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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Have Your Boundaries Been Crossed?

Cover of "Boundaries (Fireside/Parkside R...

Cover via Amazon

Men, have you ever been kidding a woman you had thought that you had known well and had what amounted to having your face slapped?  Did she get very quiet, refuse to help you anymore, or{ taking it to the extreme) call the  manager or the police?  Did you feel initially that your behavior was appropriate  and not in bad taste?  Women, have you wound up in a situation you didn’t intend to get into and (in an extreme cases of misunderstanding) been “” date raped“”?  Crossing someone else’s sexual boundaries unintentionally or unknowingly letting your own sexual boundaries  be crossed, can be signs that you learned inappropriate sexual boundaries and/or you had your sexual boundaries inappropriately crossed  as a child  leading to problems identifying sexual limits in  others and in establishing them for yourself.

Some sexual abuse is only partially remembered by the victims and some do not remember it at all.  Worse yet, victims  may not categorize some behaviors that they experienced as abusive especially when they do not know that sexual boundaries have been crossed.   Either parent can cross these boundaries with a child of either sex.  It has been said that sometimes it is physical abuse as a child that is easier to deal with because it leaves visible marks and sexual abuse as a child (as well as emotional abuse which will be a later topic of this blog) that  is harder to deal with because it usually does not leave marks.  Just saying, ”’No,”” is easier said than done.  Abusers count on child victims to not believe that they can not safely do that.

Thus you may have had your sexual boundaries crossed as a child and not known it.


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Hidden Boundaries

Boundaries vary from person to person .  What is acceptable to one person might not be acceptable to another.  They also vary from group to group or from culture to culture.  If we know a person well or are a long-term member of a group or  have been born in and lived in a certain place for a significant amount of time, we often instinctively obey certain boundaries.  An example of this would be personal space; however, this can change under certain conditions such as in a packed subway car.  Certain gestures are considered obscene in one country and perfectly acceptable in another.

What happens when someone crosses these boundaries?  They may be ostracized or shunned.  In the worse case scenario, it could get them killed.   In some countries, a woman can not be out of the home without being in the presence of a male relative.   When someone knows and obeys the boundaries, it can make for good diplomatic relationships, instant group membership, or simply friendship.   For example, some groups have secret handshakes.

There are boundaries that are subtle and frequently never put into words.  This can be true of sexual boundaries.  Naive people often have theirs crossed and may do nothing to stop it out of ignorance and embarrassment.  Adults who are victims of  the crossing of their sexual boundaries as children may become passive victims of  more sexual abuse or they may act out by displaying inappropriate sexual behaviors.  The behaviors of these victim’s who as a result are ignorant of some of the more subtle  sexual boundaries can be misinterpreted by others even though the victims didn’t mean for them to be taken that way.  This creates at the very least social ackwardness or at the worst sexual harrassment.

Inappropriate Sexual Behavior and its Effects on Children

You may have heard a lot about the sexual abuse of children, but sexual abuse is not limited to involving children in sexual acts.  Different people view different types of behavior as inappropriate for children to participate in or view.  There are  also laws which have been made to define inaappropriate behavior which are strictly enforced. 

People who work in mental health also have their own standards of behavior which are based on what is damaging to children.  Overt acts including touching are not the only things that might effect a child.   They include what the child sees, hears, touches, and feels physically and emotionally.   What is also damaging is that denial is used to cover up the abuse.  Children often sense  that what is happening is wrong and pretend it never happened which is a form of denial.  It might make them feel very uncomfortable and unable to express it. 

Whenever subtile abuse is covered up in some way, for example, especially when it is rationalized away by saying that the child is too young to notice what is going on, it is often just as harmful as overt abuse.  The child may think that certain sexual behaviors are okay in public.  Besides having difficulties observing the boundaries of others, they might have difficulty setting tbeir own boundaries.  Boundaries include all the senses.  For example, a child sees someone who is inappropriately dressed (what are robes for anyway?), a child might overhear a sexually explicit cell phone conversation,  or a child may feel that something is not quite right about the way they are dressed by their caregivers in public.    Chjldren learn appropriate behaviors from those around them,  if what they learn is not acceptable in society outside the home, they may be unfairly treated and/or get in trouble because of this.

What to Do with Feelings

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you been told that you create your own feelings and that sometimes they are irrational?  What’s next?  If you  can not deny them, what can you do with them?  I have had some experience with Externalization which is associated with Dr, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (who is also associated with the death and dying movement).  In Externalization, you can perform some sort of action in a safe environment (with also at least one facilitator who is trained in Externalization) and express your feelings. Tearing up phone books or beating a pillow with a rubber hose (while sitting or lying on a mattress) are two ways to work on  angry feelings.  Crying into a pillow is a way to express sad feelings.

Part of what Dr. Kuber-Ross has said is basically that  feelings are contagious.  If a person has an emotional reaction to some other person’s acting out their feelings, it is because he or she has an unresolved issue on which he or she needs to work.  The person working on their feelings is in the middle of a group of people who are all there to observe and the people observing are not supposed to comment on the work being done by the person in the middle.   Facilitators observe and notice those who need to work on their own feelings which have been aroused by observing the person in the center of the group working and use this information to determine who needs to do work next.  They are there to counsel people outside the group  versus inside the group  and  also to take emergency action if necessary.  The facilitators also might select them as the next  person to work on their feelings in the middle of the group.  . This is not a complete overview of every thing about  Externalization and the Externalization process.

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Therapy is a Craft

A photo of a group conducting psychotherapy.

A photo of a group conducting psychotherapy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a graduate student, I chose to go to a big name university to study clinical psychology.  What I didn’t know (until I got there and learned what kind of research the psychology professors did) was that they taught that psychotherapy and psychological evaluations were all bunk unless their processes could be broken down into scientifically measurable procedures that could be applied by anyone scientifically trained  and thus measured for outcome.  Yes, I read the recommended books and reports of applicable psychological experiments; but there were areas of clinical work that I didn’t have a clue about how to do them.  When I reached the point in my training where I went for  experiential training in a mental health clinic,  I found out that there were qualities and intuitive behaviors of mental health clinicians that had not been scientifically measured and replicated and therefore could not be proven  effective that were successful.

That was how I learned that psychotherapy was an art and psychotherapists were artists or better yet craftsmen.  It was a privilege to observe these people work their magic.  Scientists were hard put to describe or replicate this magic process.  An interesting article in the current edition of The Psychotherapy Networker  talks about the clinician as a craftsman.  I also realized when in postdoctoral training were I was training medical students that they had to observe my interview of someone behind a one way mirror and then ask me questions about what I did and how I did it.  I did not completely know ahead of time what I would say and do; but if they questioned about how or why I said or did something after the interview, I could usually tell them even if I didn’t know this information ahead of time.

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Generating Fear and Anger

Can't Get You Out of My Thoughts

Can't Get You Out of My Thoughts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you resent people for what you think they have done to you in the past?  Are you concerned about things over which you have no control in the future or in the present moment?  Do you continually have such thoughts and they make you anxious and get you upset?  Did you ever think about how easily you can be controlled  because of these thoughts?   You may be calmly sitting in your recliner watching TV when something is mentioned that you are concerned about but is not happening to you at the present moment.  Are your feelings aroused?  These are usually not positive thoughts.  They can prevent you from enjoying life’s present moments and keep you from being in the here and now.  What might have been a pleasant break from everyday responsibilities turns into an unpleasant reaction to hidden fears and concerns that are associated with the content of the TV program you are watching.  The news often does not calm you and fill you with gratitude for the things life has given you.  The current presidential campaigns have taken on a negative slant and they must think that it works or why do they this?   Why do people think that the best way to motivate people is by hate and fear?  Psychological studies involving behavior modification find that rewards do a better job of changing behavior especially when they are associated with a desired positive behavior.  Unwanted behavior when eliminated must have the behaviors that are wanted already in place to take their place.

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Children as Experimental Subjects

BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 22:  Day care workers...

At one point in time there were experimental studies in psychology where children were viewed as subjects.  Theories of child development were based on these.   Children need to be observed in their own environments, not in sterile laboratory rooms with strangers.  A lot of what children do is based on where they are and whom they are with.  When children are comfortable with their surroundings and the people there, their typical behavior is more likely to appear.  They must feel safe and secure before they start to explore and interact with each other or adults.  Also for young children, most child care environments contain kids of the same or close to the same age and  familiar adult females, usually not males.

It was said once upon a time that babies or young toddlers engaged in solitary play and did not get involved  in interactive play with other children.  If you observe children like these in their homes, at a close relative’s house where they often come to play, or in their accustomed daycare setting with familiar same age playmates, they will usually get involved in play with each other that seems to follow certain rules and also have reciprocal behaviors .   Also you, yourself, or the observer must not be a stranger to the children.  This makes it difficult to conduct scientific studies with an impartial observer in a controlled environment.  As a partial observer of my grandchildren in a familiar environment where they are playing with children they  play with all the time, I have seen interactive play among children as young as one year  and eighteen months of age.   In fact, all three when together usually play in the same place {no matter how much room they have to play in) and  with the same things (no matter how much they have to play with).  One child does something and the other children do it too. Sometimes there seems to be a pattern of behavior.

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Did You Lose Something in Childhood?

Problem Solving

Problem Solving (Photo credit: mikecogh)

There are things about childhood that are unforgettable or at least they ought to be unforgettable.   Children are little explorers.  They are always seeing something new to them.  They are always learning seemingly at the speed of light.   They go from only expressing their needs non-verbally  to verbally.   Vocabulary grows ex-potentially.  Watch out  as soon they  will learn to read and write.  When do we stop growing like this or should we?  It is a big world out there and it is conceivable that we should never stop learning.  It helps with our problem solving skills.  It expands our concept of the universe and the possibilities that we have to choose from.  Both in the terms of goals and ways to do things.

Besides our curiosity, we have our imaginations.  Little children quickly learn how to do things like talk on the phone.  Part of this is mimicking what they see and hear and part of this is done by using their imaginations.  When we imagine, we can be or do anything we want.  The possibilities are endless.  Most or all things that come into being in reality are first created in somebody’s mind.  There are few or no limits on what the mind can imagine.  Besides imagining things that don’t yet exist, we can imagine ways to do things that aren’t possible yet.  Exercise your imagination and grow.



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Pressure, Good or Bad?

Bad Day on the Block

Bad Day on the Block (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pressure when it is fueled by desire can be positive and lead to out of the ordinary accomplishments.  Desire is associated with something that you have chosen to be, do, or have.  You strongly desire to see something accomplished and may work on a project for long periods of time sometimes even forgetting to eat or sleep.

Useless pressure is the anxiety that results from a need to be approved by someone else.  It gets in the way of a personal  desire to do something we want to do because we are afraid we will be judged, usually unfavorably, by others.  Where does this pressure come from?  One source is in childhood when our parent’s approval came at a price and we were afraid of their disapproval.  This might have taken the form of the withdrawal of love.  This may have been taken a little further and we may have been told to consider what other people (besides our parents) would think as well.  This can lead to our not fulfilling our desires.  Frequently parents have been raised this way themselves and as adults continue to be afraid of attracting the disapproval of others either through their own behavior or that of their spouses or children.

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Misplaced Anger

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

Angry Talk (Comic Style) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following up on yesterdays post, Displaced Aggression, we are going to look even more carefully at times when we get angry at the wrong person or about the wrong thing. We think someone or something “makes” us mad and then when we get mad this way, we can easily take it out on someone else or something in our lives that really didn’t deserve it. The person or thing that we initially got angry about may no longer be present or may be some person or thing that we think we can’t be safely angry about. This is when anger is misplaced onto a convenient scape goat. People often take their anger out on persons or things that did little or nothing to them.

There are two things to consider here. One is that when we get mad about something, it is at some level that we “decide” to feel angry about someone or something. We think that we are “justified” in being angry. Many people have been taught that they have a right to become angry when certain things happen and when they happen, that they can’t help but get mad and possibly even that they can not control it. People like this have very quick tempers and it seems as if there is no stopping them when they get angry about something. It often follows that these people take their anger out on the wrong person or thing. It is also true that different people feel different ways about what they are “justified” to get mad about. Wars have been fought over this.

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