Some Thoughts on Boundaries

In working with clients, the concept of boundaries comes up frequently.  Although we are all told to have “good” boundaries, the concept is actually quite nuanced.  This article speaks to one way of looking at boundaries.  I encourage you to do your own research and talk to others as you discover for yourself what your “good” boundaries are.   

At its foundation, boundaries are our rules of engagement, our yeses and our noes.  Who and what we let into our inner spaces and who and what we keep out.  On a continuum, boundaries can keep us walled off from others or they can be so porous as to allow others too much access.  Some boundaries are dynamic and some are more fixed.  

Three functions of boundaries that we teach at PCS include:

  1. Define us…boundaries grant a clarity about ourselves and allow us to celebrate the differences with others
  2. Protect us…boundaries grant self-care choices and protection physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, financially, etc.
  3. Contain us…protects me from you and you from me through mature containment versus impulsivity of emotions and/or behaviors.  

Any kind of boundary violation in our lives has an emotional impact on our personhood.  

Violations may present as a physical or sexual violation or verbal or emotional abuse. Boundaries are an assertion of how we allow others to treat us including the full range of comments we will accept and internalize from others.  These boundaries keep us emotionally safe and healthy in our relationship with others.  

With good boundaries, we feel secure, grounded, and able to cope.  We are able to set limits and say, “no.”  We take responsibility for our own feelings, choices, and actions.  We remain true to ourselves and attempt mutually satisfying compromise that respects the needs of those with whom we are in relationship.  It is important that we know ourselves, have healthy self-esteem, and knowing what we value in life.  One tool I use to check my boundaries is Marilyn Murray’s Circles of Intimacy, Responsibility, and Impact (For more information please see Murray, M. (2017) The Murray Method, Vivo Publications).  This tool helps us to make decisions that reflect healthy boundaries and priorities in our lives.  Ms. Murray teaches that our first priority is to know and care for ourselves spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally.  We and our higher power are in Circle #1. “One of the primary purposes of a healthy Circle #1 is to enable you to serve and give to others out of health, not through exhaustion or illness. (p. 194)” The other circles represent our relationships with others and other aspects of our life from more to less intimate. “Your responsibility to and for others directly relates to their position in your circles. (p. 196)”

One of the most important things to remember in creating an appropriate boundary is to know and trust yourself. Both your conscious and subconscious mind know what is best for you. When you get that weird feeling in your stomach, DO NOT DISREGARD IT. Your gut has many important things to tell you! In the movie The Sandlot, Babe Ruth was definitely thinking about setting appropriate boundaries when he says, “Follow your heart kid and you can never go wrong.”  Your life needs to be dictated by you, you need to be the only one writing your story. 


I was much younger — much less patient. My oldest daughter was 4 years old. We were driving into a light rain in spite of a bright sun, running to the store after a particularly frustrating day. Turning a corner, stretching across the sky directly in front of us, was a beautiful, full rainbow. It brought a smile. I quickly pointed it out to my daughter, who appeared confused by my excitement. She did not see it. Now I was confused. I pointed it out again, so obviously filling the sky in our front windshield. “I don’t see it.” I became frustrated knowing that she can be a little oppositional, saying, “Look right in front of us. It’s right there.” Still, nothing. We pulled into the store parking lot, and a bit exasperated I insisted, “There!” As I said this, I pulled off my sunglasses… the rainbow disappeared before my eyes.

In relationships, it is tempting to forget that our perceptions are shaped by the lenses we wear. These lenses are not so easily removed like sunglasses, but they need to be recognized, regardless. Lenses that shape us include family or origin, trauma, emotional resources, financial resources, communities, faith, education, genetics, and opportunities. When we fail to acknowledge our influences we can be judgmental, harsh, demanding, and lack empathy. However, when we understand how we have been shaped by life circumstances, we not only empower ourselves to be intentional about who we want to become, but we also can be more empathetic and understanding of others who do not share our experience.

When you find that you are at odds with someone important to you, first slow down. Take a minute, draw a deep breath and remember you care about this person. Second, acknowledge that you see the situation differently and reframe it as interesting rather than evidence of right or wrong. Third, get curious, asking clarifying questions, stretching yourself to really understand their perspective. Fourth, express empathy. This act of care creates safety in a relationship, and when we feel safe, different perspective seem less threatening. Finally, reaffirm your love, care, or friendship, even in the face of disagreement. Ultimately, acknowledge that you have a life lens and so does each person for whom you care. Acknowledging those lenses leads to a path to greater understanding, connection, and intimacy.

Giving Thanks After Tragedy- Personal Account

The holiday season is upon us. It’s a time when people traditionally reunite with their loved ones, share the year, and remember the good times. It’s a time of year that I love. Because I love my family.

Earlier this year, we suffered the loss of my cousin. He was nearly three years old when he died. At the time I was travelling abroad and was unable to return to the States. When I got to my room that night I was greeted by the phone alerts that everyone fears when they are not close to home. “You there? Please call now”. Everything else from that night is a blur now.

My family is not very big on my dad’s side. My great grandma, my grandparents, me, my step-mom, my dad, my uncle and aunt and their kids. We’re a tight nit group. I suppose I was the most far flung of the group. I was always out of the state or the country, or living with my mom. But it was never that big of a deal. One thing was for sure – we always came together on Thanksgiving.

For my family, Thanksgiving is the event of the year. We meet as a group, we cook a magnificent amount of artery clogging and delicious food, and we enjoy the company. Our memories every year are sweetened by our many traditions, and often it is one of the few times I get to see everyone together. For the longest time I was the only kid in the group. My dad is the older brother, and my uncle took his sweet time starting his family. It’s a given that kids get spoiled by everyone. I enjoyed my time, and when my cousins came into the picture, I did my best to give them a similar treatment.

I can’t remember a time when Thanksgiving wasn’t impervious to the outside world. I have nothing but fond memories of it. But this year I’ve been having a hard time looking forward to the day. I suppose it goes without saying that I never expected something like this to happen to my family. I guess everyone who loses a young family member says something like that.

This Thanksgiving will be the first without my youngest cousin. It’s hard to think of any other label for it. And because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about giving thanks.

Even to me, it seems a little cliche. But for those who are looking at a holiday season that has been forever changed by some tragic event, sometimes it feels like the world has turned inside out, upside down. So I feel comfortable thinking for awhile on something I have heard hundreds of times in my life. Giving thanks for what you have.

After the storm is over and you are left with the new and different world, it is easy to take refuge in the past. Of course, there will be times when it is utterly impossible not to remember. But the more I think about it the more I feel there are two ways to remember.

The first feeds your fear, your sadness. It is to remember from a world that is scarred. To see a hole that cannot be filled. It is the memory of the wounded and confused. I could describe it in a thousand ways and still go on. It fills your chest and weighs you down. This is the way of remembering that comes naturally. But it isn’t the only way.

The second way is the way I’d like to be remembered when I die. Fondly. Even now when I write this I’m tearing up at the memory of my cousin. But not because I’m sick with worry or anger anymore. But because I’m remembering the few times we met in peace. It fills me with a different emotion. The drive to make the world better for kids like him. The empathy for those of you who feel like I do. But most importantly, the concrete knowledge that I am thankful for and to my family.

I don’t expect to have the same kind of thanksgiving that we used to have. I’m sure there will be tears. But suddenly I’m not dreading it. I miss my family and I want to be with them, come hell or high water. We will all feel different. But at the end of the day, we are faced with an unchangeable fact. We can let it drag us down, or we can turn it towards something good. It’s a reminder that will be with me for the rest of my life. And I intend to shape it into a force of good.

I’m not sharing to bring out the tears, or to put a damper on the holiday season. To the contrary. Let me add to the roar of voices already shouting one thing: be thankful for your family, your friends, or those you share your life with. Whatever and whoever they are, remember their strengths and weaknesses, their virtues and their flaws. These are the things your memories are made of. Be thankful you are around to experience and share with them.

And for those of you who are like me; those of you who are facing a new kind of Thanksgiving or a new world, please remember fondly. Don’t regret for the lost. Enjoy for them. Don’t dwell on what could have been. Forge your life into a better one. Improve the lives of those around you. And don’t forget to give thanks for the people you share your time with. Have a happy holiday season!


From Marcus Earle

Thanksgiving and spending time with family tend to be synonymous in our culture.  While some look forward to seeing their family, others may get together out of obligation and some may have nowhere to go.  

In some homes or restaurants stories, laughter, games, watching sports, giving back to others, or another tradition fill family members with a sense of belonging, comfort and joy.  This is certainly the experience so many hope for each year.  

Those spending time out of obligation do so for various reasons.  Perhaps they have not felt valued in their family and have not had the courage to speak up for themselves.  Others may want to avoid the conflict or the emptiness that spending time with family may bring.  Some have been unable to envision doing something different for self when the expectation is family is together over Thanksgiving.  Certainly, there are many other reasons than those just mentioned.

There are also those who are not going home.  Maybe because they do not have one (i.e. they are homeless), their family is gone (e.g., death or live far away), or relationships are broken due to neglect, abuse, and/or addiction.  

If you are privileged to belong to a family which looks forward to and enjoys time together, perhaps consider adding someone new to your celebration who does not have a place to land for the holiday.  For those who feel obligated, perhaps this is the year to step back and decide what is in your best interest.  Perhaps considering what needs to change so you either have a voice and make sure you are heard or choose to have a different experience over the holiday (e.g., serving at a foodbank, asking to join another family, or spending time with those less fortunate or alone).   Those with no family may consider the previous and/or work to develop a new family experience with those they love.  There are many more choices than those just mentioned, including just spending the day relaxing on your own.  

No matter what you choose for your holiday experience, like our young writer expressed in “Giving Thanks,” remember to take notice of what you are grateful for this time of year.  When it includes others, make a point to share with them what you appreciate.    

Tolerance Day – The Power of Perspective

November 16 is recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Tolerance. From its inception in 1995, Tolerance Day has been used as an opportunity to learn new cultures and increase understanding between people with diverse backgrounds.  Understanding and appreciating the unique perspectives we encounter every day is key to a fulfilling and satisfying life. By living in the United States, we have a unique opportunity to engage with a diverse array of people.

Tolerance Day serves to remind us that sharing ideas is not always a pleasant and cordial experience.  For some, the word tolerance is linked with the idea of acquiescing – of giving up or giving in to an idea they may not completely agree with. In fact, the words tolerance and tolerate may suggest enduring or even resisting something.

Perhaps, then, it is better to think of tolerance as an exercise in perspective. Remaining open to truly hear another’s perspective is the very essence of understanding others and the path toward developing tolerance. It is an educational experience and can affect how you see the world.

Even if what you hear, however, does not mesh with your personal worldview it is an opportunity for an energized and stimulating conversation.  Often, the temptation is to give in to our anger and create an argument.  This generally reflects our fear of difference and what that mean to our beliefs and life.  Most people form their opinions the same way you do: from a combination of experience and reflection. To treat another person’s ideas as foolish or to dismiss them is to disrespect their journey and shut down conversation.

To properly digest another perspective and approach new ideas tolerantly try these three steps:

  1. Honest, attentive listening
  2. Attempting to step into another’s experience
  3. Accepting difference and learning from it

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is not just plugging a different view into your own life; it is an explorative process that is best honored through multiple valuing conversations. It is a state of mind, and one that is rewarding and beneficial.

Check out these three Tolerance Day or Perspective themed resources and try it for yourself!

Explore the great work being done around the world for the International Day of Tolerance!


Author Chimamanda Adichie speaks about finding her “cultural voice” by exploring a variety of different perspectives.


PCS therapist Ken Wells shares his poem “The Dance We Always Ever Done”.

The Dance We Always Ever Done
We all do the dance that we always ever done
Whether adult or child
The trance has its Sway
Mamma doesn’t know why daddy leaves or where he goes
we learn to ignore what’s unmistakable and warmly embrace what’s improbable
Cause we all do the dance that we always ever done

From our head we know what’s Right
in our heart we are weak-kneed in the night
So we coddle compromise and dandle with determination to avoid
the reality of pain and the invasion of grief-
we simply do the dance that we always ever done

People are keenly aware and know what to do
That’s not our problem.
Yet, somehow to escape the doom, the gloom and leave no room
for one to question or ponder the possibility of peace that comes through surrender and sweet submission—
We would rather go to war—
Make someone the enemy—
preserve our hegemony—
Because we always do the dance that we always ever done.

Sound bites of wisdom are popular without review
Arrogance is king
pompous, flamboyant discourse – nothing new.
Critical thinking is scarce—reflection and consideration-are overlooked, fragmentary and very sparse—
like a mouse in a cage running around frantically in search of different thought— Still— countries continue to war and migrants are distraught
Even so– we all do the dance that we always ever done

He swears that he has always loved her-
She screams ‘then why do you flirt and chase skirt—
It makes me feel more alive than I know I really am is his response
I’ve never had to face any consequence
That’s why I always do the dance that I’ve always ever done

Oil is drilled deep
We the cost of discovery very steep-
Standing Rock is convulsing-fighting for its very life
its warriors peacefully protect and elders grovel and weep
We fret the price per barrel will stay extremely cheap—
While glacier and polar bear disappear—
Is anybody anxious? Does anybody fear?
No! No!- there is no time for tear—
Cause we got to always do the dance that we always ever done

Michael Brown is down—all crumpled on the ground-he lay still in the street—
He’s been lying there for such a long time-
A pool of blood is his blanket
Death’s coldness wrapped around his feet.
Senseless violence from those sworn to protect
Domination and hatred is what we’ve come to expect —
What do we say to their families?
whose lives are broken with grief and deeply stunned-
Only the hollow rumbling-
that this is the dance we’ve always ever done.

So what does it matter?
How do we tie all of this together?
Just what is this dance that we’ve always ever done?
the focus on thrill – to always have self indulgent fun-
Give me some more of that Almighty grace
Leave no trace?  Just give me my space.
To look out for me and to hell with you—
Doesn’t matter what it costs— just do what you do
to the end fill your coffers- don’t worry ‘bout those who have none
This is the tragic dance that we always ever done.

Uncertain Futures: 4 Tips for Handling This Election

Win or lose, celebration or shock, the 2016 US election has been called. In the near future this country is in for a significant change in leadership, and it makes sense many people are unsure of how to deal with the news. Whether or not you are happy with the outcome of the election, we must move on and live our lives.  

Fear for the future is something most people experience during the course of their lives. When such a significant event seemingly takes choice away from you, it is easy to feel suddenly lost. If you are disappointed, it may feel impossible to communicate with those who are celebrating. For people excited by the results, it may seem that suddenly you are a target for scorn from the other side and are being stereotyped.

At the end of the day, taking time to contemplate what this shift in leadership may mean for your life, those you care about, and the rest of our country seems fitting. Whether you are left feeling defeated or victorious, this moment in our history merits deep and respectful dialogue between more than one hundred million individuals who voted. Below are four tips for every side to consider:

1. Healthy Expression of Feelings

Notice and honor the feelings you are experiencing, especially fear (refer to tip 3). Even in celebration, fear may still be percolating under the surface.  Reflect on the reality that many share your feelings and work to reach out to them. Focus on your own hope or pain and create boundaries in conversations to avoid shifting into attacking or blaming others. This will only distract you from nurturing your own feelings or the feelings of those you are sharing with.  

Remain mindful of the temptation to lash out at others, and consider the possibility those “on the other side” may share some of the same fears as you, but are expressing them differently.  It is reasonable to assume they fear for their future and for the future of their loved ones.  Sharing from a position of vulnerability creates a context where people are heard and understanding can grow. If you need time to calm down, take it. Involve yourself in those things which feel nurturing or a find a healthy way to express the joy you may be feeling.

2. Take a Break From TV and News

In recent months election coverage has become almost universal. It is easy to feel trapped by the constant barrage of information. Now that the big event is over, it may be time to disconnect and remember there is life away from the news.  Have you stopped doing things you loved? Have you put new goals or hobbies on hold? Now is the time to dock yourself firmly in your own life.

Turn off the screens and enjoy the things that endure. Hike your favorite trail. Meet with someone you cherish. Cook your favorite meal. Indulge in relaxation, personal fulfillment, or games. Remind yourself that even though everything seems so momentous in the news, there is a smaller space you live in, and your life is waiting for you.  

3. Examine Your Fears

Regardless of whether you agreed with the outcome or not, it is certain that this election season has witnessed significant anger. For many, even favorable results do not banish all of the questions they have about the future. It makes sense you may be worried or afraid. But these fears are more than just a source of anxiety. They are an opportunity to learn about yourself.  The things you worry about are sometimes the things that are most important to you. Examining your own reaction to big events is an excellent way to become more self informed. Of course, you don’t have to do it alone.

Find a friend or family member who will listen, value, and discuss your fears. You may find just giving voice to your worries reduces your stress. If they persist, there are always more options.  Do not let your fear remain in your head, restrict your breathing and affect your mood. Find a way to take action and become involved in contributing to a change which honors your ideals and respects differences in others.   

Counseling may be another option for those emotions which seem beyond our control. Whether it seems overwhelming or you believe it is insignificant – if it is affecting you in a way you don’t like, your counselor can help you cope!


4. Build Conversations, Not Arguments

This may seem like an obvious statement, but it also seems to be the one that most people have trouble with. Even on the news today people have trouble engaging in a five minute conversation without resorting to insults or yelling. Starting arguments or one sided conversations such as gloating and blaming are counterproductive, especially for the person who started it.

Instead, once you have examined your own feelings and decreased some of your emotional energy, begin to learn about the people you have been pitted against by the election. Remember they are your neighbors, family members, friends, and coworkers. If it is appropriate, you can expand your own knowledge base by letting the opinions of others in.

Of course, patience may be required on your end, but one who listens and considers another person’s opinions honestly will always come out better. If you like what you hear, your own thoughts may evolve, and if you do not, you have an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Be a role model for yourself and find peace. Who knows, maybe others will take your lead.

© Psychological Counseling Services