted upon them years ago. Of course, we can look at a woman who has been beaten by her spouse and say, “Well obviously, she has wounds she needs to heal from,” but rarely do we look at the obese mother, or acne-covered teenager, or socially withdrawn co-worker and wonder, “What happened to them?”

Typically, our first response is, “you eat too much,” or “you should take better care of your skin,” or “just lighten up,” instead of going to that space of compassion and understanding. I am a strong believer in the idea that what you see physically is the final manifestation of deep-seeded anger, guilt, or self-loathing.

The obese mother may be coping with the fact that she was teased relentlessly throughout her college years by friends and family when she gained the “Freshman Fifteen.” What most people see as a joke, or light teasing, she took to heart, and from that point forward began building a wall – literally – around herself so that the hurtful words wouldn’t hurt so much.

In the case of the acne-ed teenager, maybe he was told by someone, (usually a person of importance) that he was ugly and would never be good-looking enough to “get the girl”. Again, he internalizes this statement, gets angry but doesn’t show it, and it ends up on his face in the form of bright red spots.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

When I work with clients who are carrying old hurts, we often begin with the straight facts of the story. Then we dig into the emotion of the situation. How did they feel? How did they react at the time? What choices did they make – consciously or sub-consciously – as a result of the situation? Did they even realize that they were still carrying this hurt?

Once we can begin to identify the cause, then we can begin to heal the pain, and ultimately release the words that have harmed us for so long, allowing us to become more light-hearted, free, and loved individuals.

So be kind. You never know what type of damage you might inflict upon others – or for how long – and that can be a heavy burden to carry for the person on the other end.

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Boundaries are a Good Thing

Boundaries are necessary for effective communicationToo often boundaries are considered constraints, which in a sense they are but in counselor-speak,  they also provide the necessary framework for effective communication, essentially creating a set of ground rules for everyone to follow.

Individuals often tend to fall into one of two categories when it comes to defining boundaries: givers and takers – neither of which have healthy boundaries in a dysfunctional relationship. Givers, also known as victims, worriers, or yielders are basically approval-seekers. They don’t want to “rock the boat” so they allow Takers to manipulate, meddle or deceive to get what they want.

The goal of boundary setting, however, is to integrate giving and taking so that both participants in a relationship – whether it’s parental, romantic or platonic – feel good about the outcome and understand why they are giving AND what they are getting.

For example, if you tell your friend that you are only available to see a movie on Saturday and they make arrangements to see a movie on Sunday and you agree without protest, knowing that you had other commitments for Sunday, you will likely spend the entire movie stewing over what you should be doing and silently getting angry with your friend for making plans on Sunday. If this happens enough, it will eventually cause problems in the relationship because you haven’t explained your boundaries to your friend.

However, if you held firm to your boundary and explained why you couldn’t see a movie on Sunday, (and possibly suggested an alternative,) the anger would have no foundation and problems in the friendship could be avoided.

Everyone needs boundaries, some more than others, but in the end, knowing what is or isn’t acceptable, expected, or appropriate is one of the foundations of  civilized society.

Don’t go overboard, but make sure to communicate what is or isn’t okay with you – and be willing to compromise. You just may find you experience less conflict with those around you.