Stop Depression In Its Tracks

We don’t get depressed in a second.
We get depressed in a series of well-defined steps.
You can stop depression in its tracks
if you deal with each step along the way.


I’ll be giving you three examples of typical depression cycles.
None of these will be exactly like your own cycle,
but by reading each of them closely
you will learn a lot about the steps you go through on your way to depression.
Read all the way down the left column first.
Then read each row, left to right.
Play with the second column as if it were a puzzle.
Come up with your own ideas about how each step could be changed.
Practicing this kind of thinking can help a lot the next time you start to feel depressed.


People who subconsciously create depression to manipulate others have very poor relationships with everyone they target. They can become chronically depressed if they do it as a regular way of getting along in life.

1) “I feel entitled to what I want from you.” “I know I’m not entitled to anything that doesn’t involve a signed contract, or at least a verbal commitment. Even then, I sometimes have to tolerate not getting what I want.”
2) “I’m angry but I won’t admit it.” “I know I’m angry.”
“I can at least admit it to myself.”
“I can find good ways to tell you I’m angry.”
3) “I’ll blame you and make you feel guilty.” “I’ll ask directly for what I want.”
“If I don’t get it the first time, I’ll ask again.”
“If I still don’t get it, I’ll talk with you to try to figure out some clever way we can both get what we want.”
4) “I’ll suffer at you until you give me what I want.” “Doing without what I want would be easier than all this suffering.”
“There are many other things I want that I can go for.”
5) “If I don’t get what I want, I’ll sulk quietly and make you watch me.” “Pouting and sulking only hurts me.”
6) “The sulking seems real and necessary to me now.” “Sulking is optional. Why would I do that to me?”
7) “I’m depressed.” Go back to step #1.



People who get depressed after suffering an incident of major physical or psychological pain can get past their depression if they get away from all danger and get good support from friends and family. They can call a therapist at any stage, but they definitely should call if they are still depressed after a few months.

1) “You did a terrible thing to me!” “I’ve been hurt! How can I soothe myself?”
“Who do I know who can soothe me right now?”
2) “I’m hurting, bad.” “I need time to just let myself feel this through, alone or with someone who cares about me.”
3) “I’ll make you suffer and get even.” “There’s no such thing as getting even.”
“If I make you hurt, I’ll still be hurt.”
4) “I made you feel bad, and I felt better for a few minutes, but I still feel bad afterwards.” “That short time I felt good about getting revenge wasn’t worth it.”
5) “I can’t win with you. I can only lose.” “Winning and losing isn’t what it’s about. And I do get some things I want from you even though I don’t get everything.”
“I don’t have to stay with you if I don’t want to.”
6) “I’m depressed.” Go back to step #1.

People who get depressed from overlapping anger need a therapist to help them make major changes in their life.

1) “I’m tired of being angry all the time. But so many things keep going wrong. I get mistreated all the time.” “Is it really all the time?”
“Do I notice the things that go right?”
“Some people treat me well. How often am I with them?”
2) “It’s not worth fighting about anymore. I don’t win often enough. It’s not worth it.” “I am always worth my own time and energy!”
“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about doing my best to get what I want.”
3) “I’ll just give up and go through each day feeling sad about how my life is going.” “I know I have a serious problem and I’m going to get professional help right now.”
4) “Nobody can help me.” “That’s what therapists do! They help! If I don’t like the first one I see, I’ll find someone who does help me!”
5) “I’ve been depressed for so long it seems normal to me now.” “My therapist knows it’s not the way life has to go. I’ll trust that until I get past these lousy feelings.”
6) “Sometimes I think of suicide, or murder, or just flipping out to make people take care of me!” “It’s understandable that you’d have such thoughts, but you have to be positive you’ll never do these things before you can get better. Let your therapist help you until you are sure you’ll never do these things.”
7) “I’ll just stay depressed.” No you won’t! (No feeling lasts forever. It just seems like it when we feel really bad.) Go back to step #1.


Shame: What You Can Do About It

Shame:  What you can do about it.  Most of us have problems with shame, to one degree or another.
The first article in this series (“About Shame”)
helped you to learn if you have a big problem with shame.
This second article is for anyone who finds any shame in their life.


To overcome shame, you need to learn that it’s OK to be who you are!
To get there, you must have and deeply absorb many separate moments of being accepted, loved, or valued.
I’ll be giving you a lot of practical ideas about how to do this.


Stop relying on anyone who treats you as if you are not OK.
Spend more and more of your time with the people who know you are OK the way you are.
And let them know more and more about you.
Choose your relationships based on how you are treated – not just on whether the other person feels “comfortable.”
[We are “comfortable” with what we are used to – even when it’s bad for us!]
Treat people the way you want to be treated. (It’s contagious…)


Tell them to stop it!
If they keep it up, don’t tell them over and over. This is like “begging.”
It makes you feel weak in their presence. You need to feel strong when you have to be around such people!
Expect people who treat you badly to keep it up and hold them responsible for how they treat you.
Hold yourself responsible for how much time you spend with them, how you respond to their mistreatment,
and whether you take their opinions seriously.
When people imply that you aren’t valuable, they are wrong.
You must learn how to throw away such comments immediately.
(You know how angry you get when you are treated this way. This anger is your guide.
It tells you that this person’s opinion of you is worthless and can be thrown away without question.)
KNOW that only a few people are likely to treat you poorly. The rest of us are ready to treat you well.
(If you catch yourself thinking otherwise, at least remind yourself that I am positive you are wrong!)


The suggestions coming up next are much more important than what you’ve read so far.


Absorb it! Always take at least a few seconds to feel the good feelings you get when you are treated well.
Let your appreciation show. (Your natural smile will do just fine!)
Showing your appreciation reinforces the other person and encourages them to stay around you longer.
Don’t talk yourself out of it!
Most compliments are honest. Even when someone is trying to manipulate you they say things they mean!
You can turn down the manipulation but accept the compliment! For example:
“Thanks for noticing how attractive I am, but I still don’t want to give you my phone number.”
“Thanks for noticing I have good taste in cars, but I still won’t pay what you are asking for this one.”


The most important factor in overcoming shame is: How you treat yourself when you get home!
When you’ve been treated poorly how do you treat yourself afterwards?
Do you focus on yourself and wonder if they were right? “Maybe they are right and I am a jerk!” “Maybe I am stupid!”

Or do you focus on your anger at the mistreatment instead? “What a jerk he was!” “What’s wrong with someone like that?” “Who asked for her opinion?”

When you’ve been treated well how do you treat yourself afterwards? Do you relax and think about the good things? Do you mentally recycle the best parts?

Do you notice how much you agree about your good qualities? Do you take the time to enjoy feeling good?



“What about all the horrible mistakes I made in my life?”
“You needed to make them, to learn. Now that you know they were mistakes, you have learned!”
“What about all the people I’ve hurt?”
“And what about all the people they’ve hurt? Hurting each other is awful, but it’s part of life.”
“Won’t I keep screwing up if I don’t feel ashamed?”
“It never stopped you in the past! Shame doesn’t control you. You control you.”
“This is all B.S.! I’m bad, and I know it, and I need to feel this way.”
“Your pain is only a warning. You’ve got your warning. Feeling more of it won’t help anything.”
“We all need to suffer or else terrible things will happen in this world!”
“If you ever meet the mean people who taught you that, tell them I said they were full of it!”

LIfe Directions

How Are You Spending Your Life?



Life is really no more than a certain limited amount of time and energy.
We make choices – every second – about how we spend that time and energy.
To have a better life we must make better choices about how we use our time and energy.


We get our energy from taking care of our bodies well enough.
For the purposes of this topic, we will be assuming that you are physically healthy
and that you take good enough care of your body so that you have plenty of energy.
(See “Guidelines for Emotional Health,” another topic in this series, if you need to learn about physical needs.)


Once we have plenty of physical energy, our next natural priority in life is to get enough love and attention.
Love and attention are often referred to as “strokes.”


We’ve all heard that risk is related to reward.
If we don’t risk in poker, or in our careers, or in sports, we know we can’t possibly win.
The same is true emotionally and socially.
Here’s how it works….

  1. Withdrawing.
  2. Working.
  3. Procedures.
  4. Psychological Games.
  5. Intimacy.



WITHDRAWING is not interacting at all.
Example: “Staring off in space” at a party, with no awareness of the other people there.
WORKING is a matter of simply doing things, with the only interaction being about the task at hand.
Example: Assembly line workers who don’t socialize but do discuss who should grab the next item on the line.
A PROCEDURE is a totally predictable way of interacting with others.
Example: “How are you?” — “Fine.”
“Did you see that game yesterday.” — “Yeah. Great, huh?”

PSYCHOLOGICAL GAMES are far less predictable and personal ways of interacting.
Here are some examples of statements that signal the start of a “Game”:
1) “Isn’t this a lousy place to work?”
2) “You don’t love me anymore….”
3) “Why do you always _______”
In all games the response will be rather strong agreement or disagreement, and will be taken personally.
Each person will feel that something important is at stake, but they will avoid feeling “connected” or intimate with each other – which is what they feared from the beginning.
INTIMACY is direct and intense emotional contact. Neither person thinks they know what’s going to happen next, although they both deeply want it to be good and fear it will be bad. When attempts at intimacy go poorly, we feel horrible. When attempts at intimacy go well, we feel so good that the only thing we can say about it is something like: “Wow! That was great!”
Examples: Looking deeply into the other person’s eyes as they look into yours.
Sharing your darkest secrets with a friend, and being totally accepted.


It is, of course, impossible to put some number on a thing like “strokes” or even on this kind of risk.
But please understand that the amount that you risk does determine the amount of your reward.
Have you every wondered why people play so many “psychological games”? Now you know.
Most people are afraid of the risks of intimacy – but they still want and need strokes.
As nasty as psychological games can be, and as unfulfilling as they usually are,
people keep trying them because there is a major payoff compared to everything other than intimacy.
And only the healthiest among us are willing to risk true intimacy.


Unless you already feel overburdened with too much attention:
* Decrease the amount of time you spend in withdrawal, work, and procedures,
* Avoid psychological games because they will backfire eventually,
* Increase the time you spend in true intimacy.
If you ever feel too afraid to risk more, ask yourself:
Is it your current, real world that’s so risky?
Or is it that you are only too afraid because of past disappointments and rejections?
If it’s the past that’s bothering you so much, ask yourself:
“Have I learned enough from the past to risk again?”
(If not, get professional help to evaluate your past experiences.)
Don’t waste another day without the attention and affection you want!

Don’t waste your life direction!

Fantasy and Reality: #2

If you read part one on this topic, you noticed that it was mostly theoretical.
Part two is more practical.


1) Fantasy is all mental activity.
2) Reality is what comes through the senses.
3) Use fantasy only for entertainment and brief problem solving.


Remember a moment of great relief when you knew a nightmare was “only a dream?”
Remember a feeling of great joy when it seemed some dream had “come true?”
As we improve at differentiating between fantasy and reality
we get a lot of these wonderful feelings!


One of the greatest problems we face is “the fear of our fears.”
It is destructive to believe our fears!
Fears are only fantasies about horrors.
Spending time on them is painful, and a waste of energy.


Hope, like fear, is just a fantasy.
But hope feels good!
Never stop enjoying your hope!


Each of us has a unique, completely different idea about how the world works.
Some of us think “love makes the world go ’round,”
others think “everything is about power,”
or money, or trust, or being well liked….
The list is endless.
But the truth is that no one really knows how the world works!
It can be comforting to know we are all wrong,
and yet somehow we all survive
and most of us do it quite well, thank you!



Immerse yourself in your fantasies – and in your reality – separately.
When you get good at never confusing the two,
add a little of the fantasy to your reality just for the fun of it!
Improve your sex life by enjoying your fantasies completely,
enjoying real sex intensely,
and occasionally enhancing sexual reality with sexual fantasy.
Improve your career by enjoying your dreams of success completely,
enjoying your daily work as much as you possibly can,
and enhancing daily work with your dreams occasionally.
Improve relationships with children by enjoying your hopes about them,
enjoying their real growth,
and “sprinkling” your hopes into your playtime enjoyment of them.
See how it works?
Any aspect of your life can be improved by immersing yourself in reality and fantasy,
keeping them separate most of the time,
and occasionally “sprinkling” reality with fantasy for the sheer fun of it.


When we need to make major decisions (relationships, career changes, etc.)
fantasy can get in the way.
When faced with important life decisions, do your best to
measure the reality of your situation against what you want.
Example #1:
When deciding about a career move,
measure the guarantees offered to you against the kind of employment situation you want.
While your hope may involve future promotions and other “possibilities”,
you are usually better off making your decision
on what you know for sure about the new situation.
Example #2:
When deciding about a partner,
measure the reality of how they treat you against how you want to be treated.
While your hope may be that they will change,
you are better off making your decision based on
what you have actually observed about them.

Fantasy and Reality: #1

Part one on this topic is pretty theoretical.
Part two will be more practical.


Popular culture says we are “crazy” if we can’t tell fantasy from reality.
If that’s the definition, then we are all crazy.
(No news there…..)
The key to avoiding fantasy and reality problems is
to always know which of the two you are dealing with!


Fantasy is all mental activity.
Most people know that dreams and daydreams are fantasies,
but few realize that every thought is a fantasy.
We can all agree that “2+2=4” is a true statement.
But this true statement doesn’t become real until
we actually see two pairs of objects right in front of us.
We may all agree that some fantasy is TRUE – but that doesn’t mean it’s REAL.


Reality is what comes to us through our senses.
If we can see, hear, smell, taste or feel something it is real
(unless there is some sensory distortion operating – like an “optical illusion.”)


We humans used to believe we were the only animals able to fantasize.
Then monkeys and other animals were studied and we found that we were not alone.
The ability to fantasize opens up many avenues for fun and problem solving,
but it also opens up avenues for neurosis, psychosis and all types of “mental pain.”
Poor monkeys…..
Do you suppose they have therapists?



Use fantasy only for entertainment and brief problem solving.


Imagine yourself in any situation at all that is enjoyable to you.
Sometimes it can even be healthy to imagine violence!
(If you are that angry, you might need such fantasies to relieve all that pressure.)
Don’t use fantasy to create bad feelings.
Creating bad feelings is never healthy entertainment.
Don’t imagine yourself in situations, which frighten, sadden, or anger you
unless you are trying to solve some problem (see below).
Don’t compare entertainment fantasies with reality
Since fantasy can be perfect and reality cannot,
comparing our entertaining fantasies with reality will always lead to bad feelings!


It is wise and necessary to use fantasy to solve problems.
If you are choosing between two apartments, for instance,
imagine yourself living in each of them and then compare the two feelings.
But this should only take a minute or two!
It’s not problem solving when it takes too long
Our brains work incredibly quickly, as fast as the fastest computers.
After a few minutes of thinking we already know, intuitively, if a problem is unsolvable.
After that all we are doing is frustrating ourselves about how unsolvable the problem is!
When a few minutes aren’t enough:
When a problem can’t be solved in a few minutes of thinking,
we need to face that it’s unsolvable unless we get new information.
If the unsolvable problem causes you pain, call a friend, discuss it with your partner,
go to the library, or contact an expert in the field.
Do something, anything, which might bring in new data.
If the unsolvable problem doesn’t cause you much pain, let it go!
Just put it on that large “unsolved pile” that we all share.
If the unsolvable problem does cause you much pain and you feel you “can’t” let it go,
that’s what therapists are for!



The most troubled adults I know are those who were frightened as children
by extreme physical abuse or psychological terror.
Their parents called it “discipline.”
The more horrendous the beatings and the more frightening the threats,
the longer it takes them as adults to believe that I care, or that anyone does.
Perhaps because they’ve were frightened so often as children,
adults who were treated badly as children often wisely choose safe and kind partners.
But they find it hard to trust these partners even after many years of being treated well.
Scared kids become scared adults, always waiting for the next beating or betrayal.


It is not a primary duty of parents to control their children.
The primary duty of parents is to protect their children.


Discipline is wise only when it makes sense to the child.
And children can only think selfishly.
Therefore, discipline is only wise when the child knows that what they did wrong was
that they didn’t take good care of themselves.
If you send a child to their room because they haven’t learned
to look both ways before crossing a street, they won’t put up much of a fight.
But if you use the same punishment because they’ve been “impolite,”
they may fight you all the way.
This is because politeness is not a value a self-centered child can understand,
but protecting themselves from being hit by a car definitely is.
You can force “politeness,” or any other behavior, simply by hurting or scaring a child.
But you can’t teach them the value in being polite until they are old enough to understand.
Unfortunately, a healthy child only achieves such maturity around puberty.
(And the kids who have been frightened and beaten all their lives will be rebelling
so strongly at this age that “being polite” will be the least of a parent’s worries!)



Misbehavior has natural consequences.
The best discipline of all is simply to point out these natural consequences.
A Good Example:
Suppose you see a group of children at a day care center.
One child is pushing another child around, acting like a bully.
If you don’t need to protect the child who is being bullied, just wait a few minutes.
Then notice that all of the other children have naturally moved away from the bully.
Then simply go up to the bully and point out what is going on.
Say something like: “When you act like that the other kids don’t like you.”
This is how you use “natural consequences.”
A Bad Example:
Many parents would handle this situation quite differently.
They would run up to the bully, grab them violently, turn them around,
and yell at them about their behavior. They may even hit the child.
The parent’s yelling and hitting “changes the subject” in the child’s mind.
The child no longer thinks about their own bullying behavior,
they think instead about their parent’s bullying behavior toward them!
The parent’s actions were “unnatural” consequences, added to the situation by the parent.
Unnatural consequences don’t teach children anything, they only confuse them.
Always look for natural consequences when you want to teach your children.


In recent years many “liberal” parents say that they don’t hit their children.
But then they usually add with an apparently wise smile: “I just scare ’em!”
Thank God for small favors.
Scaring kids is by no means better than hitting them.
Both of these are unnatural consequences that undermine parental authority,
and both are abusive if used to extreme.


Real life is the best teacher of all.
So our children will learn.
But they will learn at their own pace,
and we parents will always be frustrated by that pace.
(If someone told you parenting was easy, they lied.)

Handling Criticism

Criticism can be good for us, if it is wanted.
But handling unwanted criticism is a burden in all our lives.


I want to tell you about the least successful therapy I’ve ever done. (In order to understand this story you will need to know that I conduct all of my meetings in my home.)
A few years ago a woman was referred to me by her doctor.
When I met her at the door she mentioned caustically that there was a lot of snow out by the curb and that it was difficult for her to climb over it to get to the sidewalk. While she took off her boots she said: “You ought to have a bigger mat for these boots, they’ll make a mess on your floor!” And when I offered to get her some coffee she proceeded to give me step-by-step instructions – first of all on how to measure the coffee as I made it, and then on the process I should use when I cleaned the pot, how often I should do it, and which brand of vinegar I should use. (At this point she had been in my house about five minutes!)
Needless to say, when our meeting started I asked her rather quickly if she was angry. She said “absolutely not!” and then proceeded to blast me for the implied supposition. When that had its desired effect of shutting me up, she proceeded to blast her doctor, her husband, her children, her coworkers, and as far as I could tell everyone else in her life (also for thinking she was angry…).
I breathed a sigh of relief when she told me at the end of the meeting that she wasn’t coming back and that she thought therapy was “a bunch of bull.”
I was in a unique situation that day. As a therapist I know that the only way to start a new relationship with a client is to let them tell their story without unnecessary interruption. I was, at least for that one meeting, duty bound to let her have her say.
But when she left my heart was pounding in rage. I thought: “How dare she tell me how to live my life! I didn’t ask for her opinions!”
I know she was in great pain, but I only offer to help people with their pain, not to absorb it for them!


Asking someone for their opinion of your work is one of the most mature things you can do.
Caring about the opinions of others,
allowing yourself to learn from others,
and being willing to learn and change
are all hallmarks of competence, autonomy, and maturity.
But accepting the unrequested criticisms of others can be a sign of gross immaturity,
acceptance of humiliation and abuse,
and a life lived on the edge of rage.



Some people criticize you,
instead of what you do.
Employers, parents, teachers and many others have a responsibility to offer criticism of our actions,
but they have an even more important responsibility to avoid criticizing who we are.


There is no behavior everyone accepts, and critical people will criticize anything!
Over the years I’ve challenged more than a thousand students with this question:
“Name any behavior that is certain not to be criticized.”
Every answer ever given was immediately shot down by other students in the class.


Critical people almost always operate under the guise of “helping” us.
They can always find some “better way” we could have behaved,
some higher goal we could have achieved, or some opportunity we shouldn’t have missed.
I could tell you a lot about how painful a critic’s life is,
but I don’t want to help you to be “understanding” about them.
Your responsibility is to protect yourself from their attacks on your self-worth!
Never be so caring or understanding that you lose sight of your responsibility to yourself.
Critical people are universally loathed.
But they carry a lot of clout in any office or in any family because we give them power.
We do this by believing there must be something wrong with us if we aren’t perfect.


The only way to protect ourselves from chronic critics is to
demand that they stop criticizing us and
to threaten to stay away from them if they don’t.
“I didn’t ask for your opinion, and I don’t care what it is.
If you keep treating me this way, I will stay away from you.”
Usually this threat will be enough, because chronic critics are lonely people.
But for those who still refuse to change, leaving them is long overdue anyway.


When someone criticizes us repeatedly, it’s as if they take little bites out of our self-esteem.
After you are around such people for a long while, you need an antidote.
The best antidote is the touch of someone who loves the imperfect you.

Sexual Abuse In Childhood



This is the first of what will become a series of articles on the general topic of childhood sexual abuse.
Our focus will be on adults who were sexually abused as children
and who did not receive adequate parental or professional care afterwards.
This first article aims only to introduce the topic through some general statements.
If you have a personal or professional need to learn more you will definitely want to read later articles.


I will be using female pronouns throughout this series.
I will, however, make my statements and examples generic enough
so you can easily understand what I am saying by simply changing the pronoun.


Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual contact.
The age of the person involved must be taken into account when we define the word “unwanted.”
For children, all sexual contact that is not simply exploration among equals is unwanted and abusive.
(Even inappropriate leering by an adult – without touch – is sexually abusive to the child.)


A child who has to deal with sex is overwhelmed by it.
Children do not have the bodies or the minds to cope with intense sexual energy.
Making a child deal with sex is like demanding that they: “Learn calculus or die!”
Since handling it is simply impossible for them, they often just wait to die.
The feeling of being overwhelmed as a child usually leads to “splitting.”
It’s as if the child breaks into two pieces mentally.
Half of them has one “life” and the other half has another “life.”
What they are robbed of is a “whole” life.


The Day Child / Night Child Split
This child either knows what happens during the day or what happens at night, but never both.
The safer day disappears when the sun goes down; the terrifying night disappears when the alarm clock goes off.

The “Mind/Body” Split
This child either knows what she thinks or what she feels, but never both.
She usually focuses on what she thinks because the feelings are just too much to handle for a child.
Each time the feelings break through she feels abused all over again –
just by the intensity of all that accumulated and unexpressed terror, anger, and sadness.


If the childhood abuse was overwhelming and the child had to “split” to survive,
the only way the adult will ever know about her childhood abuse is through flashbacks.


A flashback is a momentary split-second recollection of the abuse.
Sometimes this split second awareness is visual: seeing something mentally that
seems like a dream but feels so real.
At other times it is auditory: hearing something you heard during the abuse.
Often it is kinesthetic: feeling something you felt during the abuse.
A flashback is triggered by ordinary events in adult life.
The most common example is when an adult is having sex
and her partner moves in a way that reminds her of the abuser’s movements.
But these triggers are unique to each person,
and they can be either a one-of-a-kind event (like a scene from a movie)
or very frequent occurrences (like walking past a certain tree).
Triggers cannot be avoided! They are too commonplace.
We can ignore the significance of the trigger for a while (by saying they don’t mean anything),
but they will continue to haunt us until we face the memories that prompted them.
The terrorized child will not be ignored for long.
Once she notices that she has grown into a powerful enough person to begin to protect herself,
that little girl will keep telling the grownup over and over about her memories
– until she finally gets the safety and protection she has needed for so long!


There are many more people who need good therapists to help them overcome the ravages of childhood abuse
than there are therapists capable of providing the service.
In these articles, I hope to give you at least some of the tools you will need
to deal with sexual abuse while our society and mental health professionals try to catch up.
If you know you were sexually abused, get professional help!
On something this complicated, there is only so much you can even hope to do on your own.
Even when you are receiving excellent help from a therapist,
there will be a lot you will need to do on your own.




The concept of “boundaries” relates to our sense of self.
At birth and for a long while after, a baby has no real sense of who they are.
When we see a baby in their mother’s arms, we see two people – the child and the mother.
But the baby notices no difference, no division, and no boundary
between themselves and their mother. A newborn is “one” with their mother.
As life goes on, the child notices where their skin ends and their mother’s skin begins.
This is our first “boundary,” and the beginning of our “sense of self.”
When our boundaries are crossed we are naturally furious at the invasion
because we know we could lose our sense of who we are.


Obviously, if a mother is unable to bond with a child and doesn’t hold her child enough,
boundary problems and problems related to sense of self will abound.
But things can go wrong in later childhood and in adult life too.
When they do, it is usually either because someone treats us like they
“own” us or, paradoxically, like they “disown” us.
Being “Owned”
The worst example of being owned is physical or sexual abuse.
People who treat us in these ways are insisting that they own our very bodies.
We can also lose our sense of self in less severe but more constant ways.
Some people never hear anything from their parents or partners except orders and complaints.
(“Do this!,” “Do that!,” “You didn’t do that well enough!”).
Constant exposure to such treatment
can shatter their boundaries and their sense of self.
Being “Disowned”
Paradoxically, being treated like we are not there
can also cause boundary and self problems.
Beware of anyone who is so preoccupied
with their own ego and their own life
that you sometimes wonder if they even know you are there.
This can kill your sense of self too.



The saddest thing about boundary problems is that the people who have them
can feel “too close” (afraid they’ll lose themselves), and “too far” (very lonely),
but they can seldom feel safely in between or “connected” with others.


People whose boundaries are weak also tend to violate the boundaries of others.
If you don’t know that you have boundaries that must be respected,
then you also don’t know that other people have boundaries you must respect.


First of all, people with these problems should get therapy. This is too difficult to solve completely on your own.
Therapy Can Support What You Need To Do For Yourself:

1) Learn to identify even the most subtle ways you violate the boundaries of others. Become excellent at noticing when people “back away,” emotionally and physically. When they do, you can be pretty sure you have just violated their boundaries.

2) Once you become accustomed to noticing the boundaries of others, begin to notice that you have many of the same boundaries yourself!

3) Learn how to object whenever any of your boundaries are crossed, even in the smallest ways and even by people with the kindest intentions.

4) Test various ways to of telling people when they cross your boundaries. Allow yourself to make mistakes while you learn (by sounding either too angry or too nice). Experiment. Notice what works and what doesn’t. With close friends who might understand, you might even tell them that you are learning about protecting yourself (so they can understand why you are acting differently toward them).

5) Keep reminding yourself: “People need my permission before they cross my boundaries!”

6) Remind yourself also: “Nobody should ever help me unless I ask them to!”
If people have constantly crossed your boundaries,
it may seem unfair to say that you have to stop crossing their boundaries first.
But if you’ve been taking such treatment for many years the sad truth is
you may not even know what boundaries you are entitled to have!
The best way to learn this is to focus first on the boundaries of the people around you.
As you catch yourself violating the boundaries of others, don’t pick on yourself!
Remember, you are just now beginning to learn about all of this.


How Does Abuse Happen?

As I write this, our country is rightly embarrassed and understandably shocked
after learning about prisoner abuse and other atrocities
committed by us, and against us, during war.
As a therapist, I know that abuse doesn’t occur only in war.
I hear nearly every day about abuse committed by parents, partners, and clergy.
How can such horrors happen?
What can we do to stop it?


We all have a natural ability to momentarily enjoy hurting others.
Such sadistic behavior shows itself strongly in pre-adolescent children.
At these ages, boys feel glee at physically mistreating playmates and animals,
and girls derive pleasure from gossiping about and demeaning their peers.
After proper, non-violent handling of this misbehavior by the adults,
most of us stop doing such things.
But the ability to feel very short-lived glee while hurting others is still in our genes.
Adults who were brutally disciplined as children
or who live in violent or deprived situations into their adult years
can maintain and even strengthen these impulses.
These are the people who may choose to abuse.


Both the abuser and the abused need to believe they have no other worthwhile choices.
Whether they are children,
insecure spouses,
faithful followers of some “all powerful” religious system,
or soldiers who believe they must please their powerful superiors to survive,
the abuser and the abused see themselves as desperate.
Only desperate people live with abuse.


Young children have no choice but to believe in their parents’ power.
Spouses may believe too strongly in their partner, or in the power of love.
Those abused by clergy can believe too much in their leaders, or in what the leaders are preaching.
Soldiers can believe too much that their country is right no matter what it does.
Faith without doubt is a necessary component of all abuse.
It doesn’t cause abuse, but it provides fertile ground so abuse can flourish.


”Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
’Nuff said!


Human Nature:
We can’t change human nature but we’d better be alert to it.
If we treat others as if they shouldn’t have power
they will want to use their power on us.
Everyone must have healthy options.
The only legitimate use of economic, social, political, religious, and military power
is to provide what humans need.
Eliminate desperation to eliminate horror.
Belief Without Doubt:
When your government, partner, religious leader, or military superior
insists that you believe something without doubt,
you are in danger!
Protect yourself by maintaining your right to doubt, even if you choose to believe.
And teach everyone you know to do the same.
People who insist that you believe them without doubt
may be good, misguided people who love you,
but they are wrong.
Maintain your right to doubt.
Never give up your right to think.


Insist that all power must be shared.
Cooperate wisely.
Share your power but do not relinquish it.


Most parents, spouses, clergy, and soldiers do not abuse.
Most adults do not abuse.
Those who do abuse need their victims to “cooperate” by:
believing they are desperate,
giving up their right to think,
and deciding they are powerless.
Never give abusers the tools they need to hurt you.
Keep your power.