Building Personal Boundaries

Know Thyself

The environment naturally creates boundaries that clearly delineate where one ecological system begins, another ends, and where two or more systems intersect or overlap in points of convergence. A shoreline is a simple demonstration of natural boundaries that demark land from water and water from sky or air. When you begin to take note of your local natural environment, you will find several examples of boundaries that can help you to deepen your understanding of an important clinical concept referred to as a personal boundary. Where your counselling, coaching, or treatment goals include improved self-care, strategies that build your personal boundaries will become greater.

One of the most exciting aspects of a personal emotional journey is the depth of self-knowledge that you will discover anew. Partnered with a seasoned and skilled clinician, recovering from emotional injury, an episode of mental illness or addiction, or trauma is possible. People do recover emotionally, and so can you. Depression, anxiety, post-trauma stress disorder are all treatable conditions.

Although social media and digital technologies have facilitated new and exciting ways to meet people, many individuals are feeling more and more anxious and depressed about work, personal and social relationships, and a growing reliance on substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or videogaming to cope. There are no real limits to the online world. The world wide net or internet is available 24/7, easily accessible, and open to people from around the globe. The integration of digital tools and the internet or intranet into all aspects of work, school, and community has lengthened the work day offering employees to log-on and complete tasks from earlier in the day or week. It has also made it easier to bring more and more of your work into your home, and perhaps, your social recreational time.

As you learn to navigate a virtual world without limits, the need to create personal boundaries has grown exponentially. You may experience a loss of self-confidence that results from poor limit setting on your time, or personal information shared online, or dating apps. Often denoted as “real” relationships, friends are individuals with whom you have spent some time getting to know on a face-to-face, or heart-to-heart basis. Relationships, like people are fickle things. Sadly, more and more people are experiencing changes in “real” friendships based on comments, or posts made online. There is a growing number of young people who have suffered emotionally due to the social exclusion created by the phenomena of cancel culture and ghosting. The depth of emotional injury caused by extreme forms of ostracization is evident in many young people seeking counselling support and treatment. These are particularly damaging social behaviours that signal a young person’s need for support and guidance around moving forward without “old friends”.

The pandemic has expedited the world’s adoption of virtual platforms and technologies in all areas of life including professional, academic, medical, and community-based services. The promise of technology continues to offer the work world increased flexibility and efficiencies. It also increased your risk to work longer hours and to over-disclose personal information. These techno-risks do become negative habits that may spill-over into your social media use and in-person social skills as well.

Cultivating a clear personal boundary evolves over the course of your life. It requires a sound understanding of what you need, want, and deserve in life. Drawing a line with people in your life who regularly correct, challenge, or criticize you is a good thing. Where people sharing your life journey lead you down an all too familiar road that results in self-doubt, an erosion of self-esteem, or diminished self-worth, then it is likely time for change. A dead end friendship, like a dead end street cuts you off from the joys of everyday living, your inner gifts, and from exploring and growing in new and enriching ways.

You will know when it is time to strengthen your personal boundaries by the ways you feel. Trusting that lingering self-doubt after a gathering of friends is a simple indicator that one or many of your friends or co-workers may have gone too far in their treatment of you. It is worth taking the time to create some distance from people who regularly wound your core values, belittle projects or events that you hold in high regard, take your support and care for granted, or nurture your needs and wants far less than you deserve. Putting a pause on relationships that you feel are too demanding, overwhelming, taxing, or needy will allow you the space and time to gain clarity on what might be going on.

You may discover that you have engaged in co-dependent dynamics with many of your close friends over a number of years, habitually putting your friends’ needs before your own. During this period of pause, you might engage in books written on co-dependence, emotional abuse, early emotional trauma and attachment disruption, such as Jackson MacKenzie’s Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse. In this book, the author re-introduces an ancient idea that by discovering your own inner light and peace, you no longer require other people to enjoy your life fully and to feel good.

By healing your inner emotional injuries, your personal boundaries will fortify thereby reducing or preventing further injury by people who regularly transgressed them in the past. By accepting and trusting your feelings fully, you will grow to identify roads that lead to health, wellness, happiness, generosity of spirit, and good will.

Do. Think. Feel Well.

Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW

Take a Sensory Break

How to know when enough is enough

The human nervous system is a sophisticated, if not miraculous system of neural pathways that impacts all aspects of health and wellbeing. The past two decades have been an exciting time to work in mental health and health related fields. Science of the mind research has revealed what many practitioners have intuitively been using for years to help in processes of healing. Functional Imaging MRI & CT scans have provided photos of the brain’s electrical activity when engaged in regular tasks of daily living or a battery of prescribed tests. In order to understand the science behind your physical body, “bio-system terminology” has been created to categorize the body according to the related-functions that each system performs, such as digestive, cardiac, and neurological systems. For example, neurotransmitters technically belong to the neurological system, and hormones belong to the endocrine system. However, a neurotransmitter may act as a hormone in different parts of the body thereby serving two significant yet discrete functions overtime.

It is easiest to understand the complexity of the brain and the ways that it interprets multiple internal and external stimuli at any one time as a complex system of roads and highways that intersect and cross-over throughout your body. Each thought in your brain actually triggers a bio-chemical release that travels throughout your body via the spinal cord and its intricate neural pathways that immediately impacts your “senses”. The exciting aspect of this confirming research is that people do indeed have the capacity to cultivate new or different pathways in the brain that grow healthy and well-response patterns instead of habitually negative thoughts or self-harming behaviours.

You will know the impacts of your thoughts by how you feel. In short, learning to trust and honour your feelings is truly the first step on your journey of healing. So, when you have a thought about a particular person, event, situation, or memory that troubles your mind and body, then it may be time for you to meet with a licensed or registered mental health clinician or professional counsellor. Professionally trained and experienced therapists can help you to identify your habitual thought patterns and what to do to remove or diminish the distortions that cause the ruminative & obsessive features in your thinking.

The human body is naturally designed to protect you. The self-preserving feature of human life, and perhaps to a degree all carbon-matter is an essential component of evolution. Cognitive distortions occur in response to elevated negative sensory experiences in a manner designed to distract you from the real stressors you face in your everyday life. Once you identify the ways that your emotions and/or senses distort your thoughts, you can master evidence-based strategies proven to balance your perspectives and restore your rational problem solving skills to deal with everyday problems.

So, how will you know when “enough is enough”? Your feelings will instruct you. City dwellers are mostly familiar with unusually high level of sensory experiences required to get through a typical work day. Communities within well-designed cities like Toronto have naturally thriving parklands, parkettes, paths, and walks-ways that are easily accessible on foot or bicycle. Building in regular sensory breaks throughout your day is a perfect way to buffer the sensory assaults that many of you navigate on a daily basis. A 20-30 minute walk or bike ride each day offers your body, mind, and spirit a refreshing dose of wellness that heals, restores, and sustains good health over the long term.

Trust when you need a break from the stressors in your life, and enjoy the gifts of nature that surround you.

Do. Think. Feel Well.

Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer, Owner

The World’s Entrust in Human Hands

Several years ago, I had the profound opportunity to go “whale watching” off the Nova Scotian shoreline from the Bay of Fundy. Many of us squeezed onto a relatively small traditional sea craft designed for day’s jaunt out into the deep cold blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Years earlier, we had tried a similar adventure off the coast of Newfoundland without much luck. The Bay of Bulls was rugged and gorgeous and littered with Puffins tucked along the cave-like crevices outlining the shore. But during this first attempt, no whales were willing to come to the surface of the water for a breath or a visit.

We were very lucky to spot a family of North Atlantic Right Whales during our second attempt! Most especially, we were all graced by the playfulness of a mother and her calf who decided that our small group of people were worthy of exploration. At the time, it truly seemed as though the mother whale had spotted us. She made the decision to “come a little closer” to the now rocking boat as everyone watched in quiet amazement.

The captain of this small ship had turned off the motor and allowed the boat to sway in unison with movement of the waves. The quiet rocking captured the curiosity of this fierce and beautiful sea creature who swam with her calf about half of a kilometer from our location to take a closer look at the curious human creatures aboard.

After several moments of what seemed to be looking at the boat and the people, the mother and her calf began to swim, shallow dive, and show off their tale flukes. In the generosity of spirit that we are sometimes fortunate to experience firsthand in life, nature entertained us freely and with what seemed to be joy!

Mother and calf swam and chased each other playfully, and we all felt the harmonious impact of nature firsthand. I will always treasure these moments and feel privileged to have had this and several other similar opportunities in the wild.

During the 1990’s, many North Atlantic Right Whales were trapped in high seas fishing gear innocently suffering injury and death due to what is now understood to be a natural intellectual curiosity of this ancient mammal with whom humanity shares the earth.

As you continue to cope with Covid and the restrictions to your everyday freedom caused by infection control rules and regulations, you might find that yourself reflecting more about the health of our planet. These are certainly big ideas that may result in you feeling overwhelmed, or guilty for not recycling enough, or sorting your garbage properly, relying on fossil fuel, or more.

The call of nature is truly an overpowering and beautiful one.

Covid also sprang up from a series of natural factors that together wreaked havoc on people on a global scale. The pace at which this virus spread and continues to spread is worrisome. It provides all of us with cause to pause and re-evaluate what we hold most dear in our world. It also gives us cause to consider our collective impact on the health of the planet and the many creatures entrusted to our care.

Take some time this week to look at your old photo albums, and pictures from your adventures in nature. It is a practical and effective way to reclaim some of those feelings you had when you engaged in these experiences, and will help to remind you what life will be like again once covid is a thing of the past. It might also inspire you to contribute to a program by volunteering or donating your support.

If you find that you are feeling more depressed in response to persisting stay at home orders, please reach out to a professional counsellor for help. Processing your feelings is a healthy and effective way to maintain your wellness through Covid.

We care how you feel.

Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW