Boundaries are one of the tricky parts of a relationship, but setting them for your comfort is necessary. To explain the essence of boundaries, Shannon Corn, a Clinical Therapist, joins Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen in this episode. She starts off by defining the difference between a boundary and a preference. Listen in as she shares her knowledge on how to deal with boundaries from your social relationships, including online dating, up to your intimate relationships. She also tackles the effects of social media on how people interact with one another, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to that, Shannon dives deep into anxiety and breaks down how anxiety actually affects the human mind, and ultimately the way we live our lives.
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Setting Boundaries: Finding Comfort Through The Uncomfortable With Shannon Corn
One thing that I’ve been meditating on, in the context of my relationships, not just my romantic relationship but my business relationships, friendships, all human relationships, I’m going to dive right into an uncomfortable subject for me, which is boundaries. The reason that boundaries are a little bit uncomfortable when I sit with them is that sometimes it’s important for me to set boundaries so that I can communicate with people to state my preferences. My likes, dislikes, and how I want to be treated or prefer to be treated.
Sifting through a lot of the advice online and the memes and the videos talking about boundaries, it seems like a hot subject that people are talking about is boundaries. I’ve also started to identify that I’ve used boundaries as a way to keep people at bay or maybe keep them a little bit distant. If I set a boundary and you don’t respect that boundary, that’s my reason to push you a little bit out of my life a little bit or keep you at arm’s length. I want to jump right into a hell of a deep, complex and layered subject with both of you, Whitney and our guest, Shannon of this subject of boundaries. When I bring up boundaries, what does that engender for both of you? How do you feel about boundaries? How do you employ them in your life? Let’s jump right in the deep end without the floaties and talk about boundaries. Can we do that?
Let’s talk about boundaries. I feel like boundaries is a buzzword, for sure. I see it everywhere. I don’t think that you are alone in your struggle with finding that sweet spot where you’re asking for respect, you’re giving respect, but you’re not slamming the door on people when it feels like they’re maybe pushing you in a way that you’re not comfortable with.
That’s an interesting thing. Whitney, this has even come up in our friendship. There are moments in our business partnership and our friendship and even when we dated many years ago that there were conversations around boundaries. That’s been something you and I have dealt with. Would you agree? That’s come up in our relationship over the years.
For sure. I continuously reflect on things like boundaries, especially over the past few years. I was having a discussion with a friend. There is a gap between the date that episodes are recorded and the date that it comes out. In between that time, I will have gone on a cross country road trip with a friend of mine. We have never spent that much time together. We’re going to go on a 7 to 10-day road trip. It’s going to be interesting to me. One thing we were discussing as we plan this trip is boundaries. I asked her, “What do you think could possibly make this trip difficult for us as friends?” I found myself wanting to understand the boundaries that she has, as well as how the dynamics are with other friends and anticipate it. It was such a wonderful conversation because we ended up talking about boundaries. She said that she has discovered that in her friendships and her romantic relationships that boundaries are often the root of a lot of pain. Have you found that as well, Shannon, in your work? Are boundaries one of the big make or break things or one of the big points of tension in any of our relationships, whether it’s family, friends, or romantic partners?It's easy to forget that the other person on the other end of the swipe is a living human being with feelings. Click To Tweet
You hit the nail on the head with that. I feel like there’s not a client that I’ve worked with yet that hasn’t had to do some work around boundaries. The way we show up in one area of our life tends to be the way that we are everywhere. When we have poor personal boundaries in our dating relationships or with our family members or with our friends, we tend to see them in our relationships with our professional relationships, with our clients. It tends to be something that shows up all over the place. When people think boundaries, they think lack of boundaries. There can be overly rigid boundaries that are as problematic and can cause huge problems all over the board in relationships. Whether you’re overly flexible or too rigid, either way, it’s not necessarily healthy or conducive to good relationships.
That’s interesting to me. In the cultural lexicon, seeing a lack of boundaries or you need more boundaries or like, “You need to set some boundaries with this man.” I haven’t seen information of what you touched on, Shannon, which was having too rigid or too strict boundaries. Can you dive a little bit deeper into that? I’m curious. I haven’t read much on that. Also, what are some general examples of maybe some rigid boundaries? Also, what’s the danger of having too rigid boundaries in a relationship context, particularly romantic?
It’s funny because as you were talking about your personal experience with boundaries, that was immediately what popped into my head. It was leaning more into the overly rigid boundaries. You’re right, we don’t hear that as often. We do hear people talking a lot about, “You need to set that boundary.” What we don’t understand is that sometimes, overly rigid boundaries come from a place of fear. When someone has overly rigid boundaries, whether it’s personally, professionally both, it comes from this almost knee-jerk reaction or fear that we’re going to be taken advantage of.
What’s interesting is people often swing from one extreme to the other. They might, at one point, have overly flexible boundaries and then get to the point where they’re like, “I can’t. This is the worst, living this way.” They swing to the other extreme and then they slap those rigid boundaries in place. The problem with that is it cuts off intimacy. People who have rigid boundaries tend to push people away a little bit if they don’t respect your boundary. That’s where we see the boundaries being overly rigid where it’s not this expectation that I want you to respect me, I want you to treat me in a certain way, but it becomes almost this wall that we hide behind. If you think about it from that perspective, you can see wherein a personal or a romantic relationship, that can cause issues like difficulty with a relationship. A romantic relationship at its core should be around trust, intimacy, and openness. Those rigid boundaries, if they are like walls and meant to protect us, that doesn’t allow us then to bring people close to us and have that trust and that open relationship.
It’s a tough thing a little bit. I also want to throw this into the ballpark with you, Whitney, as well to get your perspective on this next point. I feel like maybe I’m a little bit murky in my mind on the difference between a boundary and a strong preference. In a romantic relationship, if there’s a way of being with my partner or a lifestyle trait she has or a way that she’s continually showing up, I’m wondering how you both feel when I say the difference between a boundary and a preference and what that brings up. Sometimes I have trouble discerning between those two for myself.
I do as well. To go back to your original point, Jason, I’m thinking about when you and I have struggled with boundaries whether it was personally or professionally. This has come up for me a lot in my life. I remember at one point, it was in 2016, boundaries were a huge reason why one of my friendships dissolved. That was in the fall of 2016. I had this good friend who confronted me about how I wasn’t respecting her boundaries. I was trying to communicate to her that I didn’t know what her boundaries were. Simultaneously, I was trying to let her know and better understand myself, why I was struggling with that, why I had a tendency to cross boundaries. It gave me a lot to reflect upon. I realized that I do struggle with that. If somebody isn’t completely clear with me, I am a button pusher. I will push the boundaries because it’s part of how I learned to operate in the world and maybe modeling my mother who’s also a boundary pusher, for better or for worse. I’ve seen my mom push people away through boundary-pushing. She’s pushing boundaries as well as pushing people away. That can happen with our boundaries sometimes when we cross them.
On the positive end, a lot of the times that my mom has pushed boundaries that led to her achieving things that other people might not have achieved had they not been willing to color outside the lines. I’ve observed the pros and cons. The trouble is though because I associated boundary-pushing as rewarding, I started to have trouble recognizing when it wasn’t good to push boundaries. For someone like you, Jason, even though you’re rebellious, you are also rigid in your boundaries as Shannon was describing. That’s when you and I have struggled. I’m a why person, I’m a questioner. That pushes some people’s boundaries. They don’t like somebody to ask them why all the time. I want to know the answers to everything. Sometimes when I ask that question, people feel uncomfortable. They’re like, “I don’t want to tell you why. That’s against my boundary.” I’ve been trying to learn how to operate without limiting myself, I suppose.
That makes some interesting points. Whitney, you had said that you equate pushing boundaries with making breakthroughs or achievements because you have watched your mom do that. We learn these things because somebody modeled the behaviors for us usually. It’s important to remember that there’s a difference between pushing your own boundaries and beliefs and pushing someone else’s boundaries. You can push yourself to do things that maybe you would normally feel uncomfortable doing to reach a new level or a level of success that maybe you hadn’t, but it’s different to push someone else’s boundary in a way that makes them uncomfortable or doesn’t respect their values. You can be a boundary pusher, you can be successful, and you can push yourself without walking all over other people’s line in the sand. It can be hard to figure out like, “Is this a boundary? Is this a place where I should compromise?” Especially in romantic relationships, anybody that’s ever had a successful relationship knows that there has to be compromise.
I like to think of boundaries as our deal breakers. What are the things that we absolutely need in our relationships, whether they’re personal or professional so that we can feel safe and respected? A boundary might be something like a hard line that you have with a partner. Texting or doing something that you have to hide, for me, that’s a hard boundary. There’s no gray on that. A preference is something that you might bend a little bit to meet your partner in the middle. It doesn’t violate your core belief system. It doesn’t disrespect you. It’s more something that you have to come together to work out so that you can find that middle ground where you’re both getting your needs met are healthy and happy.
I appreciate you giving that distinction, Shannon, in your work of the boundary versus a preference. To use a direct example from my relationship, my girlfriend Laura, and I, we have great communication. I feel like our communication evolves. We have more discussions on boundaries and preferences. Early on, I was a little bit reticent to share this one with her. When we first started dating, she was smoking cigarettes. I wanted to communicate my boundary to her and why it was important for me to communicate my extreme discomfort with that. It wasn’t like, “It smells bad. You need to stop smoking.”Rigid boundaries can be just as problematic as having no boundaries. Click To Tweet
For me, it was a deeper layer of the history of cancer in my family and certain smokers in my family and seeing what they’ve gone through. Once I communicated to her the reason, I had this boundary of not wanting to date someone who was a smoker because I had this deep level of concern. If you do this thing that I know is harming your body, I’m going to worry about you. It’s going to cause me anxiety and worry knowing that you’re doing this to yourself. It was a little bit tricky though. On the one hand, I’m not going to tell her what to do. I don’t want her to stop for me necessarily.
It’s also this thing of like, “I don’t want to date someone who’s a smoker, and here’s why.” It’s like, “I’m concerned about your health. I’m concerned you’re shortening your lifespan. I’m going to be worried about you.” I was a little bit hesitant to communicate that because I didn’t want her to think that I was trying to control her if that makes sense. It took me a while to find the right way to communicate that. I was glad that she received it in the sense that she didn’t perceive it like I was trying to control or manipulate her behavior once I explained why it was concerning to me. So far, learning how to communicate effectively has been a challenge for me in romantic relationships but I feel I’m getting better at it.
Communication is always an evolving skill too that we learn over time. As we spend more time in a relationship with someone and we get more comfortable and we feel safer, communication tends to improve. One of the things that is interesting about that particular example that you used, Jason, is that for a good reason you’re uncomfortable dating somebody that smokes because you don’t want to essentially love someone who is potentially putting their body at risk. Maybe even losing someone that you love because of that health concern. At the same time, I’m surprised if that is a boundary for you that you would start a relationship with somebody knowing that they’re a smoker.
It is an interesting thing that you bring that up. It’s one of those things in the past that I said, “I’m never going to do that.” I felt such magnetic and powerful energy with her, that unique magnetic connection. Even though she’s a smoker at the time, she’s not anymore, but it was almost like I want to see what’s here. Even though there’s a massive boundary for me and it’s concerning, I want to get to know her and I want to see more of what’s here. That was different. Whitney and I, we’ve known each other for years. We’ve seen each other date a lot of people. Was that surprising for you as well? Would you have expected me, Whitney, to be like, “I’m done?” I also had concerns in the beginning. I communicated those to you. In essence, I’m happy I stuck in there. She showed me layers of her evolving and growing and changing in the time that we’ve dated and not because I have made ultimatums with her. I’ve never done that. Shannon, my answer is I was concerned about it but I chose to move forward and explore her because I felt like there was a deeper connection and magnetism I wanted to explore.
It’s great that you’re doing that, Jason. I encourage you to do that because it’s interesting how we each have different perspectives on these things. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t know if I’ve ever dated anybody that has. I could see how that might be an unpleasant thing. It’s not only breath or smell but then there are the health concerns that are important to you. It doesn’t feel like a deal-breaker to me, because that seems something that could be shifted if this person is willing to shift it. Also, on the minimal side of your preferences, Jason. It sounds like it’s a strong preference for you. It’s interesting when we start to examine what our deal breakers and boundaries are, and do those shifts over time. Are we willing to compromise on some things because of other people? Me being fluid and willing to change my mind a lot, when I saw this dynamic unfolding with Laura, the smoking didn’t seem to be that big of an issue. It sounds like it has shifted for you over time, Jason.
It has. It also makes me curious, Shannon, with your work and everything we’re talking about, what’s the nuance with maybe observing a deal-breaker? If a person is open and willing to shift it and change it, what are the nuances in that type of interaction and in particular talking about romantic relationships? Maybe we see something where we’re like, “I don’t know if that’s going to work.” If the person is genuinely willing to shift, evolve, or change, how much rope or leeway do we give people with that?
A lot of the work that I do is with women who give a little too much rope if I’m being honest, which is why I pointed out where you have that boundary but yet you made that decision to date that person. This comes from a few different places, to be honest. What I see a lot is women that either go into these relationships knowing on the front end there’s something that they’re not comfortable with but hoping that either, A) It will change or, B) With this scarcity mindset of, “I don’t like this but I don’t feel confident that I deserve better.” It’s a slippery slope because the reality is that nobody changes unless they change for themselves.
I can tell you why I used to be a smoker. I am no longer a smoker. I tried to quit several times but it wasn’t until I did it because I was good and darn ready to do it that it stuck. It wasn’t because my husband loved me and was worried about me. None of that mattered. I had to want it. As you were talking about it, it’s a core values thing. To go back to that smoking example for you, Jason, it’s a core value for you not because of the smell or anything surface level like that but because you have had a personal experience with people that you cared about getting sick and you experiencing cancer. You’ve seen the devastation that smoking can cause. It’s not a preference at that point. It’s a core value.
When we don’t honor our core values in our romantic relationships, sometimes it works out. It sounds like that in your relationship it is working out, which is amazing. It’s a crapshoot. You’re rolling the dice. What if you went into that relationship because you felt that connection that she loves to smoke and loved it enough that she’s like, “I hear you, but I don’t want to quit?” It’s one of the things that I work with women on. I don’t believe in your situation that this is where it came from. For a lot of women, we have these limiting beliefs about what we deserve in a relationship. Do we deserve to have the things that we want, to be treated the way that we want, and we don’t feel comfortable drawing a line in the sand or honoring our core values?
That also makes me wonder about how self-sabotage plays a role in these things. It’s interesting on this specific subject matter about smoking, for example, because I wonder, “Does somebody smoke as a form of self-sabotage? Is it because it’s addicting and maybe they start innocently and then they can’t stop or they don’t know how to stop or they don’t have the motivation to stop? Do they continue doing something even when they know it’s not great for their body?” I also think about the opposite side. Part of the reason that I was encouraging Jason to continue to give Laura a chance despite this drawback was that I wondered if he was self-sabotaging by finding traits about her that weren’t that big of a deal. That was my perspective that they weren’t that big of a deal. I have different boundaries and core values in that sense. That was ultimately my question to you, Jason, which was, “Are you trying to sabotage this relationship by looking for something wrong with her?”Overly rigid boundaries come from a place of fear. Click To Tweet
This brings up an interesting tangent of this conversation, which is my idealistic approach. I’ve joked in previous episodes about my Seinfeldian tendencies of the past. There was that whole episode about man hands and Jerry was judgmental about the people he was dating on that TV series. I sometimes will laugh at myself because of my own idealistic, perfectionistic, Seinfeldian tendencies of picking things out that like, “That’s not going to work for me.” I suppose, in this regard, I wanted to try it differently. Even though to your point, Shannon, having someone who takes care of themselves, who takes their health seriously, who I suppose has a perspective of wanting to put things in their body or not do things that are directly damaging to them.
To Whitney’s point, maybe in the past, I have not given certain people a chance and had been way too idealistic and been laying out, “It’s not going to work.” I’m curious, how does perfectionism or idealism play of people saying, “I’m looking for my ideal mate, my ideal man, my ideal partner?” When you work with women and they say, “I’m looking for my ideal man,” can that also get too perfectionistic and rigid? How do we know that line of what we’re willing to overlook and the core values that we are definitely not willing to budge from?
When we might be sabotaging our chance at a good relationship, because we’re always finding a problem within somebody. That is a great question, Jason, and to add on to it is when do you even know what is about perfectionism and idealism versus sabotage? Are they the same thing in a relationship? How far do you go with what you want? When do you take a step back to examine it and say, “Am I trying to protect myself from intimacy or avoid intimacy? Is this the way that I sabotage myself from ever being in a close relationship?”
Perfectionism can be self-sabotage. A lot of people think that perfectionism comes from fear of making a mistake, but more often it’s fear of not being accepted and judged. I often say, “Done is better than perfect.” That’s my belief as an entrepreneur myself. It’s easy to get into your head and think, “I can’t do this if it’s not exactly right. What are people going to say? What are people going to think if I make a mistake?” Perfectionism is self-sabotage. Having those overly rigid boundaries is a form of self-sabotage.
I’m working with a client who has some boundary issues. She’s trying to work through some relationship patterns that haven’t served her. One of the things she said to me was, it’s sad but I hear a lot, when she’s in good relationships, she’s always waiting for the other shoe to fall. She almost wants the relationship to go sideways or to go bad because then at least she knows what she’s dealing with. She isn’t going to get her hopes up or be surprised by something going wrong. When it doesn’t inherently happen, maybe she’s dating a guy that’s not a total jerk, then she ends up doing things that sabotage the relationship. She ends up doing it, not because she doesn’t want a relationship but because she feels safer when it’s blowing up because then there’s no disappointment around the relationship not being what you want. You can argue the same is true when you have crazy expectations for a partner. If you create a person that doesn’t exist, they’re perfect in all ways, you’re safe because no one’s ever going to meet that ideal so you never have to completely open yourself up to the possibility of heartbreak.
On that note, Shannon, one thing that I suppose I find slightly irksome, and I’ve had to look at why I find this irksome is how many relationship “experts or gurus” for lack of a better term, whatever people on social media talking about things. Lists are a big thing. We’ve talked about this on the show before. People are like, “You’ve got to write down all the qualities, aspects, and things you want in a partner. Don’t you compromise because I waited 45 years and I didn’t budge from my list. I finally found him and now it’s happily ever after because I didn’t compromise.” I see a lot of these messages of write the list, be specific, don’t compromise, and be patient. I’m curious about how you feel about that and if you’ve seen similar things. There’s something about it that irks me. I’m trying to figure out why it’s irksome, but that’s not the question. I’m curious if you’ve seen those types of things and this whole list writing thing and people being adamant about, “Don’t you dare compromise. Wait for him. Wait for the right guy.”
I hate everything you said. As someone who is both a therapist and “a relationship expert,” I hate that. That is ridiculous. That sets the tone for this impossible dream. Don’t get me wrong, is there a perfect person out there for you? Sure. They’re perfect because they’re perfect for you, not because they’re perfect. I come from this not only as someone who has lots of clinical training. I’ve been happily married for 25 years. Is my husband perfect? No. Am I? Absolutely not, but he’s perfect for me. To some degree, we have to think about what our core values are.
I’ll be vulnerable here. I share my story frequently because it’s important for women to know it. I had some trauma in my background. My parents split up when I was young. My dad didn’t want to be a parent. He took off. My mom dated one terrible and violent man after another. It was chaos, pain, and awful for several years. I moved out the second I turned eighteen, but not before I was sexually assaulted by one of her boyfriends. When I first started dating, I was a hot mess express because I had no good role models for relationships. The only way I knew love should look was chaotic and painful. It took me a lot of time to work through that.
I did have a few core values. When I met my husband, I knew, number one, I did not want to be in a relationship with someone who used alcohol with any regularity. Most of the guys that used to beat the crap out of me when they dated my mom were drunks. I knew that I didn’t want a man who used a lot of alcohol. That was a deal-breaker for me. Body boundaries were a deal-breaker for me. I did not want to date a man who was going to push me physically in a way that I wasn’t comfortable with. Intimacy had to be on my terms because I had experienced the ultimate violation. I needed to feel in control of how intimacy happened to me. That was, for me, a deal-breaker.
The final deal-breaker for me was that I never wanted my own children to end up being abandoned by their dad. I wanted somebody who valued family. That was my list, not terribly long and I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I don’t think it’s wrong to have a list that reflects what we have to have to feel safe and to be mentally and emotionally healthy in a relationship. This idea that you’re going to have this fifteen-item list of this Adonis that you’re going to create in your mind and then you’re going to manifest him from the universe and damn it if it takes 45 years, it takes 45 years. That’s ridiculous. It sets false expectations up for people. I hate that advice. I don’t think it helps women or anybody at all.Boundaries are like deal-breakers. Click To Tweet
I want to acknowledge you and thank you for sharing a vulnerable story and also your perspective on this relationship advice. It’s interesting to me how life stages or stages of development play into this. What comes up for me is some of the work I was introduced to years ago from Alison Armstrong and the stages of development that a man goes through. It was such an eye-opener for me in terms of where I was at versus a knight, a prince and a king. The person I was dating at the time when I was introduced to Alison Armstrong’s work, she wanted to be with a king. I was in my early 30s at that point. One of the biggest struggles that I remember going through in that relationship was, I was trying hard to embody kingship and be in that role of groundedness, success, and maturity. I realized I wasn’t there. I was trying to put on a persona or a level of development I wasn’t ready for. I’m curious if you deal with Alison’s perspective or any offshoots of that and how the life stage of experience, maturity, and where a person is at fits into the compatibility factor when say one of your clients is a woman and looking for a relationship with a man? How does that work into the lexicon of your work, if at all?
I don’t like to generalize too much. Up to a certain stage, it’s an accepted idea that women tend to mature a little more quickly than men. I was young when I met my husband. My husband is almost five years older than I am. For me, that worked because I needed that level of a little bit of maturity. I met my husband when I was nineteen. Most nineteen-year-old guys, not to be rude, are a hard-on running around. That’s not a dig at men. We all know that at nineteen the testosterone is pumping and a stiff wind will cause a reaction.
I won’t deny that. I was also in that mindset at nineteen. It’s accurate.
Another nineteen-year-old would not have been a good fit for me because of my trauma. Not that I’m saying that nineteen-year-olds are rapists but the fact that there maybe would have been a little bit more pressure towards intimacy because that’s the developmental stage that a nineteen-year-old male is in. Although to be fair, not that 23, 24 is that much different, my husband was a little more grounded. He saw some of the domestic violence stuff. My mom was still experiencing it when I met my husband. I was open with him about my sexual trauma. He had the ability to give me the space that I needed at that point.
We all have to grow and mature and we all do it at different speeds. I matured young because my life experience was difficult. That was another reason why I needed somebody a little bit older than me to be able to match me. I don’t like to speak in general terms, although I know I did generalize all nineteen-year-old boys. In general, yes, you have to consider what the developmental stage is. Expecting most 22-year-olds to want to settle down, that’s not realistic. You have to be conscious of the level of maturity someone is in when you think about what your expectations from a relationship are.
This also reminds me of another author I wanted to bring up and hear your perspectives on, Shannon. Her name is Lori Gottlieb. She has a book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. She’s also a therapist. I read that book. I found it confronting. She’s an amazing author. I felt torn about her point. She also wrote another book that I love called Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which was less confronting for me. That Marry Him book, I was like, “Whoa.” She was pointing out how a lot of women are looking for this perfect man. Maybe we should be with somebody who’s good enough. I felt like, “That makes sense to me.” Also, this pressure of, “What if I’m not happy with Mr. Good Enough?”
It was interesting to notice my reactions around it. I started to question whether or not I wanted to get married and what I wanted in a partner. It also brought up this fear as a woman and you’re getting older and the clock is ticking if you want to have kids. This book was pointing out all this data about how all the good men are taken by a certain age. Even though it’s modern, it’s not necessarily meant to scare women or pressure them. For me though, it was a little bit of pressure and feeling like, “If I haven’t found someone by now, will I ever? Are all the good men taken? Do I have to wait until they’re divorced and date them?” A lot of these conversations come up with my friends who haven’t been married yet or haven’t found someone that they’re happy with. The big question, should you settle? Is good enough, good enough for you?
That’s an interesting idea. I don’t like that either. I’m deciding that I don’t like what most of the experts say. I have a good friend who is older than me. She’s 50 and she met her Mr. Perfect. He’s a great guy at 48. I get the biological clock ticking but I don’t necessarily think that at a certain point, all the good guys are gone. I do think that there’s something to be said for having realistic expectations. Even from Disney, the princesses, the love stories, and watching movies, we have this romantic idea about what finding your person should be like. Birds sing and woodland creatures come into your house and work and life is great. I’m still waiting. I’m married to my prince charming and I have yet to have any woodland creatures show up here and clean my house. I’m pissed at Disney about that, false advertising. We have some skewed ideas about what is a good relationship.
I have not read the Marry Him book, but I’m going to because I’m curious. There’s a happy medium between having these expectations or these ideals that are impossible for a person to meet and settling for the first person that pays you any attention. There’s got to be a happy medium and that’s what I work with my clients to figure that out. What are the real deal breakers? What are the things that maybe you can give a little on these and you’re still going to be happy?
The whole media influence thing is fascinating. I wonder how many great relationships or potentially great relationships have been derailed because they didn’t meet the idea of what we’ve been conditioned to believe. I love that you hit that note, Shannon, from childhood, the prince and the prince charming archetype, and what we hear in music. I grew up in Detroit. As much as I love Motown music, not all but a lot of those songs cast this idealized version of a romantic relationship. There’s a part of us that it’s not a necessity. One could go through one’s life thinking that that’s how it ought to be. It’s almost like we have to spend time as adults, if we become aware of it, deprogramming ourselves and deconditioning our minds to expect that’s what is going to be like. Do you find that with the women and the clients you work with that there’s a level of like, “We’ve got to deprogram your expectations a little bit based on what you’ve been imprinted from childhood onwards through the media.” Is that something that comes up?Done is better than perfect. Click To Tweet
Yes and no. Yes in that there are some deprogramming, but a lot of the work that I personally do is almost to the other extreme where it is deprogramming messages that they’ve gotten from their family of origin about what a healthy relationship looks like. They usually have some self-limiting ideas about what their value is and what they can expect from a partner. A lot of that comes from either watching their moms accept cruddy treatment in relationships. I see the other extreme.
Where I do tend to see the media influence is the idea that relationships should always have high highs and low lows. That’s what we see in a lot of romantic comedies and things like that, where it’s all intense and rollercoaster-like. We bring that idea that’s healthy, that break up, makeup, and all of that craziness is part of the normal relationship cycle and it’s not. There doesn’t have to be chaos in a relationship for it to be a meaningful, deep, passionate relationship. We’ve romanticized Romeo and Juliet. Let’s be real, Shakespeare wrote that as a satire. That was supposed to be a joke. Making fun of young love. We now teach it in schools as a romantic story. I feel like the messages are all over the place and they’re not necessarily good messages.
That’s why your work is important because it’s incredibly confusing. The amount of time that I’ve spent talking with other people about relationships, it’s taken up so much. It reminds a different topic but similar in the sense. I read this wonderful book called Beauty Sick. It was about the beauty industry and perceptions around our bodies and our appearances. One of the biggest points that book makes is, if women spent less time being concerned with their appearance, it would free them up to have much more energy and time for more important things.
I sometimes wonder that with relationships too. Many of us are spending our whole lives trying to figure this stuff out. We spend a lot of time, money, effort, and energy, all of these things that we are putting out there in an attempt to find the right person or to figure out that we’re with the wrong person. It can be a great pursuit. It’s not necessarily a waste of time. That’s not my point. To come back to what you were saying about how the media confuses us or puts out these wrong messages or sets us up for these expectations, that in a way, is wasting our time. We’re wasting our time watching this content in some way. Even though entertainment is wonderful, it takes a lot of our time to focus on it. The messaging that we get from that entertainment that we spent all our time on leads to us wasting even more time because then we have to convince our brains that what we saw isn’t real or isn’t based in reality. Some of us go our whole lives believing the things that we see in the media that aren’t even true.
The amount of time I’ve spent studying psychology and personal development and going to therapy, all of this work that I do is so much time and effort. I wonder, “What if we were taught a lot of these basic things from the get-go? How much it could save us in terms of time, energy, money, and trauma as well.” When we look at the traumatic things that happen in our lives and all of us having our relative experiences there, I often wonder, “How did that even happen? Why did this person do this thing to me? Why did I do this thing to somebody else? How did I get in this situation?” Not from a place of self-blame or trying to control or change things, but more like, “How could we prevent this from happening to other people?” Many of us are lost in a lot of ways and uneducated or confused. The media does need to take more responsibility for the messaging it puts out. It’s tempting to watch these romantic movies because they’re satisfying to our desires for watching entertainment.
I was thinking about this show I saw on HBO Max. It’s called Love Life with Anna Kendrick. It was enjoyable. It reminded me of Girls and Sex and the City. I was also thinking about your point, the whole show was based on these highlights, and lowlights of her dating life. It didn’t give me much. It was pure entertainment. Maybe on some subtle level, it was reinforcing those ideas that you’re discussing. Relationships need to be full of highs and lows. What about all those in-between points that these shows don’t even document? We forget them until we’re in those relationships. Maybe we’re in that relationship thinking something is wrong with it because it’s not swinging from high to low all the time. It’s fascinating to me. I don’t know if it’s ever going to change. Do you, Shannon? Is it the way that we’re at? We’re going to spend our lives confused about relationship dynamics?
As you said that I’m like, “Yes.” Let’s not even talk about the unreasonable beauty standards that the media has forced down our throat, beauty standards that no human being can achieve because they’re created by Photoshop. It’s one more reason why women go into these relationships believing that they’re not enough because they don’t look like the woman in the magazine who’s been airbrushed and thinned out and made perfect. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it’s going to go away. This is the norm in our society.
I have a daughter. It’s important that the messages that we pass on to our children and also limiting how much we allow our kids to consume that thing or even social media. I had someone say to me something about like, “I don’t understand. All my friends are in these relationships. I see them and they’re traveling and they’re doing this and they’re doing that and it’s amazing. Why can’t I have that?” I’m like, “Are you getting that from their social media, their Instagram or their Facebook? That’s a highlight reel, friend.” That’s not real life. People aren’t putting their whole life on social media. They’re putting their highlight reel on it. If you are allowing someone else’s highlight reel to make you feel less than, that’s also problematic.
Kids are getting access to social media younger and younger. They’re seeing people’s highlight reel and thinking that’s the whole picture. That skews our perception even further, which is why we need people to be responsible and to be doing our best to counter these messages. That’s why I do the work that I do. I want to empower women to see beyond that, to see that they have value that’s not dictated by what the beauty standards are or by what their experiences were growing up or any of that. They have value. They are unique, amazing creatures that deserve to be loved, respected, and treated the way that they want to be treated. We all have to do our best to be a better example than what the media is doing.
I want to jump into the subject of online dating. Maybe we can all pontificate on it. Whitney and I have certainly had a lot of experience with online dating over the years. I don’t know if I would call it the opposite side of what we’re discussing, Shannon, where we’re talking about women that maybe have a sense of lacking perception, of value, or self-worth. They then gravitate toward men that don’t respect or honor them. I don’t want to make it an LA thing. Whitney and I are in Los Angeles. We’ve talked to friends in other cities and it seems to be endemic to maybe the online dating world. There’s an upgrade culture. It’s like, “If he’s not exactly right for me, I can keep swiping and I’ll find another dude in two days.” I don’t know if it’s an egoic perspective but it’s almost shopping for a human, in the sense that if this person doesn’t exactly meet all of my needs, desires, wants, and fantasies, we can kick he or she to the curb and keep swiping.Perfectionism is self-sabotage. Click To Tweet
I’m curious for both of you. Whitney, you and I have talked about this in previous episodes but it’s important to get all our perspectives on this upgrade culture. I perceive online dating as almost Amazon for humans. The reason I got off online dating is I started to feel icky inside because I felt like I was swiping for a human. It’s almost like I’m swiping for oven mitts on Amazon. I’m curious about the upgrade culture and maybe people not giving certain people a chance because “something better is right around the corner” or “right around the next frame.” What are your thoughts and feelings on that?
It’s important to acknowledge the other side of it. What comes up for me, especially when I was online dating, I don’t know if I was consciously looking to upgrade all the time. I felt some men were trying to upgrade from me. For example, I would match with somebody and never hear from him. That’s common on these apps. You say, “Hello,” and they never write back. Maybe you talk a little bit and then they completely ghost you. I’ve had that numerous times on dating apps where you start a conversation with somebody and suddenly, they disappear and you wonder, “Did they move on to somebody else? Was I on a list of a bunch of other women that they were interested in?” If you go on a date, you wonder that. Maybe you feel rejected and you’re thinking, “Is there anything wrong with me? Is it that someone better came along and they’re comparing me to somebody else?” That’s tough, especially for anyone like myself who is susceptible to not feeling good enough and who often falls prey to the comparison trap. Online dating was incredibly tough because, in my head, I started to assume that men were constantly comparing me to other women and trying to determine, was I the best bet for them or did they have someone else lined up? That’s an awful feeling.
I’m dating myself here, but I don’t care. I am grateful that I met my husband before online dating was a thing. I have experienced it vicariously, unfortunately, through friends, family and clients. You both make a good point. Number one, these apps depersonalize the experience. It’s easy to forget that the other person on the other end of the swipe is a living and breathing human being that has feelings. This ghosting culture comes from that bad behavior online, both from men and women. I don’t want to point a finger at one gender because I’ve seen and heard stories from both sides of the aisle. With cyberbullying, there’s this feeling of being safe because you’re doing a lot of this from behind the screen. Behaving badly, in general, becomes easier.
When you take the human out of the equation, when you are able to pretend that it’s not a human being that has feelings, fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams on the other end of the screen, it becomes easy to behave badly and to treat them poorly. You upgrade to a better set of oven mitts on Amazon or whatever. The problem is that it’s easy to forget that we’re dealing with real people. People can have an emotional reaction to the way someone treats them through these apps. That’s where the problem comes from, being able to disconnect. It’s a lot harder to say something awful to someone when you’re looking them in the eyes, hopefully, if you’re not a sociopath. It’s not easy to do it when you have an actual connection with a human being. The apps take the connection away a little bit.
The thing I’m curious about is what the world of post-COVID dating, romance, and relationship mechanics, are going to look like. Whatever the next evolution of human civilization is going to be once we’re through all of this, I’m curious about the dynamics of not only the physical interaction. I joke with some friends that talking about COVID tests is almost like we’ve talked about STD tests. It’s like, “When did you get tested? Are you good? Are you clean?” There’s going to be the STD conversation and the COVID conversation and God knows what else.
It seems to me that those who are looking for romance or connection right now, due to physical distancing, due to whatever a person’s individual belief system is, it’s almost as the default is online dating. The mechanisms through which we would go and meet someone, a bar, yoga class, festival, asking someone out on a physical date, those options are either nonexistent or extremely limited. It makes me curious on what those dynamics are going to look like for human society moving forward. It seems precarious and unknown at this point.
It’s funny because I hear a lot from my clients that are not in relationships, this low-level anxiety because they already have some insecurities and then you add in online dating. Let’s be real, even if you write an amazing bio on your Plenty of Fish profile or whatever, people are swiping based off of that like, “She’s hot. He’s hot. Not so much.” It’s difficult especially if you have some self-esteem stuff already happening in your world. There’s already the self-esteem stuff and then there’s that anxiety around like, “Do I have to do this online? What is that going to look like?” Let’s sprinkle in a little extra anxiety around COVID stuff. I do know a few people that are doing “dates.” They’re going for walks or things like that. In our country, we’re divided about how serious is COVID. What are the safety measures you should be taking? Is it all a conspiracy? There are many different beliefs about COVID in general in our country.
I had a client who went on a walking date outside with somebody. He kept wanting to put his arm around her and things like that. She was like, “I expressed how uncomfortable I am with COVID and having just met him and all of that.” There’s this other layer of like, “We’re going to have to establish more boundary setting around COVID type issues.” Who knows? At this point, I don’t think we have any clue what post-COVID life is going to be like or even when we’re going to get to something truly post-COVID. It makes a hard situation for the people that struggle with this anyway, it makes it that much. There’s that much more to unpack and to manage for them.
What are some general ways? This is a nuance question but it’s something that has been brought up a lot in conversations on the show with Whitney and me, it’s the topic of anxiety and working through anxiety. I’m curious, Shannon, with your perspectives as a clinician and a therapist, what are some ways, techniques, methodologies that you encourage people to take a look at their anxieties and work through it when they’re in the depth of it? It’s a scary thing sometimes depending on where that anxiety goes or where it stems from. Are there any generalized tips? There’s probably a lot of nuances of the sources of anxiety for people. What are some ways you would suggest tackling it or what are some ways that you help your clients through it?
When we think about it, anxiety is rooted in some type of irrational fear. I don’t mean that people being nervous around COVID is irrational, because COVID is serious. That’s not what I mean. When someone experiences actual severe anxiety, they’ve taken what would be a normal fear and it’s become an extreme. They have an extreme idea in their head of how things are going to go wrong. We call it catastrophic thinking. They don’t necessarily have the ability to recognize in the moment, that maybe some of those fears are a little bit irrational.Overly rigid boundaries are self-sabotage. Click To Tweet
When I work with clients in therapy around this, people that truly have anxiety, one of the first things we do is we establish a coping skill, 1 or 2 coping skills that work well for them. One that almost universally works well for people is deep breathing or we call box breathing or foursquare breathing. You can google it. It’s simple. It’s a type of deep breathing that slows your whole system down. When we get anxious, we go into fight or flight and there are chemicals that get dumped in the body that makes your heart rate go up and that all feeds the anxiety cycle. Doing that breathing slows things down a little bit and gives you some space to think about it.
What I challenge people to do and what usually works well is to think about what the fear is. What is causing that response? If it would be a COVID situation, maybe the fear is that you’re going to get COVID and you’re going to end up in the hospital on a ventilator and you’re going to die. That’s the worst-case scenario for COVID, you’re going to die from it. It’s not completely unreasonable. The rational part of it is like, “How old am I? Am I fairly healthy? If I were to get COVID, how likely is it that I’m going to have some severe response where I end up on a ventilator and I die?” It’s dismantling the fear by fact-checking if you will.
I had a client that had this weird fear of falling down in front of people, which sounds bizarre. They didn’t like crowds because they had this fear that they were going to fall in front of everybody and that everybody was going to see them and point and laugh and it was going to be terrible. The work looked a little bit like, “When is the last time you fell in front of somebody or anybody, let alone in a big crowd?” They’re like, “I’ve never done it.” I was like, “You’re 29?” “Yeah.” “You’ve never fallen in a crowd?” “Nope.” “What are the odds that you’re going to faceplant in front of a crowd? Not probably high, you’ve managed to make it 29 years and never have that happen.” Picking it apart like that. If you fell in the middle of a concert and there are 10,000 people, what are the odds all that 10,000 people are going to see you and point and laugh? Using some rational thought and some fact-checking, if you will, you dismantle the fear.
In that COVID example, if the person is in a high-risk group of getting COVID and dying then, that’s not anxiety, that’s a reasonable fear. We would then talk about how we manage risk. Maybe we don’t go on physical dates. We manage your risks in other ways and problem-solve around that. That’s how we work through anxiety with clients, give them a coping skill, and then helping them talk through whether their fears are realistic or not.
It’s always interesting to hear things like that example. It might sound silly to some of us but to that person, it was causing them a lot of fear and anxiousness. I’m always fascinated by that. When I can have that moment of stepping outside of myself either through my own self-awareness or through the support of a therapist or a coach, it is incredible how much of a difference it makes when you walk through those scenarios. It’s not even about saying like, “This is a silly thought that you’re having.” It’s about acknowledging it.
For me, it’s helpful to walk through it and realize maybe it’s not as bad as it feels. It’s interesting how the brain works because our brain can simultaneously be fearful of something and then once we talk ourselves through it, we no longer feel fearful. It’s the same brain and the same scenario but through the process of talking it through, we can come to a completely different feeling and thought process about it. It’s amazing because what you described was helpful and simultaneously simple. I bet that a lot of other people are feeling that same relief that I felt thinking about that.
Your point about falling in front of a crowd of people at a concert, it’s a specific thing. I immediately thought Jason of Red Rocks, which is one of the concerts that we went to. I was thinking, “What would happen if I had tripped and fallen at Red Rocks, this Amphitheatre outside and in front of people?” I would have felt embarrassed. What are the chances that everybody in the audience would notice it and then laugh at it and respond to it in that way? It also reminds me of what it’s like for me with a fear of straight-up criticism online. Whether it’s through the show, social media or through my YouTube channels, and how much that’s affected me to the point where I’m often afraid to share content online. Often, it’s because a few people have said, critical, mean, rude, troll, whatever type of comments.
There’s a big audience of people that didn’t even notice those things or didn’t react that way or didn’t have that same response that they wrote out, but yet I’m focused on that person similar to if I were to trip and fall at a concert venue and one person pointed and laughed at me. That would matter more than this whole crowd of people that didn’t even notice or maybe that one person that helps me out that came over and said, “Are you okay?” I would still be focused on the person that laughed at me because a lot of our brains have that tendency and it’s interesting. It’s a negative bias.
Our brain’s only real job is to keep us alive. Our brain does things specifically to keep us alive, safe, and to keep us in a community. Back when we were drawing on cave walls, we needed a community to survive. If you got shunned by the community and got kicked out, a saber-toothed tiger could come and eat you. There’s a part of our brain that is geared towards not wanting any negative response to us because it feels like there’s danger in that. It’s something that we can work through and it helps to understand that it’s a knee-jerk response from our lizard brain back when it had to do a good job of keeping us as part of the community so that we could survive.
It goes back to that part about maybe deprogramming ourselves or working through these old, outdated belief systems. Some of them are deeply hardwired in our neurobiology. You talked about breathing, Shannon. One of the practices that I try to employ is stopping myself when I feel like I’m spinning out and I’m experiencing a moment of anxiety. Maybe in some cases, I’ve had a couple of panic attacks in my life and asking myself, “What’s real here in the moment?” Is there any real danger? Is there any real threat? Is there anything that is commanding a response in my body that is actual fight or flight? Is it my mind grasping on the illusion of a future possibility that doesn’t exist yet or a past regret and using that to try and color my reality in the present moment?There doesn't have to be chaos in a relationship for it to be meaningful and deep. Click To Tweet
Most of the time, when I take inventory of what’s happening in the present moment, all is well. It’s like, “I have a roof over my head. I have food in my fridge. I’m safe in this moment. I’m breathing. I’m still. I’m speaking.” If I’m in the car in LA traffic, “My hands are on the steering wheel. I’m safe in the car right now. All is well. I have water and a granola bar. “Whatever the case may be, I find that one of the things is taking inventory of what’s happening in the present moment and how beneficial that is. I’m curious with your work in therapy, presence practice, or mindfulness or those techniques, do those play a role at all in what you teach others?
Absolutely. What you were describing, we have fancy names for things. We’d like to give things fancy names. We talk about grounding. That’s another useful tool when someone is anxious or even having a panic attack. That is absolutely being aware. We talked about being aware of five things that you can see, four things that you can touch, three things that you can hear. You’re grounding into that moment, it’s sensory, safe things so that you can take yourself out of either that forward thought or that rearview thought that has got you anxious. Mindfulness, it all goes hand in hand. Mindfulness in general is a useful practice. It’s not something that’s complicated at all. It’s being present in the moment and allowing yourself to acknowledge whatever it is that you’re feeling without judgment.
We tend to do this self-talking loop of negativity where we have something negative happen or we think something negative and then we have a response to that, which then feeds more negative thought, which then creates more negative emotion. It creates this cycle. It’s not particularly useful. It doesn’t help people at all. Being mindful, it’s being aware of that initial thought but without the judgment. People that have anxiety tend to be hard on themselves because of the anxiety. If they’re feeling anxious, then they’re like, “I’m stupid.” They then start doing that thing where they start telling themselves bad things about themselves, which almost creates this negativity spiral. It’s not particularly helpful in controlling those emotions. Being mindful is being like, “In this moment I feel uncomfortable. I’m being aware of my heart beating a little bit faster. I’m feeling nervous. That’s not bad or good, it just is.” By taking away the judgment, it stops the spiral before it can even start.
That’s useful. It’s not only managing our mental state before we spiral out into anxiety or maybe even something worse like a panic attack per se, it engenders a lot of self-compassion. You said something, Shannon, that was a ‘ding ding ding’ moment for me. You had a lot of ding-ding moments but this one, in particular, was how people with anxiety tend to be hard on themselves. For me, when I have a lot of anxiety or I’m struggling sometimes with my mental health, I beat myself up in the sense of like, “You ought not to feel this way. You’ve already done much work. You’ve already done much therapy. You’ve spent years working on this. Why are you feeling this way?” It’s almost like an overly stern parent not allowing the experience to happen inside of me.
Self-compassion is such a huge part of this in the not-enoughness. We’ve talked about the anxiety we’re feeling, the comparison trap, feeling like we ought not to experience these negative emotions. It’s hard. For a lot of us, self-love and self-compassion, if we didn’t grow up in an environment where those things were discussed or encouraged or we didn’t have a positive self-identity, it can be challenging to learn how to love ourselves. On paper, it seems such a simple thing, like, “Just love yourself.” I’ve certainly found that having self-compassion and self-love, it’s an ongoing journey. To me, it seems like there’s not a destination where it’s like, “I love myself fully now.” It seems like there are always things that come up and they’re like, “That needs more love, compassion and understanding. I need to give a voice to that.” I feel like I’ve given up self-love as a destination, but more as a process.If you're allowing someone's highlight reel to make you feel less than, that's problematic. Click To Tweet
I don’t think we ever finished that journey or should finish that journey. We always can continue to grow. We’re always our own worst critic. At some points in our life, it’s common to have that dialogue with ourselves where we’re not being kind. When they tell me something about themselves that’s particularly awful that they believe about themselves or that they tell themselves, I’ll ask them, “Would you ever say that to someone else? Would you ever feel comfortable saying those words to someone else? You’re stupid. You can’t get anything right. You don’t deserve any better.” I’ll tell them, “Close your eyes. I want you to imagine saying that to somebody else.”
Most of the people I work with are good people and they say, “Of course, I would never say that to someone else.” Why is it okay to say it to yourself? Why is it okay to treat yourself badly? To give yourself those types of messages if you would never in a million years speak those words to somebody else? It’s not even self-love. When you said self-compassion, I was like, “Yes.” Choosing every day to be kind to ourselves, to cut ourselves some slack for not being perfect because we are imperfect beings, all of us. That’s where our beauty lies, in our imperfections. It’s what makes us unique from one another. Being able to lean into that and hopefully one day being able to lean into someone else’s imperfections because you love them and because they are imperfectly perfect for you. It’s powerful.
I also love words like acceptance and compassion. The more that we can start with that, the easier it becomes to be in these dynamics. Discussing this with you, Shannon, has been enlightening. It brings me more peace around the subject matter and I hope it has for the readers as well. Sometimes this can all feel stressful. It can feel confusing, overwhelming, and scary. A lot of us tie our self-worth into what other people think of us, our dynamics with other people. Whether it’s romantic or friendships or family relations, that tends to be one of the biggest sources of stress. Things like, “Are we going to find somebody in time? Are we going to be lonely for the rest of our lives?” We’re afraid of those things. To be able to discuss them with you and hear your perspective, I feel comforted. This show is about getting uncomfortable, but I’m grateful for times when I end up feeling more comfortable at the end of a conversation like this one. How about you, Jason?
It would be confusing to the reader if we titled this episode, This Might Get Comfortable. They’re like, “I thought I was reading This Might Get Uncomfortable?” Shannon, your perspective was sagacious, grounded, calm, loving and open. It brought so much wisdom and love to this episode. We can’t thank you enough. It was wonderful.
Thank you. I appreciate it. This is my heart. I have a heart for this. I appreciate having this conversation with you.
We feel it.
I was going to say the same thing. You can tell that this is part of your purpose and your heart’s calling. It’s a beautiful thing, Shannon, when we get to talk with people who are living out something that they believe in and they’re finding ways to serve the world through their purpose. That’s incredibly inspiring to me.
I appreciate that. I’m glad you feel good. I’m glad this did not get uncomfortable. I’m glad it got comfortable.
It was a good boost, that’s for sure. For more upcoming resources, do subscribe to our podcast and share it with your friends. Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. We do appreciate that. We are going to take another deep dive on This Might Get Uncomfortable or This Might Get Comfortable.
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- Shannon Corn
- Seinfeld “Man Hands” Episode
- Alison Armstrong
- Keys to the Kingdom
- Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
- Beauty Sick
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