Setting healthy boundaries is a crucial skill for creating mutually satisfying and healthy relationships with a variety of people in your life including your spouse, partner, family, friends, co-workers, supervisors, clients, teachers and students. Sometimes boundary setting can be thought of as rigid, but on the contrary, boundary creation and enforcement are an act of self-compassion. Thinking about boundaries helps you to anticipate what will make you happy in a relationship. Therefore, it adds a tangible, measurable structure for behaviour that will assist in building a long-lasting relationship. There is no one size fits all approach to setting boundaries within the context of each unique relationship yet when both people are happy with the structure, the prospects for a mutually satisfying relationship are enhanced.
Your boundaries teach people how to treat you by communicating what you will tolerate. Boundaries also communicate how much you value yourself. People will not place a higher value on you than the one you set for yourself. It is the same as in a store, if the sneakers you desire are marked at $100, would you pay the cashier $120 for them? If you offer a product or service at $50, will people offer to pay you $80 for it? Just like in business, when you set a high value upon your time, effort and resources, other people will learn to as well. Moreover, you will attract people who appreciate, love and respect you for who you are.
A major fear around setting boundaries is that people will leave their relationship with you or you will become less close over time. It is true you will lose people by changing what you will tolerate, perhaps many people. You won’t be manipulated as easily and some people will not like that. You will need to be happy with your own company as you will probably spend more time alone. However, if you communicate a genuine feeling or concern and the other person does not make any effort to meet you halfway, is that person worth your investment in them? Maybe it is a blessing in disguise that you go your separate ways. Engaging with people who do not care for you will gradually chip away at your self-esteem, as you find yourself in the habit of creating excuses for their unfair, inconsiderate and at times cruel behaviour. Learn to look for what they do rather than relying on what they say. Anyone can say anything with little or no intent of following though on it. Apologies without change are an insidious form of manipulation and keep you trapped in toxic, abusive relationships.
A written exercise I use with clients is one assessing the short and long-term consequences of breaking or blurring the boundaries for different relationships. To do this exercise, make three columns. The first column is the boundary. The second column is the short-term consequences of breaking the boundary. The third column is the long-term consequences of breaking the boundary.
Let us consider boundaries in dating. Say for example, you have been dating a person for about 5 months who has a habit of making last minute plans for going out, often on the same day. You enjoy this person’s company yet would prefer to make plans at least a week in advance considering your own commitments. Your partner claims that it is “impossible” for him to know in advance when he can go out, yet he has not communicated any justifiable reason for why this is the case. You’ve had to cancel plans with both your friends and family at the last minute to accommodate his schedule several times now.
A healthy boundary in this case is that if he wants to take you out, this should be communicated at least 3-4 days in advance. If at that time, you do not have other plans, you can agree to go out with him. Otherwise, his invitation would have to be rescheduled for a later date. This is a compromise between a week in advance and making plans the same day. You do not agree to go out at the last minute, even if you do not have other plans. Short term consequences of breaking this boundary are that you communicate that you regularly do not have anything else to do, that you are lonely, that you value him above other important relationships in your life and that you are willing to sacrifice the quality of your other relationships to build a relationship with him. Friends and family are hurt that you aren’t around as much. Long-term consequences are that your friends and family view you as unreliable and inconsiderate. They may question your judgement. You become more isolated as you don’t spend as much time with other people. The person you are dating takes it for granted that you will always be there and does not treat you as well. He learns that if his other plans fall through and he has nothing else to do, he can spend the time with you, as a plan B. He does not need to impress you, so he does not spend time planning fun dates, instead preferring to “hang out”. In other words, you are not a priority for him. He will never learn to make you his first priority because he does not see you as an equal partner. You unwittingly teach him to view you as a short-term fling rather than a future wife.
From this example, you can see the immense damage it causes when you fail to create and maintain effective boundaries in your life. You will become resentful that people are taking advantage of you yet you will notice that you keep attracting more and more people who drain your energy. It takes courage to recognize people who make you feel crazy or guilty for enforcing your own boundaries. Sometimes that means cutting someone out of your life after they repeatedly fail to respect your boundaries. Sometimes it means not having as much contact with someone who previously you were close to or imagined that in the future you would become closer to. Dare to dream of a future where most of the people in your life truly value you for who you are and treat you with love and respect. You deserve it.
Think about who you spend the most time with. Who are these people and how are they influencing you? The people we spend the most time with impact our thoughts, feelings and energy, and shape our life direction. I’ve learned to trust the wisdom of my body when making decisions about people in my life—how do I feel when I leave the interaction? Do I feel joy? Uplifted? Lethargic? Drained? Sad? Resentful? Hopeful? Angry? Inspired? Excited? Loving? Not good enough? The mind can rationalize and justify many things that are said but the body is intuitive; the gut reaction you have towards someone is a very powerful indicator of how the relationship will turn out. I’ve met numerous people who can say all the right things, deliver compliments with false sincerity, make promises with no intent to deliver, and can lie to your face without blinking an eye. When the time for action comes, they will disappear with no accountability or remorse. Such people discard you as soon as you discover their real agenda and/or are of no use to them anymore because they did not genuinely care for you in the first place.
How do you recognize such people early on? I’ve observed that there are behaviours you can look for and the common denominator is respect. People who respect you value your time, energy, skills and personality. If the answer is no to the following questions, it is best to minimize the time spent with that individual, even if they are family or have been in your life for a long time.
Invest in people who invest in you. People learn how to treat you by the behaviours you tolerate. Setting clear boundaries and communicating what is not acceptable is key to attracting and maintaining healthy relationships. Choose to spend time with people who leave you feeling uplifted, inspired and encouraged. Engage with people who value your personality, strengths and skills, and make you feel optimistic and confident about the future. Avoid people who are harsh, critical and speak negatively. Because if they talk to you about other people in a negative tone, they will have no problem discussing you in a negative tone with others.
If you have people in your life who treat you well even if they know you would forgive them if they didn’t, consider these people as diamonds in the rough. Cultivate self-love by spending time with the right people.
Self-care is an important part of maintaining a healthy mind. It is easy to slip into "auto-pilot" at the beginning of the day when you don't take the time to centre your thoughts and engage in a spiritual practice. Failing to feed the spiritual self on a daily basis can result in burnout, pessimism, lethargy, repressed emotions, unbalanced/ unhealthy relationships, and distorted expectations of the future.
My favourite form of self-care are retreats. In September I had the opportunity to visit a retreat centre in Ontario for 4 days for an self-directed retreat. I engage in a retreat at least once annually as a form of energy clearing, contemplation and planning. The energy of being near the lake and out in the forest for an extended period of time assists me in coming up with fresh ideas to old problems, and to replace stagnant energy with a renewed vibrancy. The healing effects are superior to visiting the lake or a trail for a day because on the retreat you have the benefit of having the property to yourself and just a few other guests. The privacy aids in emotional release. You may speak your deepest thoughts and emotions out loud to release to nature what does not serve you and at the same time breathe in that fresh energy to create a brighter future.
Walking the labyrinth is a particularly powerful way to receive new insights and ideas, to aid in healing and transformation. I find that it assists me in getting rid of stress, replacing self-doubt with self-compassion and being able to see people and relationships in a more forgiving light. At the beginning of the labyrinth, you ask a question you are seeking guidance regarding, or state feelings you are trying to let go of. You may also ask how to make a certain trait a stronger part of your character, if you have lost touch with that part of yourself. Some people choose to repeat a word, phrase or statement repeatedly as they walk, or others just walk being open to any guidance that may arise. In the centre, you take some time to integrate any revelations that came to you as you were walking.
I'd like to share some photos with you of my retreat and hope you will find the time to take one of your own soon.
Thursday October 10th 2019 is World Mental Health Day, a time to reflect on how powerful it can be to share your authentic feelings and experiences with someone whom you can trust. People often see physical illness as worthy of empathy because it is visible. For example, you would not fault someone in a wheelchair for not being able to run at a certain speed. In contrast, because mental illness is invisible, it is less likely to garner that same extent of empathy. Other people may blame someone with clinical depression or anxiety for not being able to work because they perceive that person to be lazy. People are more forgiving of physical illness than a mental illness, even though on a global scale, one in four people will experience mental health issues at some point in their lives.
There is a lot of pressure exerted on individuals to put on a strong face; to give the impression that everything is going well in their lives despite adverse, unfair, unexpected and traumatic events that have happened or continue to happen. It can be painful to suffer in silence, or to think that even if you screamed, other people would pretend that they could not hear you. Someone may be brave enough to speak their truth on a public forum, and notice that some of their social media 'friends' or followers have unfollowed them. Or perhaps you make people aware of an injustice happening at school, work, or other public setting, and other people term you "unprofessional", minimize contact with you, and/or inflict unfair punishments simply because they have the power to do so. Systemic power imbalances perpetuated in society allow certain people and organizations to get away with horrible things on a regular basis and rarely do these people show any remorse for what they have done or continue to do. It shows great strength of character when you stand up for yourself in the face of opponents with considerably more resources than you.
Especially today, remember that speaking your truth allows you to step into your personal power, regardless of how other people label you, or what consequences are inflicted on you. On a daily basis, you need to define your own self-worth, and not let this be determined by other people's opinions and projections. It takes courage to share your story, knowing that you may not get the outcome you want or you may be criticized or ostracized for doing so. Sometimes people label someone as 'negative' or a 'troublemaker' because they were brave enough to call out the evil and immoral actions of other people. At the same time, you know that in the future, other people in your position may be in a stronger position to tackle the injustices you faced. There is tremendous potential for change in sharing your personal narrative, whether it is in person, online, in the media, or through the written or spoken word. Everytime you share your story, you influence other people, and those people influence other people. You never know how large your circle of influence really is or who you are indirectly influencing at any given time. If you have overcome your own personal mental health stuggles, or are currently working through them, please do share your story. You never know whose heart and soul you will touch in the process.
Whether you are in a "good", "bad" or "neutral" phase in life, anyone could benefit from seeing a psychotherapist.
When most things in your life seem to be going well, there is still room for enhanced self-understanding. There are always blind spots that go undetected because friends and family are not trained to notice them or draw them to your awareness. Loved ones and friends can offer good advice at times but their feedback will be biased based on the lens that they see you through and the expectations they have for you. Besides giving you more objective analysis, counselling done with a psychotherapist is about digging to your roots, to assess fundamental thought and feeling patterns to identify the self-limiting beliefs you have unconsciously accepted as true.
When there has been a traumatic event, most people shut down or numb their emotions as a self-protective strategy. These repressed emotions have the potential to influence future behaviour for years after the event has passed. You may not think you need therapy at the time of the incident because its possible to pretend everything is fine and continue living life as before. However, there comes a point when you realize that you are having irrational expectations and reactions without knowing why. The longer you keep silent about the trauma, the deeper it affects your mind and body. Continuing to ignore it can cause a complete breakdown which may have serious implications for your future.
Prince Harry discusses the relief he felt when he finally began to talk about the grief surrounding his mother's death, 20 years after it occurred. His life began to turn around when he saw a professional counsellor. Harry and his wife Meghan are passionate about reducing the stigma around mental health, and co-founded Heads Together to raise awareness about the power in being able to talk about what is affecting you. I am inspired by this organization which is devoted to encouraging people of all ages to seek mental health support in times of need. Prince Harry has also teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to produce a television documentary series on mental health. Winfrey commented, "Our hope is that it will have an impact on reducing the stigma and allowing people to know that they are not alone, allowing people to speak up about it and being able to identify it for themselves and in their friends."
With the help of initiatives such as Heads Together and Bell's Let's Talk, along with influential celebrity advocates, the conversation around seeking professional counselling is becoming increasingly mainstream. The stigma may never completely disappear on a global scale yet I am hopeful that people who may have never considered counselling are becoming more open to hearing about the considerable long-term costs of silence.
I am excited to be launching my professional psychotherapy website in September 2019! My first post is intended to let you get to know me a bit better.
I was born and raised in Ontario, spending almost all of my life in the charming city of Mississauga. My parents immigrated to Toronto from South India in the early 80s and ensured that our household was an equal blend of South Asian and Canadian culture and tradition. My culture is very important to me, as is learning about the different cultures of the world. I love the following poem by Rupi Kaur:
remember the body
of your community
breathe in the people
who sewed you whole
it is you who became yourself
but those before you are a part of your fabric
So far, I have travelled to 18 countries and continue to find interesting places to visit! I've been to Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Malta, Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, England, Germany, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Dominican Republic, many of the states in America, and six other provinces in Canada. I visited Maui, Hawaii at age 16 and it is still my favourite place in the world.
From an early age, I found myself interested in human behaviour, motivation, personality, spirituality and the ability of people to transform themselves; to rise like the phoenix from the ashes. I found inspiration from figures such as Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, David R. Hawkins, David Keirsey, Mark Nepo, Mooji, Yogananda, Kahlil Gibran, and Immaculee Ilibagiza. I've always had faith that there is a divine time for everything and that regardless of how many obstacles that appear in your path, your destiny will find its way to you. The journey to becoming a psychotherapist was filled with twists and turns along the way. The day I found out I had been accepted to the Masters of Counselling Psychology program at the University of Toronto was one of the happiest days of my life. During the orientation I was amazed to learn that I was one of the 42 students selected from nearly 600 applications. I knew in my heart that it was my destiny to become a psychotherapist and I had found my true calling.
In my spare time I enjoy reading about self-development and spirituality, journaling, watching movies at the theatre, attending cultural events, trying out new restaurants, spending time in nature and by large bodies of water, listening to music, meditating, doing yoga, reading poetry and spending quality time with my family and friends. I love animals and have had my cat, Tristan, for over 11 years.
I view psychotherapy as a sacred calling... to bring out my client's inner strength and resiliency, to assist them in reclaiming their voice and personal power in their darkest times is an honour. I learn something new from each and every client I see and I am grateful for them all.
I am glad you decided to visit my site and hope you enjoy the new content I will post from time to time. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions for me or want to connect!