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What are boundaries, exactly, and how do we know if we have good ones? What types of things keep us from setting good boundaries — and how do we set them in the first place?

Join us as today’s guest teaches us how to be a “Boundary Boss,” and explains why women often have extra challenges when it comes to understanding and setting boundaries.

Terri Cole

Terri Cole is a New York-based, licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert, and founder of Real Love Revolution, Boundary Bootcamp, and the co-founder of Crushing Codependency. Her female empowerment courses reach women in over 90 countries.

She has been featured as an expert therapist and master life coach on A&E’s Monster In-Laws, TED X, The Lisa Oz Show, Real Housewives, and had a weekly radio show on Hay House Radio. Plus, she’s a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Positively Positive, The Daily Love, Well+Good, and has been featured in Italian Elle, Forbes, Origin, Vogue, Self, and was honored to grace the cover of Inspired Coach magazine.

Her latest book is “Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free.” Learn more about her work at terricole.com.

Gabe Howard

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Hi, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central podcast. I’m your host Gabe Howard, and I want to thank our sponsor, Better Help. You can grab a free week just by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Calling into our show today we have Terri Cole. Ms. Cole is a New York based, licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert and founder of Real Love Revolution. She has been an expert therapist on A&E’s Monster-in-Laws, The Lisa Oz Show and Real Housewives, and we are very pleased to welcome her to our show today.

Terri Cole: Well, hello, thanks for having me, Gabe.

Gabe Howard: Today, we’re going to be discussing boundary setting for women with emphasis on social media boundaries. Ms. Cole, can you tell our listeners why the focus specifically on women? Do women need different resources or advice or help in handling boundaries?

Terri Cole: Oh, yes, it’s really specifically because men and women in a traditional sense are socialized very differently. As women, we’re really raised and praised to be self abandoning codependents. this lack of this really important skill set because no one really teaches us how to do it, how to talk true, to speak up. Most women, we are really taught to prioritize the feelings, thoughts and desires of others over ourselves. And I don’t really feel like men are raised the same way, at least not in my therapeutic experience

Gabe Howard: Obviously, I’m not a therapist, but I can see where ignoring our own needs and allowing people to move in on your territory would cause problems, that seems, well, frankly just intuitive to me that if you’re not paying attention to your own needs and nobody else is paying attention to your needs, that you’re not going to be able to live your best life. With that in mind, what exactly is a boundary?

Terri Cole: Well, the way that I teach it is that you having healthy boundaries, anyone having healthy boundaries and just to back it up for one sec, this is not to say that men don’t struggle with this because I know plenty that do. It’s just that I’m more expert at the female experience. So you having healthy boundaries would mean you knowing your preferences, your desires, your limits and your deal breakers, and then having the ability to communicate them whenever you so choose with whomever you so choose.

Gabe Howard: As I was reading your book, one of the things that struck me, it was just a common thread or theme in the book is that many of your clients see having choices as a revolutionary concept. Can you delve into that a little bit because I just sincerely thought that everybody knew that we had choices.

Terri Cole: Yes, I can delve into it and no, people don’t know that, because especially if you have been trained a particular way and if you have a fear of rejection, then your choices are limited or you have a fear of conflict. And I found that in the work that I’ve done for the past two and a half decades, a lot of women in particular have this fear. You know, the disease to please or the people pleasing syndrome. That limits your choices. Because if I’m going to make a choice, that is then going to make someone else disapprove of me or reject me or be mad at me, I don’t really feel free to make that choice. And this is where a lot of the self abandonment comes in. And so through the process of walking through this, we start with deepening the understanding of what is your downloaded boundary blueprint that each of us has one. The family of origin, the country, the culture, the way that you were raised, the models of behavior that you saw, all of those things basically taught us the quote unquote right way to interact in our relationships and our friendships and our families and in the world when it comes to boundaries.

Terri Cole: Revealing that is very important because you can kind of look at it like it’s like an architectural blueprint for a house that someone else designed, like maybe a century ago where it just gets handed down generation to generation. Maybe you had a maternal impactor who was a people pleaser, who was more of a pushover, who was more of a chameleon trying to avoid conflict. Then, especially as a woman, you see that this is what it means to be a woman. Say yes when you want to say no, put yourself out for the neighbors, for the church people, for the whoever. At the expense of yourself. But you don’t have to do that just because that’s the way the people who came before you did it that way, you can actually learn to exactly what you said before to me, take what works and leave the rest right? You can create your own boundary blueprint, but you need to know what’s in the unconscious one before you can do that.

Gabe Howard: Now, when we talk about social media, you really can’t choose who you share it with, it becomes public. Are boundaries more important over social media than they are just in day-to-day life or are they just different?

Terri Cole: Well, here’s the thing, it’s not that it’s more important, it’s just that having declared boundaries when it comes to social media and it’s not just disseminating information, it’s really about internal boundaries, like is there any limit you have yourself on the time that you spend with your face in a screen? How much compare and despair is happening within your own life? Because what I’ve seen in my therapy practice is that people will go online and basically compare their day-to-day life with someone else’s highlight reel. We’ve heard that online, but it’s true and there’s so much use of these filters. People are changing the way that they look. Actually changing, it’s like face tuning. And so there’s these unrealistic standards of beauty, success, opulence, all of these things. And especially with the younger generation, there’s this tendency to feel less than. So it’s not the best if you don’t have limits on the amount of time that you are falling into this hole, because that’s how my clients would describe it or, you know, they call it doom scrolling where you’re you just can’t stop. And that is a problem.

Gabe Howard: One of the things that I am always fascinated about when I look at the comment section on the typical female influencer, and then I look at mine, the situation seems very stark. Nobody ever mentions my clothes or my looks or threatens me physically. I’m not saying that I don’t get haters. It’s just very, very different. Some people believe that, Oh, well, of course, if women want to avoid this, then they should be, I don’t know, safer on the internet? But they’re doing the exact same thing that I am yet getting a different result. Is that an issue of boundaries? And I suspect that it is not. But then how do you set boundaries with, well, you know, frankly, those evil trolls in the comment section?

Terri Cole: Well, part of it is decide who you’re going to engage with. I’m out there publicly and I’ve got lots of interactions with people. If someone is there simply to be mean, simply to criticize someone else, if there’s any hate talk at all, I will immediately block the person. Like, I don’t care because it’s my space, whether it’s a public space or not. So I don’t have to allow hate speech or anything that doesn’t work. Now, I’m not saying if someone has a different opinion than mine, I’m certainly all open for healthy debate, but I have rules of engagement in any of my groups, certainly on-line. I can’t say why there are trolls, but I do think that the anonymity that is afforded people when they are behind a screen, it’s like they have cyber courage. It’s almost like it brings out the worst in some people. So they would say things, because they are anonymous, that they would literally never say to someone’s face in real life.

Gabe Howard: You referenced that women are raised and praised to be self abandoning co-dependents. How does this impact their ability to set proper boundaries?

Terri Cole: It really, really, really gets in the way. Let’ say, I’ll give you my definition of being codependent. It’s really being overly invested in the feeling state, the decision, the outcomes, the circumstances, the people in your life to the detriment of your own internal peace, perhaps your physical wellness, your financial wellness. If you’re over functioning and over giving, it can really have a physical toll on you. So just the nature of codependent behavior, inherent in that behavior is disordered boundaries.

Gabe Howard: Along those same lines, another thing that you discuss is high functioning co-dependencies and the boundary challenges that it creates. How would someone know if they are a high functioning co-dependent?

Terri Cole: It’s interesting, Gabe. I actually created that moniker because what I was seeing in my therapy practice is that my clients were not identifying, even though they were describing to me codependent behavior. But when I brought that up, they would all be like, No, you got it wrong. I’m the one doing everything. I’m not dependent on anyone. I’m the one making the money. I’m the one doing for all the people. Everyone comes to me with their problems. You don’t understand. And I’m like, Oh yeah, I do understand. So I shifted it, and I added the word high functioning codependency. So what that means is someone who makes it look easy, right? Many of my clients are incredibly capable, very successful CEOs, pop stars, Broadway performers, whomever. That people are like, Oh, they have it all together, but really, they’re just so capable that make it look easy. But they are still over functioning in their relationships and doing it at the expense of themselves.

Gabe Howard: One of the things that you found in your research is that most women were never taught how to effectively express their preferences, desires or deal breakers.

Terri Cole: Sure. I mean, most of us, myself included, what was really important in my childhood was that I was a good girl, that I was not making waves, right? If you, if you don’t have anything nice to say, little girl, don’t say anything at all. How about turn that frown around? Where’s my happy girl? Like all of this emphasis not on how do you actually feel but behave this way because this is what makes other people happy or comfortable. We’re taught that the more easygoing you are, the more lovable you are. When you have a lifetime of that, and again, this is not blaming parents or parental impactors, as I call them, because it may not be a mother or a father could be an aunt or whoever raised you. This is not to make anyone else wrong, because we assume that people pretty much did the best they could with what they had to work with. But we have to understand that what was adaptive, that people-pleasing, focusing on this validation from outside that was very adaptive in childhood, right? It probably got us the positive reinforcement that we wanted and the love and the acceptance. Those things, which is basically putting our own wants and needs at the end of our list.

Terri Cole: That becomes maladaptive in our adult relationships and creates, you know, not knowing ourselves is one part of it. Because if all we really want is to avoid conflict or if what we really want is just to avoid being rejected, we’re really not knowing ourselves in a deep or authentic way. That’s just avoidance, right? That isn’t really knowing because really, when you think about it, Gabe, this is for men and women. This is for everyone. Your preferences, your desires, your limits and your deal breakers are the things that make you uniquely and amazingly you.

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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with licensed psychotherapist and author Terri Cole discussing boundary setting for women. Swinging this back to social media, how does this play out online? Are women fishing for compliments or are they not accepting compliments? Or are they not blocking people when they should? What does it look like in the virtual world?

Terri Cole: Well, I think for people who are entrepreneurs or who have public platforms, because that’s a lot of the people in my world, they feel guilty if they can’t answer every question that someone has. They have people DM-ing them, you know, direct messaging them, and they’re overwhelmed that if they don’t answer them all, they’re not doing a good job or they’re not leading their community. For people who don’t have public platforms, it’s still an issue. But there’s different experiences. Like why are you going to get into it with people who don’t have any boundaries around who can comment, who can be on their page? You know, this is all voluntary. We’re not required to be on social media. This is voluntary, and the same way that we would curate who we would invite to our home is the way that I think we should be curating who we’re interacting with online. So you don’t need to, if you don’t have a business, you don’t need to have your settings set to public so that any person can just wander in and drop whatever it is they think. Get clear about your reason for having social media. Is it to stay in touch with your family and friends? Then curate that. You cannot have it be public or you can also, which I do all the time on my private page, I block people. I don’t need to know, even if it’s people in my family, extended family. And when I see them at Christmas, they’re like, You know, what’s the deal? I’m like, Hey, man, I’m not mad at you. I love you. I don’t want to talk politics with you. And since I asked you nicely to stop and you didn’t, you’re out. The same way that if I asked you to stop doing something at my home and you didn’t, I would ask you to leave.

Gabe Howard: I love that analogy, I think that it is a very powerful analogy and one that is very understandable, but it does sort of move the question one back, which is how do you know when somebody has crossed that boundary? How do you set that limit and know when it is needed to say, All right, this is enough?

Terri Cole: Well, your body will always tell you. Part of what I teach is really dialing into your body’s wisdom, which means we need to slow down a little bit. We need to create some internal expansion through meditation, through breathing techniques, mindfulness practices because in real life, if someone says something, say you’re at work or you’re on a Zoom call and someone says something that you know is putting you down a backhanded compliment or something, you may not have the presence of mind to say something at that moment, but something happens in your body. The moment that that happened, the moment you realized, you’re like, Wait, what is that you just say? You’re thinking this, you will have a physical response, a constriction in your chest, perhaps a constriction in your throat, a flash of heat because you feel angry about what was said. Part of this process of becoming a boundary boss and becoming masterful, right? At this language that no one ever taught us how to speak is figuring out when has that boundary been crossed and knowing that it’s never too late to go back. So in that scenario, you can go back and privately say to Betty, Hey, I’d like to bring something to, bring something to your attention. And last Wednesday’s meeting, when I said this and you said that, I want to understand or I didn’t appreciate or I would like to ask you if you have something to say to me, to say it privately and to not do it in the team meeting or whatever, whatever your boundary request is, right, whatever your preference would be. But you will always have a physical response. And let’s just say you weren’t dialed into that physical response. You can also think about later on that day. are you ruminating about something that happened? Is it playing in your mind where you’re like, Wow, I really wish I said this, or why didn’t I say that? Or next time I’m going to say this? That’s another indication that a need is not being met or some kind of a boundary has been crossed.

Gabe Howard: So I was thinking, whether online or in-person, there has to be common myths or misconceptions about boundaries, can you discuss some of those with us?

Terri Cole: Oh, sure. There’s so many myths. I mean, boundaries push people away. Real love needs no boundaries like intimate relationships. If it’s really love, you shouldn’t have to have boundaries. Not at all true. Boundaries, having healthy boundaries makes you selfish. Setting boundaries requires you to be mean. Boundaries require too much time and effort. Trust me, the boundary disasters that are created from not having boundaries or from having disordered boundaries requires so much more time in your life. Setting boundaries means that you’re rejecting people or you have to be hard or you’re saying no all the time or people will like you less if you set boundaries.

Gabe Howard: Continuing in that same vein, what does it mean to have healthy boundaries and how does that relate to embracing our true selves?

Terri Cole: It really goes back to what we were talking about at the top a little bit. It’s knowing yourself, knowing your preferences, your desires, your limit and your deal breakers, meaning your non-negotiable and then readily sharing those things in your relationships. That’s really what it means. So if there’s a limit that you need to set with your partner, with your sister, with your spouse, whomever that instead of being silent, not setting it, verbally saying, Hey, you know, I agreed to go to this event, whatever it is, when people are doing that again. But I would really like to be out of it by 10 because I have an early meeting tomorrow instead of thinking that, but not sharing that. That’s just a preference, right? It’s not do or die. It’s just a preference. But if you don’t say it, maybe your partner is having a great time and they don’t know you have an early meeting and they are like, Well, I don’t want to be a bummer. I don’t want to be Debbie Downer, but then you feel resentful, you’re sort of holding it against them, but nobody can read our mind.

Gabe Howard: What are some of the biggest, or at least most common obstacles that prevent people from setting healthy limits?

Terri Cole: I mean, a big one, honestly, is fear of missing out. When I’m talking about limits where you’re spending a lot of time in social media because you’re afraid you’re going to miss something or getting really caught up with being on there doom scrolling where you’re like the news because we’ve had so much happening in the last year and a half that it’s almost like a way of attempting to bind anxiety about the state of the world. Like, if I know everything that’s going on everywhere, then perhaps this will be less painful or scary or whatever, but that’s really not what happens.

Gabe Howard: It’s very apparent, unfortunately for my gender, that some men just run amuck and just say the most offensively awful things. Yet women have a hard time setting these boundaries. And I was just curious if you had any insight into why that is and any advice on how to set those boundaries online.

Terri Cole: I think there’s a bunch of different boundaries, right? So if we’re talking about interacting with people who are saying things that are unacceptable to you, I think that there’s a fear the same way in real life if someone asked you a question. I’ve had so many women say to me, Oh my God, it was so rude. They asked the rudest question, and I would say to my client, Well did you answer the question? Yes, I was kicking myself. I was so mad. Again, being back to the way that we were trained. It’s rude not to answer someone’s question. Right? So I think that there is this fear underlying of is it rude if I don’t respond, even if what they’re saying is rude. And so rules of engagement are the most helpful and telling people that if someone says something that’s rude on my personal page, if someone is saying something that I think is inappropriate, that I don’t want in my space. If it’s someone I actually know or care about or want to treat with some modicum of respect, I will say to them, Hey, you dropped this comment. I don’t appreciate you co-opting that thread to talk about whatever the thing is that they were doing. So I want to let you know now I’m deleting your comment. So most people will respond positively to that, but I’ve only done that once or twice because if someone is putting down something in my personal space that I really don’t like, I don’t feel like they need a warning.

Terri Cole: So I think that there is a whole approval thing that makes it difficult for women to draw the boundaries. But I want to encourage people to think about online interactions the way you do real life interactions. The same way if someone hit on you or made a comment about your body or something like that in real life, would you not say anything? Would you not walk away? I think you would walk away, or you would actually draw a verbal boundary and say that that was unacceptable. So I think that we really have to get that the online world now is our world, especially since the pandemic. And at the same way that you don’t tolerate certain types of behavior in real life, we have to start having rules of engagement for ourselves in our online world. I’m mostly concerned also with the boundary of how much use right? How much time are you actually spending on social media? When I see people, you know, going out to dinner and the whole entire family is on their phone, have you not seen that, Gabe?

Gabe Howard: Not only have I seen it, I’ve participated in it, and it does make me feel like an opportunity to truly connect with my loved ones was lost. But I’ll do it again. Full disclosure, I’ll do it again.

Terri Cole: You know, it’s funny, I say, having boundaries within the family systems as well is so important. Rules of engagement, I mean, I will not talk to anyone who’s on their phone, like if you’re looking at Instagram while we’re talking, I just wait. And then the person will eventually look up. Or I’ll say not to be passive aggressive. I’ll just say, Hey, if that’s important, I can wait. And if people will say, no, no, I’m listening, I’m like, Oh, no, I need you to listen with your eyes and your ears because you know what? There’s four billion other things I could be doing. I do not need to be sitting here talking to you while you’re on Instagram. I don’t. I want someone to be fully present, but you can actually have language for that. And ask, I’ll say to my loved one, Hey, this is really important time. I haven’t seen you. Can I make a simple request that no phones while we’re together, please?

Gabe Howard: Ms. Cole, before we close the show, can you reassure all of our listeners that it’s OK to set boundaries both online and in real life?

Terri Cole: It’s much more than OK, because it is actually you being seen for your authentic self and you’re being truthful. Instead of having people guess, you’re letting people know where you stand. The most trustworthy people are the people who can talk true. And we all know that. Think about it right now. Your friends who, you know, say yes when they really want to say no because they don’t want to quote unquote hurt your feelings when they say yes to something you go, there’s like a 50% chance that that’s going to happen. Correct? So don’t you want to be someone that not only other people can trust, but that you can trust to take care of yourself? And you can always do this with love, with kindness, with ease. You never have to be mean in setting a limit with someone. It is not required, unless their behavior is requiring it. But generally it’s once you get good at this, you can do it with ease and grace. So I understand if it feels scary, but I promise you, I’ve devoted my life’s work to this. You can absolutely learn how to do this and your entire life will up level when you do.

Gabe Howard: Now, your latest book is titled “Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free,” which is available on Amazon and I’m sure, other fine book sellers. But where can folks find you and learn more?

Terri Cole: After you get the book, you can go to BoundaryBossBook.com, and that has all the sellers there, but it also has a whole bunch of free boundaries supporting goodies for meditation to my boundary quizzes. It’s just a 13 question quiz to help you get your boundary setting baseline, to understand where you should maybe put a little bit of effort in. So that’s BoundaryBossBook.com. You can find me at TerriCole.com. I also have a podcast, The Terri Cole Show, that I’ve had for six years. We just had our two millionth download, so we’ve been busy.

Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for being here, it is very appreciated.

Terri Cole: Thank you so much, Gabe.

Gabe Howard: And thank you to our audience for listening. And wherever you downloaded this podcast please follow or subscribe, it is absolutely free. Also take a second to review the show, tell other people why they should be listening. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” and I’m also a nationally recognized public speaker who thinks it would be cool to be at your next event. You can grab a signed copy of my book or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.

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