We all need to set a boundary or two at various points in our lives. But, how do you go about it? Do you communicate your needs and feelings clearly? Or do you throw unsuccessful hints, hoping that the other person quietly picks up on your discomfort and unease? While knowing your boundaries is powerful, setting and then enforcing them clearly and with consideration is a whole different equation.
In this episode, Robert shares a particularly relatable example of someone who wasn’t able to express her needs but then began resenting her loved one for not understanding. All the while, she maintained that she was not sharing her challenges directly because she didn’t want to be unkind. Sometimes, when it comes to the people we love, we may let them play fast and loose with our feelings while they avoid our boundaries. We may do this consciously or unconsciously, not knowing how to reinforce our boundaries to protect ourselves or not realizing that we’re encouraging their behavior by not putting a stop to it. Instead, learn how to ask yourself questions like, “How can I best take care of myself today?” Of course it then requires a sincere and contemplative response. Then, you’ll be able to take a step back to evaluate challenging situations without difficult emotions clouding your ability to clearly state what you need and express the limits that need to be considered.
Before reacting defensively, take a moment to gather yourself and go back to your guiding questions. This can also help you lessen or eliminate saying something you’d regret while maximizing the chance to set clear boundaries and maintain a healthy relationship with the person. Try not to judge yourself or be too harsh as you figure out your feelings and needs because you’re making your best efforts, no matter your level of awareness or development. That’s what’s important.
Tapping into your wisdom guidance at this time will help you gain insight into your reactions and also help you see vulnerable feelings underneath — hurt, fear, or pain. This awareness helps keep you grounded and enables you to move toward healing and happiness after you pinpoint what you need from yourself and express it to the person in front of you.
Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides
Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. For an exact quote or comment, please contact us.
Awareness That Heals, Episode 43.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
The response to your feelings is where wisdom-guidance comes in, where the center of your life can be the wisdom responder to what it is your feeling and not the feelings yourself.
The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity, to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book, “Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges,” to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.
Robert Strock: (01:00)
A very warm welcome again, to Awareness That Heals, where we’re very much doing our best to bring our heart and our wisdom to the life challenges that we all face today. We’re going to continue to explore wisdom-guidance. And as Dave said, in the last episode, how we can make this more than words, how we can actually bring to life the possibility of asking the questions that matter to you, to us, and really listen to the wisdom that comes from that and learn that being our own guide or authority is really, again, not something we should do, but it’s something that’s an opportunity that we aren’t usually born into that invitation. So, my hope is that you’re hearing all these episodes as an invitation to really be the life, the self, the guidance, and the following up on the guidance that is best possible for you to live the life that would be most clearly endorsed when you’re on your death bed. So, before we begin, I’d like to introduce Dave, my partner is the Global Bridge Foundation and very dearest friend for such a long time.
Robert, I am grateful to be here grateful for these conversations and, and, and the meaning they personally have for me and, and the, uh, inspiration that you bring to them. Thank you. Thank you.
Robert Strock: (03:04)
So, I thought we start off today with, uh, an example that is probably the opposite of what most people would hear. And one of the dangers of being what I would call too loving, too caring, too sensitive, and there are a significant minority of people, probably 20% of people and it’s really for them that I’m speaking to. And also for those that may be it’s your partner, or maybe it’s your friend, so maybe you could be of assistance by seeing it. And it’s an example of wisdom-guidance in love-relationship, where a couple came to me and had been in relationship for 20 years. And it was the first year I was seeing them and she was telling me, well, gee, through the years, her husband was gradually drinking more and more, and it lessened their intimate time. And she really felt for him as he was facing aging.
Robert Strock: (04:18)
And he was not as successful as he was before. And she really felt empathic. And she was also letting me know on the side when he, when he was not there. And I was seeing her in individual sessions that he was discontent, she was unhappy. And she was even considering, seriously considering leaving him. So, I said to her, you know, you haven’t really given him any direct hints of this. Are you aware of that? She said, well, I don’t really want to be rude, you know, or I don’t want to be unkind. And I said to her, you know, what you’re doing is in a way that’s not obvious unkind because you’re actually considering leaving him. And you’re only giving him directly the parts of you that are nice. And what’s your calling empathic and what’s your calling kind, I would call co-dependence. And it’s only a part of you because you have another part of you that is really looking like actually after a certain period of time past, like, you’re going to be saying to him that you’re leaving.
Robert Strock: (05:39)
So, what, what happened gradually is she, at a certain session, exploded? And she said, you know, I’m not so sure I want to be in this relationship. I’m not. And he was completely floored because she really didn’t integrate. This was in the first six months of seeing them, she really didn’t integrate my suggestions of giving him a direct hint and not suddenly shocking him. And by the way, this has been true in a lot of couples where one party sees themselves as so nice. And they’re always nice. And the partner’s not as nice to them. They’re ignoring them, they’re criticizing them, they’re belittling them. So, it’s a very important pattern. And so, I insisted that she reveal and take responsibility, while she was saying this for having another part of her, that wasn’t able to be courageous enough, to be able to say, you know, I am actually unhappy with the fact that you’ve been drinking.
Robert Strock: (06:47)
I’m unhappy that I don’t see you as being disciplined. And I’m actually considering the fact that maybe we need to break up. And Robert has been hammering me, although I don’t think I was hammering her, but Robert has been hammering me to share this with you, but I’ve been having these feelings for the last few years. Now, her husband was really mad. It was like, what in the hell are you? You act like you’re totally content. And then suddenly you got to say this to me. You gotta be kidding me. So, gradually we started to go underneath the feelings and ask the questions of what would be expressed if you were really both to speak from your wisdom. And she was, she said, I would really like you to be drinking less and be more disciplined, be more attentive to me and hear that I’m actually trying to support you.
Robert Strock: (07:48)
And I am sorry that I haven’t really expressed my needs up till now. Now he was floored and after being angry for the first couple of sessions, he realized, you know what, you’re right. I really, I really have been doing exactly what you’re saying and thanks for the kick in the ass. And the reality was her adjusting from what she thought was being compassionate and loving was really a self-image, but was really a distorted reality because she was addicted to being nice and really compartmentalizing her deeper needs, which were for the connection and the way for her husband to really be just a responsible, caring, uh, being his best self. So that led to a reconciliation over time, but it took two, three years for them to start communicating. And it even led to him saying, and you know what, when we make love, I don’t really like the fact that you’re so passive, you know, and I would really like it if you would participate more or tell me what you need.
Robert Strock: (09:08)
So, it not only went the first round, but it actually led to a second round of him getting more in touch with his wisdom. So her breaking out of her codependency woke him up as well and led to a mutual, uh, let’s say, catalyzing of each of them to express what it is they each needed, which was, uh, expression of wisdom-guidance. And it was proceeded by asking the questions of, well, he started saying, well, am I the only bad guy in this relationship? Is this the only sign it has? And he realized that in addition to the sexuality, that she also was really relying on her friends and wasn’t really, really sharing at all with him in a way that he would have liked to have known when she’s hurting. He noticed she’d have headaches, or she, he noticed that she was suffering from things and she’d be on the phone with friends. I’d like you to bring some of that to me. So, in a very ironic or paradoxical way, her facing accurately that she was being too nice, quote, too loving in appearance was actually a handicap. So, wisdom-guidance, many times, will help somebody to be less self-centered, but sometimes it will lead us to set more boundaries and to be able to express deeper needs that we’ve been suppressing.
I think one of the questions I began to ask myself, as you were speaking is wisdom-guidance and the identification of needs and boundaries, and how to really navigate that because it’s, it’s, uh, at least in my life, uh, I’ve experienced myself, um, expressing needs that I, I felt, I certainly felt them, uh, but they ended up not being that wise, uh, often as it’s the need to communicate, uh, as you discussed in a prior episode and in the face of, uh, a person that may not be either ready or I may be misperceiving, and I may be perceiving in a certain way. And, and, but I have a need to communicate and it’s my need, but it doesn’t necessarily mean my needs are, are wise. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that the boundaries I’m setting are wise. So how to get to the wisdom? It’s a question.
Robert Strock: (11:35)
Well, it’s, it’s a really pivotal question. And I think the looking at boundaries versus being furry is the right question. How do I find the balance between boundaries and letting myself just be free to express? And I, I think the, the guidance at least the way I’ve been guided to do it is, it’s always okay to experiment, to go one more level than where you’ve been with someone you’re close to. Now, I’m not talking about doing it with somebody who you’re just meeting, but with somebody that you’re close to and it’s, it’s always fine to not only initiate one more level of need, but also it’s helpful if you say, do you mind if I say something to you? I haven’t said before to prepare them, because you might see that it’s the wrong timing. So, asking for permission is important. And then let’s just say, you say, you know, I would like to communicate more about our sex life, or I’d like to communicate more about, um, our relationship to money, or I’d like to communicate more of, you know, I’m sick and whether or not we need to have a caregiver or I, whatever it is.
Robert Strock: (12:55)
And when you bring that up and you, you try and the person says, well, no, that’s that’s I, I’m not interested. You aren’t, you are already a communication freak. You know, I mean, you, you, you’re saying you’re not communicating, you know, God you’re, you’re banging my ear down every 10 minutes. I got to, I’ve got to just put on ear muffs you communicate so much. Then you kind of realize that you’re put in a position with, well, do I want to be free or do I need to set more boundaries on myself? And it could be the same in reverse where they may be saying the same thing to you. So, the key is you’re always ready to go both ways. It’s almost like you have a left hand and a right hand that you’re, you’re, you’re checking it out, but you’re listening carefully to the feedback.
Robert Strock: (13:47)
And if indeed it’s a crucial need and you feel like you’re being shut down, it’s probably very helpful. Now, in fact, it is very helpful, at least for you, maybe for both of you to say, I just want you to understand what I’m hearing you say to me is, I’ve already been communicating more than you want me to, and that you actually would like me to be more sensitive. So, I’m going to, at the most ask you, is this a time where I could ask and I’m going to mostly assume you’re going to say no. Now when we do that, when we’re really responsible enough to respect somebody else’s boundaries, then we have to look at how important is this to us? Is this a relationship killer? Is this something that is going to be true in every relationship? Because there’s at least 10 important areas in every relationship.
Robert Strock: (14:39)
And maybe this is just one or two or three of 10. And I, I’ve said pretty much throughout the years, if you get seven out of 10, really core important things to you in a relationship, you’re in a good relationship. Now, of course the three could be so bad they could be killers, they could be abuse. No, there could be affairs, there could be breaking a law. It could be all kinds of things that are killers. But if you, if they’re not heinous things and you have seven out of 10, that’s probably okay, but for you, you might be a nine out of 10 or, or you might be a five out of 10. It’s not a matter of listening to me. But the point being is we don’t have to get all of our needs met necessarily. And again, we need to ask that question.
Robert Strock: (15:23)
If we are limiting ourselves, am I really okay with this? What feelings am I left with? How can I care for the feelings? And that’s very, very important. Am I doing everything I can to find that middle point of sensitivity between me and my needs and the needs of the person that I love? So, one of the other really crucial things with wisdom-guidance is to notice that we generally identify most with how we feel. It’s like, if you ask somebody, how are you doing? What’s usually going to come back is well, I’m feeling blah, blah, blah. I’m feeling good. I’m not feeling good. And that is really from my vantage point at best a 50% answer. And we need to really try to support those that we love to not just have our feelings be the end point and go to another level. And the wording is a little tricky because it sounds a bit like psychological gobbledygook.
Robert Strock: (16:34)
But the question is when you’re feeling sad or you’re feeling helpless or you’re feeling angry, then you might ask another question where you ask, well, how can you best take care of yourself when you’re feeling this way? How can you best relate to your feelings? How can you best care for your feelings? What do you think you either need to do or not do where you’re asking for a response to your feelings, which to me, the response to your feelings is where wisdom-guidance comes in, where the center of your life can be the wisdom responder to what it is, your feelings and not the feelings yourself. And so that leads us to start asking questions to the persons that we’re close to ourselves, close to ourselves. And similarly, within ourselves, not only how do I feel, but let’s say you say, oh God, I’m so tired of feeling anxious all the time.
Robert Strock: (17:34)
Or I’m so tired of feeling depressed all the time. And that’s where you go to, and then you, you say, well, how can I best respond to this feeling? That’s my perpetual, uh, speaking loosely friend, or, or let’s say, ah, alter ego. How can I best relate to this? Which may be chemically induced, it may be traumatically, induced, whatever it is. And when you even remember to ask that question, especially if it’s not the first time you’ve ever asked it, you’ll notice that you realize, oh, my feelings are not the end of who I am and I am. I can be the responder. I can be the one that can ask the question and be the Inquirer, or I can be the one that can have the wisdom to say, oh, I can relate to my feelings. First of all, with thoughts that are saying, you’re not doing this on purpose.
Robert Strock: (18:34)
No, I’m sorry, you have to go through this. You know, do you want to lie down? Do you want to exercise? How can I take care of you? That you can be the one that can be the caregiver to yourself and you might not be even, be able to feel it. It might be, you can be the guide. So, at least you’re changing your thoughts or you’re changing your actions. You’re putting yourself in a better position than you were when you were, when you were, and you still are not feeling good. Maybe you can accomplish something that you wanted to accomplish, even though you’re not feeling good, or maybe you can accomplish a nap when you’re really tired, or maybe you can remember to set up a doctor’s appointment because as a condition you’re going through that you keep putting off. So, the key is to recognize that wisdom-guidance doesn’t lead us to evaluate ourselves based on how we feel.
Robert Strock: (19:31)
Now that doesn’t mean we’re not always doing our best to feel the best we can feel. It means that we’re grounded in the reality that we’re human, that we’re not taking the bait of well, if I feel better that means I am better. That means I’m a better person. That means I’m more together. No togetherness is how we respond to our lives. Whether we can guide ourselves from our own best wisdom or truth or understanding of life. And it’s especially important when we’re not feeling good, we deserve much more credit when we can guide ourselves when we’re not feeling good. Then when guiding ourselves, when we do feel good, it’s a lot easier because we’re just kind of cruising. So, have you noticed, how you do generally identify with what you feel is this clear to you? And that usually it’s an end point where then you circle the wagons and you thought about how you feel, and it keeps going on and on and on.
Robert Strock: (20:40)
And can you, can you see how often might you have some kind of guidance? I don’t care if you call it guidance, maybe you just call it thinking better, or maybe you call it, uh, your integrity or maybe you call it being sensible, but can you see where you are with having, uh, some kind of intervention when you’re not feeling good? And can you see the importance of that? Because we, as humans are going to have a fair amount of time when we’re not feeling good. And if we just stay with that, it’s going to be enhancing that suffering.
I want to reflect on another element of this that, uh, has been pervasive in my life. And one of the contexts is I know a mutually favorite all time book, which is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, who was in concentration camps and wrote a book that, that reflected on the freedom that really he continued to have, which is his ability to respond and choose his response. And I’m paraphrasing his attitude to the circumstances around him. That was about the only thing under his control. And of course you could do a whole podcast on that, but for me, the way I’m relating to it is not just sometimes when I’m feeling independently bad, but I’m oftentimes in my life, I’ve been very reactive. Um, and I know, uh, we’re going to be moving on to other subjects. Uh, but one of the things, uh, that we’re gonna be moving on to is, uh, experiencing what tone of voice is about. And I have found myself at different times in my life being extremely reactive, extremely unhappy when somebody gives me what I would call a bad vibe, or, uh, maybe even that they’re not aware of, but just it’s so frequent. And so, I found myself, uh, frequently found myself just kind of, uh, spattered out throughout the day with, with feeling like crap because I’m reacting, to trap, it’s really hard and, and it made me very, very unhappy.
Robert Strock: (23:01)
Yeah. So, one of the keys with wisdom-guidance is, and inquiry it’s never too late. And so, when we find ourselves reacting and the key ingredient is which you, you implied, but didn’t say I can see I’m reacting. And when we can see that we’re reacting. And especially if the one that’s seeing, isn’t just judging us for reacting, because then we might have to see the one that’s judging ourselves for reacting and then see that we’re reacting and go through two stages of seeing that, that scene is the key that motivates us kind of like what I was talking about earlier when I was sitting, talking about that, if you’re aware of being empty or you’re aware of feeling inadequate or dissatisfied, or is that all there is, it’s like when you can see you’re reacting, that is golden, that is such an opportunity to pivot and change the direction if we have the strength of will.
Robert Strock: (24:09)
And that’s why it’s such a great reflection to bring in Viktor Frankl. You know, my, my all time heroes, since college, with credentials that exceed everyone’s with going through a concentration camp and being able to still find his will to meaning. And so being able to borrow from him that here you are, imagine all the people reacting in concentration camps as to what was going through in their minds of how enraged and how terrified they were and how hard it is when you’re in that situation, which Viktor Frankl obviously conquered and then set up a whole, uh, logo therapy way of responding to that is that being able to see that this reactivity is going to be an endless cycle of suffering. And so I want to ask myself, how can I possibly deal with being in my version of a concentration camp and seeing it, how can I guide myself at least to thoughts if I can’t find feelings because in the concentration camp, my guess is Viktor Frankl was not celebrating, he was probably not joyous, he was probably not happy, but he was probably quite even, and he had control of his mind, which is where, as we’ve talked about in prior episodes, where friendly mind comes in, when you can’t really feel good, but you still can follow wisdom, thinking that at times, wisdom-guidance and friendly mind are partnerships.
Robert Strock: (25:51)
And so, it depends on the degree of severity of where you are. So, when you catch yourself reacting and you can see that boy, are you deeply ingrained enough to start asking, how can I care for myself, this reactive self? Let’s say you reacted in anger and patience and tolerance, tightness, and you say, how can I respond to that? Okay, take a few deep breaths, see what, see what just happened. And you’ll see that, you know what? I created damage both to myself and very likely to the other as well, if that’s what happened. And I’m sorry that I unwittingly tensed up my muscles, constricted my blood blood vessels, and very likely hurt someone else. Well, how can I care for myself? It probably will lead to, well, at least pause, at least be harmless, stop that flow. That might be as far as you can go.
Robert Strock: (26:52)
That would be fabulous if you could just become harmless. Now, if you’re in the practice even more, and the situation isn’t too extreme, you might even be able to come back and say, I’m sorry to the other person. This is how I would have liked to have expressed it. Or you might even come back to yourself and say, I’m sorry that I actually really put myself through the misery. I accept myself. I can tolerate that. I’m going to take a few deep breaths and try to move into a deeper state of relaxation or peace. That would really be a humongous turnaround.
And I think everybody, uh, has heard the adage, uh, “think before you speak,” and have had times when they’ve succeeded. Now you’re talking about, and I was talking about for myself the times when I didn’t succeed, I failed. Uh, but hopefully it may be more than a thinking. It may be, an even an understanding of what’s behind what we’re about or wanting, or let’s say impulsively feeling to say are, are, do. And, um, yeah.
Robert Strock: (28:03)
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And again, that’s why it’s so important because most of us are not really literace on an emotional level of it, knowing exactly what is it that we, when we say think, well, where does that guide us? I mean, can we actually discover what made us upset? What made us reactive? What was that knee underneath? And again, that’s why the Introspective Guides are so important or the equivalent that you have a list of all the feelings. So you, whenever you’re reacting, you know, what that feeling is. And you also know what the need is. That would be the one that you would want to express that will take care of you better. And you can do it with a balance of softness and strength and say, you know what, when I was off at you about this, what I really needed was that so going to AwarenesThatHeal.com, looking at the, the free Introspective Guides, looking at chart one and three, and seeing what the identification of those challenging emotions were.
Robert Strock: (29:10)
So, you can identify them very specifically. And then looking at the one or more needs that you had will allow you to quote, think in a way that is actually really, really taking good care of yourself. So, making this pivot is really what I would call finding a sense of purpose. Being able to actually care for ourselves when we’re in middle of injuring ourselves and others, caring for others, as well is such a turnaround, such a victory that it has to be right in there with one of the central purposes of life, where we can find fulfillment. Now, for some of us that actually may be more than we can achieve, for some of us that will be the biggest achievement of our life. And for some of us, that will be a further catalyst to want to expand that to, to the greater world, which so badly needs it.
Robert Strock: (30:15)
But wherever you find yourself, don’t make it into a moral standard look realistically at what you are. If you’re barely motivated to look okay, stay with being barely motivated to look and don’t judge yourself for that. But I really ask you not to give up on yourself, stay with barely willing to look and keep staying and staying and staying. And then I am pretty confident if you’re that far in. And if you’re in this far into the episodes, you’re going to be motivated to look, and then you’re going to be motivated to make the pivot. And that pivot is not a trivial thing. If we look at the consequences in the world of that lack of pivot between religions, between nations, between political parties, between relationships, we have war, we have global warming, we have divorce, we have hatred, we have cheating. So that pivot from being reactive to actually being introspective and guiding ourselves the questions that matter to the smarts or the wisdom or the wholesomeness that will guide us is really, again, one of the keys to finding a purpose of life. So that is my dearest wish for all of us. And I thank you so much for the rapt attention and especially for really bringing this into your life and carrying it with you.
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