More Thoughts on Boundaries

I went into session yesterday with the idea that I would simply have a conversation with my therapist. I didn’t prepare anything ahead of time, but I was okay with that. I felt calm. I essentially took the pressure off of myself to be or do anything specific and allowed the dialogue to unfold as naturally as possible.

We ended up talking about a lot of really important things, including our relationship. I relayed a story about a friend who is facing a very difficult situation involving her therapist that primarily stems from poorly managed boundaries. I told my therapist that listening to my friend talk about this incident gave me a lot of perspective on our therapeutic boundaries and the way my thoughts have shifted a lot on this topic in the last year.

The long and short of it is that I can really see the value of having solid boundaries. This friend of mine is in a place where she now knows something about her therapist that neither of them wanted her to know. She found out about it because her therapist said she had a “personal emergency” and would be out of work for a while. The only reason my friend was able to find out what that personal emergency was is because of the way that relationship was managed; she knew enough about her therapist’s life to do a simple google search that led her to both a news story and video clip that she otherwise would have never discovered.

And she really wishes she hadn’t.

Now her therapist is upset with her and my friend is in shame spiral, berating herself for her (natural) curiosity. But I don’t blame her. I would have done the same thing at almost any point in time prior to this last ten months or so. She specifically asked me if I would have googled my therapist the way she did and I said yes. Then I said no. I clarified:

“Well I would have definitely done that with my last therapist, and probably a couple before her. But I would not do that with my current therapist. Not because I wouldn’t be curious, but because she wouldn’t put me in that position. I think in this type of situation, my therapist wouldn’t share enough information for me to know there was something worth searching for. And if she did share that she was facing a personal emergency and would thus be out of the office, I don’t know enough about her to know where to even begin trying to find that information. I wouldn’t be able to access her in that way.”

I relayed my response to my therapist and told her that I appreciate how well she maintains that boundary. I always thought that getting little nuggets of personal information from therapists meant I was special or more worthy. I thought it would make us closer and the relationship stronger. I thought I would feel better if I had more access to these people.

I didn’t. And it always made our relationships weaker. It made the work less effective.

That’s not to say my therapist isn’t open; she is. But she is transparent about her emotions and her experience of me and our relationship. She is forthcoming where it matters most, which is in relation to me. And that is so important because it prevents me from getting distracted by the personal details.

In almost every relationship I have, I’m constantly integrating what I know about people to better meet their needs. I’m considering all the various knowledge I have in order to respond to them in a way I think they would most enjoy. I want to make them happy and I want them to like me.

Not knowing anything about my therapist beyond how she relates to me (and where she went to college) has the very powerful effect of keeping our relationship, and our work, focused on me. Of course I still try to meet her needs and get her to like me, but the context of those efforts is always within the space exclusively occupied by our therapeutic relationship.

We had a really lovely conversation about all of this stuff and I could tell she was proud of the way I’ve been able to gradually pull away from the idea that boundaries are just some punitive thing that I’m forced to endure for arbitrary reasons. She uses boundaries as a tool to protect and propel the work and I know she wants so much for me to be able to experience them as such, rather than as punishment.

It was nice to feel that; to see that the lines she draws around us are actually to keep us closer, not further apart.

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32 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Boundaries

  1. Boost Connection says:

    What an insightful post! I appreciate your meditation on boundaries and what they mean to you/how you experience them. So powerful that you understand this about yourself and your work together! That’s hard work right there ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Anxious Mom says:

    I’m glad you had such a good session! I really like your perspective on why the boundaries your therapist set are so important to the work you’re doing.

    The first therapist I had overshared in a massive way. Most of the sessions were about her, her abusive ex-husband, and her anxiety. It was just weird (and a complete waste of time).

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Tina says:

    What a healthy place you’ve reached on boundaries. I’m so far from that place right now, but your explanation around the issue helps & makes sense. Your acknowledgement of hoe those small nuggets allowed you to feel special say you’re understand that deep longing to feel acceptance, approval yet also the downside of a therapist blurring the boundaries excessively.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Tina. I was pretty far away from this place for many years. It is still tricky and difficult to navigate, but I think that my recent understanding of boundaries is moving me further from shame and allows me to feel really loved and connected to her, even without access to personal information. And that, to me, is a true gift.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. La Quemada says:

    I used to feel that way too–that when a therapist shared something with me, it meant she felt connected to me, more like a friend, and that I was important to her. And like you, I have since learned that it’s not at all helpful. Why should I be paying money to look for details in what she says so I can figure out more about her (and maybe get her to like me better)? I should be using that valuable time to learn about myself and especially to learn how to change my behavior to create the life I want to live. I respect E. for sharing very little. Since I have known her a really long time, I do know she is married and has a stepson and that she also experienced some abuse. But it took years to even figure that out, and it was never the focus. I love that you have experienced this in your relationship with your therapist, and I very much hope it will be a help for you going forward. I know she is very professional and very much on your side.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Yes! Exactly! Her professionalism around boundaries has been challenging for me to navigate over the past ten months, but I’m slowly learning that she means what she says: the point of those boundaries is to keep me safe and to create a work space that focuses on me and my issues. I thinks sometimes what bothers me about that is the fact that I’m so unused to HAVING that space or being worthy of such attention and care; it makes me uncomfortable. But by encouraging me to stay with those emotions and keep talking about how it feels to have those parameters in place, I’ve been able to move away from the idea that I can only ever be given boundaries as a way to keep ME away from HER. Thanks for your support xo

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  5. Lemonbella says:

    Congratulations to you for sticking it through the awful sessions to get to a better place. This post really put into words the counter-intuitive nature of boundaries in relationships for me as someone who did not have good relationship models during key parts of my life. For me it is a long (ongoing!) road to try and understand that actually, good, healthy and reliable relationships are the ones where the other person holds their own stuff and does not rely on my anticipation and response to their needs for the relationship to function – because then they are relating to *me* not what they perceive (unconcsiously or otherwise) that I can do for them. I recently freaked out when a friend actively considered my needs (made a decision explicitly so that she didn’t take advantage of my willingness to do nice things for someone) and therapy has made me realise that that is actually what I should be aiming for. Although, my feelings are quite a bit behind my cognitive understanding of that!

    On another note I’ve worked a fair bit with my therapist on my feeling that I need to ‘work’ in therapy and my perception that there is a right or a wrong way to do it (in terms of what we discuss each session, logical progression, my internal list of issues/events that we need to work through etc.). When I have been able to free myself from that a bit – and just have a conversation as you described this session – I have made leaps forward. I’ve wondered whether for me that feeling that just existing in the therapy relationship is somehow ‘wrong’ and ‘doing therapy’ is right may actually be an extension of that underlying belief of mine that I have to work constantly in a relationship to keep it, rather than trusting that it will just *be*.

    Sorry, I think I’ve just used your comments page to do some of my own processing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Very well said. It can be such a struggle to understand the benefits of boundaries, especially when we’re raised in an environment where our very survival depended on being able to access and attune to the needs of others. I know I place a lot of value in that ability and not being able to do so tends to generate anxiety for me. Having someone to hold that line despite my best efforts to cross it has proven tremendously healing and effective.

      I also tend to make the most progress when I let go of the idea that there are “right” and “wrong” ways to do therapy. It is very hard to relax enough to just let myself talk openly, without pre-rehearsed conversations to fall back on, but I agree with you – I tend to make the most progress when I shed all of those expectations. I think it opens me up more, rather than keeping me inside the rigid box I create for myself. I know I do that to feel safe, but I can see how limiting it can be as well.

      Trust is a beautiful gift when you find it, but it is so very hard to grasp onto sometimes. I think that letting go of what it means to trust can somehow allow us to just FEEL trusting, if that makes sense.

      Process away! One of my favorite things about this blog is the wonderful comments that allow a dialogue to unfold around these issues! It’s great!

      Like

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, J. I am sure I will flow back and forth between feeling the way I do in this post and feeling how I’ve felt before. It’s a long, slow process that ebbs and flows with time. We all get there in our own time 🙂

      Like

  6. alicewithptsd says:

    I am really happy that you had a session that felt better and found a different perspective on boundaries. Boundaries are hard, but I think you are understanding the therapists reasons for them. This is good— just really good all around. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. manyofus1980 says:

    So happy you got to have that conversation to clarify everything. I’m like you. I dont know a lot about eileen outside of therapy. I’m glad. Too much info can be disasterous. I’m glad she only shares tiny bits with me. It makes for better therapy and a better relationship with her. XX

    Liked by 1 person

  8. BorderlineBabbler says:

    I so appreciate this post. I learn something menial about my therapist’s past yesterday in group (she always self-discloses in group more than feels comfortable), and it unsettled me for hours. It leads me into the same process as you; trying to almost piece the jigsaw of her life together in order to make sense of it/ her so that I can mould myself to her needs. I don’t know the way around it because part of DBT especially in the skills groups is this informal and self-disclosing element. At the same time, I cherish finding out as much as possible about her and always try and get “clues” from her other clients despite the shame and guilt around this. It is such a paradox! I’m glad your therapist is boundaried in a way that is helpful to you long term 🙂

    Like

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