Episode 96: Pushing Past Our Fears About Setting Boundaries with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Episode 96: Pushing Past Our Fears About Setting Boundaries with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
In this week’s episode, Alyssa continues the important discussion from last week surrounding boundaries. Pulling from Nedra Glover Tawwab’s book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, this week’s discussion centers on the following:
- Different ways people might react to setting boundaries
- Why we are often afraid to set boundaries
- How we can push past our fears around setting boundaries
Nedra Tawwab’s Instagram: @nedratawwab
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Alyssa Scolari [00:00]:
Hey everybody, what’s up? Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I’m your host Alyssa Scolari, talking about boundaries today. This is the part two of a series that we are doing on boundaries. In the first episode, which if you haven’t listened to, I highly recommend you go back and check that out. In that first episode, we talked about what are boundaries and why do we need them, why are they so important. We also talked about the different types of boundaries: porous, rigid, and healthy. And we also talked about some of the biggest areas in which people tend to struggle with boundaries the most.
Alyssa Scolari [01:08]:
As I mentioned in last week’s episode, so much of this information is taken from a book that I highly recommend. It is called Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Tawwab, and you can also listen to it on Audible if you’re not a big reader and you’d rather listen. I listen to the book on Audible. You can go look in the show notes, if you want access to the book, or if you want to follow Nedra on Instagram. She’s absolutely amazing therapist and does awesome work with boundaries. And I said this last week, but it is worth repeating, I personally believe that boundaries are the most important tool that you can have with you, not just for healing from trauma, but throughout your entire life.
Alyssa Scolari [01:58]:
That being said, I also personally believe it’s one of the hardest things to do, and it brings up a lot of feelings for people. I feel like I should probably say that. It’s really, really hard, particularly for survivors of trauma who have been taught that our needs don’t matter. And again, I speak about all of this in the last week’s episode, so feel free to go and check that out if you haven’t already. That being said, if you haven’t listened to it, I don’t think that you necessarily do need to listen to it in order to benefit from this episode. I think you can kind of just dive right in today with the rest of us.
Alyssa Scolari [02:39]:
So just some housekeeping things. I actually know, I started off last week’s episode by talking about how I had gone no contact with my family. I know that I’ve been talking for the last couple of weeks about how I’ve been struggling a lot with depression, and then some things happened and I went no contact with my family and just wanted to follow up and say that I am hanging in there. I’m doing all right. I think that I’m better than I’ve been in a long time. I’m taking space and time to grieve and to give myself grace. But overall, I think I am better than I’ve been in a really long time. So feeling good, feeling energized, excited to be out of that depressive funk. It was awful. So really excited to be out of that, really excited to just have a new kind of zest for life.
Alyssa Scolari [03:44]:
It’s been really hot here where I live, so I’ve been staying hydrated, trying to stay cool, but I’ve also gotten a chance to really enjoy the outdoors. I’ve been posting pictures on my Instagram, so if you have an Instagram and you want to go check it out, my Instagram is Light After Trauma. And our backyard is looking amazing. We have been building it into this little like oasis and we have tons of plants with really bright, happy flowers. And then we made this giant… Well, not giant, but we made this patio space and we have a little waterfall and we got a fire pit and we got furniture. And then we got string lights that hang above the patio. So at night, you sit out there with a fire on and the sounds of the waterfall and the beautiful lights, and it is just dreamy. It is so dreamy.
Alyssa Scolari [04:45]:
I have been having the most fun with David making our backyard the perfect oasis. We have a very small yard. I, by no means, want to come across as acting like we have this giant yard because we really don’t. It’s super tiny, but we have absolutely made the most of the space, and I just couldn’t be more thrilled. So I highly recommend that you go check it out. I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Alyssa Scolari [05:15]:
So that’s been really fun. And then on the EMDR front, because I have not given anyone an EMDR update in a while. So those of you who might remember, a few months ago, I had told you that I was getting ready to start EMDR. And if that is a new word or a new acronym for you, I do an episode with LCSW Melissa Parks on the podcast, that you can go check it out and see what EMDR is. It is a treatment for trauma, and it’s supposed to be a highly effective treatment for trauma, one in which you aren’t necessarily required to talk about your memories bit by bit. And it really, as far as I understand, helps to rewire your brain. I have heard from so many people that EMDR is absolutely life changing and I am starting it for myself. And if I love it and I feel that it’s really effective and really great, I am going to go ahead and then get trained in it for my clients.
Alyssa Scolari [06:19]:
Speaking of which, I am accepting new clients right now. So if you are living in the states of Florida or New Jersey, and soon to be Massachusetts, feel free, you can reach out to me. If you are interested in working together, or if you know anybody who needs therapy, feel free to reach out. I’d love to work with you. I’m excited to finally be accepting new clients, but I digress.
Alyssa Scolari [06:44]:
So back to the EMDR, I had started with a guy a couple of months ago at this point, I want to say like March and he kept… Well, first of all, he didn’t show up for our second appointment. But aside from that, he kept messing up the times of our appointments. He would text me and say, “Hey, what time are we meeting?” Like, several times. Once in a while, of course, whatever, all therapists are human, but this was several times right out of the gate when we started working together. And it was starting to stir up some abandonment stuff in me, because I’m like, why doesn’t this person care enough to write down when we’re meeting? So I ended my treatment with that person and I was really proud of myself because I didn’t just ghost. It’s easier, I think in some ways to ghost, but I actually stated very clearly what my issue was. So I was really proud of myself for doing that. And then I found another therapist that I met with and it just wasn’t a good match at all.
Alyssa Scolari [07:57]:
This therapist had said something that I found offensive, and I tried to give that person the benefit of the doubt. But then as the session went on, this person wasn’t necessarily fully listening to my answers to the questions that I was being asked. They would ask me a question, but then as I would answer it, they would be not even looking at me, on another computer, typing out the answer to the previous question. So then they would get done typing, I’ve already answered their next question, and then they would look at me and be like, “Oh, what’d you say again?” And I was like, “Ooh, ooh, I don’t… I don’t like this.” It just didn’t feel good. It’s a personal preference. I don’t like when somebody’s looking at a computer screen the whole time when I’m sharing intimate details of my trauma. I don’t like it. It makes me feel unsafe.
Alyssa Scolari [08:58]:
So I found somebody new and I met with this new person on last week, I don’t know, one day, but I absolutely loved her. There were no red flags for me. I felt comfortable and I’m really looking forward to working with this person. So I am really hoping that it works out. And honestly, this just goes to show you that you are allowed to be super picky when it comes to a therapist. I know I’ve done episodes like this in the past, but I just want to reiterate, you can and should be picky with your therapist. Do not settle. If there’s something in you, that’s like, “Hey, this isn’t quite right.” You have to go with that feeling. And because I went with those feelings in my gut, I have now found somebody who I think is going to be a really, really good fit for me.
Alyssa Scolari [09:53]:
So I’m really excited about that. So I will keep you all posted. I haven’t officially gotten into the EMDR stuff yet, but I will let you know how that process goes. It’s supposed to be really difficult and really tiring. It gets a lot worse before it gets better, but I’m really looking forward to it nonetheless. So I will keep you all posted.
Alyssa Scolari [10:16]:
Okay. So getting right back into it today, we are talking more about boundaries and just some more information why people don’t set boundaries, what the fear is around setting boundaries, and how to appropriately deal with that fear. As I talked about in the last week’s episode, there are so many reasons why we need boundaries. And people experiencing burnout and stress and conflict in their relationships, they are just a few of the many, many reasons. One thing that I did not mention last week is we talk about burnout and how burnout is a direct… Well, not always direct, but it is more often than not, a sign of having poor boundaries. And one of the places where people tend to experience burnout and difficulty with boundaries in general is in the work field, the workforce, particularly when we talk about doctors.
Alyssa Scolari [11:24]:
So according to Nedra Tawwab in her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace, burnout from doctors and surgeons costs this country $4.6 billion a year, $4.6 billion. How does that happen? You might be asking, how does burnout cost money? Well, it cost money because as a result of burnout, doctors are making medical mistakes and misdiagnoses that will then go on to cost, whether in the form of having to redo tests or rewrite prescriptions, or even in the form of lawsuits. It will cost $4.6 billion. So there is no question here like, are boundaries important? Can we live without them? We can’t. We ultimately can’t live a healthy life without them, quite literally. It can cost some people their lives. It can cost some people their careers. It can cost people their relationships.
Alyssa Scolari [12:36]:
Boundaries are really uncomfortable to set. They are really, really scary. But as Brené Brown has once said, and this is also taken directly from Nedra’s book, “Sometimes we need to choose that temporary discomfort over eventual long term resentment.” So yes, boundaries will create this temporary discomfort, but it’s preferred over this long term resentment where you start to resent your job, or you start to resent your partner, or you start to resent your friend or whatever it may be. The short term discomfort is much more desired, quite honestly, and experiencing that temporary discomfort is only one of the many reasons in which for why people are afraid to set boundaries. There are other reasons that people are afraid of setting boundaries. And one of those reasons is like, I have a fear of being rejected. This one is definitely true for me. I think that I am afraid of every reason for not setting boundaries that you could possibly have. Like, I have all of them. Fear of rejection or possible abandonment. Is this person going to leave me? Is this person going to reject me? Are they going to walk away from me?
Alyssa Scolari [14:03]:
Another reason is assuming it’s not going to work, “Ah, it’s not going to work. You don’t know this person.” I often get this response. When I talk about setting boundaries with people, I often will get this like, “Ah, you don’t know this person.” Like, they’ve been stuck in their ways for years and there’s no use in asking them to change now. It’s not going to be effective. I personally think that that’s a cop out. I really do. Because you can’t predict how somebody’s going to react, and you can say that they’re not going to change, but ultimately you don’t know unless you start reinforcing that boundary.
Alyssa Scolari [14:51]:
So I sort of think that this one is a little bit of a cop out. Like I can see that this is a genuine reason why, and I too have said to… You know, I have found myself saying to my therapist like, “Oh, you know, this person’s never going to change. There’s no point in trying to set a boundary.” And honestly, when I look back at it, I’m like, that was such a cop out. I just was afraid. I was just afraid.
Alyssa Scolari [15:14]:
So that is another reason. An additional reason is you get your value from helping others. This is going to ring true for my people pleasers out there. If you get your value from helping others, we need to look at that. We need to reevaluate. I find this to be true with so many folks, especially those who didn’t get their needs met in childhood. We have been taught that it is our job to serve others, to be there for others. And eventually, we learn that our worth lies in what we can do for other people. If you get your value from helping other people, it’s definitely something to look at. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy helping others. You can, but when you get to a point where you feel like you’re not good enough, as long as you are not helping somebody, then we’ve got to talk about that because you are worthy just as you are. You’re worth does not depend on what you do.
Alyssa Scolari [16:23]:
Another reason people don’t set boundaries is because they feel mean doing it. They feel like people are mean, or they feel like what they’re doing is going to be mean. It could be that they feel like other people are mean, but that kind of falls under the same category as rejection. This is more like, you know, I feel like I’m being mean by saying, “Hey, I can’t pick up the phone right now. I know it’s 10:00 o’clock. I know you’re having a panic attack. I’m sorry, I can’t pick up the phone.” That is so hard to do, and I completely understand why it feels mean. I too have been there. Being a therapist, people will reach out to me for advice all of the time. Well, a little less so now, because my boundaries are so much better.
Alyssa Scolari [17:12]:
But I remember one time, I had a friend who was in a very abusive relationship, and this person would call me all the time or text me all the time and ask me for advice, for support, or help. Would even ask me to talk to their partner. Like, “Hey, please talk to this person, please. You know, you’re a therapist, please try to knock some sense into this person.” And you know what? Back then, years ago, I felt like I had to. When this person would text me at 10:00 o’clock at night, telling me that they had to leave the house because their partner was throwing an abusive fit, I felt like I had to pick up the phone and talk. When this person would say, “Hey, can you please talk to my partner? My partner really needs help, they’re being abusive.” I felt like I had to. I would pick up the phone, I would talk to my friend, I would talk to their partner. I would quite literally be doing like couples therapy things, which I should have never done.
Alyssa Scolari [18:18]:
Again, I wasn’t really doing therapy, but it was just like, I was giving advice. I was filling a role that they should have had a therapist fill. And I started to feel a lot of resentment. I started to feel like I was only useful to this person so long as I was giving them some kind of advice on what they can do with their partner. And guess what? That person never took any of my advice, never, ever took any of my advice. Over time, I started to feel a ton of resentment, but I could not set that boundary because I felt mean. I felt mean. Eventually, the level of resentment that I had outweighed any fear I had of being mean and I finally set that boundary and was like, “Hey, I can’t do this. You know, I’ve been doing my best, but like, I can’t. I’m burnt out, I’m spent.” And you know what? I felt really mean doing it and guess what? That person, we don’t actually talk anymore. But the reason we don’t talk isn’t because I was mean. Setting limits for yourself is not a mean thing.
Alyssa Scolari [19:33]:
As I said in last week’s episode, you have to set those limits because people thrive off of you not setting boundaries. People love that because then you give and give and give, but nobody can look out for you more than you have to look out for you. Saying no is not mean. And oftentimes, we can kind of trace this back to our childhoods, where we are taught that other people’s needs matter more than ours. I know that’s certainly the case for me. Therefore, I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody no, and I know that’s the case for many trauma survivors.
Alyssa Scolari [20:15]:
That being said, this is much easier said than done, but it is not mean to set boundaries. It’s important to remember, and this is also a brilliant little nugget of wisdom from Nedra’s book. People are only going to treat you as well as you treat yourself. So if you’re not having good boundaries, if you’re not taking care of yourself, other people are not going to treat you that well either. In the case of this friend that I was talking about, I wasn’t treating myself well. I was picking up the phone in the middle of the night. I was talking to this person for hours on end, knowing that this person never once sort of like returned in the favor and never once said, “Oh, hey, you know, tell me about you.” I wasn’t taking good care of myself. And because I wasn’t, because I didn’t say how I felt or call things out right from the get-go, I kind of opened the door to let this person take full advantage of me essentially.
Alyssa Scolari [21:23]:
And then one of the other ways that I think that causes people, or one of the other things that I think causes people to not set boundaries, and I can’t quite remember if this got talked about in the book, I’m sure it did, but this is something that I’ve noticed a lot just simply within myself or within my practice or just my day to day life is that a lot of people assume that other people should already know something. A lot of people say like, “Oh, well, it’s common sense.” Like common sense would tell you, especially a lot of maybe business owners or really anybody. Let’s say you’re out to dinner on a Friday night with your friends and your friend keeps getting this call from her boss, “Oh, my boss keeps calling me. My boss keeps calling me.” And the friend gets frustrated and she’s like, “Well, common sense would tell my boss not to call me on a Friday night when I’m off the clock.” A lot of people often do this with children too. “Common sense should tell my teenager not to ride their bike on a busy highway.”
Alyssa Scolari [22:35]:
But the thing we have to remember is that common sense isn’t common. Common sense is very much dependent on how you grew up, the messages that you were raised with. There really is no such thing as common sense. Common sense isn’t common to people. And we can’t assume that other people can read our minds, and I think that’s where a lot of us get tripped up, including myself. I see this especially happening with partners and relationships. I will do this to David. I’ll be like, well, common sense should tell him when I’m upset if I had a really long day at work.
Alyssa Scolari [23:13]:
The other day I came home and I was really hurting over all this stuff with my family, and I came home pretty late and he is home and he gets ready to go outside and start doing a project in the backyard. And in my head, I’m getting so mad at him and I’m feeling abandoned because I’m like, “Dude, common sense would tell you, like I worked literally all day. I’m so upset. You know I’m so upset. Like, common sense would tell you that I actually really need you to sit with me tonight and just like be with me.” But again, common sense isn’t common. It means nothing because when my husband is upset, what he likes to do is get lost in a project. So common sense for him is to start doing a project, start trying to work through some of these emotions by building something or working on something outside or taking care of the garden. That’s common sense for him.
Alyssa Scolari [24:22]:
So it’s different. We cannot assume that other people can read our minds. It was unfair of me to assume that he can read my mind. I never once said, “I really need you.” I wanted him to just know, but that was the part of me that was wanting a parent. That was that childish yearning in me. Like, I just need a parent to simply know what my needs are. So something that’s very important to keep in mind.
Alyssa Scolari [24:54]:
Now, in terms of how people might react to boundaries. There’s really no way of knowing for sure, but there are a couple different ways according to Nedra Tawwab’s book, Set, Boundaries, Find Peace, that we can categorize people’s reactions to boundaries. Now, people might get defensive. I think if you’ve been in this relationship for a long time, it’s very likely that somebody might get defensive and be like, “Well, where is this coming from?” Or they try to justify their behavior and they try to convince you that their behavior’s okay. So that could be one way people might react to you setting boundaries.
Alyssa Scolari [25:36]:
People might question your boundaries. People might have a lot of questions, well, again, “Why is this coming up right now? Like, why? I’ve been doing this for years with you? This is the relationship we’ve had for years. Like, why do we have to change it now?” People will also test the limits. You bet they will. It’s in our human nature. Our human nature is to rebel, is to test the limits. Nobody likes to be told no. I get it. I hate being told no. Part of the reason why setting boundaries is so hard for me is because I know I don’t like to be told no. It’s really difficult for me. So people are going to test the limits. It is something that absolutely is to be expected.
Alyssa Scolari [26:28]:
People also might engage in passive-aggressive behaviors, like ghosting. Ghosting is when people just stop responding to you. So you set a boundary and then you don’t hear from this person at all. They don’t talk to you. I have this happen frequently within my workspace. That actually happened twice over the last week. It doesn’t happen often. It always isn’t often that I have to kind of set firm boundaries. I do, of course, but these boundaries that I had to set were really, really difficult and really firm. And as a result, I was ghosted and it’s okay, it happens. It’s part of how people respond and react in treatment and in the world. Therapy is literally like a little microcosm of how people behave in the world. I set a boundary, I was ghosted. That’s one passive-aggressive behavior that people do in response to boundaries.
Alyssa Scolari [27:45]:
Another passive-aggressive behavior is the silent treatment. So very short responses, especially if you live with this person or even maybe through text. This person once used emojis to talk to you and exclamation points, but now all of a sudden, they’re responding with like, “Yes, no, okay, good night.” I see this happen so often, especially in my teens who are in relationships with other people or with our best friends. They get mad at their best friend and instead of saying how they feel, they’ll be like, “K.” Send. That’s the text. And it is well known in the teen world that when you write K. and you send that text, that means that you are really pissed off, but that is a passive-aggressive behavior. That is considered the silent treatment. You know, this person doesn’t answer for days, whatever it might be, it’s passive-aggressive.
Alyssa Scolari [28:50]:
And then another thing that I see that often can be very passive-aggressive is people sort of throwing your boundary in your face a little bit. So people will say things like, “Oh, well, I was going to ask you to come out with us.” Okay, let’s say, for example, you don’t want to drink and you have a friend who is always pressuring you to drink. Whenever you go out, they’re like, “Hey, come on, have a drink, have a drink.” And you’re like, “No, no, no, no, no. I really don’t want to.” And it makes you uncomfortable. So let’s say after a few months of this, or a few weeks of this even, you go and you set a boundary with this person and you’re like, you know, “Hey, I really don’t appreciate it when you keep pressuring me to drink when we are out in public. You know I don’t like to drink. Please do not pressure me anymore. If you continue to pressure me, I’m just going to leave, so I am not sitting there feeling uncomfortable.” And this friend’s like, “Okay, all right, sure. I get it.”
Alyssa Scolari [30:03]:
And then the next week later, let’s say, it’s the weekend, you log onto Instagram and you see that this friend is out with a bunch of other people, a bunch of your mutual friends, and you did not get invited. So you go to this friend and you say, you know, “Hey, why didn’t you invite me?” And this friend goes, “Oh, well, you don’t like to drink and you didn’t want to feel pressured so I just figured I wouldn’t put you in that situation.” That is so passive-aggressive. When people use your boundary against you, it is so passive-aggressive. This is something that was done to me all the time, all the time when I was younger and even in my earlier adulthood. To this day, even talking about it, it just drives me nuts.
Alyssa Scolari [30:58]:
The other thing is like all of these responses and reactions that people have, they’re really difficult. It kind of seems like, “Okay, well, why am I setting this boundary in the first place?” If people can react in all types of bad ways, you have to remember that you setting a boundary is for your peace. It’s about peace for you. It’s about health for you. You can’t control how other people react. In fact, if somebody reacts in a negative way, that is likely a sign that you needed to set that boundary in the first place. And it’s so important to remember that other people’s reactions are not about you. The way that other people respond to boundaries has nothing to do with you. The fact of the matter is that boundaries can solve a lot of relationship problems, but they can only be solved if both people are open to listening and meeting the other’s requests.
Alyssa Scolari [32:11]:
Now, I do also want to say this, relationships where boundaries are extremely difficult is where there is abuse happening or abuse that happened. It is so difficult to set boundaries where abuse took place, because it’s the ultimate violation. It is the ultimate violation. So it sort of feels like a little bit strange for somebody to kind of violate you, especially if it’s like physical abuse, sexual abuse, continued emotional abuse. This person has violated you in some of the worst ways. It’s very hard to build boundaries after that. I’m not saying that it can’t be done. It absolutely can be. I’ve seen it be done. I’ve seen loads of people where there’s been some sort of tragedy or trauma or abuse, and then people have rebuilt that relationship and have had really good boundaries, but it’s extremely difficult.
Alyssa Scolari [33:17]:
And I wouldn’t recommend trying it without the help of a therapist. I really wouldn’t because we just don’t know. We just don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what’s going to come up for you. So I really don’t recommend trying it without the help of a licensed professional who can support you in this process and who can help you to see if boundaries are even possible. Because the thought of setting boundaries with somebody who was abusive, it can bring up so much. And depending on how that person reacts, it could potentially open the door for further traumatization. Again, I’m not saying always, but I do think it’s something that we must keep in mind when it comes to boundary setting, is that it’s sort of a whole different ball game when you’re dealing with somebody who has been, or is abusive.
Alyssa Scolari [34:11]:
All in all, this is what we are working with right now. We know what boundaries are, we understand why they’re important. Now, we understand why people are so afraid to set them. We understand how people might react. The worst case scenario is that this relationship is over. That is the worst case scenario. I am not going to sit here and say that, that never happens because it does. And it has happened to me multiple times where I’ve tried to set a boundary and the relationship has been over as the result. It does happen. It doesn’t happen all the time. I think that you would be surprised at how well people are able to respect your boundaries when you start setting them. People will respect you more because they see that you respect yourself more. People see that they have no choice, but to respect you. And that is going to help you live the most beautiful, most peaceful life.
Alyssa Scolari [35:22]:
If somebody leaves because you have set a boundary, it’s heartbreaking, it’s devastating, but that too is temporary. And it is better than the long term resentment and anger that you will deal with by not setting the boundaries and by feeling like other people are walking all over you. Again, this is truly one of the hardest things I believe, but it truly is the key for living a good life. And that is what we want, baby. That is what we want.
Alyssa Scolari [36:05]:
So that is a wrap for today. We are still going to keep talking about this because we’ve got a lot more to talk about. Again, the majority of this information is taken from Nedra Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace. So it’s a really good read. If you want to read it, you can go check out the show notes. Everything that you need is in the show notes for today. I hope that you all have a wonderful week. I will see you next week. And until then, I will be holding you in the light.
Alyssa Scolari [36:35]:
Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma. And on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over, again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.