Boundaries

Setpoints: Why Being Negative Will Make You Stable

You’re surrounded by setpoints every day.  They literally keep you alive.  One of them is your set body temperature.  If your body drops or rises a mere 15% beyond your core temperature, death occurs.  Think of a setpoint like a reference point, a sort of boundary.  Medically, it’s called homeostasis.  The body regulates internal functioning (temperature, blood flow, oxygen) despite external circumstances.  The body is always seeking homeostasis.  So is the brain.  And you can intentionally take charge for your mental, emotional, and relational health.

Examples.

In our bodies, we break out in a fever when something is wrong- which is one way the body makes conditions unfavorable to viruses and bacteria- because they are temperature sensitive.  In addicts, their brains have faced an onslaught of dopamine rushes- and the brain counters it by producing less dopamine to balance out- even sometimes ELIMINATING dopamine receptors.  This is the brain naturally seeking to turn down a party that’s gotten too loud.

The system.

Balanced functioning (homeostasis), whether biological, technological, or psychological, will involve three interdependent elements that help reach homeostasis- all centered on a setpoint:

  1. Receptor– A sensing component that observes changes in the environment. The receptor then sends information to the Control Center.
  2. Control Center– determines an appropriate response, having a set range in place (setpoint).  Then the control center sends this information to an effector.
  3. Effector– Structures that receive signals from the control center and correct deviation by negative feedback, thus putting a system back into its normal range.

Remember from above how dopamine in the brain works with substance abuse?  But we can actually gain the upper hand by being active in our decisions- including making setpoints for ourselves.

Get negative.  

In order to bring a system back to normal, negative feedback is used to regulate it.  So when I say, “get negative,” or course I’m not telling you to have a negative outlook on life.  What I AM saying is that a system that is out of control will only be put back in control/order by it being regulated by setpoints, carried out by either an internal or external force- and this is negative feedback.

Okay, have I been sufficiently nerdy?  Let’s get practical!!

 

Samples.  Check out how William uses all three processes of homeostasis as a married entrepreneur with children, who is also dealing with some alcohol abuse (#2 in each is the setpoint).

Entrepreneur.

1) Financial accounts are reconciled daily by William (outside help oversees them weekly).  2) The business plan was developed with a setpoint of no greater than $100,000 debt.  Crossing $50,000 debt signals a problem and requires meeting with the board.  3) If the setpoints are not honored, the board has full power and autonomy to enact established strategies.

Temperature.

1) William’s two year old, Thomas, is running a fever- revealed by his behavior, and then it was gauged with a thermometer.  2)  If 24 hours pass with a fever over 100 F- or at any point it goes beyond 103 F- the setpoint has been crossed.  3) Visit the doctor immediately.

Remodeling.

1) Extra money was left over- discovered in the budget by William’s wife, Katie.  2)  They determine no more than $10,000 will be spent on a kitchen remodel.  The goal is $8,500; beyond the goal is a warning flag.  3) At the $8,500 mark, a conversation will be held with the contractor to hold to the budget.

Alcohol Use.

1) After running into various troubles with alcohol, William considered his personal/family values and health recommendations.  2) A setpoint was made: only 2 drinks or less daily.  3) If this line is crossed, the commitment is to have an entire month sober.  If this cannot be done, it is agreed on with his support team to increase treatment (e.g., go to a group, go to counseling).

 

Got the hang of it?  These steps can be applied to about anything, though I mostly use the Setpoints Exercise (click on the link below to access!) to help increase ownership and boundaries with addictions.  It’s a straightforward way to get honest with anything you are facing, the amount of help you need, and what supports can get you there.  This concept has helped assist many of my clients to face problems squarely, and in turn, to be more successful and realistic in addressing life challenges.  Give it a try!
Get your free SetPoint Worksheet, created for clients in my practice, by clicking here.

Drama Triangle

Dad is the tough one; when he comes home, the two kids know there will be a “blow out” if he finds out about their behavior.  He functions as the Persecutor, letting off his steam at Mom and the kids.  But Mom is the Rescuer, jumping in to tell Dad he’s being too hard.  And the kids know they won’t ultimately face consequences, because their parents will fight each other, both becoming a Victim and burned up that they are not respected by anyone in their household.

The Drama Triangle (founded by Dr. Steven Karpman, 1968)[1] brilliantly describes certain scripts found in relationships marked by dysfunction.  These are generally unconscious “game plans” that take shape early in childhood.  Here’s what the 3 roles look like:   

Persecutor:

  • Statements: “Get your act together!”  “You are an embarrassment to this family.”  “I am the one who has to whip people into shape- no one else will do it!”
  • Behaviors: Yelling.  Silent-treatment.  Verbal put-downs.  Blaming.  Aggression.
  • Internally: Driven by shame, anger is a cover for other avoided emotions.  Though in denial, will blame and attack others.
  • Psychology: Delivering “just” punishment.

Rescuer:

  • Statements: “I guess I’ll just be the one who has to do this.”  “This is for your own good.”
  • Behaviors: Focused on others, fixing problems, ignoring own needs, advice-giver.
  • Internally: Driven by guilt, high anxiety, low sense of self.  Feels sense of importance when someone is rescued (enter the victim).  Sees themselves as a helper or caretaker.
  • Psychology: The classic codependent (and enabler).

Victim:

  • Statements: “No one appreciates what I do.”  “Here I am, helpless, left all alone.”
  • Behaviors: Makes excuses, blames others, pouts, won’t apologize, shuts down.
  • Internally: Feels disappointed, believes they are not cared for, thinks they do not count, overlooked and overwhelmed.
  • Psychology: Worthless and damaged; “Murphy’s law.”

 
Sarah continued to watch her friends get married off, one by one.  She is sick and tired of being the one no one wants, the Victim.  Her circle of friends after college is getting smaller by the week, and the ones she still talks to are more difficult to relate to, because they have their busy lives with their families.  She meets Nate, and he loves making her feel special.  She quickly thinks she’s in love.  Nate feels incredible that he can help Sarah with all her problems, her Rescuer, and finds identity in this.  However, when he decides to spend a weekend with the guys, Sarah objects, with Nate exploding as the Persecutor, telling her she needs to stop suffocating him, and Sarah withdraws into herself as the Victim, realizing it is her lot in life to be rejected.

drama triangle

In the Drama Triangle, though there is a primary role, sometimes referred to as the “starting gate,” a person will/can switch between different roles.  In the diagram above, the two roles at the top are placed there because of their relative “one-up” position.  But if a person functions anywhere on this triangle, they will eventually end up as the victim. 

Why continue on this defective course?  There are many reasons, or “pay-offs.” 

  • Meeting legitimate needs for love, respect, and intimacy in illegitimate ways.
  • Denial- avoids painful truths and real emotions. 
  • Poor emotional regulation and reacting rather than being proactive. 
  • An identity is provided- a sense of direction can be felt when a person fills a role, even if harmful.
  • Offers a sense of closeness (ever felt closer to someone you argue with vs. apathy?).
  • Offers a position of power over another.
  • Avoids personal responsibility.
  • Inner drama is converted externally.
  • Cycle of shame- feeling defeated enough that a person continues to choose defeat.

Lynne Forrest (2008)[2] poignantly observes, “Whenever we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves, we are unconsciously choosing to react as victim.”  When we don’t take responsibility, we miss out on the blessings and avoid the natural consequences that help us grow up.  Shielding from reality turns sanity into insanity.  If you’re looking for a way to feel miserable, wait for everything outside of you to change before you can be content.  However, there are ways to give up the drama. 

Trading in your Role.  Sorting through genuine beliefs and feelings, owning them, and pursuing solutions, options, and personal responsibility are all a part of being a healthy adult.[3]  You can choose well-being, even if others don’t.  Negotiating boundaries is not about controlling another person.  It is about truth rather than drama.  It is about respect rather than demoralization. 

Empower instead of disable others- instead of making someone dependent on you or being dependent on another for salvation, a place of humility is needed.  Humility generates the best self-esteem; it is seeing yourself and others with a clear, respectful lens.

  • Identify and communicate in suitable ways how you truly think and feel.
  • Maintain, implement and follow-through with boundaries. 
  • Admit you make mistakes regularly.
  • Negotiate options.  Often, there are many options available.
  • Avoid talking down; dialogue.
  • Grow in self-awareness.  Seek to understand what others really think by asking them. 
  • Stay teachable and willing to learn.
  • Realize relationships are complex- there may not be an easy answer, and your perspective is only one.
  • Unify your heart and head (be not only intellectually intelligent, but emotionally intelligent).
  • You can’t have it your way all the time.  Learn to sacrifice.

 
Steve wasn’t “on his first rodeo.”  As a classic Rescuer who was the oldest child and the trusted man of the house when his father abandoned the family, he learned to find value in fixing broken things.  He would say yes to projects at the church, neighbors’ requests, girl scouts, 70 hr./week workloads- and then he crashed.  After ending up with suicidal thoughts and deep resentment (Victim and Persecutor) that others didn’t care for him like he cared for them, it was in therapy that his counselor first introduced him to The Drama Triangle.  When he realized he was creating his own chaos by living out unhealthy and, often, unseen patterns, he developed “muscles” around saying no, having limits, and allowing margin (aka, breathing room) in his life.  And he finally found that he stopped attracting other women who took advantage of him- because he allowed it in the past.  Now Steve is conscious that well-being requires daily work, but finds the reward of not living out of obligation and guilt, but rather choice and love. 

[1] Karpman, Ph.D, Steven (1968).  Fairy Tales and Script Drama Analysis.

[2] Forrest, Lynn (2008).  The Three Faces of Victim.

[3] McGill, Ph.D, Ken (2014).  “Cultivating Love.”  The Karpman Triangle and The Equality /Empowerment Triangle.

 

Launch

Image

Birds learn to fly after they step away from the nest; otherwise, they will die.  Most of us intuitively know a similar growing-up progression is required for human beings, but a lot can get in the way of raising a child to become an adult, and conversely, being an adult.A significant portion of my caseload as a counselor is working with parents, teens, and adults in addressing the problem of individuation in relationship.  It’s a big deal!  Commonly, parents come in very disturbed at the choices of their teen.  Teens present frustration that they can’t be themselves.  Adults struggle with how to be in relationship without being a doormat, being too demanding, or somewhere in-between. 

Let’s do a quick survey of what’s supposed to happen.  Children start out with 100% dependency upon their mother.  Ideally, a child needs to move to 100% self-responsibility.  Of course, this excludes circumstances of intensive disability and so forth.  Somewhere between that delicate balance of connection and individuality is where we spend much time struggling in our relationships.  It takes work and intentionality to make individuation happen- on both sides (parents and children).  In fact, if you don’t have a good paradigm for it, there will be problems. 

In counseling, an important term is differentiation.  Developmentally, it is one of the hardest tasks for parents and children alike- transitioning a dependent human being to independence.  Differentiation means being connected in relationship and also maintaining a unique self and identity.  The opposite extremes are enmeshment and disengagementEnmeshment doesn’t allow or respect separation- you must do, say, and think what the other person does, or you are wrong. Disengagement draws such separate lines that intimacy can’t happen- closeness with someone who is distant is impossible.  Differentiation, on the other hand, allows for closeness and understands what uniquely belongs to the individual (thoughts, feelings, etc.).  A differentiated individual feels the pain and joy of another person making their own decisions relative to their development, all the while accepting responsibility for self.

Example: a child’s future goals.  Parents that believe their child’s best is college and then a stable, conventional job in accounting don’t have bad goals.  They may even know that this would be a great fit for their child.  But if their child-blooming-into-an-adult doesn’t want this, and maybe adamantly opposes it, navigating these waters is arduous for both sides. 

Every situation is unique, and different factors require varying levels of application, which is why counseling can be such a help.  However, a necessary start is to identify what is healthy.  You can ask yourself, “Where do my responsibilities begin/end, and how about for the other person?”  One of the hardest rules to live by is: You cannot change other people.  This is just as true for me as for anyone.  I can only provide feedback, resources, tools, support, and boundaries.  What the other person does is up to them.  If we try to force or coddle, we allow and create emotional injuries.

What we can always do is be responsible for ourselves, learn how to be in relationships, find effective ways to interact and influence others, and grow up.  I’m still working on that one….



Yours truly,
Justin K. Hughes