Why We Struggle to Set Boundaries

I love learning how our childhoods have shaped the way we view the world. Understanding my past has brought into clear view why I behave the way I do in certain situations and what I need to work on to be a compassionate leader for my child. 

If you struggle to set boundaries with your kids or have trouble disciplining without getting angry or using force, you can start to turn things around by simply understanding your personal history and digging in to uncover any unresolved childhood wounds.

Setting boundaries and maintaining limits without using punitive threats takes an enormous amount of self-restraint and confidence. Many of us get stuck reliving our past through the interactions we have with our children.

I am in control.

The behavior we see triggers our anxiety and stress and taking back the power and control we didn't feel as children often (unconsciously) takes priority over helping our children make new choices. 

Our unresolved issues become the focus because that is the root of our stressed behavior. Encouraging our kids to make thoughtful decisions by supporting them through emotional distress can feel almost impossible - if we're even aware that it's necessary for those moments.

A child's primary need is to connect.

We don't mean to overlook our responsibility to be emotionally available and connect with our children. These self-protective patterns of reacting were formed in our brains long ago as we adapted to whatever life experiences we faced.  

If we're willing to look back at how we felt as children and become conscious of how it is connected to the reasons why we struggle to set boundaries now, we can dissolve the thoughts that provoke our impulse to fixate on correcting behavior or imposing logical consequences.

Revisiting your past can be immensely healing. It can also be a sad and painful experience for those who have witnessed or been the target of trauma, abuse, or emotional neglect.

In the past, I had a habit of veering into negative thinking. Tense, distracted, and fragmented best described my emotional state. Living in a place of chronic stress interrupts our capacity to access self-compassion.  

We can only have compassion for our kids when we can have compassion for ourselves.  

This is an important interview, with Dr. Gabor Maté, describing the impact of stressed parenting on children.

Some believe Dr. Maté blames the parents for things like anxiety, addiction, and depression. My takeaway (and his actual position) is only that our experiences influence our genetic expression and that we develop based on our interactions with the world. He notes his own stressed parenting as the cause of his children's ADHD.
"our caregivers were not at fault, they were simply too stressed themselves to be emotionally available and provide us what we needed - even if they seemed loving and caring."

We may be stuck living out inter-generational patterns of stressed thinking and reactive behaviors. However, we have the power to break free and alter our perceptions and physiological responses - rewiring our brains and increasing our tolerance for stress.

However, without conscious awareness and an understanding of our past, we put ourselves at risk for repeating history and passing on a legacy of mind-body dis-ease.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) Study, one of the most extensive investigations on early trauma, found that adverse childhood experiences have a direct and substantial effect on our future health and well-being.

The ACES score is based on a scale of 10. The higher your score - the higher your risk. You can find your own score here.  

My score is 6/10. But, I'm not falling victim to statistics.

I ultimately believe we can change the trajectory of our personal relationships and our emotional and physical health. But first, we must know what we're dealing with. 

What do we need to erase negative thoughts and reprogram our genes for positive expression?

1. A coherent understanding of our story is one significant component.  

Dr. Dan Siegel has spoken extensively on the importance of knowing our story

Alice Miller, an author ahead of her time with books such as The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting and The Drama of the Gifted Child, maintained that the hidden wounds of childhood would eventually manifest in physical symptoms if the emotions were not expressed.

But, more importantly, she called attention to what she named the "enlightened witness."

2. A witness to our story whose mere presence can lighten the load of our childhood trauma and neglect. 

Essentially, having someone listen to our story, without invalidating our emotional memories or making excuses for the behavior of our caregivers, is vitally crucial to overcoming the negative patterns that lead us to live in chronic states of stress where we -
  • struggle to set boundaries
  • are unable to tolerate age-appropriate expressions of anger and disappointment 
  • live in a state of hyper-arousal, perceiving a threat where there is none
  • resort to shutting down and tuning out when other people's emotions seem irrational or too intense
  • become overly controlling because we can't adapt

We can be so easily offended when we unconsciously bottle up our true selves and push away painful emotions.

Our habits of reacting are not conscious choices as much as they are the result of how we learned to cope with whatever life circumstances we faced. 

If family life has become intolerable because you find your child's behavior inexcusable and you are out of patience and ideas, you may be working with some of these inherited, unconscious, reactive patterns.

This free 10-day online series will help you re-connect with yourself and your kids. Come check us out in our Facebook community where we share stories and find support.

This community is especially great if you're feeling isolated or alone.

"I feel better being part of a supportive group on this journey. The connection and collaborative mindset help a lot!" - Anna, Community Member

I'd love to have you join this fantastic group of conscious people and share your experiences. 

Until next time, remember it's about being conscious - not perfect!

Talk soon,

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About Lori

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