Self-Limiting Beliefs

Self-Limiting Beliefs

Self-Limiting Beliefs

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Gaga” by Julian St. Nightmare

How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

What you believe about yourself holds so much power. But it's easy to get tricked into believing the devil inside — your self-limiting beliefs. Self-limiting beliefs are so dangerous because they often masquerade as “truth.” But buying into them only creates pain, and damages your self-esteem, your career, and your relationships. On this episode of the podcast, I'm teaching you how to identify your limiting beliefs and overcome them.

The Devil Inside — Self-Limiting Beliefs

As a Denver therapist and online life coach, I work with clients to overcome their limiting beliefs and tap into new and healthier beliefs that support the lifestyle they actually want to live. And I know that this work isn’t easy. Our beliefs hold so much power. Beyond our external circumstances, which we sometimes have no control over, what we think and believe can dictate the paths we take. We have so much freedom and control over our choices, and we can make decisions that will help us grow and thrive in every area of our lives.

However, we may forget the power we hold because of the insidious little devil inside us: telling us that something’s impossible by virtue of us not being good enough. Alternatively, we may have these personal rules that govern our everyday lives. While functional, they may not really be serving our highest good. It’s time to reexamine these self-limiting beliefs and open yourself up to the possibilities outside of the space you’ve boxed yourself into.

In this episode, we’ll be unpacking self-limiting beliefs and their effects on our lives. We’ll start by highlighting why it’s important to be aware of these oftentimes unconscious beliefs. Then, we’ll give several examples of self-limiting beliefs. Finally, we’ll map out the steps to identify, examine, and shift these beliefs so that you can live a happy and fulfilling life.

If you want to learn how you can grow and affect positive change in your life, then tune in to this episode! 

In This Episode: Self-Limiting Beliefs, You Will…

  • Discover the power of your thoughts and beliefs and how they contribute to positive change and growth.
  • Uncover the reasons why your thoughts and beliefs can hold you back.
  • Learn what self-limiting beliefs are and how they impact your self-esteem.
  • Understand that self-limiting beliefs can be challenged and shifted. 
  • Find out why emotional safety is necessary for growth.
  • Identify examples of self-limiting behavior.
  • Learn how you can overcome your self-limiting beliefs.

Self-Limiting Beliefs

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Self-Limiting Beliefs: Episode Highlights

Why It’s Important to Be Aware of Your Self-Limiting Beliefs

While external circumstances in our lives can prove challenging to our journey towards personal growth and positive change, we often struggle more with the subconscious limiting beliefs we hold. These devils inside of us bombard us with a toxic inner narrative. They tell us that we’re not good enough, why something won’t work, or why we can’t do something.

Although these self-limiting beliefs don’t have a basis in truth, they can still hold you back. They keep us from thriving and growing into what we were meant to be. Because of these self-critical thoughts, we can think that there is no path forward. Now, don’t be discouraged. It may take work, but you are entirely capable of recognizing and challenging your limiting beliefs. Once you shift your limiting beliefs or incorporate new beliefs, you’ll find that there actually is a path forward.

What Are Limiting Beliefs?

Can you think back over your life and pinpoint a time where you could have done something that you were genuinely interested in and might have always wanted to do – but you didn’t? Chances are, a big part of why you didn’t take the chance is because you mentally set yourself on fire. You identified many reasons why that amazing opportunity wouldn’t work out for you… and that caused paralysis. This negative stream of self-talk and self-criticism held you back from even trying.

However, the “could-haves” aren’t even the worst of it: limiting beliefs can even burrow themselves into our day-to-day lives. They come in the form of expectations of how we should be and how we compare ourselves to others. The narrative can look a lot like the following: 

  • I need to be perfect.
  • I need to have friends, success, and certain personality traits.
  • I didn’t get the results I wanted; therefore, I’m a failure.

Here, we can see that self-limiting beliefs are tied to self-esteem. At the core of low self-esteem are these highly negative self-limiting beliefs about who you are and how that compares to what those self-limiting beliefs tell you you should be. Can you relate? We’ve all experienced self-limiting beliefs holding us back from time to time. It’s time to change that. 

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

In essence, self-limiting beliefs tell you that you’re not good enough now and that you can be better. This may sound like a positive thing. But don’t be fooled. Beating yourself up and criticizing yourself isn’t helping you. It’s actually limiting your growth.

Instead of being overly self-critical, try creating a space for emotional safety through self-compassion. This can look like: 

  • Supporting yourself in difficult moments.
  • Having compassionate understanding for why you do the things you do.
  • Honoring your feelings, needs, and rights.

As you learn to hold space for emotional safety, you also foster a growth mindset. You learn how to love yourself even if you sometimes experience non-ideal outcomes.

The Power of Belief

Aside from impeding our growth, self-limiting beliefs also impact how we connect with others. If you feel as if you’re not worthy of love, you can end up being hyper-vigilant in your relationships. You may also tend to reject others before they can reject you. After all, you believe that they’ll do so eventually.

We’re all vulnerable to self-limiting beliefs. We all have these rules about what should happen and what needs to happen. And once you have set an idea of what’s possible and what’s not, it’s difficult to veer away from those beliefs. That’s why it’s important to build relationships with others that can help you see things more clearly. As friends, family, and coworkers challenge your beliefs, you may begin to realize that your “truths” aren’t necessarily the same truth for others. It's also for this reason that life coaching is valuable – working with a really good life coach can provide you impeccable insight into your self-limiting beliefs and what you can do to overcome them. At some point, we need to have a mirror held up to us so that we can take a look. This mirror allows us to rethink our beliefs and challenge the belief’s truthfulness.

How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

The first step to overcoming limiting beliefs is being aware of their existence. 

Step two is understanding the self-limiting belief’s function. These self-limiting beliefs may seem ridiculous as you examine them. However, if you want to overcome your limiting beliefs, it won’t do you any good to dismiss them or get mad at them. Acknowledging that these beliefs have a function and uncovering what that role may be can help you overcome them. Oftentimes, these self-limiting beliefs serve a protective function. 

Identifying Your Limiting Beliefs

Say someone gives you advice about something you’ve been complaining about. You may be inclined to argue or become indignant. Instead of insisting on your idea, take the feedback in and think about your reaction to others’ advice. Your reaction may be because you have a limiting core belief that was put in the spotlight. Others may see the possibilities that you either don’t see or that you feel is impossible. 

Another indication that you have a limiting belief is when a thought or idea leads to: 

  • Inhibition
  • Paralysis
  • Inaction
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling like you can’t move forward

When we are in this space, we actively think about the impossibilities or the negative outcomes that may come about. A common example of this is saying that you don’t have time to exercise regularly because of your circumstances. However, we all have 1440 minutes in a day to do as we wish, and when you realize that the choices you make and what you prioritize play a role in your circumstances, you can start to make real, lasting change.

The dynamic then shifts from “I can’t” to “I am making different choices.” At the end of this reflection, you may still choose not to exercise. What’s important here is the choice. You bring back power and personal responsibility to yourself.

Finally, any idea that makes you feel bad about yourself is a powerful core belief that leads to an emotional spiral. If you understand the driver of this negative internal dialogue, you can create space for a kinder, more helpful one. 

It’s important to note that it takes hard work to unpack your core beliefs, figure out their functions, and find a way to shift them. This is where a good therapist or coach can help support you traverse paths that were previously blocked.

Resources for Self-Limiting Beliefs

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[Intro music: Gaga by Julian St. Nightmare]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That is Julian St. Nightmare with Gaga, kinda reminds me of old Bauhaus, but better. I like it. I love to do a Halloween-themed episode every year, not just because it gives me an excuse to resurrect old gothy music or new gothy music. But because, I don't know this time of year, it's just like an invitation for you and I to dive in to some deeper, even darker, aspects of the human psyche together. 

Today, we're talking about something incredibly important for all of us, which is the devil inside. Yes, friends, self-limiting beliefs, and the havoc they can wreak on our lives, and how to manage them successfully so that they are no longer obstacles in your way. That's what we're doing together on today's episode of the podcast. I'm so excited to talk about this because unchallenged self-limiting beliefs are a major problem for a lot of people. So my hope is that by the end of today's show, you'll get some clarity, perhaps even some insight into your own self-limiting beliefs and also some strategies for how to work with them. 

If this is your first time listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm so glad you're here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, which is a group practice with all kinds of extremely cool people. We have so much fun together. We do marriage counseling, relationship coaching, individual therapy, life coaching, and career coaching. Hence, Love, Happiness and Success. 

Every week I'm here in your ear, talking about hopefully helpful ideas and tips and strategies that can help you, support you rather, I should say, on the path of creating love, happiness, and success in your life. So I always want to talk about you and what is important to you. If you have questions for me or topic ideas for the show, please get in touch. You can track me down at growingself.com, on Instagram at drlisamariebobby. You can even send an old-fashioned email. You can even call us on the phone. Heck, we do answer the phone. So get in touch, let me know what's going on and what you'd like to hear about on the podcast. And thank you for being here today. 

Why It’s Important to Be Aware of Your Self-Limiting Beliefs

Let's dive into this juicy topic of self-limiting beliefs. First of all, we need to talk about why it is so important to be aware of your self-limiting beliefs. I've been a therapist for a long time, a coach, I have also been a human, and like seeing this at work in my own life, and what I have seen time and time again, is that the number one biggest obstacle for people that they really struggle to overcome on their path of personal growth or positive change or improving their relationship or pivoting in their career are not their external circumstances. 

Although things going on in our lives can be objectively challenging and very real, a much bigger issue for most people are the beliefs that they carry in the sight of themselves about who they are, and what is possible for them. And if the beliefs they're carrying are negative, or pessimistic, or tell themselves that they can't do it, or it isn't going to work if they try, or these are all the reasons why it's not gonna work out, they will never experiment. They won't take risks. They won't try to create positive change because they don't believe it's possible. Because of that, they remain very, very stuck in these old ways of being that are no longer serving them and also can feel like they are just surrounded by obstacles just hemmed in by a fence on all sides, not because they always are in reality, but because their self-limiting beliefs tell them they are. So that is what they experience. 

A lot of the work that I find myself doing with clients over and over and over again is helping them identify these self-limiting beliefs. Just even knowing that they're there is work because they feel true, right? These ideas that we're all carrying around like the world and us they just, they feel like the truth. But so to realize them, and then also learn how to understand them, and then work with them a little bit differently. It is challenging work. But when people are able to set aside or kind of shift some of those beliefs or incorporate new beliefs, all of a sudden, things that felt so hard, feel much easier than when it had felt like there's walls and obstacles all around you. All of a sudden, there's a path forward. And it's really amazing to watch that happen. 

That is my hope for you because the alternative is just so awful. If we do not believe that we can create better outcomes, or if we have all of the list of reasons why things won't work, we don't try. Instead, we just feel paralyzed. We feel stuck. Things feel hard. There is no path forward. And again, not because there is truly, literally no path forward but because of that devil inside, the story, we're telling ourselves and the self-limiting beliefs that go unchallenged. So it's a very real issue. And if you're on the path of growth, it has to be dealt with, sooner or later. We all carry these things. 

I'm glad we're here together today. I wanted to subtitle this episode, “the devil inside” because that is often, not like you're actually possessed by a demon, but that's kind of what it feels like when people first start becoming aware of self-limiting beliefs and this internal dialogue in their mind. Sometimes, I've had clients who are almost horrified when they're able to really understand the way that they have been talking to themselves, this inner narrative is quite toxic. It's mean to them. It's telling them about all of the reasons why things won't work, or why they're not good enough, or that they can't trust people, or bad things always happen. And it really can be very damaging. 

Again, it's a beautiful thing when people can understand what is happening because it is often subconscious. It is unconscious. Again, if we don't fully understand when something is happening, we do not have any opportunity to change it because you don't know it's there. It makes you feel bad. It influences your behaviors, but it's like this invisible force in our lives. Understanding what our filter is, what our personal narrative is, what that voice is, is really like three-quarters of the battle.

On the bright side, it is a battle that is winnable, not sure if that's a word, but you can be victorious over self-limiting ideas and beliefs and self-criticism when you are able to shift into a more supportive relationship with yourself and very intentionally create a more helpful and supportive inner narrative, a more personal narrative that has hope, an inner dialogue that is more positive or more helpful, but again, like more compassionate towards you. 

I don't want to lead you to believe that the opposite of self-limiting beliefs or difficult inner critic is swapping that out with a bunch of positive thoughts because that's not always helpful. What is always helpful is having a different kind of relationship with yourself, a relationship that's based on honesty, but also authenticity, and compassion, and compassionate support, but also reality-based support. We have to start being a little bit skeptical of our thoughts to make this happen. 

What Are Limiting Beliefs?

Let’s go into this a little bit more deeply. What are limiting beliefs? What does this look like in someone's life? I think that it can be helpful to think about… I think it's easier to see in other people sometimes than it is in ourselves. An example, and you might know somebody like this in your own life, but I know a person, mid-career creative type who had an opportunity to take a year away from their full-time job and focus entirely on their art. It's amazing. Maybe they could start a new business or do some freelance artwork. They actually had been doing some freelance design work that they had already had some success with. So, not outside the realm of possibility, but really this opportunity to live this, lifetime dream of living as an artist, and just being able to make art every day. That's like the holy grail for a lot of creatives. Right? 

They were given this opportunity and lined everything up, financially. They would be okay, objectively. Everything was alright, and they finally had time and space to pursue their art and just see what happened. And then, mentally, basically set themselves on fire, just torturing themselves with these self-limiting beliefs around, “I can't do this. I'm not talented enough. I don't have the right skills. This is a super competitive industry. There are so many people just like me. They're probably more talented than I am. I'm mediocre.”

Also, telling themselves stories about how difficult it is to get this kind of freelance work: “I'll be rejected. Oh, these people don't want to hear from me. They have hundreds of pitches all the time. I'm just another person bothering them.” But also going into: “I ruined my life. What did I do by taking this time off? This was terrible. My former coworkers are going to hate me. What was I thinking that I could even do this? I just ruined my career for nothing.” 

It's really bad, just this monologue of just really negative self-limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, self-criticism to the point where it paralyzed this person. They had this really cool opportunity to live the dream, but so bound up by what they are telling themselves about the situation, that not only can they not do any creative work, but it's just totally stuck of like, “Should I go back to my job? Should I try?” Just feeling so bad, not even being able to try to take some time and see what might be possible. I mean, it's just awful. 

I think on some level, we can all relate to that, maybe not in such a clear and dramatic example, but moments in our own lives when we've had chances or looking back could have done something, and we didn't. That’s often why is because of what we were telling ourselves about this situation. It is very inhibiting. It creates paralysis. We don't take action when we have that going on. 

Self-limiting ideas can show up in a lot of other ways. Certainly, when we have opportunities to try things or take chances, that's when self-limiting ideas can be activated, but even day-to-day, around our expectations for who we should be and how we compare to others. It's often some variation of this quite subconscious, but the narrative is, “I need to be perfect. I need to not make mistakes. I need to have all of these friends, or successes, or things going on in my life, or personality, just like, all of these things.” And any kind of anything, almost, can be interpreted as a failure or not quite good enough. “Somebody else is doing it better. I didn't get the results that I wanted; therefore, I suck.” 

When you go into the core of self-esteem, which we have talked about on other podcasts, you can go back in my feed and look at look for some of the self-esteem-related podcasts that I've put together for you. But really, that is at the core of low self-esteem are these highly negative self-limiting beliefs about who you are and how that compares to what those self-limiting beliefs tell you you should be. And it's so tricky. This is what really messes people up is that in these situations, self-limiting beliefs that tell you that you should be different, you should be better, you should be more, you should be… At the core of it, the message is, “Cuz you're not good enough the way you are now.” Right? But they're sort of this frenemy. 

You have this voice in your head that's telling you that you should be better or that you could be better. It’s like this weird mean-girl thing because it almost sounds good. It sounds like somebody is encouraging you to be better, to grow, to work on self-improvement, to attain these personal goals, right? It's easy to get tricked into believing that it's helpful to you, that it's motivating you in some ways. Sometimes, that is also one of the very sneaky, self-limiting beliefs that people are carrying without even realizing it is this idea that “Me beating myself up and criticizing myself is actually helping me. If I stop doing that, I'll stop moving forward. I won't be motivated. I won't even try if I stopped screaming at myself on the inside. I have to do this or otherwise, I will definitely be a failure.” It's like having this “friend” that’s super mean to you. But it's like your only friend. And somehow you've gotten tricked into believing that it's here to help you. 

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

I am here to tell you that it isn't helping you. It is actually impairing growth. Because being self-critical, it's like having this bully, this abusive thing that lives in your mind. It's always putting you down. It's beating you up for not making mistakes or making mistakes. It tells you that you're wrong when you're too vulnerable. It tells you that you're wrong when you're not vulnerable enough. Anything you try, it's wrong. Other people are better than you. You don't know what you're doing. It's never gonna work out. If you've ever listened to other podcasts of mine, you'll know that this kind of internal hostility is essentially the opposite of what is necessary for growth, which is emotional safety

Growth is fertilized, it is cultivated through the opposite of self-criticism, which is self-compassion, and being able to support yourself in difficult moments, and understand compassionately why you do the things that you do, and honor your feelings, and your needs, and your rights. That kind of internal emotional safety fosters a growth mindset that allows you to try things, and take chances, and get up and dust yourself off, and say, “Okay, what did I learn from that? I'm going to try this again.” It’s like having this internal supportive coach, or a parent, or a real friend that is able to love you, and care about you, and encourage you, even if you make mistakes along the way. 

It's the voice that reminds you that that is actually how people learn, is by trying things and putting yourself out there. “What happened when I did this, and what can I learn? How do I support my growth, instead of beating myself up and feeling terrible every time I put my little head out and try something different, or feeling like I should already know this? Therefore, I'm not going to read a book or listen to a podcast. Because what's wrong with me that I don't know how to do this already, everybody else knows how to do this?” It's really just not helpful. 

If growth, I'd like you to imagine it's like this little, little leaf unfurling itself in the sun, right? It has roots in fertile soil. It requires warmth, and sunlight, and support, and hope. This kind of inner hatred, this mean-girl self-limiting belief thing is exactly the opposite of that. It's like walking up to that little leaf and just spraying it with bleach, or round up, or some kind of toxic, whatever horrible chemical kills plants. That’s the internal effect of really negative self-limiting beliefs on growth. It impedes growth. Because of that, that is why our self-limiting beliefs make it really impossible to move forward or to grow while they're active. 

Because when you have this list of really powerful, unchallenged, or subconscious, self-limiting beliefs, you will, A, feel like you're incapable of doing anything anyway. So what's the point? Or you will talk yourself out of everything. You will have all of these reasons why things won't work. “Oh, I tried that before that didn't work. I can't do that. It's going to be futile to try. Or it isn't going to end well. Or these are all the rules I have in my head about what needs to be happening for X, Y, Z to happen.” 

Sometimes, you might have non-ideal outcomes. That is a thing. When you have self-limiting beliefs, you will never find out what might have happened because you already know that it won't work. “Why bother trying? I'm not good enough. I can't do that.” And so these beliefs will just create so many obstacles, and hurdles, and rules, and complications, and things just feel so darn hard that people give up. They just feel so painted into a corner. “I guess this is my life.” Even though they want more, it's this inner experience that is just truly, truly limiting. 

The Power of Belief

The other piece here, though, that's important is that these kinds of ideas do not just make us feel badly about ourselves or destroy our ability to grow or create change. They also impact our relationships. When we have self-limiting beliefs, they are terrible for relationships because these beliefs will tell us that we are not worthy or lovable, which can make us feel very anxious about whether or not we're being loved and hyper-vigilant about what our partner is doing or not doing and what that means about us and their relationship with us. Or it can make us do other kinds of weird things, like reject other people before they reject us because they're going to. We've all seen that play out in people's lives. 

These self-fulfilling beliefs about ourselves, and what to expect in relationships can really become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We either wind up getting super reactive and strangling relationships to death, or we reject people and are so self-protective and avoidant that we don't even give people a chance. More on the subject, if you'd like to cruise back and listen to a podcast that I did a while ago about trust issues, and what to do with trust issues and relationships. It's a lot about that. In that podcast, though, I'm talking about the outcome of these self-limiting beliefs. Sometimes, to be fair, people have had legitimately traumatizing life experiences, or past experiences in relationships were really hurtful. So, that is definitely a thing that needs to be to be worked through. 

Many times though, these early experiences have become these beliefs about what I can expect from humans. And what is true about me that we can carry with us for many, many years into the future, and unexamined, unexplored, unchallenged. So we then act as if these things are true, these things that we are telling ourselves, the things that we believe are true, with sometimes devastating consequences to our relationships. So it's very important to examine our self-limiting beliefs in the context of our relationships in order to be able to ferret some of this out, especially if your goal is to have healthy relationships. 

I also just want to add, I'm going to out myself here, but we are all vulnerable to self-limiting beliefs. We all carry them. I am not talking about other people's self-limiting beliefs, right now. I am talking about your self-limiting beliefs. I'm talking about my self-limiting beliefs because we literally all have them. It was so interesting. I participate in a coaching group. I love coaching. I can't get enough of it. But I thought I'd do a group coaching thing for people who have businesses like me. In this one group event, we all… There's like five or six of us we’re sitting in a circle, a virtual circle. This was by Zoom but still was a circle. We took turns talking about a business issue, like a stressor or a pain point that we were having. 

We talk about the issue, and then everybody had the opportunity to get feedback from the group. This is a group of really, quite successful business people, people who really had a lot of good ideas and good guidance. And it was so interesting. Because every single person, I was one of the last ones, but I watched every single person talk about a problem they were facing, and the things they tried, and all these things that didn't work. And then, the group gave feedback. Every single person was like, “Yeah, but here's why that won't work.” Or, “Well, but with our system, here's what we do.” It was so interesting because they were all getting really good advice. And I just sat there watching this process. 

It was like every person actively repelling really good advice. And I realized, it was because they were clinging to these ideas about the way things should be, ideas about what was possible, and what was not possible. They had already pre-decided the outcomes of trying different things and had all these reasons why they didn't work. It was just fascinating. 

For one person, it was like, “Well, this is what we look for in an employee.” After, he'd been spending quite a bit of time telling us about the struggles that he was having hiring people, by the way. “So this is what we're looking for.” And so, ideas about maybe different kinds of people, or different personality traits, or different characteristics. He's like, “No, these are the kinds of people that work well in our business,” after he had just told us that it wasn't working well in his business. So, over and over again, and it was, for all of them, rules around, “This is what it should look like. I already know what it should look like. And so this is what I've been trying to do. It's not working. But this is how it should work according to my, my rules.” Right? These self-limiting ideas. 

Then the group, made its way around to me, and I told them all about my most stressful business situation, and they gave me advice. And I couldn't even help myself. I was giving them all the reasons why that wouldn't work in my situation. “No, my business is different. Let me tell you why.” I was like, “Ah, dang.” Could all of a sudden see it. It's like, “I, too, had all these rules that I was carrying in me about what should be happening and what needed to happen.” They were this kind, intelligent group was trying to pry these self-limiting beliefs away from me, and I could feel myself clinging to them, even though I, on some level, knew what was happening. But thankfully, after that group, which was so interesting, I was able to take some time and journal and be like, “Yeah, they're right.” But having those ideas challenged is difficult, but it's important. And that's the way it is, right? 

We all have these ideas that are just so deeply ingrained. They are baked in, and they feel so true that we can't even see them. We're like little fishes swimming around in tanks full of water that we have no idea is even there because it's the water that we swim in, right? It just feels like the truth. We're so close to these ideas that we cannot even tell that they are our truth, our specific, unique truth that is not actually true for a lot of other people. Other people can look at us and see that we're doing something that is not in our best interests. But we're just wrapped around these ideas. We’re intertwined with them without even realizing it. This is the power of self-limiting beliefs. I just wanted to share that because this, again, is true for everyone. We all have them. I wanted to come clean about mine, just so we can all be authentic. 

Let's talk about this, then. Because the problem with self-limiting beliefs is that we cannot see them very easily ourselves. Figuring out how to ferret them out, like coaxing a little animal out of the cave. Who are you? That's, again, a lot of the work. I think that that is one of the benefits of doing a group experience where you have people challenging you or having relationships with people who love you enough to be honest with you. 

Also, what can be very helpful about sometimes being in therapy, or I think, more commonly, life coaching with people like me, who have a more active approach, I don't think it's super helpful to just sit there and free associate to somebody who agrees with everything that you say because you don't get that feedback. You have to have a relationship with a therapist or a coach who cares about you enough and is active enough to challenge you and say, “Really?” Not like a checked-out one who just lets you go on and on, but a good therapist, a good coach will challenge you, and sometimes, that feels uncomfortable. 

I have been in that situation. I'm like, “What do you mean I'm not 100% right about everything? How dare you?” So I know, I know. But at some point, it's like we have to have this mirror held up to us so that we can take a look and really see what we are telling ourselves about particular situations, what we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and then have the opportunity just to think through whether or not these things are actually, factually true. I do this all the time with clients, just to help them gain that self-awareness around the beliefs that they're holding on to because you have to know they're there. 

Let's talk about examples of self-limiting core beliefs. And here's some examples of things that I have heard people say to me with absolute sincerity and straight faces. I have said some of these things, and I'm sure that you have, too. Things like, “I don't have enough time. I can't possibly do that.” Or “I cannot advance in my career unless I go back to school and get this very expensive degree. Impossible. There's no other way.” “There aren't opportunities for me to fill in the blank, meet someone, get a job, buy a house, whatever it is, in the town that I live in. Impossible. It cannot be done.” “All the good partners are taken.” Does that one resonate with any of you out there? “All the good ones are already gone. I can't trust anyone.” There's another good one. 

Here's one that can sneakily mess people up: “If I find the perfect person, then I will not have a disappointing relationship.” Or “If I had the perfect job, I wouldn't feel this way anymore.” Or “If I lived in this different place, then I would have all these different results. Everything that is not happening the way that I want it to is because of these circumstances. And if I change these circumstances, which I can't, because let me tell you all the reasons why. But if I could, then everything would be different for me. I would feel happier.” 

If you think back to the Love Your Body podcast I did a while ago with my colleague, Stephanie, we talked a lot about that really insidious, self-limiting belief that a lot of people carry around, “I will be happy when I am a certain weight, or a certain clothing size, or when I look a certain way, or when this thing happens in my life, or when I have a partner or what. Whatever it is, then I will be happy. But until that happens, I cannot be happy.” These are really difficult beliefs to get out. And they can be big beliefs, like the ones that I shared. They can also be small beliefs that are just creating garden variety annoyances, but enough of them that it can start to feel stifling. 

I've talked to people, “I can't cook if all of the dishes aren't done and put away, and my kitchen is perfectly clean. Therefore, I never cook. Therefore, I eat microwaved burritos pretty much every day of the week.” It's like the beliefs that are attached to why they can or can't do things like the rules. Really, really interesting. It may be worth if you wanted to, pausing me for a second and just taking a second to scribble down any thoughts that have just popped up to you, as I've been sharing some of my self-limiting beliefs or some of the things that I've had people say. There are many, many more. We can come up with hundreds of them if we had the time. But if any come to mind, just make a note. 

How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

Sometimes, many times, again, it's not that easy to be aware of them. And that is the first step in overcoming self-limiting beliefs is that you do have to be aware of them. Step one is, “I am aware of you. I see you, self-limiting belief.” Then, that's step two, is understanding their function. And that can be really interesting because oftentimes, these self-limiting beliefs, they seem like they're just ridiculous when we look at them, when we can get them out in the open in the cold light of day. It's like, “That is not true.” 

Do not underestimate the power of a self-limiting belief because they are often very, very functional. They are serving a purpose in your life that you don't even know about yet. And that takes some exploration in order to figure out too, and not try to shut them down with some positive pep talk. But let's say, “Okay, let's get to know you. Why are you here? How do you make sense? Where did you come from?” Like really having a relationship with it. Because that is actually like the first step in practicing having a different kind of relationship with yourself is not being mad at yourself for having self-limiting beliefs, not being mad at that belief. 

It's like just this much more compassionate like, “Okay, I see you. I know you're there. How do you make sense?” It's just like this totally different way of approaching yourself and just having respect for the fact that they have been serving a purpose. Oftentimes, they're very protective, to be completely honest with you. So we have to do some of that work. 

Once it is making sense, then it becomes much more easy to shift into a different way of being with yourself, one that is potentially more open, more reality-based, and more empowering, moving towards that self-compassionate growth mindset that really helps you feel comfortable enough to take risks or take chances and helps you grow and develop instead of beating yourself up for it. Also, I think that really helps make you feel much more secure in relationships, which then, when you have a secure relationship that is reinforced that you are having secure relationships, and that tends to build on itself, too. 

Identifying Your Limiting Beliefs

So let's talk first, just a little bit about that step one. How do you know they’re there?  Because it is really like luring a wild animal out of a game. So here are just a few tips to help you, like the rustle in the bushes. Like, “Oh, there's a self-limiting belief over there.” Because again, they can be so, so easy to miss. But first of all, and this is one for me that I'm like, “Okay, self-limiting belief just got poked.” If you find yourself arguing with or getting defensive with someone who you haven't just been complaining to about something, and they have given you advice, or “What about this? Or try to approach it this way?” And you're like, “No, that won't work. Here are all the reasons why that won't work.” 

They have just poked you in a self-limiting belief of some kind. They see possibilities for you that either you can't see or that feel impossible for you. Because why? And this is the work of figuring out what that is like, asking yourself, “What is the reason that I am so passionately convinced that this won't work?” And I'm not saying that you have to take everybody else's advice. Maybe it's bad advice. Maybe it actually won't work. But if this is a pattern for you, this is just evidence that it may be a self-limiting belief at the core. 

For me, like my business group, I shared that my problem, this pain point was just a super slow progress on this huge project that we've been working on internally that has taken the better part of a year. This has just been a monster. And I've been frustrated with it. Some of the feedback I got from my coaching group was around, maybe my standards are too high. Maybe I am trying to do too much. Maybe I'm not delegating enough, and so, took that in. But I was like, “No, it has to be really good. And let me tell you why it really, really actually needs to be really good. And let me tell you why we're doing it this way. Because these are all the reasons why this makes sense.”

What I had so much trouble taking in was this idea that they were trying to share with me that maybe it's not bad to have high standards. I am a recovering perfectionist. So believe it or not, I am attached to my high standards. But that, maybe all of these negative outcomes that I had been envisioning, if it wasn't really good, if it wasn't perfect, maybe those weren't all realistic fears. And maybe there actually was a way to do this a little bit faster, or to do it in stages, or to kind of prioritize more important parts of the work just to get this out there, and then go back and continue working on it over time in an organized way. 

That's what I needed to journal through because I have this core idea, this self-limiting belief that things really do have to be like to some, very, very high standard, and that it's actually not okay for me to be slack about things or not do my very best. This would always happen to me in school. I would over-study. I would over-prepare. I would work too hard on papers. And then, I finally had to be like, “No, I am a B student. It is perfectly acceptable to get a B. I can get a B and be just fine. Lots of people get Bs.” And it helped me actually step back enough that not only did I feel less stressed out, and I got more done, I did what I thought was B-level work on my papers, and I still got A's.

That was the thing that I had to be reminded of by this group is that when I feel like I'm doing 80, or 90% of a good job, it is actually a good job. But my core belief tells me that it is not good enough. And that makes me do extra stuff and get obsessive about things that maybe I don't need to be doing. So that is what I needed to hear. But the initial reaction to that was a lot of like, “No, you don't understand. Let me tell you.” 

If you notice that happening inside of you, I would just like you to note it, and then just spend some time being like, “What ideas am I so passionately defending right now? And are those actually true? What would it mean if they weren't true, if I could actually get this project out the door much more easily than I have been telling myself is possible?” Or like the artist that I was telling you about, like, if she were to tell you about the struggles that she has, and you are to say, “You know what, this is a great opportunity. Use this time. Build up your portfolio. See about getting representation. Do some networking. Get listed on some freelancer sites,” like this is all very reasonable advice, right? 

But I imagine that she would say, “No, that will never work because I don't know some of these new digital design programs. And that is what they're looking for. So I am never going to get one of these jobs. So I have to go back to school and get a second master's degree in graphic design. And that's going to cost 10s and 1000s of dollars and several years. So thanks for the advice, but no.” That's what she would say. When we really unpack this and look at like, okay, so, the core belief is that the way you are operating now isn't good enough, and you need to do extensive additional education to make anything happen, this person has been quite successful without any of that, and many people in her field have been quite successful without those things. So it's possible that success is in the realm of possibility, right? Possible possibilities.

Let's just take a look about function for a second. Because if that were true, if she could actually just start making her art, and putting herself out there, and seeing what would happen, that would be incredibly vulnerable. I think me overdoing things is also managing my anxiety about not quite being good enough, right? If I put something major out the door that I feel is like 80 or 90% good enough, I have all this anxiety about, “Oh, it's not good enough.” So, me, like, “No, it has to be better,” I am protecting myself in those moments. I am obstructing all possible progress, but I am making myself feel better. 

There's an emotional function for these things. It's often around vulnerability, anxiety. There's this very protective function to a lot of our self-limiting internal beliefs. So that's one thing to pay attention to, like, “Who are you fighting with and why?” So there's that. 

Another indication that you have a powerful self-limiting belief in your life is any thought or idea that leads to inhibition, paralysis, inaction, feeling trapped, feeling like you can't move forward. Because when we feel that way, when we're not trying things, or we feel like we can't make a decision, when we crack that open, there are often all these reasons why, why I can’t, why this won't work. When we are in that space of paralysis and inaction, we're often actively talking ourselves out of doing things or narrating to ourselves all of the negative outcomes or all the reasons why it won't work.

Here's an example that I think, again, we can all relate to, the not taking action category of, “I can't exercise regularly because I don't have enough time. I can't do it. I'm too busy. Cannot do it. So I don't. I would like to, but it's impossible just by virtue of my circumstances.” So we are not taking positive action. And this is a simple example. But who hasn't said that to themselves, right? But when we look at what that's doing for us, and we also look at a more reality-based idea, which is, here's a new one, that when I actually first heard this idea, it was like, “Oh, my God, I felt struck by lightning, actually.” 

Because the idea is, the truth is that you and me and everybody else on this entire planet, including the most insanely productive, disruptive people in the history of the world, like Elon Musk, writers, musicians, inspirational leaders, everyone has, ready? 1440 minutes a day to do with as they will. We all have exactly the same number of minutes allotted to us on a day. And the only difference is that we are making different choices about how we spend that time. Sometimes, we are in circumstances that have been shaped by choices that we made a while ago that are now impacting how we are spending our time. But 1440 minutes are all of ours.

I read somewhere that Vladimir Putin, who I am guessing is a fairly productive person, for better or for worse, spends something like three hours a day exercising, like every day. So, how you choose to spend that time may be different. But what would change for you if you just begin challenging that idea of “I don't have enough time,” with this new idea, which is actually, “I have exactly as much time as literally everyone else in the world, including Vlad, and I am prioritizing spending my time doing other things besides exercising.” When you do that, it's an interesting dynamic. Because the power totally shifts when you change that language from, “I can't,” to, “I am making different choices. And here are the reasons why.” 

You could still totally decide not to exercise. “I would actually rather not exercise. I do not feel like exercising. I don't enjoy exercising. I don't want to. I would rather do something different.” But when we shift away from that self-limiting idea that tells us we cannot, “It is literally impossible, you cannot do that,” into a new idea, “You could if you wanted to.” All of a sudden, the spotlight of personal responsibility is back on ‘lil old us. And that is anxiety-provoking because you're like, “Crap, I guess I could exercise if I wanted to. And I don't want to. So, what does that mean about me?” So again, that's the function of all these rules and limitations, right? It's protecting ourselves in some way from the reality of our own freedom, which is not always comfortable. It isn’t. Empowering, but not comfortable. So that's a big one. 

Lastly, one other ringer that you have just stumbled upon a really strong, juicy self-limiting core belief that is doing all kinds of things in your life is pretty much any idea that makes you feel really bad about yourself. If you were just listening to what I was describing above, around: “Yeah, I actually don't want to exercise.” If, for you, that turned into this, “Oh my god, I'm not exercising. I could be. I should be. I have as much time as anybody else. What's wrong with me that I'm not doing that? Other people exercise. And clearly, they are superior humans because I'm not doing that. I should make it a priority. I'm terrible.” 

If it turns into that for you, that is a really powerful core belief of, I think, the worst kind, these self-limiting core beliefs that tell us about who we are and that who we are is not as worthy, or capable, or able to do things. That's the worst. Because when it turns into calling yourself names, and, “I'm a failure. I'm miserable. I have no motivation. I have no willpower, and I never will.” It just turns into this spiral of just bad feelings. Can you down the drain of just, there's so much to unpack here. 

One thing that I work with my clients around a lot is identifying these kinds of thoughts that lead to this emotional spiral that just makes people feel like collapsing, right, when you're in the grips of that internal dialogue, just laying on the floor. To understand really consciously the inner narrative that is driving that, then they have the opportunity to intentionally and deliberately learn how to treat themselves with more kindness, like more of a friend. It takes energy. 

To actively create a more helpful internal dialogue, which is, “Maybe there are reasons why I am not exercising. Part of me believes that I want to and that I should but, I know, from listening to Dr. Lisa's podcasts that we have many different parts of ourselves, and there are such things as overt goals that we are aware of. And there are also covert goals that we are not aware of, and just maybe, I have actually been achieving a covert goal through not exercising, which is actually the fact that I feel tired. I feel like I need to rest, sometimes. I feel like I just need to stop and just rest. Maybe I actually do need to be compassionate with myself for my need for nurturing, and quiet time, and rest. Maybe that's valid. Maybe there's a different relationship that I can have with that need, where maybe some of these things can coexist. Maybe I can get that rest, and comfort, and nurturing, and relaxation and just feeling calm for once, and also find a way to take care of my body, which needs me to move around a little bit sometimes.” 

Again, there is so, so much to unpack here. This is a huge topic. These ideas go very deep. Sometimes, highly entrenched, self-limiting beliefs can have roots in our earliest childhood experiences. And sometimes not. Sometimes, they are actually much easier to change than you would think they are once you know that they're there, and you have some new skills and strategies for working with them differently, and managing them differently. 

Just want to challenge one core belief that may be may be percolating inside of you, which is that, “Okay, now I have listened to this podcast, and I should be able to know how to do this from this day forward.” I would just like to say very, very authentically, that that is not how this works. People can and do often spend quite a bit of time in therapy and life coaching unpacking this, developing the self-awareness, these core beliefs, figuring out their functions, figuring out how to deal with them differently, and it's not easy work. 

It is very, very valuable work. Because once you really identify those and figure out what to do with them a little bit differently, so many things can open up for you. I've seen people really just feel like they break free from paralysis. They see it, doors that are open to them that they literally did not see before, or if they did see would never have dared walk through. And they can really begin to try things and start learning and growing, and as a result, have new experiences that confirm these new ideas and prove against those old core beliefs that they had been harboring. 

So once you get these juices flowing and start growing again, it's very common to have all kinds of new evidence that support the new, more reality-based, more compassionate ideas. Because when you try things, you'll find that is often the case is that things actually do work out, and they're not as hard as you thought they would be. And you can do so many things. 

We're going to glide to a halt, park this conversation. Thank you for staying with me, and I hope that these ideas were helpful to you. I hope that they gave you some direction and maybe even some things to continue thinking about or journaling about until we meet again next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Until then, here's more Nightmare St. Julian. I like these guys.

[Outro song: Gaga by Julian St. Nightmare]


Love Your Body

Love Your Body

Love Your Body

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Thaw” by Bnny

Love Your Body

How to love your body? It sounds like it should be the simplest thing in the world: to have gratitude and appreciation for the miracle of your physical body. It automatically and without any input or direction from you… keeps your heart beating, keeps breathing while you sleep, makes you sweat when you’re too hot, digests your food, and locomotes you from one place to another. It can even participate in making another human. It is truly a miracle and whether or not it’s in good working order is the undeniable foundation of everything else in your whole life.

When it comes to your body, there is so much to love! 

Why Do I Hate My Body??

I’m well aware from many years as a therapist and fellow human that’s not always the way we feel about our bodies, is it? Even though it’s a fantastic engine of life that supports everything you do, it’s easy to get kinda judgy about the way your body looks or whether or not it’s as “good” or worthy of love and respect as someone else’s body, and through this weird emotional logic that tells us that certain bodies are better than other bodies, that the people in possession of enviable bodies are more intrinsically valuable humans.

It sounds so insane when you put it all down on paper like that but… that’s what we are often socialized to do: judge bodies by the ever-changing scoring rubric of the current zeitgeist. (Lisa pauses typing to double-check her reflection, and yes, the hair is parted down the center and not to the left. Giving myself a point!)

Hairstyles are one thing, but when it comes to how our bodies actually look — their shape, proportions, fat-to-height ratio, and how these shapes, proportions, and ratios compare to those of a difficult to attain cultural “ideal…” that’s when we can start slipping sideways into something yucky. 

Being unhappy with your body because it doesn’t look like one of the “good” ones. Being angry with your body for not responding to your efforts to diet, restrict, or exercise it into physical compliance. Worse yet, you might even start hating your body and being consumed with worry and thoughts related to what you’re eating or how much you’re exercising. 

Sometimes I’ll have online life coaching clients come to me with these kinds of goals for themselves, and it always makes me uncomfortable. When self-worth is tied to body image… that never ends well. [Read: “Advice From a Body Positivity Coach” for more on that subject]

Body Image and Low Self Esteem

When it gets really bad, people can even start to feel really down on themselves, struggling with low self-esteem, and finding it difficult to accept themselves or feel happy — all because their bodies (which work perfectly well, by the way) don’t look a certain way. 

This is a trap, folks. One that lots of people, particularly women, stumble into. Sometimes even before middle school is over, they’ve been indoctrinated into believing that people with different bodies have different levels of status and respect in this world, and that, in order to have love, happiness or success, they darn well better look like they’re “supposed to” (or kill themselves trying). Let’s not!

Loving Your Body: It Can Start Today

In the words of the late, great Monty Python: “And now for something completely different!” 

Enter my guest on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast: My Growing Self colleague Stephanie O. Stephanie is a therapist on the team who specializes in relationships — the ones we have with other people, but also the kind of relationship that you have with yourself. She helps many clients with things like self-esteem and how to have healthy partnerships, but she has special insight into helping people with body image and how to love themselves. 

Health at Any Size

Stephanie practices “Health at Any Size” ideas in therapy, and walks with her clients step by step through the process of examining beliefs about bodies, learning how to reject unhelpful cultural ideas about the value of our bodies, and then move towards body image acceptance. Over time, she can help her clients have genuine gratitude and appreciation for their amazing bodies, and even learn how to love their bodies too. 

She is joining me on today’s episode of the podcast to share her empowering “how to love your body” ideas with you. If you sometimes feel like you hate your body, I hope that you listen. Grab a pen — Stephanie’s sharing a ton of ideas that I hope you write down and start using today!

You can listen to this episode right here on growingself.com or access it through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show while you’re there! If you have follow-up questions or comments for Stephanie on this topic, please let us know in the comments below so Stephanie or I can respond. Show notes and episode transcript are below. 

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Love Your Body

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Love Your Body Podcast: Show Notes & Episode Highlights

Stephanie’s Journey to Health at Every Size

Many people are obsessed with their body weight and size. Some obsessive tendencies can manifest in extreme diets or passive thoughts. But some might even bleed into other aspects of their lives, such as low self-esteem and sexuality.

When she was a college freshman, Stephanie learned about eating disorders in her Psych 101 class. She was shocked to find that signs of anorexia applied to her and almost all the women she knew. That’s why she thought it would be interesting to work with people with eating disorders in grad school. 

During that time, she was introduced to the concept of Health at Every Size. Since then, Stephanie has sought to incorporate this in her work as a therapist and life coach.

Why Do I Hate My Body?

Most of us now know that it’s no longer cool to hate our bodies. Body acceptance is in! However, we still tend to think negatively about our bodies, often in overt ways. It starts off with seemingly benign thoughts like, “I should eat healthier.”

But then, this may turn into an obsession with cutting down on calories. Stephanie explains: “Underneath it, the goal underneath is really to actually be thinner because we equate so much of health and size together.” In addition, we tend to conflate health and morality. 

Because of the sneaky way we obsessively think of our bodies, many of us also treat our ideal bodies as the prerequisite to happiness. You’ve probably had these beliefs at one point in your life:

  • When I hit my ideal weight, I can finally get my crush to notice me.
  • If I become thinner, then I can wear the clothes I want. 
  • Once I get my body goals, I’ll finally be happier.

We become so engrossed in “that day.” But Cheri Huber reminds us: That day does not exist, and it only exists in your mind. Its reason is to torture you.”

The misconception that you’ll be happy in the future when you achieve the “perfect body” holds you back from living the life you want. The truth is, you can’t be happy in the future if you aren’t happy now. So, learn how to love yourself now.

The Path to Radical Self-Acceptance

If you are struggling with loving your body, practice self-compassion. It’s not a “you” problem. Rather, it’s a larger societal problem.

Society has perpetuated unrealistic beauty standards through the media and beauty industry. It has become so pervasive that it’s rare for someone to be completely satisfied with their body. In our society, we are conditioned to think we’re doing bad when we aren’t a “normal” weight. Thus, we should constantly try to work toward that unattainable standard.

Stephanie usually starts the process of body acceptance by encouraging them to consume more size-inclusive media. These can come in the form of:

  • Instagram accounts to follow,
  • podcasts to listen to, and
  • television shows to watch.

She shares, “Because if we do this work, and we continue to just see all the same input all the time, it's almost impossible to challenge that.”

From there, they would work on challenging societal norms and standards by paying attention to how much value we put on size and weight.

It’s also important to deconstruct the messages we’ve been given. For so long, we’ve been led to believe that being fat is unhealthy and being thin is good. However, there is no significant correlation between health and size. Learning to question these beliefs is crucial to radical self-acceptance.

How to Accept Your Body

Finding the reason why you want to change your mindset and body perceptions is an important part of loving your body. Whether you want to stop counting your calorie intake or you just want to feel better in your skin, determining this gives you a purpose.

Another good way to start your journey is to get rid of your scale. Thinking rationally, it serves no real purpose. It’s just there. But it doesn’t need to be.

Body neutrality can also be a powerful thing. Stephanie describes it as:

  • Not loving or hating your body.
  • Not valuing your body using terms such as “fat” or “thin.”
  • Simply acknowledging what you look like.

Some people are resistant to this idea because they feel like they’ll let themselves go. If you ever feel that nagging fear about getting fat, then ask yourself, “What does getting fat mean to me?” 

Perhaps, you’re unconsciously linking being fat to lovability and worthiness. In that case, you have to remember that fat ≠ bad. Many people have harmed their bodies by trying to fight their natural state.

Health at Every Size

Society tends to attribute health and wellness as a personal responsibility. In reality, it’s widespread problems, such as marginalization and racism, that are huge health hazards. By sweeping these under the rug and blaming it on people’s laziness, we allow the unjust components of our society to proliferate.

Thus, the best way to improve our population’s health is to create a fair world without inequity. Just as Stephanie says, “We know that different cultures and ethnicities have different sizes. People come in all different shapes and sizes.”

Yet, research on obesity in white people is being applied as a worldwide standard. Moreover, most of this research does not factor in fitness, further spreading misinformation that weight and health are intricately linked.

Love Your Body Now

If you’re struggling to love your body, the key is not losing weight. It’s appreciating your body for the things it does for you. Try saying these phrases to yourself and see what comes up:

  • I love my legs because they take me to new places.
  • I love my ears because they allow me to hear beautiful music.
  • I love my tummy because it protects my vital organs.

For Stephanie, loving your body simply means taking care of it. Alongside body acceptance, some other ways to love your body are intuitive eating and joyful movement. 

“So that's the home run message. How can you live the life you want right now in the body you have right now, given your current situation, not that invisible finish, not that imaginary future day. But how can I be the healthiest I can right now in the body that I have right now?

Remember that your body is worth loving and taking care of. Always was, always will be.

Resources

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Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about body image and acceptance? How do you think these insights can help you love your body and give it the care it deserves? Tell us by commenting on this episode. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness, and success.

[Intro song: Thaw by Bnny]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. The band is Bnny with the song Thaw. It's a haunting song with a raw message, and that is intentional because we're going there today. Today, we're talking about you and your relationship with your body. 

It can be hard to love your body. How do you feel about your body? If you're like a lot of people, especially women, you don't like what you see in the mirror. You wish your body looked different, and a lot of people, especially women, get tricked into believing that if only you could attain this physical ideal of beauty that is unrealistic for like 99.999% of all humans. But if you could, then finally, you would get the love, the happiness, and success that you always wanted. 

This is a trap. We need to talk about it. Too many of us are socialized into basing our worth on the way we look. We spend way too much time thinking about how we can force our body to be different and get super vigilant about what we're eating or weighing ourselves. Or even taking this “healthy lifestyle” to an extreme that is not actually good for anyone, especially mentally and emotionally or physically, for that matter. 

If any of what I'm saying is feeling familiar and on point for you, I want you to get ready for a breath of fresh air. Today, I'm so pleased to be visiting with my colleague here at Growing Self, Stephanie O. She is a marriage and family therapist but she also has a real passion for helping people, especially women, liberate themselves from these really destructive and toxic ideas about self-worth, and particularly, self-worth based on the way you should look. 

Stephanie is here today to talk with us about how to practice health at any size, how to shift away from self-hatred and towards self-acceptance, and maybe even into loving your body the way it deserves to be loved. Thank you, Stephanie, for being here with me today. 

Stephanie Oliver: Thank you so much, Lisa, for having me. I'm really excited to talk about this and share this with people and curious what other people think and have to say as well. 

Stephanie’s Journey to Health at Every Size

Dr. Lisa: Yes. Well, we're going to have a good talk, and I'm just happy to be here because I like talking to you anyway. This is a particularly important topic because I think so many people, and I do not want to gender stereotype because I think a lot of different people struggle with this, feel a lot of shame, anxiety, discomfort around their body, the way their body looks, lots of messages like what kind of body they should have, their body is different. 

Then, we also get these messages like love your body, and that's pretty much when people just feel like laying down and taking a very long nap. 

Stephanie: Yeah, and I think the moral of that is that we spend way too much time thinking about our bodies in general, whether it's complete shame and self-hate of our bodies to just wanting to change it in some way, or wishing that it was different, or even more passive thoughts throughout the day like, “Should I or shouldn't I eat this? Or should I or shouldn't I look differently?” It just takes up way too much of our time and our brain power. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. You've been working with clients around this for a while. Can I ask you? I'm curious to know. How did you get interested in this, I think, fascinating subset of our profession? 

Stephanie: Yeah, so I think I can pin it back to actually when I was 18. I was a freshman in college, I was in Psych 101, and we were learning about eating disorders. I saw the diagnostic criteria for anorexia. It was restricting calorie intake, dissatisfied with the way that you look, fear of becoming fat. I was like, “Wait, isn't that everybody?” 

I hadn't really known any woman to not possess some of those characteristics, including me. I thought, “Well, this is a classified mental illness, so there's got to be more to the story than this, that it gives so many people experiences.” I just kind of filed it away in the back of my mind until I went to grad school and thought, “Oh, maybe I'll work with people with eating disorders. That could be quite interesting.” 

I got exposed to this concept of Health at Every Size, which some people will be familiar with. It's basically an entirely new way of thinking about health, and size, and body acceptance, and the way that we think about weight and health in our society. It made so much sense to me, and I just went from there. I thought, “How can I incorporate this as a marriage and family therapist? How could I not perpetuate weight and size stigma, but instead, continue to challenge it since this is such a common presenting problem as a therapist? A lot of people come seeking help with weight, and size, and body image issues.” 

Why Do I Hate My Body?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well it impacts so many different parts of life too and relationships and sexuality, there are so many different things attached. I'm wondering, for somebody listening to this who's like, “I'm really glad I'm listening to this podcast right now. I'm ready to learn,” what are some things that you would imagine might be true for them that maybe you've heard from some of your clients previously around? What starts to happen when people are thinking about their bodies a lot? 

Stephanie: Well, I think, this day and age, it can actually be quite sneaky. I think before maybe when we were growing up, it was a lot more overt like, “Oh, I wish I had thinner legs, or bigger boobs, or a flatter stomach.” Now, I think it can sneak in a variety of ways because a lot of us would like to consider ourselves very… We know it's not cool anymore to hate your body, right? Body acceptance is in. 

I think that sometimes it sneaks in. It starts out as a pursuit of health. “I want to be healthier,” and then, you start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I want to be healthier. I've got to burn more calories.” It just kind of spirals from there, right? Underneath it, the goal underneath is really to actually be thinner because we equate so much of health and size together, right? 

I think that it can sneak in in a bunch of different ways. I think with all of the images that we're exposed to online in terms of clean and healthy eating, and vegan diets, and gluten-free diets, and things like that, which can be really helpful for people and can be really important for people, can also turn into starting to obsess a little bit too much about what we're eating and how we're eating. 

Dr. Lisa: Like good food, bad food. That kind of thing. 

Stephanie: The other thing I think people will be familiar with is just conflating health and morality, right? Like what you were just saying, “I'm a good person because I keep healthy,” or “I'm a bad person because I didn't exercise today,” or even judging that in others. I think, too, not just oneself but making judgments on other people. 

I think, to just having this sense, and this is for all of my clients, I think, having this sense that there's a magical day in the future where everything is going to be exactly the way that they want it, “I'm going to be the exact weight that I want. My life is going to be the exact way that I want.” That day does not exist, first of all. 

Dr. Lisa: Do you have to say it out loud? Come on! No, I'm just kidding. It's like, “When I attain this thing, then all these other good things will happen.” 

Stephanie: “When I'm this weight, I will have the partner that I want. I'll be able to wear the clothes I want. I'll be happy.” My favorite quote from one of my favorite authors, Cheri Huber, who's a Buddhist writer, she says, “That day does not exist, and it only exists in your mind. Its reason is to torture you.” Right? 

Dr. Lisa: What an awesome quote.

Stephanie: I won't talk about solutions yet, but I feel like that day does exist in so many people's minds. It prevents us from accepting who we are now, living the life we want now because we think, “Oh, one day, I'll be this way.” 

I think another thing too is thinking that “At one point, when I was a different weight, or when I looked differently, I was happy.” I think that's a big myth that people carry with them. I have my clients find a picture of themselves at a time when they thought, “Okay, I like the way I am and this picture.” I have them look at the picture, and I say, “Well, were you happy, and were you pleased with your body at that point?” 

Most everyone always says, “I wasn't really happy then either. I also hated my body then, even though I'm looking back at it now, and I think I look good now looking back on it. But at the time, I still was so self-critical and still wasn't happy and comfortable with my body at that point.” I think those are things that most people can relate to. 

The Path to Radical Self-Acceptance

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and that's huge. This is just so interesting. It's like there's this, I don't know, maybe it's conscious, maybe it's subconscious, this very powerful association. That “I need to make my body look a certain way or become this…” There's character, and morals, and virtue all tied up in it. “And if only I can do these things, then all these doors will open. I will feel good, and people will like me. I will feel loved. I will feel confident. All of these things.” 

This makes a lot of sense to me. This turns into almost this motivation to really being focused on your body because it's a vehicle. It's sort of like a symbol for all of these other things. That if we could only torture it into submission.

Stephanie: Yeah, it's the one you can only control, which you really can't that much. But we think we can. I think it's important for people to realize too that it's not really their fault if they think this way, right? We think this way, it's not a personal problem. It's a larger societal problem that was really put on us by unrealistic expectations by the beauty industry, by so many different things we were exposed to. Then, we continue to perpetuate it. 

There are estimates but I think 85% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, and I'm sure it's more. I haven't really met somebody in my life that hasn't, at one point, brought up some type of dissatisfaction with the way that they look. It's very pervasive. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, can we just talk a little bit more? You mentioned, what I heard in there is we're taught to believe these things about ourselves that aren't true, and you just kind of alluded to culture. If you had to articulate what you think women and men are taught, and sometimes it's about men and their own bodies. I think that men are also taught about women's bodies and what that is. How would you articulate the messages that we inherit from these larger systems and take on board sometimes without even realizing it? 

Stephanie: I think the messages are, “You better be a ‘normal' weight, and if you're not, then you sure as heck better be trying to achieve a normal weight. It's not okay to just be complacent or be okay with the way you look. You need to be trying to achieve that norm.” I think that's broad enough to apply to men and women.

Dr. Lisa: If you don't look like this fairly unattainable representation of physical humanity, which is hard, you need to feel bad about that and guilty and be working really hard to make that be different, or you're a bad person. 

Stephanie: Yes. Yeah. Lindy West, who's a famous fat activist says, “Okay, you're fat, but you better be a fat person that's trying to be thin. That's sort of like okay, but it's not okay to just be okay with it.” 

Dr. Lisa: Wow, but I bet you have a different idea that maybe it is okay. 

Stephanie: I do. 

Dr. Lisa: Tell me more about that part. What's the alternate? Well, I shouldn't say because I love doing these podcasts and kind of talking about ideas and things that would be helpful for people, but I always feel so cautious and feel myself saying this over and over again. 

There is a process. There is an arc of growth from coming in and talking with somebody like Stephanie, and that's where you are. It's like with these messages and these things still very true and that there is a process that builds over time to be able to incorporate different ideas and stories. 

That's what I'm asking you about, is different ideas and stories. But my disclaimer is that it takes a while to get there. Because it's like another thing for people to judge themselves about, right? If they're like, “Stephanie dropped some great ideas.” Like, “Here's a better way to think,” and you're like, “I can't do that yet. I just want to make that.” 

Stephanie: …and the shame cycle is just… 

Dr. Lisa: Right? Okay, so with that in mind, where do you gently move people towards instead and I'm wondering what the process looks like in your work with clients? 

Stephanie: Well, I tend to start by exposing people to other types of input than the input that they're getting. I recommend people to more size-acceptance types of media, people they can follow on Instagram, or podcasts that they can listen to, or TV shows that they can even watch. That's my first approach to it because if we do this work, and we continue to just see all the same input all the time, it's almost impossible to challenge that. 

Then, the other thing I do, which feels pretty safe to people, is work on the way that they view others first, challenging societal norms around this, so questioning things. I always tell people, “Just start to pay attention to how many of your conversations with your friends are around size and weight, positive or negative,” because I'm pretty radical. I don't think we should compliment each other on our bodies either, but just how much value is put on the way someone looks, your conversations with your family. 

People are pretty surprised to just slow down that awareness and realize, “Oh, it's a lot.” It's a lot. We talk about our looks a lot. The other thing I slide in is starting to understand that the relationship between health and size is not what we think it is. We think fat is unhealthy, thin is healthy. We have to start understanding that that has been fed to us over a long period of time, and it's not the whole story. There's science, there's research to back this up as well. It's not just an opinion, right? 

Getting people to start to deconstruct the messages that we've been given and how true they actually are can give people, give all of us a sense of purpose in terms of “Oh, I'm going to challenge this. I'm not just going to believe what I've been told about my weight and size. I went to the doctor, and the doctor said I was overweight. That doesn't feel like… I don't understand. How could that be?” Right? And not just accepting that right away and understanding that there's a bigger story around all sorts of things, and I don't know how much we want to get into it but that there's more to it than that, and we can really challenge it. 

One of my clients was saying that she complimented a friend and said, “Oh, you're looking so thin,” and the friend was like, “I actually got diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and I'm sick.” That was her wake-up call. “Oh my God, I was just assuming that this was a positive thing. She had lost weight but she was sick.” Things like that that we can work on, just rethinking our common narrative can be really liberating for people because it's harder to just turn inward and then live by that. But it's easier to start questioning society itself, which is where the problem comes from anyway. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I could see that. It feels helpful and, in some ways, easier to see that narrative and be able to challenge it around “Wow, I am complimenting people on their looks, assuming positive things about others by virtue of the way they look that may or may not be true,” and just really being exposed to different ideas, different kinds of information that shape our perceptions of reality. 

How to Accept Your Body

Stephanie: Absolutely. Some other things to start thinking about in terms of change, I'm really interested in people not wasting any more of their lives, in general, on whatever the thing it is, that thing they have, maybe. We waste an awful lot of our time on this. I know I don't want to be on my deathbed thinking about how I wasted time about my weight or the way I looked and things like that. Finding that reason why you want to start changing your thinking is really important for a lot of my clients. 

For some people, it's like, “I want to be able to look in the mirror again,” or for some people, it's “I want to stop obsessing. I want to stop counting calories and weighing myself all the time. It's exhausting.” By the way, that's another thing you can do, is get rid of your scale immediately. There's no reason why we need to have scales in our house. I tell people they can bury it in the backyard because you can always dig it back up again if you feel like you need it. But I do have clients that have literally buried their scales because it doesn't need to be there. 

It's a question, “Why is that there? Why am I tracking every pound?” Really questioning how much time is this taking. In that vein, I think working on this idea of body neutrality can be really powerful for people. “I'm not going to love my body; I'm not going to hate it. I'm just going to accept. I'm going to look in the mirror and be like, ‘Okay, this is what I look like.'” And trying not to value it at all in terms of “I look great, or I look fat, or I look thin, or there's a bulge here or whatever.” Just acknowledging it as a fact almost like, “This is what I look like.” People could start there themselves. That could be a really interesting process as well. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and this idea that you need to jump into this, “I love and appreciate my body exactly as it is.” It feels like too big of a step and just to experiment with “This is my body.” You're almost describing it as like a very mindful way without interpretation, or judgment, or values. It is just what it is.

Stephanie: This is extremely scary for people. That isn't easy. When we have a belief system over time that tells us, “No, if I do that, I'm going to let myself slip. I need to constantly be pushing myself, and I can't let go. I can't let myself slip. That's a really scary thing because if I'm okay with my body, then what if I get fat? What if I gain weight?” for some people, that fear is all-encompassing. 

Dr. Lisa: What do you do with that? “Stephanie, I can't. If I don't hate myself, if I don't judge myself, if I don't yell at myself every time I look in the mirror, then I'm going to stop trying, and then I will be fat and what does that mean?” 

Stephanie: What would happen if you were fat? What would happen if you gained weight? There's an assumption that fat is bad, right? It's not necessarily. A lot of people are fighting their body's natural state quite intensely to prevent it from being at the weight it wants to be. A lot of clients that I have have gotten to a point where they're like, “What if I just let myself be fat? There's a good chance that I'm never going to look any different than I have my whole life. So maybe it's time to just be okay with it, right?” 

I think that weight fluctuation, too, has really been linked to a lot of health problems so the more we diet, and we know diets don't work. 99% of people gain back all or more of the weight after two years of losing it on a diet, right? They're unsustainable, and they're unattainable. So that weight fluctuation can actually be really harmful for health. Pointing things out like that to them can sometimes be useful. But I think questioning like, “Well, okay, so you'd be fat, and? What does that mean to you?” Then, we can pull out some of people's own stigma and biases. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What does it mean? Our virtue? Lovability? Worthiness? Yeah. I want to go back to a point that you said. It was actually on my mind earlier today, and I'll tell you why. You mentioned a minute ago that people are often fighting viciously with themselves to try to not be the weight that their body naturally wants to be. I might have even, was it just last night? It might have been.

Health at Every Size

I came across this article that I read because I was thinking, “I'm going to be talking to Stephanie about body image and weight.” I have to share the link with you. It was a new article from a science journalist who's going through a lot of the research. The punchline is that there has always been, even among medical professionals, this theory about what creates obesity, but I've certainly heard before, which is calories in calories out. 

If you are consuming more calories than you burn, it gets stored as fat. It's sort of like thermodynamics, right? It sounds very reasonable. That is actually not true and that genetic variations, there have been experiments with mice, that a mouse with a certain genetic imprint, their bodies do different things with insulin production. In experiments, you can actually feed one of these mice half as much as a sort of standard-issue mouse diet, whatever that is, and they will still gain weight. 

Their body just simply does different things with energy and energy storage and that there's a high degree of just natural variability in humans. The discussion is that people who do maybe struggle with obesity or overweight are not eating more than regular people. They're not doing anything bad to create this. It's just their bodies. 

Stephanie: Yes. We have never been able to find any evidence that shows that fat people eat more than thin people. We've never. People try to prove it all the time, and it doesn't work. That article that you're citing right now is actually a pretty famous piece of research. It's not new. Maybe this one is new. 

Dr. Lisa: The article came out, or at least I saw it recently. 

Stephanie: The research is older, and people went through a lot of efforts to keep that message from the public because still, this moral sense of “We can't let people know because then, they'll think it's okay, right?”

Dr. Lisa: “They'll bury their scales in their backyard. The anarchy.” 

Stephanie: Yes, yes. Just so much of it is not at all our nutrition, what we put in our bodies. So much of weight is based on genes, genetics, socioeconomic status, our relationships, our friendships, our fitness. Fitness is the biggest personal predictor, the biggest thing you can control to keep your health up. 

Nutrition plays an important but very, very small part in it. It doesn't surprise me when I read things like this. Actually, we can't find that fat people eat any differently than thin people. There are thin people who eat tons of junk food. There are fat people that eat tons of junk food. There are fat people who eat very healthy and exercise a ton. There are thin people who eat very healthily and exercise a ton. We can't really find a difference in the… 

Dr. Lisa: Behavior, yeah.

Stephanie: A strong causality. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and just to support what you're saying, I will totally share this article with you. But citing research from a hundred years ago, stuff going on in World War II that this was coming out and just never gained traction. In agriculture, it was known that certain kinds of cows or other livestock just metabolized food differently, but it just never translated to humans. 

That's so important because it goes back to that idea of morality, of virtue, of good and bad, the sense that, “I should look different, and I should make myself look different. If I can't, that means something bad about me.” This anxiety that comes along with that, and what I'm hearing from you is like, “Just get off that bus!” 

Stephanie: Well, that's, I think, one of the key components of Health at Every Size, is that the best way to improve the health of a population is to work towards creating a more fair and just world and reducing inequity. We have studies that show increased heart disease in immigrant populations. 

We were able to sort of prove or research was able to show that the only contributing factor here is the stress on this minority population. But we're going to tell them, the information that we're going to give them from the health organizations is that they need to eat less butter, right? 

It's putting a personal responsibility on someone when it's actually things like racism, and size stigma, and any type of marginalization are huge health hazards. As long as we keep it in this sphere of “It's what you eat, and how much you exercise, and if you can't maintain a weight, you're lazy,” then we kind of ignore all of these other unjust components of our society. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and how we're all, in some way, personally responsible for creating that or maintaining that. I'm so glad that you're bringing this up because there's I think a positive way that it seems like, at least, in some ways, there has been some progress. Racism is still very much a thing, internalized racism, and the amount of stress that it creates for people of color, immigrants. 

I think it could be argued that discrimination of overweight people or fat-shaming is still widely accepted in a lot of ways. I think that people internalize, like we were talking about before, internalize that shame. They may experience hostility, or nasty comments, or lost opportunities, maybe assumptions made about them being a certain way that aren't true. The level of stress, and anxiety, and pain that causes, that's the real health consequence. 

Stephanie: Absolutely, and we know that different cultures and ethnicities have different sizes. People come in all different shapes and sizes. All this research that we have on obesity and all this stuff, it's all on white people. All of the subjects in these tests are mostly for white populations. So everything is messed up, basically, is what I'm saying. 

In so many of these studies that link health problems to obesity, this is an important point people should know, fitness level was not accounted for in those studies. When fitness is accounted for, there's virtually no link between weight and health. There's a lot of misinformation. People are interested in publishing things that go along with what we already believe, and it's very hard to challenge those belief systems, I think, because of how this has become such a moral issue. 

Love Your Body Now

Dr. Lisa: I hear you. Okay, so if I were to synthesize very complex and nuanced ideas into a few chunks, I'm hearing you say that step one is getting familiar and understanding the stories that we are telling ourselves, stories that we've inherited just as an observer, right? Then, that second piece is really beginning to challenge them with different kinds of information. Then, the next phase really is trying to move into a practice of acceptance, of self-acceptance. 

Then finally, just to ask, in your work with people, have you worked with people over the arc of this process where they are able to change their relationships with their bodies to the degree that they can say, “You know what? I love my body. I am so grateful for this body I have,” and have it be a positive thing? 

Stephanie: I think that my clients who experienced success become people who some days, they love their body, some days, they don't think about it at all, some days, they may have an issue with their body creep back in again. But it's much more along just the normal experience of our relationships with our bodies and not being obsessed with it. 

I think that success to me in this field is taking care of your body. That success, just taking care of it. There are a few other things that we work on like intuitive eating, and joyful movement, and along with the body acceptance piece. But I think that success in the end is like, “I've got this body. I have it. It is what it is, and here's how I'm going to take care of it.”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and then, I would attach maybe to that too is, it's worth taking care of, maybe potentially disconnect a little bit from the way it looks and to what it does. Because what I'm thinking about right now, having gone through two pregnancies, this experience of my body just starting to do all of these things automatically for me and for this baby that were in no way connected to me looking good, but to more like very useful in terms of: “I could do all this stuff!” Just being able to transport you from here to there. The physicality of movement is appreciating your body for breathing, and digesting food, and doing things. Yeah, it's amazing. 

Stephanie: I think that the people that we know that have a more positive sense of their bodies are the people who are able to say, “Oh, I love my legs because they make me run fast,” or “I love my skin because it stretches when I am pregnant. That's amazing.” Just understanding and being grateful for the functions of their body, and if we're struggling with that, the answer is not to lose weight, right? 

The answer is to find things that we like or enjoy or in terms of movement and things like that that our bodies can do. That's kind of the home run message, is how can you live the life you want right now in the body you have right now, given your current situation? Not that invisible finish, not that imaginary future day, but: “How can I be the healthiest I can right now in the body that I have right now?” 

Dr. Lisa: Yes, radical idea that perhaps, and this is a good message for everyone, that there is a path to being perfectly happy right now with normal ebbs and flows, where it is what it is, to find a path of gratitude and appreciation that is disconnected from your physical appearance and what that means, just being happy like, “This is it.” I love it. 

Thank you so much for sharing such a positive, empowering message. I'm sure that there are a lot of people who needed to hear this. It's wonderful even for me to hear and think about. 

Just to share, the last time I was pregnant, I got a doctor who started giving me a lot of crap for gaining too much weight too quickly. I started to develop so much anxiety about what I was eating, and when do I eat, what do I eat, all that stuff, and weighing myself was not good. Then, my scale broke, and that was three years ago. I never got another scale, and it's so interesting. Just that one data point that, especially women can get very weird about, it's a non-issue. It doesn't matter. 

Stephanie: It's not even really measuring anything. I want to say too that there are many doctors, physicians, nutritionists, mental health professionals, dieticians even, who do follow this Health at Every Size approach. There are doctors that I know who have actually stopped weighing their patients altogether and just follow this paradigm shift, just shifting our thinking. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, that's wonderful and again, I think a message of empowerment is that if this is something that you're working towards, to advocate for that, and find a doctor who is familiar with these ideas and who practice this Health at Every Size and to find that network of support for this. Wonderful. Again, thank you so much for sharing it, and I will include if you'd like to share more information about Health at Every Size in the show notes of this episode and some other resources that we can direct people to and go from there. 

Stephanie: Thank you so much, Lisa. I really enjoyed talking to you about this today. 

Dr. Lisa: Me too. This is a lot of fun. 

You can find links to the resources that Stephanie shared today during our talk on the post for this podcast, which is going to be growingself.com/love-your-body. Also, while you're there, be sure to cruise over to the blog. Stephanie has so generously written a number of articles on our blog related to self-esteem, healthy relationships. She has a particularly fantastic article about what to do if you feel like you're walking on eggshells with someone in a relationship and another article around body acceptance and Health at Any Size

It is all there for you at growingself.com. Come over, check it out, and in the meantime, I will be back in touch with you next week with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast, and let's go out with some more Bnny. 

By the way, you guys, this whole album is fantastic. You should definitely check it out, Bnny. Bnny. All right, that's all for today. Over and out, my friends. I will talk to you next week. Bye-bye.

[Outro music: Thaw by Bnny]


Mindful Self Compassion

Mindful Self Compassion

Mindful Self Compassion

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Mindful Self Compassion

MINDFUL SELF COMPASSION: As you may know, in addition to my work here as a therapist, couples counselor and life coach, I love addressing listener questions on the Love Happiness and Success Podcast (not to mention the wonderful questions that you guys leave for me on our blog). A while ago, one brave listener reached out with a heartfelt email, sharing a bit about her life, and asking how to handle some really difficult things, like: “How do I forgive myself when I've hurt someone?” “How do I break my old patterns so that I don't do harmful things again?” “How do I stay emotionally available when I fear being hurt?” These are important questions that many people wrestle with, and I decided to tackle them on the show. We'll be discussing:

How to Forgive Yourself When You've Hurt Someone

While so many resources are there to help you if you've been hurt by someone else, or need to forgive someone who has betrayed you, or how to rebuild trust in a relationship, few resources exist to help those suffering with feelings of guilt, regret and remorse. This is unfortunate, because who among us hasn't done something they regret? The worst is when you've hurt someone you've loved, and maybe lost a relationship as a result of it. We'll discuss how to apply self-awareness and mindful self-compassion to this situation in order to find forgiveness for yourself, by putting your actions in context of both your life experience and your inner experience. We'll talk about how to practice self-compassion, and also some self-compassion exercises to help you develop this skill. Resources: Here's the link to the attachment styles article I mentoned. One of the other resources I discuss here is our “What's Holding You Back” quiz to help you gain self-awareness (here's the link if you want to check it out).

How Do I Break My Old Patterns?

The crux of any personal growth process is using your self-awareness and your feelings to get clearer about your values, help you guide your future behavior and future choices. But all we have is the present moment. We'll talk about how to combine compassion for yourself, empathy for others, and mindfulness skills to manage yourself in the moment so that you create better outcomes in the future. Resource: Mindfulness, For People Who Hate to Meditate

How Do I Stay Emotionally Available in Relationships?

When you're feeling fragile and emotionally reactive, it's hard to have healthy relationships. Instead, we usually fall into either losing ourselves and being dependent on another for our feelings of self-worth. (Which too often leads to emotional enmeshment and codependency). Or, we swing into self-protection, lashing out, shutting down, or breaking off relationships. The key to finding a middle path — connection, and confidence — is through loving yourself and strengthening yourself. Resource: Here's the link to the Self-Love article I mentioned. Also, an article about cultivating healthy vulnerability in relationships. At the heart of all the ideas, skills and strategies here for forgiving yourself, and using your mistakes as a launch pad for growth is the concept of mindful self-compassion. I hope you keep that idea with you, on your journey of growth and healing. Your fellow traveler, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Mindful Self Compassion: How to Forgive Yourself

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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Boundaries in Relationships

Boundaries in Relationships

SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES

Relationships, by definition, include two people. But sadly, there are times when people forget to take care of themselves because they prioritize others so much. They may slowly feel exhausted and lost, and this affects the energy in their relationships. However, you can prevent this from happening by learning how boundaries in relationships can be beneficial.

In this interview with Denver Therapist and boundary expert, Kathleen Stutts we discuss the significance of building healthy boundaries in your relationships. Kathleen gives us her thoughts on how to maintain lasting relationships with others while respecting yourself. She also talks about the different signs of having poor boundaries in relationships.

Listen to the full episode to know how to set healthy boundaries in your relationships!

In This Episode: Boundaries in Relationships. . .

  • Learn the importance of having healthy boundaries in your relationships.
  • Learn the common misconceptions and fears about building boundaries.
  • Understand why it's difficult for you to develop your boundaries.
  • Know how you can help the people you care about while taking care of yourself.
  • Know the different signs that you're in an unhealthy relationship.
  • See examples of healthy boundaries in relationships.
  • Discover how to handle people who disrespect your boundaries.

Episode Highlights

What Are Boundaries?

For Kathleen, setting up boundaries is a “healthy and clear understanding of what you need to do to take care of yourself, what you're in control of and what you're not in control of.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about boundaries. Usually, people associate them with conflict or relationship barriers. However, it's the complete opposite, as boundaries nurture and protect relationships.

Many people are afraid of setting up boundaries in their relationships. Here are two reasons why:

These fears push people not to build boundaries in their relationships. However, they are just products of misconceptions of these limits. 

Why You Need Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationships

We need to develop healthy boundaries in our relationships to honor and respect ourselves

To be a good and decent person means having boundaries in your relationships. When there are no boundaries in your relationship, you're just stretching yourself thin. You'll end up burned out and exhausted.

When we become assertive and build boundaries, we reach a compromise with people. For Kathleen, letting your foot down means “we're taking care of ourselves while respecting other people.”

Being a people pleaser and taking other's responsibility as your own will only leave you exhausted. You'll always feel anxious maintaining that sense of harmony within your relationship, even at the cost of your stability. 

Kathleen reminds us that it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. We must take care of the things we can directly control and let go of the things that we cannot. 

Examples of Setting Boundaries in Relationships

It is difficult to see someone you care about getting hurt or having a hard time. However, it does not mean that you should shoulder their responsibilities or that you owe them. Remember that a healthy and loving relationship and setting your boundaries aren't mutually exclusive. 

Kathleen tells us that “It feels bad to see someone hurting if you're a good, kind person and you have empathy, but acting on that is not always the right or nice thing to do.”

In moments like this, you can do the following:

You can Show Them Support. Instead of owning what someone else is going through, you can instead let them know they're not alone. You can be supportive while establishing your boundaries in that moment.

Offer Help. Offering help if you feel they need it, is always on the table. However, only commit to assistance you can provide. Keep in mind that you also have boundaries to keep.

By being transparent with your limitations, you can help and support the people you care about while also taking care of yourself. Just as Kathleen says, “The beautiful thing about boundaries is that it is not really requesting something of somebody, it is letting them know what to expect from you.”

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

Boundaries must be present in your relationship, and it goes both ways. You must know the limits of your boundaries, and the person in your relationship must realize their boundaries as well.

Here are the common signs that you have unhealthy relationship boundaries:

You're taking other's responsibility as your own. 

When people you care about have a hard time, you step in and do everything for them. This action is a sign that you have unhealthy boundaries in your relationship because you're taking the opportunity from them to learn and grow.

Kathleen adds that “When we try to rescue people from them, we're taking away, we're violating some of their rights—their right to feel bad.”

Others don't respect your boundaries.

You must be aware if another person is always stepping on or over your boundaries. It's okay to follow through with your limits and let others know what they're doing wrong.

You need boundaries to establish what is and isn't good or okay for you. You can't brush off instances like these when your boundaries are disrespected or overlooked, they'll only get more frequent and hurt more in the end.

You might not speak up because you're afraid of conflict and/or making people uncomfortable.

When people have wronged you or have stepped on your boundaries, you should let them know right away. Keeping silent about what you feel will only make things worse. You and your relationship will suffer.

Remember that setting up boundaries does not mean conflict. You must steer away from this common misconception. 

What to Do When Someone Crosses a Line

However, there would be times when people would disregard your boundaries. You must be wary of these instances, especially if they happen more than once. If it happens almost always, then you might be in a toxic relationship.

Here are the things you can do when such situations happen:

  • Let them know that they're disrespecting your boundaries.
  • Show them there are consequences to crossing your boundaries.
  • Reach a compromise. 
  • If following through with limitations or the situation is too much, consider working with a coach or a therapist.  

Building Healthy Boundaries: Where to Start?

Kathleen has helped many of her clients build healthy relationship boundariesLearning how to create boundaries is a process. You cannot impose them in your relationships, especially if you were unaware of their importance. 

Luckily, Kathleen shared some of the things you have to consider in learning how to build healthy boundaries. Here are some of them:

Understand why you're feeling this way. Have some time to reflect and ask yourself why you're feeling anxious, exhausted, or inadequate.

Here are some of the questions that may guide you in your introspection:

  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?
  • Why am I feeling bitter, resentful, or angry?
  • What makes me exhausted and burned out?

Develop a sense of self-compassion. For Kathleen, this means stepping back and looking at the whole picture while being compassionate with yourself.

By seeing the bigger picture, you learn why building boundaries in your relationship is complicated. It may be because this is how the people in your life taught you to treat your limits. 

Learn how to self-validate. Once you know why you have difficulty building boundaries, you must remind yourself that what you're feeling is okay and valid. 

By learning these things, you get to shift your perspectives, seeing relationships and boundaries in a new light. Hopefully, you can start standing up for yourself and make healthy boundaries slowly. 

In the end, for Kathleen, building boundaries means being authentic. “That means that we're opening up the opportunity to have intimacy and closeness with that person.”, Kathleen says. 

Sometimes we avoid building boundaries for many reasons, but you're developing deeper and meaningful relationships by having limits. 

Resources

Kathleen Stutts has shared with us the importance of building healthy boundaries in your relationships. What are the things you picked up in this interview? How did this interview change your perspective on building boundaries? Don't hesitate to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to us now to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness! 

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Boundaries in Relationships

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: edapollo, “Relearn Me”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. 

[Relearn Me by edapollo ft. Akacia plays] 

That was the song Relearn Me by edapollo. I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it. But the song is gorgeous. And it's the perfect, I thought, introduction to our topic today because today we are going to be talking about how to create and maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. And I know that this is a topic of great importance because we hear about it all the time from our therapy and coaching clients. Here at Growing Self, a lot of people are working on this. And we've also had so many listener questions come through on Instagram, Facebook, on the blog at growingself.com around how to establish healthy boundaries in a way that allows you to have positive, high-quality relationships and maintain really good connections with others. 

That is where we're going on today's episode of the podcast. And I am so pleased to include in our conversation today, my dear, dear friend and colleague at Growing Self, Kathleen Stutz. Kathleen and I have worked together for many years. And Kathleen is a true expert on the subject of healthy boundaries. She is a licensed professional counselor here. And she also does team training for us from time to time. And we have people from all over our group come and sit at Kathleen's feet to learn how it's done. And today, she is sharing her wisdom with you. So Kathleen, thank you so much for being here.

Kathleen Stutz: Hi, thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I can't wait to talk with you about this topic of how to create healthy boundaries. I know that you frequently do this work with your clients. Again, you train others around this. But I can also attest to somebody who has had a personal relationship with you for many years, that you live it.

Kathleen Stutz: Thank you. Thanks very much. I take that as a very, very good compliment. That means a lot to me. 

Dr.Lisa: It's good. You really—you're like a role model for me. I'm like, “I wish I could be more like Kathleen.” Because you have so much clarity around what you can do, what you can't do. And when you say no to me, like I feel happy anyway. There's something about the way you say it.

Kathleen: Definitely one of my passion topics, a topic I'm passionate about. And I love to talk about it. So I'm happy to be here. 

Define Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful. Well, what do you say we just, we take it from the top? Because I think sometimes just the term boundaries gets thrown around all over the place to mean all kinds of things. So from your perspective, what do boundaries mean? What is a boundary in the sense of, you know, what we do? Because sometimes, like an aside, sometimes I think people use the word boundaries. It's like telling people—telling other people what to do can be a boundary, or like, yeah. Like don't say this to me, it could be like a boundary. But what do you think of as being like a boundary? A reasonable boundary? Right.

Kathleen: Right. You're so right. I can't tell you how often I hear professionally, but personally, too, people have so many different, either negative associations with boundaries about you know that’s a barrier. It means that something is wrong. It means conflict, or just complete, you know, they come by it, honestly. But just misunderstandings about what boundaries are. So, to me, a boundary is, it's this healthy and clear understanding of what you need to do to take care of yourself, what you're in control of, and what you're not in control of. 

It’s just this healthy, clear understanding of the things that I can empower myself around versus the things I need to practice radical acceptance around or letting go of. So having that understanding between you and any person in your life, in any situation. I know that sounds very abstract, right? But that's because we can use boundaries and we can assert boundaries in so many different ways, in different situations. And they do change and flux in different relationships as needed. Right? So we can get into the details of it more. But from a starting point, that's sort of the general way that I think about boundaries. 

Boundary Issues

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Thank you for clarifying that. Yeah okay. So then, let's start with this other question. Why do you think so many people, particularly women, but many men too, really struggle to have that clarity that you describe? Then also communicate that effectively to others that just the whole thing feels incredibly—to people? Why? Why is that so hard?

Kathleen: I think it's because, and I'm going to say we because I think this is a human experience, you know? I think it's because we're afraid of losing people, honestly. And whenever I talk with people about what is so scary about boundaries, that's always where they go. Now ultimately, “I'm afraid people won't like me.” “I'm afraid it's going to cause an argument” or “I'll lose that relationship.” 

Because we are wired to attach and we need people as the social creatures that we are, I think the fear of putting those relationships at risk is what underlies the fear of setting boundaries and being assertive. Because there are misconceptions around what boundaries are, what assertiveness is, and what it can do for us. People think that it is a threat to those relationships rather than something that protects them, which I think is a misunderstanding—an unfortunate misunderstanding. But ultimately, that fear of losing people I think, is really what makes it scary. 

Dr. Lisa: That is so insightful. There's almost a subconscious thing. It's if I say no, or if I ask for what I need, it's going to damage my relationship with you. You're saying that is a misunderstanding. This actually brings me to another question. So one of the things that I loved so much, I love so many things about your team training that you did with us on this topic. But you had this saying in your presentation, which is that “Good, decent people set boundaries.”You have this as like a concept. And I wanted to ask you, why do you think it's so important to teach people, to teach our clients that good people set boundaries? 

Kathleen: Wow. Because one of the misunderstandings that's so prevalent around assertiveness and boundary setting is that it is aggressive, or mean, or even overly confident, or bully-ish and that you don't set boundaries, if you're nice. Or you can't be nice to people and be liked by people, and be assertive. I think what's happening there is that there's a confusion between assertiveness and aggressiveness. You know, you mentioned earlier people using the idea of boundaries is telling people, “You can't do that to me”, or “You can't say that to me.” That's not that's not really assertiveness. That's a little bit of bullying, actually. And so, I think, all of the confusion between assertiveness and aggressiveness leads to the idea that you can't be nice and set boundaries, which just simply isn't true. And as a matter of fact, to be nice, I think you really even need to set boundaries. Right? 

If I'm not setting boundaries, I'm going to grow and I think we're all good. I'm sure many people have experienced this personally. We grow tired, we get burnt out, we grow resentful. This can be in our personal lives, in our professional lives. We're not very nice, and we don't show up as our best selves. We don't have anything left to give the people that that we do care about. Right? So I think that the misunderstanding, or the confusion between assertiveness and aggression is the underlying cause there. But that in fact, to be nice, we actually need to set boundaries. 

Setting Boundaries in Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Oh, I love the way you say that. Like you're not doing anybody any favors by not setting boundaries. That really when you don't set boundaries, it's impossible to show up as I mean—I hate to use this phrase but this is what's coming to mind—but as like your best self in relationships because you're going to be exhausted, and resentful, and depleted, if you're not able to know what your limits are and communicate those. So that's part of having positive healthy relationships is actually being good at boundaries. Those two things go together. 

Kathleen: Yes. As a matter of fact, right? What can happen is if we are—if we tend to be people pleasers, and have anxiety in our relationships around that. Say around how our relationships are going, being liked by people, making sure there's no conflict, that there's always harmony, that we’re in a good space. If you find yourself feeling worried or anxious about that, and not saying “no,” or setting boundaries, because of that, what that actually tends to lead toward are the very, very fears and problems in those relationships that we're so scared of happening. Right? It kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personal Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Oh. Yeah, I can see that. Well, and another theme that I'm hearing as we're talking is this concept of assertiveness. We could probably talk about assertiveness versus aggressiveness. But first, you've used that word a lot. What do you mean by assertive? 

Kathleen: We are assertive when we treat ourselves with respect, when we respect our basic human rights and means, while also respecting the rights and needs of others. When we do that, we're being assertive. We're also opening up the opportunity to have clear and open communication, and compromise, and negotiation with the other person on how we can achieve that win-win where we can both be treated with respect and both take care of ourselves in that situation. But in a nutshell, assertiveness is when we're taking care of ourselves while respecting other people.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Aggression, on the other hand, is when we are taking care of ourselves while not respecting the basic rights, or needs, or boundary of the other people in this situation. 

Dr. Lisa: That makes so much sense. I've never thought about it that way. That the core aggression is taking care of you without thinking about the person on the other end of it. 

Kathleen: Yes. On the other end of that spectrum, when we're being passive, when we're taking care of others and putting their needs first to the detriment or neglect of our own. Right? So we kind of end up with this sort of continuum here. With passive on one end, aggressive on the far other end. Assertiveness is that sweet spot—that balance right in the middle, where we can say, “I'm okay and you're okay”, and hold space for each other's feelings and needs, knowing that we're each responsible for ourselves. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, and I'm glad that you just use that word—that responsibility—because I'm hearing that to be assertive, it requires a high degree of like, self-awareness, respect for self, respect for others. There's like this responsibility component. Whereas, I kind of got this sense when you were talking about the passive perspective that it's people like, and well-intentioned, like really legitimately doing what they feel is best and trying to prioritize relationships. Maybe you're trying to be the “nice person”, but they're in some ways, like, by over giving or not having almost like having more respect for other people than themselves. There's like this abdication of responsibility a little bit. Have you found that? Yeah.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely.. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. Just that in itself is a new way of looking at things, I think sometimes. But absolutely. It's kind of like, if you're at work for example, and you try to do everything, you know? You try to do everything all at once, and you try to do everyone's job because you want to be really great at what you do, you end up not doing some of the basic things you really need to to get to, or a lot of things fall through the cracks. Right? Because we can't do it all. In fact, and this analogy, taking care of other people's basic needs and rights is not really your responsibility. Because it's not really in your control and it's not realistic. So trying to do it means that while you might have the best of intentions, you end up neglecting this core sort of foundational responsibility over here, which is you. That is in your control. Right? With the best of intentions. With that really important piece that sort of the foundation of the rest of your life gets neglected. 

Personal Boundaries Examples

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Well tell us more about the emotional experience of having that kind of, to use your word passive orientation—because I think that people who sort of leaned toward the aggressive end of the continuum are probably not the ones listening to this podcast. Except to that, I mean I have seen this as a therapist and as a coach, that sometimes people who have a really passive orientation can get to a certain point where they become aggressive.They kind of swing back and forth a little bit. 

For the benefit of somebody listening to this podcast, and trying to figure out where they are on that continuum. I mean, what have you heard your clients say that maybe come to you for help with boundaries? With who, or without maybe even realizing it, doing a lot of the things that keep them stuck on that passive end of the spectrum? I mean, like, what does that feel like? But also, what do you see them doing that is unintentionally creating that situation that… before they have the benefit of working with you, Kathleen, to get to get much better at this. But like, where is the starting point? 

Kathleen: Let me say that I can answer this question from a personal space. Right? Because the reason I'm so passionate about boundaries is because I don't always—I don't—I'd love to say that, “Yeah, this is what it's like.” Every, all the wonderful compliments you gave me at the beginning of our talk. But I'm always working on boundaries. I don't always set the best boundaries. And I've been a people pleaser, and can be a people pleaser. Right? So I… this is important to me. And I like to help people with it because I'd like to think I have some empathy around what it's like. Right? So whether it's from a personal place, or what clients have shared what, what family members have shared, friends, right? 

I think that being in that passive place where we're not taking care of ourselves feels really exhausting, and it feels really anxious. Anxiety comes to mind a lot because we're scrambling around trying to manage things that we don't have control over, trying to prevent the outcomes that we're so afraid of happening. So anxiety comes up a lot, and exhaustion and inadequacy. If I had to pick three big feeling words, those would be the three. Right? Because never enough, never good enough. Again, because we're trying to do the impossible, quite frankly. Right? So I think that's how people feel. 

To give you a short answer, there are a lot of emotions in that: guilt, shame, resentment, and anger as well. Because what we're doing, what it looks like, is now saying yes when you really need to say no. Stretching yourself too thin and taking on too much. I think a lot of those things that we might think of off the top of our heads when we think about people pleasing. Also, it looks like reading every little nonverbal cue, and your significant other when you think they might be in a bad mood and thinking, “Oh, no, that's not okay. I need to fix that.” Or keeping a long to-do list and beating yourself up at the end of the day because you didn’t manage to get enough things done. Aso help your neighbor, and your best friend, and run your parents’ errands for them. You’d do everything on your list to be that, be that exceptionally functioning person helps everybody right. 

Dr. Lisa: And showers.

Kathleen: And showers. Yeah, yeah. It also looks like I'm not speaking up too. Right? Not being so scared of having direct communication because you're so afraid of conflict, or making, or someone else feeling uncomfortable or unhappy, possibly with you that we don't speak up. We stay silent. We stuff our feelings and sweep things under the rug. Those are just a few examples that I think a lot of people can relate to. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. No, definitely. I can certainly relate to the part abou—I think the guilt is always what gets me. That, like, I could do it? If I rearranged some of my personal priorities, I could do this for you, and therefore I should. Yeah.

Kathleen: Oh, that's a great example. 

Dr. Lisa: That's my Achilles heel, for sure. Okay, so—oh, you're about to say something? 

Kathleen: Oh, just just that's such a great example. Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should. I think that even that idea that “I could,” even if it means, right, that I'm not taking care of myself, or I'm going to have these negative consequences as a result, but I could. I could do it so therefore, I should. I think, right, is one of those not necessarily accurate beliefs that a lot of us hold. Isn't it also connected to the idea that if somebody else needs us, needs help, is unhappy with us, or even just experiencing any kind of negative or uncomfortable emotion? That sort of trumps up most other things. Isn't that something that I think is sort of in the background, as a belief, or a feeling even? When we want to people please, when we feel guilty? 

Boundary Violations in A Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I'm hearing in what you just said. It occurred to me a couple of minutes ago, when you're talking about the anxiety component of that passive orientation. There's some kind of relationship here with codependence and having trouble setting boundaries. I think I'm hearing this. Is that true? 

Kathleen: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, codependency is another one of those terms that is misunderstood. Sometimes. That makes sense because it is a broad term that can refer to a lot of different things. Totally non-scientific, by the way. Codependence is nowhere in the DSM. It's a self help term, I guess. But I find it helpful to simplify it and think of codependency as a lack of healthy, clear boundaries in your relationships. So definitely, right?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: I think, for me, I literally define codependency as a boundary issue. 

Healthy Relationship Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Well, it really is. It's that, you know, “Where do I stop and you start?” That “What is my responsibility and what is your responsibility?” “Can I function independently, even if…” like going back to your point just a minute ago, “even if you're upset, and not feeling good?” or, “Is that maybe not actually my problem to solve?” Yeah.

Kathleen: Right, absolutely. There are all these beliefs that we sort of take for granted that are at the root of codependency, of not having clear boundaries. That your feelings are mine to solve, that having uncomfortable feelings is just catastrophic. We've got to do something about it. That if I can do something, I should do something. None of those are actually necessarily always true. This is the part I'm just thinking out loud here. This is the part in our conversation where I have this feeling that people are wondering, “Yeah. But that sounds pretty cold”, or, “How do you be there and support somebody that you care about? Aren't their feelings your responsibility if you care about them? Or shouldn't you care about their feelings?” Those kinds of questions. 

I think it's just a good time to say that you can care about someone—what they're feeling, what they're going through. If they're struggling, you can even show up for them and support them without taking ownership, or responsibility for their feelings or situation, while having clear healthy boundaries. That those things are not exclusive. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What an important message. That you can care very much about how somebody is feeling, and even help them in healthy ways, but without taking on their problems as your own. That's huge.

Kathleen: Yeah. Look, I understand it's easier to talk about that than it is to do, as so many things are. 

Dr. Lisa: Right. 

Kathleen: Having healthy boundaries and being assertive while still caring for people and supporting them requires a lot of self-awareness, and mindfulness, and a lot of emotional regulation. To be able to feel your feelings and feel empathy, or concern, or worry, or for this person that's in your life from whomever they might be. Hold those feelings, carry them with you without them taking over, and sort of becoming the driver in the driver's seat. Feeling those feelings, but still showing up in your behavior in your words with assertiveness and healthy boundaries. 

How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, as you brought up, Kathleen, very much easier to talk about this than it is to actually put it into practice. I mean, I know that the path of growth in this area is far beyond the scope of what can be learned through a podcast. Right? I mean, I know that you have worked as a therapist and as a coach, for, I mean, years sometimes with people who are really working to develop these skills. So I just want to say that to people listening, because sometimes I feel like I am all for self-help and kind of advice and sharing ideas. 

I think sometimes people feel like if they heard it, or like, “Oh, this is what Kathleen said. So I should be able to do this.” Like it was easy. I don't want anybody to feel badly if they can't just magically do these things that Kathleen is sharing. Okay, this is a growth process.

Kathleen, if you were to start with a client as either like a life coach, or a therapist who is really working specifically on boundaries, what would you imagine the arc of the work would look like with that person? Like what kinds of things would you guys be working on or talking about first? Then how would that evolve over time? Not that you have to talk through every moment of the growth process, everybody's different. But like, what are some of the starting places that you've experienced with clients? 

Kathleen: Gosh. I think that one of the starting places is probably because if we struggle with assertiveness, we tend to beat ourselves up, quite a bit. Right? Compassion—self-compassion is in short supply. So one of the starting points is really understanding, “Why do I feel this way?”, “Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?”, “Why am I feeling resentful, jealous, bitter, angry, burnt out, guilty?”, “Why am I feeling that, and where did I learn these kinds of… just this way of showing up in my relationships?” Because it's important, self-compassion is stepping back and looking at the whole context, considering the full picture. To see yourself as with compassion. Like, “I learned this stuff, this was passed on to me. I learned to think about relationships this way I learned, this is how I need to be for people to treat me well or to get my needs met. These are the sort of unspoken rules that were taught to me about being a nice person, or finding love.” Right? And so that's usually where we start. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, there's this whole exploration process of unpacking. Like, “how do I feel?” “Why do I feel this way?” “Where did these beliefs come from?” So there's just, like a whole, like self-discovery is the word that's coming to mind, in a very compassionate way. That “how do I make sense?”

Kathleen: Yeah, and self-validation too. Like these feelings make sense. It's okay—not only is it okay and valid—and I'm still a good person and a nice person. But it makes sense too. That I'm angry or resentful. Those are the big feelings that come up a lot when we aren't setting boundaries that we then have feelings about. Even so, it becomes this negative snowball. So a lot of validation. 

Also, a lot of—this is one of the other sort of starting areas because they kind of do overlap. Surprising—surprises, I guess I'll just call it surprises. People are often surprised to learn new perspectives on this. Like the idea that we can be nice and assertive, or that we need to be assertive in order to be nice. Just even that process of shifting your paradigm, your perspective, and looking at boundaries, and assertiveness, and relationships in new and different ways. It can become sort of this eye opening experience. And I think—I don't think—I have seen what a relief it can be. 

Emotional Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, these new ideas can be so liberating. I'm thinking of a moment in my own life, where I felt like I'd been struck by lightning. It was this idea. I think, probably from my work and becoming a therapist, potentially. But I think also supported by like, the whole Montessori, and we Montessori families are very much around this idea. But the idea of like, that somebody else's emotional experience, like a painful emotional experience, can actually be an incredibly positive thing. Because if they feel badly, then they become motivated to do their growth work, or healing, or learn, or change something. That if I am trying to like rescue, and fix, and make it better, and overstep, and whatever, that I'm actually depriving them of the opportunity to have that motivation and to have that kind of self-directed growth. Like if I take away their natural consequences. 

That idea totally changed my life. And I think, made it a lot easier for me to set boundaries, personally. Just going back to what you're saying. And I hadn't thought about that, until you just mentioned those surprises. And I'm sure that they're very different for different people. But that was a huge one. For me this idea that pain is positive. Yeah. That changed a lot of things for me. So you're saying in your work with clients, you help them kind of work through those old beliefs and find new ones that are liberating in similar ways? Maybe? 

Kathleen: Absolutely. And that is such a good one. Right?

Dr. Lisa: For me, yes. Yeah. 

Kathleen: Yeah, I think I've definitely had that in my own way. I had that moment too, where I came to that emotional understanding. Not just intellectual understanding of… those really difficult feelings are good. They can be good. They're definitely necessary. That when we try to rescue people from them, we’re taking away, we're violating some of their rights. Their right to feel bad. Go through that growth process. A good—what is this—a metaphor that I found at some point and love and use sometimes is that of the butterfly in the cocoon. I don't know if you've heard this one but… 

Dr. Lisa: I don't think so. Tell me.

Kathleen: Your cats have heard the story. They would like to tell us their thoughts on this, that is setting boundaries with them. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, how do you set boundaries with cats?

Kathleen: To be continued, right. But do you know, when a butterfly—when a caterpillar has changed into a butterfly and is ready to break free of its cocoon, it will struggle to sort of shed that cocoon, and break free, and fly away. If we were to stumble across that and say, “Oh, wow. That butterfly is struggling, it needs help. I'm going to rescue it. I'm going to help it because it feels good for me, and I'm going to do that.” We steal away from the butterfly, the opportunity to strengthen its wings through that natural process, that flow process, that challenging process. It won't be ready to fly and it will possibly not make it. Right? It's at risk, it’s vulnerable because it hasn't gone through those literal growing pains. Right?

Dr. Lisa: You're saying that that's like actually how the butterflies muscles develop is through that exercise of liberating itself from the chrysalis. I did not know that. But what a perfect metaphor. That if you're like, “Oh, I'll save you.” Then the butterfly then like, “Thanks!” And crashes to the ground. Right? 

Kathleen: Like yeah, right. It feels good to help. It feels good for us to help people. It feels bad to see someone's if you're a good kind person and you have empathy. But acting on that is not always the right or nice thing to do for others or possibly for yourself too. Yeah, so that’s a good example. 

Examples of Healthy Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: This is such an important idea. I also—just knowing my listeners that are very practical folks—we are, and if we don't talk about this, Kathleen, we're going to get questions asking us. Can you please give us some examples of healthy boundaries in action? What does this look like? We should talk about this now to just go ahead and get out of the way. 

Kathleen: All right. Well, let's start with this example that earlier that we're talking about just now, which is maybe seeing someone that we care about struggle. How do we care and support with healthy boundaries? That looks like—I'm just full of metaphors today but let's imagine that they're swimming, and I'm gonna get practical and real here in just a second. So let's imagine that they're swimming in choppy waters and struggling. If we jump in there with them, right? We might both go down. 

In that case, how would you support them? You might throw them a lifesaver, or perhaps they're, I don't know, swimming in a triathlon. You might stand on the sidelines and cheer them on, see if they need anything that you can give them. With that, having healthy boundaries might sound like, “I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I can see this is really difficult for you. I hate to see you in pain.” You know, empathy. “Is there anything I can do for you?”, “What can I do for you?” At that point, you may or may not be able to give that thing to them that they're asking for. That depends, and we—the assertiveness continues on from there—we can talk about that. How to say no assertively, and so forth. But supporting someone looks like, supporting them from the sidelines. 

Respecting Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yes, and offering to help in the way that you can. But I'm also hearing like the next thing here. So that would be like one example of setting a boundary. But I think like what I hear a lot from my clients, and I'm sure you do too, ss this question around, “Well, I've set a boundary with someone and now they're doing the thing anyway.” So like, going back to your example, you say, “Yeah, let me know how I can help you, friend.” 

The friend doesn't maybe say this, but they do start calling you at 11 o'clock at night, sobbing hysterically, and wanting to tell you all about everything, and texting you like nine times a day, and being annoyed with you when you don't respond right back. Or asking you to do things that are actually starting to interfere with your life and ability. You're like, so I'm imagining Kathleen would say being appropriately assertive would be like, “You know? 11 is pretty late for me. I'm usually in bed at that time. I'm happy to talk with you when I'm free. Can I call you on the way home from work? Sometimes in the afternoon, I'm in the car anyway.” You have this nice conversation. And the next day, your phone rings at 11:30 at night. I thought, “What would Kathleen do?” Because that's the thing that I hear a lot about my clients is like, “Well, I told my mother-in-law to not talk to me that way anymore”, or “I told so-and-so to not do this.” I think people sometimes feel that setting that boundary is like requesting something of someone else. Then when that somebody doesn't do that something else then they're like, “what do I do?” 

Kathleen: That they’re still stuck and feeling helpless. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. So like, what's your take on that aspect of it? So like, “Please don't call me at 11.” 

Kathleen: Well. First of all, that was a great example—the way that you verbalize that was beautiful. Right? But they keep calling anyway. You got to, when that happens… the beautiful thing about boundaries is that it is not really requesting something of somebody. It is letting them know what to expect from you. This is what I'm going to do and this is what I'm not going to do. 

Dr. Lisa: There it is. 

Kathleen: Right? So if they're not respecting the initial boundary, and they continue to call you at 11:30. “I asked you not to call me that late because I'm usually in bed by then. I know that you're going through a really difficult time, I'm not able to talk at that time. Here are the—here's when I can support you, or I will call you during this time. If you keep calling me at 11:30, I’m gonna have to…” and then you can fill in the blank with a boundary that you feel you can follow through. 

I think that's really important with setting boundaries is that whatever you choose, it's something that you know, you can stick to. Whatever that is, wherever you are with that is okay. So maybe it's, “I'm gonna have to turn my phone off at night.” Or it may be something a little bit, let's say, more drastic. “I'm not going to be able to talk with you if you don't respect this boundary.” It depends on the person and the situation. If you have somebody who's really actually getting angry with you, and criticizing you because you didn't text back right away, or you're still not picking up the phone at 11:30, even when you asked them to call at that time. That's a pretty difficult situation. 

I just want to validate that if you're experiencing something like that, that's a pretty toxic relationship. Those are harder to be assertive in. It's giving you information. When someone doesn't respect your boundaries, it's giving you information about if that relationship is healthy for you. So I just want to context that.

Keeping Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. No. That's good to say that. That's actually a sign of an unhealthy relationship is like when you say, “Please don't do this” or, “Please respect me in this area.” Somebody continues not just to do it, but gets upset with you for setting boundaries. Like, you should actually be paying attention to that is what I'm hearing, you say.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That's a red flag. To answer your question directly, we set boundaries. When they're not respected, we need to up the ante and set a boundary that's, if you want to call it a little further out, if you will. Let them know, not to be patronizing, but just as you would be disciplining a child, “If you don't do this, here's the next consequence.” So, “If you don't stop calling me in the middle of the night, I'm gonna have to shut off my phone.” “If you don't stop talking to me that way, I'm gonna have to take a break from our relationship for a while.” Let them know what it is going to be. If you're having trouble upping the ante, so to speak, or finding a boundary that you feel you can follow through with, or struggling with a difficult person like this, that's something to work with a coach or counselor. Because it's pretty difficult at that level.

Dr. Lisa: It really is. I think also—many people experience these kinds of dynamics with their families. So it's sort of people that you're… it's hard to like, and it can be done. I mean, some people limit relationships with certain family members, and it's a positive thing. But it can be a sticky situation for many. So,but that's good advice. 

How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

Oh my gosh. We could talk about so many different aspects of this, Kathleen, but I want to reiterate what I'm hearing you say, which is setting boundaries is not about controlling anybody else. It is about deciding what you're going to do, and what you're okay with, and how you're going to communicate that. You being responsible for your actions. That we can't actually control others. 

Kathleen: Exactly. Right. Healthy boundaries, non-codependent boundaries are assertive boundaries, rather than passive or aggressive ones. Or about taking care of yourself and making sure everybody knows what that's gonna look like. It's not about bargaining with people, or getting certain reactions out of them, or even asking things of them. Even when we compromise, again, that is, “Well, here's where I can meet you. Where can you meet me? Is there a place that overlaps?”

Setting Boundaries in Romantic Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. So much good stuff. Well, and I want to be respectful of your time. Do you have time to tackle a little listener question with me  for a couple of minutes?

Kathleen: Sure Okay. 

Dr. Lisa: So with all of these things in mind, we had someone get in touch. I'm not sure if it was through Instagram, it may have been. It may have been through the blog at growingself.com.

But this person writes, “My hope is to be able to have a healthy relationship where I'm not sabotaging things or letting my anxiety ruin it. But a big piece of this is me getting better, and my ability to maintain healthy boundaries, and also be comfortable asking people to meet my needs, while at the same time being able to meet theirs. 

What are a couple of things that I could do to get better around the boundary aspect of this?” Just as I read this question out loud to you, my immediate reaction is that this is not an answerable kind of question. This is, like, enter into this growth process that will probably take a while. Is that your reaction to this question? Or am I—maybe there is an easy answer. I don’t know.

Kathleen: Based on what this person is saying. I'm hearing that sabotaging relationships and anxiety. So I think I'm hearing—they're saying that their anxiety around asking for what they need, setting boundaries, etcetera, there might be other stuff there, creates the sabotage. So this is a complicated, multi-layered.

That being said, though, maybe this is because I've been reading Brené Brown. Maybe it's because it’s a quote that I saw earlier today. I wish I could pull it up real quick. But what's coming to my mind is that when we set boundaries assertively, which is so nice, and kind, and compassionate, and all of that good stuff. We are being authentic. Right? That means that we're opening up the opportunity to have intimacy and closeness with that person. That can be scary, and it can feel risky. Sometimes, when we avoid that, we end up sabotaging those relationships anyway. But sometimes we need to sort of dip our toe in that vulnerability pool and see how the person reacts. I'm not talking about “Let's move my boundaries based on how they react”, but rather, “Let's see, is this person safe?” 

If they do respond with love, and compassion, respect, empathy, validation, and respect my boundaries, then maybe next time, I can lean into my anxiety a little bit more and express a little bit of me that makes me little bit more scared, and see what happens. Like learning to feel less anxious. If your partner's a healthy partner for you and a safe partner, we can ease into the practice of setting boundaries and expressing our needs in relationships. 

Dr. Lisa: That is amazing. Yeah. You're saying to do reality testing. “What happens when I do ask for something?” Then there's almost like this exposure therapy component. Like, every time I ask—and it's positive—I'm kind of on, like, a healing those old ideas about who I need to be, and what boundaries mean, because it is actually okay. It's like that healing in the context of the healthy relationship. 

Kathleen: Exactly. Reality testing. Exactly. Especially if you've been with this person for a while already. You know them well, what… are they someone who can hold space for your needs and respect your boundaries? Still—what's the word I'm looking for—still have a strong sense of self and a hearty self-esteem in order to just stand by your side. That, if the evidence is there for that, then it's appropriate to slowly lean into that anxiety. Well, but yeah, that's the process. 

Dr. Lisa: Definitely. And if they can't, or they fall apart, or they get mad at you, or try to punish you, I will refer you back to the recent episode of the podcast in which I discussed narcissism. And there's also one about when to call it quits in a relationship. Just saying it. It might not be the case.

Kathleen: But that's a really good point. Right? All of those things are not okay. 

Dr. Lisa: Not okay. 

Kathleen: Right? We can—we feel like we don't say that enough, right? Hearing things, like well, defensiveness. Even just defensiveness, right? We all feel defensive sometimes. I think that's a natural human emotion. But again, can your partner feel defensive and still be self-aware enough, and regulate to show up with love and respect?  “Oh, wow. I'm feeling defensive and I want to be here for you. So let me take a moment and come back.” Or “I notice I’m feeling defensive, and your feelings are valid, and really important to me.” Or something like that, right? But acting defensive with minimization, invalidation, blame shifting, that's not okay. 

Dr. Lisa: Not okay. Yeah. 

Kathleen: You don't have to live with it.

Dr. Lisa: What a powerful message and what a nice note for us to land on. It’s beautifully, just affirming, and empowering conversation about boundaries, and what they are, and the path to growth around them. But that also that's a big takeaway for me. That if you encounter these kinds of reactions in someone when you're trying to set healthy and appropriate boundaries, it's not you. It's that. Then to not get tricked into believing otherwise. That's an important message for a lot of people to hear, I think, especially for women.

Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. That’s a great point. It’s not a reflection of you or the appropriateness of your boundary.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, we could talk for a much longer. So this is such an interesting conversation. And maybe we can revisit this topic and have a part two at some point. But I've really enjoyed your time today. It has been wonderful. 

Kathleen: Well, thank you. I really appreciate being able to be here and talk about this. And it has been, I think, fun. This is my idea of a good time anyway.

Dr. Lisa: We're letting our nerd flags fly, Kathleen. I love it. I had a good time too. Thank you.

How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

It's Hard to Relax When You're a Superstar

[social_warfare]

Here at Growing Self our therapy and life coaching clients are generally successful, high-achieving people on a path of personal growth. Because of this, I have a soft spot for the superstars, and I know that being a go-getting, productive, conscientious, high-achieving, intelligent, successful person has many, many benefits. You get things done, you're on top of it, and you are probably extremely successful in many areas of life.

And… it's probably hard for you to relax.

How to Relax When You're an Over-Achiever

Because you are so conscientious and successful you probably do everything you're supposed to. You take vacations, you exercise, you have a healthy diet, and you practice self-care. But it still might feel hard to let yourself truly relax. Even when you're having fun you are thinking about the next thing, and doing “nothing” (as in the Dutch practice of Niksen) feels like a waste of time compared to all the important or goal-directed things you could (probably feel like you should) be doing.

Believe it or not, learning how to relax is a very important life-skill. Just like learning how to manage your emotions, making it a priority to exercise and sleep, managing your finances, having satisfying relationships, practicing good self care, and eating healthy foods, learning how to relax — how to truly relax — is a skill set that is acquired through education and practice.

Real relaxation, the kind that restores you and allows you to be more productive, more creative, more resilient, and happier, is much more than about taking a bath once in a while. Real relaxation requires a high degree of self awareness and commitment, as well as the development of specific internal skills. (Ha! You can always recognize a fellow Type-A over-achiever when they describe relaxation skills as a project — hello my friend.)

Yes, I know from both professional experience in working with extremely successful, high-achieving people as well as from my own personal experience, that being a Type-A superstar has a very real dark side including exhaustion, agitation, anxiety and overwork. Burnout is an experience that many hard working and conscientious people can succumb to if not careful. Without vital relaxation skills, you can start to experience a lack of motivation, tiredness, emotional numbness, and loss of joy and creativity in your day to day life. FYI, “Burnout” is real: It's finally gotten recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the ICD!

The Keys to Authentic Relaxation

Today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is just for you, my high-achieving compadre. We'll be discussing:

  • The mind-body connection that makes you feel stressed out even when you're relaxing
  • New ideas to help you prioritize your self-care and relaxation
  • The real source of stress (it's not what you think… except when it is)
  • Why “relaxing” behaviors (massages, hot baths, vacations) won't help you truly de-stress
  • How to combat the stressful thinking styles that will interfere with true relaxation
  • The skills and strategies that will actually help you reduce stress, relax, and restore your mind, body and soul.

I hope this discussion helps you achieve the rest and relaxation that you deserve, and that it helps you (paradoxically) become even more productive, creative, forward-thinking and successful as a result!

From me to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

[social_warfare]

Listen to the Podcast

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Damian Jurado and Richard Swift, “Hello Sunshine”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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