from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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How & When to Say Enough! – The Neuroscience of Healthy Boundaries

This week’s Quote and Comment goes under the heading of “healthy boundaries,” or the ability to take care of ourselves in relationships so that we can be fully present, both in the relationship and in life. Unfortunately, few of us learned how to do this as children, and, therefore, we have the tendency to either demand that the person we are with do what we want, or subjugate our needs until we just can’t stand it any more. As you might imagine, neither of these are likely to produce healthy relationships.

Brene’ Brown, in her book, “Daring Greatly,” adds another layer to this dilemma by looking at how our self-worth plays a role in the process of setting healthy boundaries. She says, “We have to believe we are enough in order to say, “Enough!” Or, put another way, until we see ourselves as worthy of being treated with respect and listened to in relationships, we will tend to simply put up with the status quo. Sadly, those who are unable to leave abusive relationships can fall into this category. They don’t see themselves as deserving of love and respect, and, therefore, don’t speak up when the relationship cycles into abuse.

For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this tendency to see ourselves as “less than” and to go into “survival mode” in relationships and life comes from the fear-based part of the brain (the limbic system and brainstem). This is why I always encourage those who are wanting to have more influence in their lives to start by creating a list of 20 qualities of themselves at their best. I then encourage those I work with to read this list at least 3 times a day. The goal here is to begin to rewire the middle brain, or limbic system, to see who we are as worthy so that we can then begin to address what is going on in the relationship from a place of self-respect.

I also feel that the timing, or “when” we address issues in a relationship is important. Unfortunately, most of us wait until we “just can’t take it any more!” to finally say “Enough!” This can be problematic in that (a) we are attempting to solve a problem from the frustrated, annoyed, and angry part of the brain (the brainstem) which means we don’t have access to the sort of interpersonal skills and flexibility that resides in the neocortex (the Top of the Mind), and (b) there is strong potential that our attempt to address an issue from this reactive brain will be heard as criticism, and, thus, dismissed or rejected.

A “Top of the Mind” solution, therefore, would be to first become clear about our own worth and value, as well as, our vision for the sort of relationship that we want, i.e., how do we treat each other? How do we solve problems, discuss sensitive issues, spend our time, plan for the future, etc.? This way, when an issue comes up, meaning that some aspect of the relationship becomes incongruent with our vision, we bring it up so that we can talk it out or resolve it.

In other words because we are “enough” (clear about our own worth and value) we don’t wait until we have “had enough” to address the issue, and the ability to deal with a problem sooner rather than later makes the process more likely to succeed. Of course, this is easier said than done, given that few of us grew up with this sort of confident, loving method of dealing with problems being modeled. Plus, our middle brain will be afraid that if we bring up issues to those that we care for, no one will want to be in a relationship with us, and we will die alone.

My suggestion, therefore, is to understand how the brain works so that we are not allowing that fear-based middle brain to create our experience of life, but instead to create a “Top of the Mind” perspective with respect to ourselves and the relationship that we are co-creating. We then can trust this clear, confident, creative part of who we are to address the issue. In other words, we set healthy boundaries from the loving, confident part of the brain as soon as they come up. This way, we never have to fear not being “enough,” or wait until we have had “enough” to say, “enough,” and instead bring more than enough to our relationships and life.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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