Boundaries for Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies

Boundaries for Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400201617
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 06/26/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 106,064
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Alison K. Cook, PhD, is a psychologist who specializes in integrating spiritual formation and psychology. She holds an MA in counseling from Denver Seminary and a PhD in religion and psychology from the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology. Alison, her husband, Joe, and their two children are active in the Salvation Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and enjoy being in the outdoors.


Kimberly J. Miller, LMFT, MTh, is a Christian counselor who holds a master’s of theology from Regent College and an MA in clinical psychology from Azusa Pacific University. She and her husband, Ken, enjoy landscape architecture, volunteer activities, and spending time with friends and family in Claremont, California.

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CHAPTER 1

WHY BOUNDARIES FOR YOUR SOUL?

I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

— the apostle Paul (Romans 7:15 NLT)

Megan faced burnout. Hoping to restore her soul, she settled into a lovely retreat center with an ocean view. The peaceful backdrop was everything she hoped it would be. She soon discovered, however, that sitting quietly only made her more anxious. Unable to quell the competing thoughts in her mind, she gave up and started streaming her favorite show. Megan desired to rest, but her racing thoughts refused to slow down.

* * *

"What's wrong with me?" Ruben moaned, slouched in his counselor's office chair. "I'm tired of falling asleep alone on the couch every night." Ruben had no difficulty attracting women, but he didn't trust himself to play the dating game without getting into trouble. In fact, he was in a double bind: he longed for a meaningful relationship, yet he wanted to avoid the confusing emotions that came from being close to another person. Not knowing what to do with these conflicting desires, he worried he would never experience lasting love.

* * *

"To be honest, I wish I had my best friend's life," Jenna said over coffee. "Yesterday, I caught myself daydreaming about an enormous wave dousing her family during their beachside Christmas-card photo shoot. It bothers me that her life seems so perfect while mine is such a struggle. I ask God to take my jealousy away, but my prayers never seem to help. Honestly, I'm beginning to think that whoever's up there has given up on me." On one hand, Jenna wanted to care about people, but on the other hand, she wrestled with her unfulfilled longings. Jenna didn't know what to do with her envy or the nagging guilt that inevitably ensued.

* * *

Tom couldn't face the thought of telling his wife that he had been denied the promotion and raise they had counted on all year. He worked hard to suppress the feeling of shame about not providing more for his family. Being passed over triggered the familiar refrain: I'm such a loser — I'll never amount to anything. Tom's sense of shame was preventing him from sharing his feelings with his wife. "Great day!" he feigned, greeting her the evening he received the disappointing news. It wasn't hard to predict that Tom soon would be ambushed by a mob of unruly emotions.

* * *

"A part of me hates being the bad guy, but another part of me gets so annoyed with incompetence!" exclaimed Lin, a pediatric resident, pounding the table with her fist. "My colleagues at the hospital always slow me down." Her supervisors' evaluations were unanimous: Excellent clinical skills. ... Doesn't work well with others. ... Serious attitude problem. In response to this feedback, Lin knew she should hold her tongue. But regardless of how much she tried to restrain herself, her volcanic rage still managed to erupt. No one would expect such a competent professional to feel so out of control.

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Megan, Ruben, Jenna, Tom, and Lin don't know what to do with the difficult thoughts and feelings ruling their lives, so they feel overwhelmed and behave in ways they regret. Each of them is caught in a minefield of shoulds, can'ts, and what-were-you-thinkings. The more they try to forge ahead, the worse they feel.

Can you identify in some way with their inner turmoil? You work hard, try to set boundaries with others, and then wonder why you still struggle with anger, fear, and guilt. You may even hurt the people you love the most as a result of these unwanted feelings — petty jealousies you can't rein in, fear-based workaholism, or an out-of-control temper that you know isn't you.

When you're strong inside, you're able to respond with more resilience to life's challenges. You'll be true to the person God created you to be and to the work he has planned for you to do. You'll be realistic about your limitations and have a clear sense of your own values, vision, mission, and priorities. You'll understand that the health of your relationships and the sustainability of your service depend on your ability to make wise decisions about how you spend your time.

That's where this book can help. We'll walk you through a process of establishing healthy boundaries with the various parts of your soul that are competing for control. And you'll discover that the better you become at establishing internal boundaries, the better you'll become at setting healthy boundaries with others too.

What are boundaries? Your "boundaries" are the borders or limits of who you are and what you do, and what behaviors (your own and those of others) you will and will not accept. Your spirit, mind, heart, will, and body all have boundaries. Understanding these limits helps you honor your individuality and the individuality of others.

To use an external boundary as an example, when you have a conversation with another person, you don't stand so close that you step on her toes or so far away that you yell from a distance. Instead, you stand at arm's reach so that the two of you can hear each other comfortably. As another example, if a good friend moves away, you may feel too far from him and need to find new ways to maintain your connection. On the other hand, if he were to crowd you emotionally, you would need to get some space. You may feel too far from an estranged relative whom you haven't seen in years or too close to an overbearing one who visits too often and stays too long. Essentially, you can draw closer to people at will or move farther away in order to establish comfortable distance.

Likewise, there are two opposite, unhealthy ways of relating to your painful emotions. You can keep them too close to you, or you can push them too far away. If they're too close, you risk being overwhelmed by them. If they're too far, you risk being cut off from them, only to be influenced by them in harmful ways.

You may wonder why you would ever want to draw painful feelings in closer. Isn't it better to keep them away? Think of it this way: Your painful emotions are being experienced by parts of your soul that need to be heard, honored, and understood in order for you to be able to help them. Furthermore, the parts of your soul experiencing these difficult emotions have much to teach you when you get to know them. As with the people in your life, the key is to establish comfortable distance with these parts of your soul.

So, how do you know when painful emotions are too close or too far?

When you're too close to painful emotions, you might have thoughts like these:

Other people always let me down. (victimization)

I'll keep giving and suffering for everyone else's sake. (martyrdom)

It's always going to be this way ... I'll never be happy. (hopelessness)

When you are too far from painful emotions, you might find yourself thinking things like this:

She made me get angry. She's the problem! (blaming)

It's too painful to talk about ... I'll just change the subject. (avoiding)

What hopes and dreams? Dreaming hurts too much. My life is fine the way it is. (denying)

If you're experiencing victimization, martyrdom, or hopelessness, you might be too close to painful feelings and stuck in a rut of old habits and beliefs. This way of life robs you of confidence and joy. On the other hand, if you tend toward blaming, avoiding, and denying, you're trying to keep your painful feelings far away. You're disowning important gifts that the parts of you experiencing these feelings have to offer. What's more, denied emotions don't actually go away. Instead, they reappear in even more harmful ways. It's like playing a game of whack-amole at the fair. You hit one pesky emotion down with a mallet, only to have it pop up again when you least expect it. To lead emotions effectively, you can focus on them, befriend them, and invite Jesus to be near — then unburden them and integrate them with the other parts of your soul. We call this process taking a You-Turn.

TAKING A YOU-TURN

Most clients come to us initially with the desire to talk about someone else — their spouse, boss, child, friend, and so on. We get it: when conflict detonates a frenzy of emotion, the natural response is to become reactive and to accuse the other. Jesus addressed this tendency to blame others. In his Sermon on the Mount, he challenged the crowd to work on their own personal growth: "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matt. 7:5).

Jesus wants you to get to know the state of your soul. When you're feeling angry, what else is going on inside of you? Is there another part of you that's hurting? If so, it needs to be drawn in closer so you can give it the care it needs. Or, is there a part of you that has become reckless and needs some gentle boundaries? Notice the cues. Listen to your pain. When conflicted emotions threaten to derail you, seize the opportunity to evaluate your internal boundaries. What thoughts and feelings need your time, attention, and redirection? These overwhelming parts of your soul present opportunities for your growth and healing. After all, internal conflict is growth trying to happen.

But wait! That person said such cruel things! a part of you might be piping up. And that may be true. Whether or not you were provoked unjustly, however, it's most helpful to notice how you responded to the situation. Taking a You-Turn helps you gain clarity about your own thoughts and feelings so you can respond intentionally instead of becoming overwhelmed.

So, to take a You-Turn, follow these Five Steps:

Step 1: Focus on an overwhelming part of yourself.

Step 2: Befriend this part you don't like.

Step 3: Invite Jesus to draw near.

Step 4: Unburden this weary part.

Step 5: Integrate it into your internal team of rivals.

We'll explore this approach in the pages ahead. As you engage in this process, you'll move from seeing your undesirable inclinations as problems to seeing them as allies on your path to peace and wholeness. You'll become more curious about your troubling thoughts and emotions instead of disliking them. This compassionate posture toward yourself will help you develop what have been called "those wise restraints that make [us] free."

AN ANCIENT STRUGGLE

History has much to teach us about the importance of taking a You-Turn. People have been blaming others instead of taking responsibility for their feelings since the dawn of time. We can learn from their mistakes.

Consider Adam and Eve. Eve was overwhelmed by desire when the serpent tempted her to eat the fruit that God had told them not to eat. She gave in to a part of herself that took what was not hers to have. Adam, meanwhile, avoided his guilty feelings. When God asked if he had eaten the forbidden fruit, he said, in essence, "Don't look at me!" What if Eve had paused for a moment when she felt her longing — and obeyed God? And what if Adam had acknowledged his guilt instead of blaming Eve?

Consider Sarah, the wife of the biblical patriarch Abraham. God promised Abraham that Sarah would birth a great nation, but Sarah thought she was too old to conceive. Afraid to face her own limitations, she yielded to an impulse to take control and get what she wanted in her own way. She arranged for her maidservant, Hagar, to sleep with her husband and bear his child. Then, in a fit of envy, she banished Hagar to the desert (Gen. 16:1–4; 21:8–14). Overwhelmed by fear, Sarah created a complicated love triangle and even attempted murder. What if, instead, Sarah had let Abraham know that she was afraid she wouldn't be able to live up to others' expectations? (Sarah later shows up in the Bible's "Hall of Faith" chapter, Hebrews 11, so we know she somehow found her way.)

Or what about Peter? Peter vowed his commitment to Jesus many times, including when it made him unpopular. But even loyal Peter let his fear of being identified with a revolutionary outlaw overwhelm him when crowd members began to accuse him. He denied he knew Jesus three times, betraying the One who most loved him and whom he had left his way of life to follow (Mark 14:66–72). Like Sarah, Peter eventually faced his shame, developed a humble heart, and fulfilled his calling, becoming the person Jesus called the "rock" of the church (Matt. 16:18).

Lastly, let's look again at King David. As discussed in the introduction, a war was waging within his soul. One evening his wandering eye caught a beautiful woman bathing in the moonlight. Yielding to his longing to possess her, David slept with Bathsheba, even though she was married. Then, succumbing to a conniving part that wanted to hide what he had done, he arranged to have her husband killed. David let desire run roughshod over his truest self, and he ended up committing murder (2 Sam. 11).

The prophet Nathan eventually helped David come to his senses by telling him a story about a rich man who stole a poor man's one and only sheep. "He must pay!" David exclaimed, burning with anger. Then Nathan revealed, "You are the man!" (2 Sam. 12:1–7). King David ultimately faced his internal conflict and restored fellowship with God. As he matured, he composed a song conveying how he had learned to set boundaries with his unruly emotions: "I have calmed and quieted my soul," he wrote, "like a ... child within me" (Ps. 131:2 AMP).

THE POWER OF COMPASSION

What do these well-known Bible characters and the everyday people at the beginning of this chapter have in common? All were, at one point, overwhelmed by strong emotions. They all have warring factions in their souls.

Though the Bible stories above may seem extreme, in many ways they reveal the kind of inner conflicts we all experience. I think I'm a good person, and yet, like the apostle Paul, you realize, "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom. 7:15 ESV). Likewise, the apostle James described people as at times being "double-minded" (James 1:8). A person can pray one minute and say a hurtful word the next. "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing" (3:10).

Have you ever said, "I want to be kind, but I'm so angry"? Or "I know I should move on, but I can't stop thinking about him"? If you find it hard to resolve painful feelings and unhelpful thoughts, you're not alone. Everyone feels overwhelmed at times by conflicting feelings. You want to live a good life, to be a loving person, but sometimes you hurt others and even yourself.

Is there anything that can be done? As Christian counselors, we have discovered — yes, there is. You can relate in a compassionate way with these aspects of yourself in need of attention. You can hone your capacity to listen to your sometimes-chaotic inner world and prayerfully lead the parts of your soul in working for your highest good.

Imagine if Megan, on a retreat to escape burnout, gained perspective and learned to pay attention to her racing thoughts. Might she be able to connect with God in an empowering way? If Ruben reconciled his conflicting desires, might he find true love? If Jenna listened to her envy, might she gain insight into qualities that she herself was longing to develop? If Tom gained perspective about his shame, might he be able to share his sorrow with his wife and, in doing so, experience the joy of true intimacy? And if Lin grew to understand her anger, might she be able to care for her subtle but deep fear of rejection and advocate effectively for herself?

In the pages that follow, you'll learn how to achieve the life-changing results of taking a You-Turn — a process of caring for your soul. We'll present a proven way to help you move from reacting to or avoiding difficult situations, to acting intentionally. As a result, you'll become gentler with yourself and speak more constructively with others about how you're doing. You'll enjoy greater peace within and experience deeper intimacy with others too.

If you lead painful emotions with perspective, guided by the Holy Spirit, you'll discover that every part of you has tremendous potential for good. You'll live at a comfortable distance from the challenging aspects of your soul, relating to each one in a caring way. You'll learn when to say yes and how to say no to your thoughts and feelings. You can bring together what you know of God with what you're experiencing in any given moment and enjoy the benefits of boundaries for your soul.

Before you move on to the next chapter, we invite you to take our lighthearted quiz to gain insight into the current state of your internal boundaries.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Boundaries for Your Soul"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

Part 1 Reimagining Your Soul

Chapter 1 Why Boundaries for Your Soul? 3

Chapter 2 Your Spirit-Led Self 19

Chapter 3 Three Parts of You 31

Part 2 The Five Steps Of Taking A You-Turn

Chapter 4 Step One: Focus 47

Chapter 5 Step Two: Befriend 58

Chapter 6 Step Three: Invite 74

Chapter 7 Step Four: Unburden 92

Chapter 8 Step Five: Integrate 111

Part 3 Working With Challenging Emotions

Chapter 9 Boundaries with Anger 129

Chapter 10 Boundaries with Fear and Anxiety 141

Chapter 11 Boundaries with Sadness 155

Chapter 12 Boundaries with Envy and Desire 167

Chapter 13 Boundaries with Guilt and Shame 180

Chapter 14 Boundaries with Challenging 194

Parts of Others

Map of the Soul 211

Exercise: The Five Steps 213

Glossary 215

Acknowledgments 223

About the Authors 227

Notes 229

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