Doctor Neha: Hi and welcome everybody. Today I have a special guest, Terri Cole. Her new book Boundary Boss was released yesterday—so it’s hot off the press! She’s a dear colleague of mine. I am deep into Boundary Boss and loving it! Welcome, Terri~
Terri: Thank you my friend I’m so excited to be here.
Doctor Neha: All of you that have read TalkRx and have been working with me for years, I want you to know—this is a great next step in your communication journey. We’ve spoken about agreements, but Boundary Boss goes into depth around how to draw clear, healthy boundaries. You may have heard me talk about the inner zipper and the outer zipper. Terri refers to this as your inner boundaries and outer boundaries. She goes into much more depth than I have taken you into around boundaries and really teases them apart and gives you actual scripts to get you jump started. You’re ready for another deep dive. Terri, can you give us the low-down on what the inner boundaries and outer boundaries are?
Terri: Well, the way that I talk about them is simple. The way that I break it down is that each individual needs to know their preferences, desires and deal breakers. In all situations, it’s important to have the ability to communicate them early and often. Brene Brown says, “having good boundaries means letting the people in your life know what’s okay with you, and what’s not okay with you.” I have a whole book on boundaries, so it’s more nuanced than that, but that’s really what we’re talking about. Your preferences matter. I started the book with the Boundary Boss Bill of Rights, because I wanted everyone to be on the same page regarding what our rights are (when it comes to boundaries). There’s a lot of confusion about what defines a boundary. People often doubt themselves because they think their own needs don’t have merit. I called it the Boundary Boss Bill of Rights because it provides the underlying premise that gives you a foundation to draw clear boundaries.
Doctor Neha: The first thing that’s coming to me is “knowing where you end and somebody else begins. That’s not to separate yourself, but in fact, to keep you deeply connected over time.”
There are many factors that have contributed to my having less than stellar boundaries. First of all as a woman. Second of all, being Indian—the cultural expectation that you do anything for family, for your community and really, anyone else that needs you. And third, being a healer, a health professional and executive coach. For everyone listening right now— men can also learn from this as well. So speak in terms of women, a lot and what we’re saying. But certainly, everyone can benefit from this.
Terri: Yes, and as a man, if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, reading Boundary Boss can help you understand the person you love—probably more accurately than you do right now.
Doctor Neha: It’s so sad because many well meaning, well intentioned leaders, health professionals, parents, partners love whoever they’re with, but the inability to draw healthy boundaries this can actually create the demise of their relationship, and the outcome that they’re hoping to achieve with the people that they’re with.
Terri: Yes, no doubt. When you think about where do we overstep? Or where do others overstep? Much of the time it’s driven by love. It’s driven by good intentions. I think about over-functioning and codependency. We don’t want the people we love to suffer. So we have all these ideas of what they should do and we want to fix their problem. We don’t want them to suffer. That’s their side of the street. We don’t realize that it’s their side of the street. I make a really clear distinction in the book that there’s your side of the street. And there’s the other person’s side of the street. And the more you know what that is, the less you will be trampling on someone else’s boundaries.
Can we go back to the beginning for a sec? Why was this fascinating to me? Why boundaries? Why this book? Why me? Clearly, I was a boundary disaster in my life. And like many of us I was raised to be a good girl—to be obedient. To be nice really probably above anything else. It was very important what it looked like. I have three older sisters. It’s about the perception that I’m a nice girl and we’re a nice family. Drawing boundaries does not usually go along with that.
As a therapist, I was talking to many of you prioritizing the way other people feel. Or if someone might not like something, then I won’t say it. I’ll avoid it. Or I’ll say yes when I want to say no.
When you think about how we were raised and praised to be self-abandoning codependents in the service of our relationships. But as you said, it’s not a long term plan, because it doesn’t work in the long run. And so not only were we not taught any of these skills, we had some pretty corrupted data about boundaries. If we asked everyone reading—what do you think about boundaries? We’d probably hear:
- I don’t want the other person to think I mean.
- I don’t want to reject people.
- I don’t want people to think I’m being bitchy.
Doctor Neha: Within our families and in our close relationships, we’re worried about being judged. And with everybody else we’re worried about tainting our image.
Doctor Neha: So that extends out in the world in our professional world and starts to control us.
Terri: Without a doubt—it dictates our behaviors. Here’s the thing, so much of the time we have all of this material in our unconscious mind. So the beginning part of the book, the process that I’m walking people through is how to unearth and excavate our boundary blueprint. There are tons of specific reasons why we relate to boundaries in dysfunctional ways.
I told you a little bit about what I learned as a child. But every one of you—the culture you come from— maybe it’s more patriarchal and expects women to acquiesce to what others want.
I mean I’ve taught this this material to women from 195 countries. And there was not one that said, “Oh yeah, I learned this in primary school.” Nobody. It’s all the disease to please. And it’s like you said—the fear of judgment. It’s about what it looks like. We don’t want people to think badly of us. But that results in you saying yes when you want to say no—under the guise of trying to be nice.
Think about it from a straightforward point of view. We’re friends. Do I want you to say something, because it’s what I want to hear? Or do I value your opinion? If I want to know you—who you actually are—then you have to be able to share your preferences, your desires, your limits and your deal breakers— even just as a friend. That’s not mean or rude, that’s you being brave, loving and courageous. Now I can know the true you.
Doctor Neha: As you’re talking about the boundary blueprint. I’m Indian and when I posted that Boundary Boss was coming out, all of my relatives surfaced on my social media—they all came out of the woodwork, saying: “We’re Indian. What boundaries?” I couldn’t believe it—straight from the cultural blueprint. Another said, “I’m the woman in this house. There are no boundaries.” Almost as if that’s who is going to save everybody. It was clear how our cultural blueprint dictates our behavior—especially when we’re unconscious of it.
Terri: Yep. I’m not anyone’s guru around these things. I’m just a really accurate GPS to help each person who’s reading this book, find the answers within their own mind. It’s about asking powerful questions that can reveal this material. And it’s such a relief when you go, whoa. Well, this makes sense! If I was raised by a people-pleasing mother, and I develop into someone who is more of a pushover or a chameleon when it comes to boundaries. Of course, I aspire to be like my mother, because that’s nature. So we don’t even question it would just think, “Oh this is life.This is life as a woman. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.
People talk about having no boundaries as if it’s a good thing. “She’s amazing. She would give anyone the shirt off her back.” And I’m thinking, “Keep your shirt on Betty. I mean not everyone deserves your freakin shirt!”
Doctor Neha: Another really important link is when you speak about the intergenerational aspect of how boundaries are ingrained in us. It goes farther back than just our mothers. When we try to break these patterns and it feels hard or difficult, it’s because it’s so much more than just us.
Terri: Yeah, right, the collective consciousness. The silent agreements within family systems. Within cultures. Within social groups. We have all these silent agreements—which are the birthplace of more disordered boundary interactions. In business, I’m a fan of proactive boundary setting—where we set people up to succeed. This is so much better than waiting for them to not be able to read our mind…because PS. they’re not going to. They can’t.
Then we proceed to judge them and say or think things like:
- They weren’t raised right, otherwise they would have known.
- She knew I was mad. I mean it got cold in there. She definitely knew I was upset.
She doesn’t know. Do you want to get your needs met? This is passive aggressive communication. So, instead of being precise, it leaves us guessing. I see that she’s annoyed, but I actually don’t know why. And if I did maybe I could change my behavior. This is what we resort to when we don’t have the language of direct and healthy effective communication (the language of boundaries). It’s so ineffective.
So, again, it’s opening up these very easy, and gentle dialogues. There’s also this fear that if I become a boundary boss, some people think it means becoming a boundary bully. It doesn’t. If you’re masterful at anything—you’re doing that thing with ease and grace. Right, you’re doing that thing, naturally without a ton of force.
It’s important to draw boundaries early and often. It’s important to tell the truth. When people say no, they feel as though they need to write a dissertation about why they said no—by building a case like they’re in court.
It’s important to make the distinction between convincing and providing context. If I say no to Vic, my husband of 20 years, I want him to understand me. I love him. I’m not saying NO to punish him or hurt him. I want him to understand, so I give him context. That’s different from thinking I must convince him that I have a right to my NO. I have a right to my NO, and I want him to understand me. It’s important to be discerning.
In the book I talk about the people who give the insta-Yes. The person hasn’t even finished asking and the other person says—”Of course, yes. Anything you need.” That is obviously the beginning of disordered boundary interactions. It’s as if this person doesn’t even think they deserve to have time to think about it. And sometimes just not wanting to do something, is a perfectly legitimate reason not to do it. Maybe you just don’t friggin feel like it! And if you’re just tired, that’s enough of a reason. When a friend asked me out, especially if it’s something that I don’t genuinely want to do like go to an outdoor concert, I say No. I just don’t like them. I know a lot of people do. I don’t. So, my friends, don’t ask me anymore. Not because they’re mad. They’re not. They’re not judging me. They just know my preferences. The way I think about it is— I’m a Yes to you. I’m a No to an outdoor concert at Tanglewood. I don’t like to be outside when I’m trying to listen to music and talk to people. I can give that context, I cannot. But by sharing that, instead of suffering through a bunch of outside concert experiences that I don’t want to do, or being evasive or weird. My friends know who I am. They enjoy their concert. I can spend time with them doing the activities I enjoy with them.
Doctor Neha: Yes. And it saves a lot of resentment. It spares everyone awkwardness and sleepless nights. As a physician, I would argue clear communication is also good for your physical health.
Terri: Without a doubt.
Doctor Neha: People don’t really realize that it’s all connected. And I wonder if this is because we are a world that has become so short-term oriented. So if you ask me to do something and I say Yes, we have short-term harmony—in this moment. I may not necessarily have harmony five minutes from now because if I don’t want to do something, my body will start contracting and I’m going to need to figure out the best way to get out of what I just said yes to. This is the dilemma of only thinking with single vision—short term. On the other hand, if you use the short term + long term (double vision) viewpoint, you will realize that saying no right now will actually have a better chance to lead you to a solid and lasting friendship.
Terri: Let’s look at the auto-response. Because throughout this process, what we’re doing is recreating internal space between our thoughts and our actions. That’s why there’s meditation, breathing exercises and self-care in the book. I talk about it in almost every chapter, because it’s so important to learn to pause. Changing how we communicate can be nerve wracking. Changing your boundary dances will kick up your fight-flight-freeze response at different points with different people. It’s easy to feel threatened by changing our relationship dance. We’re often worried about the pushback. Someone is mad, so what do I do now?
Doctor Neha: What you’re talking about is actually building self trust. In those moments, if I don’t know how someone’s going to respond if I say no to them. Are they going to blow up? Are they going to get upset? Are they going to tell our mutual friends that they think I’m a jerk? There are infinite options that I’m protecting myself against. But the one thing I can use to control this moment is saying yes to you. At least if I keep Terry happy, everything is fine. So, let’s talk about two things next—one real simple and one that’s a little more complex. What are the different kinds of boundaries? And what do you see people struggling with the most?
Terri: We have different categories of individual boundaries.There physical boundaries that includes sexual boundaries. Also, you have mental and emotional boundaries. Also material boundaries—so do you lend money to people? Do you or don’t you allow people to use your car? Do you lend your clothes? Do you like to share food?
Doctor Neha: What about in the book—that part about whether or not you share your toothbrush…?
Terri: That’s an unbelievable story of a friend of mine who grew up in a very disordered family with a lot of chaos and a lot of abuse. This came out over lunch one day as we were talking about her family of eight and how they grew up and shared everything. Well, we shared a bathroom, so we had our basket of toothbrushes. I interrupted her and said, Whoa, wait a minute! How did you know which one was yours? And she was like, I didn’t we just all used whichever one wasn’t wet!
Doctor Neha: Unbelievable.
Terri: Wow. I grew up with three older sisters and that never would have happened! That friend was so unaware that she had NO BOUNDARIES! Of course, that put her into having lots of relationships with “overtakers” because she didn’t think she had the right to have boundaries.
Doctor Neha: Let’s go back to the different kinds of boundaries—material boundaries in particular. Then, let’s move into high-functioning codependency (HFC) because it’s so common. So, regarding material boundaries, can you give us another example in addition to the toothbrushes?
Terri: Sure. Let’s say you like to keep your car clean, but you have a sloppy cousin who prefers to eat fast food and leave their crap all over. That’s a boundary violation. You have a right to say “Hey, no eating in my car. I like to keep it clean. I’m requesting that you do not eat in my car.
Instead of drawing clear boundaries, people often feel bad and instead make excuses by putting themselves down, “I’m just too neat, or “I’m just too difficult.” No. It’s your car. It’s your boundary.
When you think about your physical self, you may experience someone who is a close talker. Your body and the physical space that you might require is unique to you. So if someone is in your space, and you don’t like it, you might naturally get the urge to step back from them (without saying anything). Then if they step forward, you might say, “Oh hey Bob, I’m feeling crowded, can you just back it up one step,” or whatever you would say. There’s nothing wrong with you not wanting to have someone in your space.
Doctor Neha: At my apartment, I ask people to take off their shoes before coming in. That’s another material boundary.
Growing up, whenever I tried to assert a boundary, I encountered pushback—it almost felt like being mocked. When I drew a boundary, it got flipped into, “Oh look at you…” What do you do when that happens?
Terri: It depends on exactly what the situation is, but if you say, “I make this request…” and they say “oh look at you,” you can say, “It doesn’t seem like you’re taking this seriously.” or “I get the sense that something about this is provoking you because of your tone of voice. I will reiterate that I don’t appreciate this, and I would like to make a simple request that you don’t do that.”
Part of it is not allowing them to hijack the narrative. They’re trying to hook you with their provocative behavior so that you lose it. Instead, say something like “you acting that way, doesn’t change anything for me. I stand firm in my request.” Sometimes it depends on the person. If someone is reacting, I say, “I can see that you’re having strong feelings about what I just said.”
Doctor Neha: Exactly. You just name it instead of react to it. Yes. Your ability to sit in silence is a big deal here. You must be able to manage the discomfort inside our own body in the moment. Boundaries are about clear agreements and they matter if you’re a leader, a parent or the person talking to a messy cousin. The better we know ourselves, the earlier, we can provide clear boundaries.
It would sound like, “Hey Terry I want to go on this road trip with you and I’m really excited about it! Listen, I just want to tell you how much I love my car. She has a name—Saphie. And I love her to stay clean. It’s one of the things I’m pretty particular about—keeping her clean. Are you down with that? So if I do this ahead of time, suddenly it’s a different energy.
Terri: Absolutely, because what you’re doing is in the book—it’s called proactive boundaries success plans. Because we’re not waiting for the person to do the wrong thing. It’s really self regard to know that the way that I want my car in this particular instance, actually matters. And I’m not going to abandon that, because then the road trip with the person is going to be filled with me feeling anxious and me feeling resentful—making maybe a snide comment or being passive aggressive.
Those unexpressed feelings have to go somewhere. Just because we don’t want to have the conversation, we don’t have the power to make annoyance disappear. It’s not going to. In fact, it will go underground and resurface in indirect ways, such as taking it out inadvertently toward someone else. None of that does what we want it to—which is to have us be (the subtitle of the book)—the Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, And (finally!) live free.
When we’re not being jerked around by our fear mind (our old unconscious processes that we’re not even aware of), we’re not repeating the past. That’s a whole other part of this that you may be experiencing—like a deja vu—where you find yourself saying, how am I in the same relationship again? Therapeutically we call that having a transference reaction.
Terri: So I’m going to give you a quick little tool that if you find yourself in any repeated situation that you don’t want to be in—with someone else or with yourself. I call this a Repeating Boundary Reality. Freud would call it repetition compulsion right so it’s a management tool but I’m gonna give you an example.
Doctor Neha: So, what if, for example, I get really excited about starting projects. So I start out all gung ho, but then I feel exhausted and burned out, exhausted due to overexertion. What would I do if I’m in that space? Feels like everybody during COVID is complaining of that right like I was, I was doing fine for a little while and then now I’m just not.
Terri: Alright, well there’s two things we’re talking about. When you’re kind of falling down on yourself and your internal boundaries are not as strong as you want them to be. That’s a pattern that you don’t love that you’ve been experiencing within yourself.
There’s two tools we’re talking about—one is about how to get unstuck. So ask yourself:
- What do you get to not face, non feel or not experience by staying stuck by continuing that?
From a psychological point of view, this is about secondary gain. When we repeatedly find ourselves in an unwanted situation, there is something we’re not seeing that is hidden. I’m gonna say there’s a benefit and that’s why it’s called secondary gain. It’s not obvious because it’s not primary gain.
Doctor Neha: For me and many others it might even be when I start a new project, I can get myself excited about this job at least for a little while, but then as I start losing my energy. I don’t want to deal with finding another job. I don’t want to figure out what my actual passion is. Or, I need the paycheck. Terri, there are no jobs right now. I might feel that I can’t do it, so I don’t want to face the prospect of change right now.
Terri: Yep, totally get it. And that makes sense because it’s painful. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating. Especially when you are so high functioning. That’s a repetition that doesn’t sit well with you personally because you’re a master of the universe (or higher functioning codependent—which we’re going to get to), but it’s real.
So, in any situation that you find yourself in. You can ask those questions. I’m going to give you a free gift with both of the tools we’ve mentioned here.
Doctor Neha: What was the second tool?
Terri: Well, the second tool was Repeating Boundary Realities. This one was about if you find yourself in a relationship with the same unavailable person— again and again. Ask yourself:
- Who does this person remind me of?
- When have I ever felt like this before?
- Why is this behavior, this interaction or dynamic familiar to me? Is it something that I saw between my parental impactors? Is it something that I was involved in? Is it something I saw somewhere else?And there’s one additional question. So when I’m in this scenario with this unavailable person and they’re retreating and I’m going forward and trying to go after them.
- Who do I become metaphorically? And who do they become?
Doctor Neha: That’s great. It goes so much farther you know when you’re saying I date unavailable men. My dad was working really hard. He always traveled. He was always gone. So I end up dating ambitious, driven men who are always at work. And so I know who it mirrors. I’m used to that. And then I start complaining (just like my mom was complaining that dad’s never home) I have this longing. I found that to be my life pattern for the first 45 years of my life. It just kept repeating itself. Then what did you say about the last two questions?
Terri: Well, you ask: Who do I become metaphorically? And who did they become?
Doctor Neha: They move farther away, and the distance becomes greater.
Terri: Right, because here’s the thing—those three clues give you clarity. When you find yourself in this repeating reality thinking “Why am I here? Oh, I see this repetition! Now, I’m going to see the red flags sooner. Instead of being so comfortable in that groove, because it’s familiar.”
When I was younger I thought that I had outsmarted my repeating boundary pattern because I also had an unavailable workaholic father. And I remember, saying to my therapist so “I go on vacation and I’m dating all these warm verbal European men. In my mind, I thought they were nothing like my father. I beat the repeating boundary pattern of unavailable men. And she said, “Terri, they live on other continents!”
Doctor Neha: It’s a tricky boundary blueprint playing itself out in a unique way.
Terri: She asked, so how do you feel?
I answered, “alone, in longing and unfulfilled.”
Doctor Neha: Oh gosh,Terri, so true! Before we wrap this up, the other thing I want to make sure we touch on is high functioning codependents. Can you talk about that?
Terri: Well the reason I actually came up with a new name, because the women in my therapy practice (myself included) there was this sense if I would say to a client, “the behavioral dynamic or interaction we’re talking about has codependency. And hey would be like,
“No. Do you get that I’m not dependent on the squat. Everyone’s dependent on me. Everyone comes to me, I’m the rock on the solid one.
I was like, “Right, and that doesn’t make you not dependent.”
High functioning codependency is different because it’s very hard to see because it happens in this population. In my experience of women who are so high functioning, it’s almost like you know what they used to say about Fred Astaire? Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but she did it backwards and in heels! It’s kind of like that.
This group of women who are really doing it all doing it all—like Masters of the Universe, CFO CEOs, famous people, whoever—they’re doing it at the expense of themselves because they’re still high functioning codependents. That means they are overly invested in the feeling states, the decisions and the outcomes of the people that they care about. They do this to the point where it’s detrimental to their own internal peace and physical wellness. If you’re giving people money, it can also extend to your financial wellness.
Doctor Neha: We’re all invested in the people we love and lead. We aren’t just doing it at home, we’re doing it at work. I really liked how you spoke about when we take on the emotional labor of love of others as our own. So, yeah, it’s, this is so fascinating because it’s so tricky.
I have to tell you, what you did by making it high functioning codependency makes it feel right. I would have had a visceral reaction to codependence, but when you called it high functioning codependency, I thought, “Oh, that me!” So I think that tweak makes it even more accurate and relatable.
Terri: What I would see in my practice are these women coming in and their whole life is checking boxes. They were also coming in presenting with autoimmune disorders, TMJ, shingles and all of these stress-related illnesses, because they were so terrified to let any of the balls drop. They didn’t realize that half of the balls they had in the air weren’t even their own. You’re not doing anyone a favor.
Here’s the thing, this behavior is really about our fear. We need to allow other people to run their own lives. Think about codependency. It’s a covert or overt bid for control. Maybe it comes from love. I felt like my tendencies were. I’m sure your intention was too. I wasn’t seeing myself as trying to dominate people, but the deal is—someone else’s life being a dumpster fire is definitely causing me stress and anxiety. And I don’t want to feel stress and anxiety. So I’m Miss fix it. Back in the day, I had thoughts and ideas. I’d make a phone call for you. I’ll help you. Then I’m also all pissed off when they don’t take my advice (that they didn’t even friggin ask me for)—it becomes a vicious cycle! Yes, and there’s a way to break out of it.
So just know that one thing at a time—when it comes to boundaries—when you start to get really clear about WHY you’re doing what you’re doing. After the process of unearthing the boundary blueprint, it’s so much easier to stop those patterns. I also have a free 13 questions boundary quiz online (Boundaryquiz.com) It will tell you, are you The Ice Queen, The Pushover, the Chameleon the Peacekeeper the Powerhouse, or another type.
Doctor Neha: What flavor you of boundaries you have.
Doctor Neha: No, I think that that’s just beautiful because when you can really make it that specific, people are really going to see how they can regain their personal power.
So I just want to say thank you to all of you for your time and for your energy, Terri you’ve just been a blessing. This book is powerful. So I just want to say to women especially— as we are working through everything from the #metoo movement and verdicts that are coming out, our society is changing. We can choose to blame the outside world if we’d like to. Or you can take your power back, and lead from the inside out! That’s what Terri and I are advocating for. So pick up your copy of Boundary Boss. Terri has a bunch of great gifts that are going to be available for you if you want to tell us a little bit about them.
Terri: Yes, well, two ways to get bonuses!
- If you buy the book and then go to www.boundarybossbook.com there’s a few beautiful bonuses there to help you on your journey.
- For your crew, we are going to add the tools about boundaries and codependency. So, it’s an expansion on the conversation that we were just having.
These will be ways for you to really get clear about where you are sort of on that spectrum, so that you can make some shifts, step back a bit and regain some of your energy and power. You’re going to find a video and a beautiful download full guide that you can use your questions you’re going to answer at www.boundary boss.me/neha
I want to say thank you so much for having me, my friend. I really appreciate it. Our work is so intertwined. So I’m looking forward to your next book.
Doctor Neha: My next book is going to be on healing burnout. and I have to tell you…Burnout = boundaries! It’s that simple.
Thank you, Terri, thank you for joining us and blessings.
Terri: Thank you my friend. I appreciate you.
Awareness Prescription + Boundary Boss Book Bonuses!
Secondary Gain Qs
When you haven’t been successful in to changing a pattern in your own behavior and you’re wondering why…ask yourself:
What do you get to not face, non feel or not experience by staying stuck by continuing that?
Repeating Boundary Pattern Qs
When you notice yourself in a relationship dynamic that repeats itself over and over again, ask yourself:
Who does this person remind me of?
When have I ever felt like this before?
Why is this behavior, this interaction or dynamic familiar to me? Is it something that I saw between my parental impactors? Is it something that I was involved in? Is it something I saw somewhere else?And there’s one additional question to think about as you engage further in the pattern…
Who do I become metaphorically? And who do they become?
To get your Boundary Boss bonuses: