Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keep your hands to yourself!

I remember when I was younger, I would always pester my older sister. It was the pleasure of my life to get entirely too close to her until she was annoyed and pushed me away screaming "Get on your side Erica" or "Keep your hands to yourself." My sister had no ability to deal with it when I went against her boundaries. I, however, enjoyed the task of seeing just how far I could push her before she would crack! Yes, I admit I was a pest!

Now, when you pictured that scene with me and my sister, was there someone else in your mind? Is there someone who pushes you to the very brink of your patience and likes to test your "boundaries?" I think we all know someone who ,as an adult, has pushed you much closer to your breaking point than you would like to admit. It's that person who makes sarcastic remarks that are clearly hurtful but then they get upset with you when you are hurt. It's that person who borrows money all of the time and you have never seen a red cent of it in return. It is the same person who calls you in the middle of the night with their problems and gets huffy when you mention that you were sleeping. You know that person...the one who asks very personal questions and then judges you based on their ideas and values never once caring to find out if your ideas and values even matched. Any of this sound familiar?

It sure did to me a few years ago. I used to be very bad at setting and keeping boundaries in my life. Let's start with an operational definition of the word "Boundaries."

A person who has "healthy" boundaries will be able to:

  • Say no when they want/need to without fear of losing relationship with others.
  • Take no's from people when they want/need something and not detach or avoid that person.
  • Be emotionally attached to another person without losing themselves.

These are just basic tenets of having healthy boundaries but ones you can check off for yourself and see if you struggle with any of them. Some people have no problem hearing no but they can't say it while others having a horrible time hearing no but can say no to everyone that asks anything of them. The third tenet for me is the most crucial to having healthy boundaries. You see so many people in relationships completely lost as to who they are because there boundaries are what you might call "wiggly."

If you know anyone like this (or you are this person) perhaps the next couple of posts are going to be applicable to your life. Since boundaries is such a broad topic I have decided to write several posts on it. This can span relationships with in laws, husbands/wives, problem family members, adult children who are dealing with parents who just won't let go, friends who walk on you but you can't seem to count on them, etc...

Here is the exciting part about my boundaries the end of it there will be a GIVEAWAY!!!!

There is a great book on boundaries out there by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend called (appropriately) "Boundaries" and the giveaway will be the workbook that goes with this book! It could stand alone but probably works best with the text. I should note before you actually enter this giveaway it is written by Christian Therapists so if you are not of the Christian persuation it might not be as applicable. Boundaries are good for everyone though...not just Christians. Christians just seem to have a little more trouble with them in my opinion.

Please take time to go to Cloud & Townsend's Web-Site and enjoy all they have to offer you there. A lot of what I have learned about healthy boundaries has been from experiences and them!

Now, onto some boundary discussion. I think I will start with Boundaries with Family as that seems to be the more difficult topic for most people.

How many of you have a parent/in law who has no idea where they end and you begin? Do you seem to have NO energy upon leaving time with some family members? Cloud and Townsend describe this as "catching something" from your family members. It could be a harsh, negative, depressed, argumentive, critical, perfectionistic, or some other attitude that you seem to "pick up" from your family. Are you married, yet you care more about what your parents think of you than your spouse? Are you relying on your parents for financial support in a heavy way even though you are an adult? (There are some instances of this that are necessary..we are not talking about these) Do you often dislike the people that your parents/siblings/in laws dislike or at least feel like you should? If any of this is resonating with you, you could have problems with boundaries with your family.

Now that you know that...what do you do with it?

This is not advice coming from Cloud & Townsend but from Erica and um, Erica so hold tight. This is my approach to helping people develop boundaries.

  • Pick a relatively non-threatening area to start with.

This is usually an area that you are not scared to make a boundary about. I will give an example so that this is easily followed.

Becky goes to her in laws every sunday to have dinner. She enjoys most of it except when her mother in law casually mentions (every sunday) that she does not see her precious son enough and then seems to almost glare at her as if she is responsible. She really hates this because clearly she is there every single week for dinner and to add to that, she is after all married and it's not as if she doesn't have a family of her own and her own side of the family to visit and enjoy. She has wanted to say something for months just to stop these "casual mentionings" but it seems so difficult to approach.

  • Find a way to express yourself in a responsible, appropriate way and decide to be ok with whatever happens from doing this.

It's Sunday again and Becky is getting ready to go to her in laws home for dinner. She has already decided that if her mother in law mentions not seeing her son enough she will respond this time. She gets there and sure enough about an hour into the visit, her mother "casually" mentions "I just never see you son and I miss you when you are not around" (insert glare at Becky) Becky smiles and calmly says "We miss you when we don't see you too but things are really busy in our lives. That is why we make an effort to be here every sunday. We love you and care about time with you."

  • Think of how awesome you are for actually trying boundaries out by standing up for yourself like adults do.

Now, I should note that this is easier written than actually done if this feels threatening to you. That is why I encourage you to try it on something that is much less threatening for you. As you do this and see positive results and feel stable, you gain momentum and can tackle some of the more threatening ones in your sphere of influence. If you start with threatening situations, you are likely to act out of anger and anxiety and cause rifts in your relationships that are more sticky to work around. Remember though, if the person reacts badly to the truth and good boundaries...that is NOT about you! Although difficult, you should feel satisfied knowing that you took care of yourself and your relationship with this person grows less resentful and more happy and healthy.

If you have a situation that is especially hard for you, I encourage you to write me privately at or on facebook if you are my friend and I would be happy to help you develop a plan of attack!

Now Remember if you are reading, become a follower of the blog and you will qualify for the "Boundaries" workbook that I am giving away at the end of the boundaries series and all other giveaways on the blog. I will always have something around the bend. Stay tuned for the next post on "Boundaries and Friends"

For your enjoyment, here is a clip from the movie "Monster In Law" that clearly demonstrates some boundaries issues in family. If you haven't seen it, I totally recommend it for a laugh!

Monster In Law

Friday, January 29, 2010


When I was trying to decide what the best topic would be to start out with, this quote came to mind regarding the human body.

"If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred" -- Walt Whitman

A lot of us might not understand this quote or even agree with it but I think I do. Another quote that came to my mind was this one.

"Someone's opinion of you does not have to become your reality" -- Les Brown

I realize, however, that these two quotes are easier said than done. A lot of us walk around in an altered state of reality regarding our bodies. We see things that are not there. We see things that are there and we wish were not. We think of ourselves not as created but as as mistake of sorts. Body image is an issue that transcends age, race, religion, gender, and even culture. All of us have a body and all of us have an image of ourselves. Now, the question your body image positive and accurate or negative and skewed?

Today I am not even addressing the obvious problems that can come with a bad body image like eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa but just the everyday person who absolutely hates or feels unsatisfied with what is in the mirror. Eating disorders are a completely different topic and something I am willing to go more into later in the life of this blog. Today, it is simply the topic of loving your body and being ok with the skin you are in. I know we all hear these cliche statements like "Feeling good in your own skin" and "appreciating your inner beauty" but what does that mean?

From my opinion, having a healthy and accurate body image is having a real perception of your body size and shape and either accepting those facets or choosing healthy habits to make appropriate changes. This also encompasses knowing that who you are is absolutely perfect the way it is and changing the outside makes no difference in who you actually are. All of that is a really wordy way of saying

  • Be at a healthy weight

  • Eat balanced meals and appropriate calories for your body's needs

  • Exercise your body to it's advantage not to its detriment

  • Be happy with yourself when you are doing all you can to be physically healthy

  • Accept what is and begin to appreciate it.

Now, I also know that not all body image issues are a direct result of a number on a scale. Although being overweight is one of the obvious aspects that can create a poor body image, there are people who scrutize the size of their nose, the shape of their body, the bone structure of their face, the size of their breasts, the texture of their hair, and even the color of their skin. We all can pick several of these people out in our lives or maybe you can resonate yourself. What is different about those people than those that get up in the morning, get dressed, look in the mirror, give themselves a nod of approval and walk out the door without obsessive thoughts about their body? I would say the following things make a difference;

  • Previous critical statements from others about your body

  • A serious illness or disability caused by the body systems that makes you feel that your body has "turned on you."

  • Comparing your body to others around you and not recognizing your differences as something that makes you unique and not "ugly or flawed" in some way.

***I want to be clear that the next section is certainly an oversimplification of an issue that can be very serious. There are different levels of negative body image. There are those that simply walk around not really liking themselves on one end of the spectrum and there is of course the other end where people are getting very expensive and unnecessary surgeries as well as starving themselves and abusing their body systems. These tips are more geared toward the less severe end of the spectrum**

Here are some tips to begin to develop a healthier body image and start on accepting who you are and what you bring to the world physically.

  • Admit that you can not read other's minds: Mind reading is a very crucial part of a negative body image. Most people who ruminate about what they look like believe the world around them is judging them. They are constantly thinking things like "The lady at the bank today was staring at my nose. I know she thought it was huge. I hate my nose!" The truth of the matter is, we do not know what others around us are thinking and if we were to be honest, they are probably just like us. They are probably just thinking about themselves too. Another area that people often lose so much in life this way is when being intimate with their partner. Against what you might believe, your partner is probably not thinking about the cellulite on your thighs but actually enjoys the way your body looks and feels when you are intimate. Sometimes all it takes to find out is to ask them what they think of you. Often it is sad how much our partner's love us and accept us far more than we love and accept ourselves.

  • Let go of "black and white" or "all or nothing" thinking: It is generally pretty dangerous to believe anything is all or nothing but especially so in this area. Often times when people perceive themselves to have a flaw (i.e. a flat chest) they often completely ignore the beauty that they posess like maybe they have a great smile or beautiful set of eyes. Sometimes it is helpful to shift thinking just to focus on the things you really do appreciate about yourself. For me, I appreciate that I have great green eyes and a lot of people compliment them. That is always nice for me and when I really want to critique my perceived flaws, I try to remember that God and my mama gave me pretty green eyes!

  • Focus on the things that REALLY matter: We all bring goals, passions, and dreams to the table. When we struggle with a negative body image it is sometimes helpful to focus on those things that are really important to us. Suppose I have a friend who really loves to write poetry. They find themselves really happy and satisfied when they are writing. This person also has a hard time with one of their perceived body flaws. It would be a great shift of focus if they used their passion for writing to process their feelings about their body. We all come with a unique set of skills, passions, and talents. Why not allow that to flow from you as opposed to stifling it with our hatred of what is temporal and changing constantly. Those passions, dreams, and unique qualities of your person, do not change!

Again, I know this is oversimplifying something that CAN be serious, however, I believe that if you implement some of these strategies and begin to investigate if you are guilty of "mind reading", "all or nothing thinking", or "focusing on the less important aspects of life" you could work on those areas and see an increase in your more accurate and positive body image.

Below is a link for a video that came to my mind when I thought about how we feel about ourselves. This song is by TLC and is called "unpretty." For me, music always speaks what I can not seem to find words for. "Unpretty--TLC"

If you have any feedback, feel free to leave comments or write me personally. I leave you with a quote...

"You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But if you are beautiful at sixty, it is your soul's own doing. -- Marie Stopes

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Introductions are in order

Welcome to "Living a Full, Happy, and Healthy Life." I hope that you are coming here because you are genuinely interested in bettering yourself, the way you live, and the way you feel. I thought I would start by introducing myself (even though many of you will already know me) and giving you some background as to why you might want to read, what you should expect from this blog, and who I am.

I am Erica Lewis, a Marriage/Family Therapist Intern in Southern California. I practice under a brillant Psychologist by the name of Dr. Jennifer Fee in Placentia, California. You can find out more about our work at
Vision Quest Psychological Services. Our web-page is currently undergoing construction so please be patient with us and check back often for new features. I graduated from Vanguard University of Southern California with my Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology and my Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage/Family Therapy. While I was in Graduate School, I worked with both adolescent's and adults with a variety of different presenting problems. I now work with mostly adults and specialize in Grief/Loss, Depression, and Acceptance of Medical Diagnosis such as Cancer, Diabetes, MS, and various other chronic illness.

I am interested in various topics within the field of psychology and use every single day to learn something more about my career. To me, it is more of a passion than a career. I enjoy every session and every opportunity to share with others so that their quality of life is increased. Now that I have introduced myself, let me introduce the blog.

The idea for this blog is really exciting for me and I look forward to all of the evolution and change that it will take along the journey. I have a few plans already in motion for the blog and would welcome any suggestions, comments, or feedback you might have as a subscriber. Below is a list of things to come that you might be excited about too!

  1. Articles written on various topics within the field of mental health (including but not limited to; eating disorders, depression, relationships, marriage, trauma, anxiety disorders, coping skills, and even stress reducing exercises.) There are a number of topics I hope to cover and am open to suggestions in this area as well.

  2. Book reviews based on literature I have read that might be of use to those of you struggling with certain areas. These will be subjective reveiws that come from my personal opinion of the book or one of my guest blogger's opinions. They are not to be taken as fact, as any opinion is open to critique.

  3. Guest bloggers that will write posts to share with you based upon their personal experience or expertise. This includes not only survivors of certain mental health issues or concerns but also professionals in the field who specialize in areas outside of my niche.

  4. Interviews with people who have struggled with certain areas of mental health and have been so generous to provide information about their journey and help others navigate through. All interviews will be anonymous and remain confidential so if you are open to an interview on a certain subject, contact me privately and we will arrange something.

  5. Fun; I fully intend to incorporate humor, videos, podcasts, movie clips, music, etc... into this blog in order to serve our many mental health needs including laughter and enjoyment.

For now, these are my ideas for the blog and where I see it going. Again, I am always open to suggestions and will take all feedback as something I can use to make the blog better and more useful to its readers.

I hope that you all enjoy your time here on "Living a Full, Happy, Healthy Life" and tell your friends to log on and follow it as well. If you are not sure how to become a follower, you need to have a google or blogger account and then click on "Follow" on the Blog's home page where you just came to read. Below you will find contact information for myself if you are interested in scheduling an appointment.

Thanks for reading,

Erica L. Lewis, M.S. MFTI


Business Line: (310)487.2152

** This phone # is connected to a confidential voicemail and all messages will only be checked and heard by myself. If you use email to contact me, please be aware of the obvious confidentiality risk***