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Episode 91: How to Set and Maintain Boundaries with Carla Naumburg

Brief summary of show:

How do we set and maintain boundaries?

Why is it that we feel bad when we try to reinforce boundaries?

What even really IS a boundary? And how do they impact our values?

In this episode, Carla Naumburg joins me to talk about what boundaries are, aren’t, how to set them, and most importantly – how to maintain them.

Carla Naumburg, PhD, LICSW, is a clinical social worker, parenting expert, and mother. She’s the author of five non-fiction books, including her international bestseller, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids (Workman, 2019), and the forthcoming You’re Not a Sh*tty

Parent and How to Stop Freaking Out, the middle-grade adaptation of How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids. Carla lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • [0:50] Do relationships really get damaged when we set boundaries?

  • [4:00] The boundaries you can set

  • [5:00] Why we overshare

  • [6:10] Internal vs. external boundaries

  • [9:30] How to set boundaries without coming across as ‘rude’

  • [21:20] Why it’s so hard for women to say no and set boundaries

  • [29:05] How to know what our values are

  • [34:50] Tips for teaching our kids about boundaries

Notes from Natalie:

Connect with Carla Naumburg

Connect with Me

View Transcript for this Episode

[00:00:00] Natalie: saying no isn't easy. Setting boundaries to protect yourself and to be more productive is the topic of today's podcast

[00:00:37] Natalie: Hi everyone, it's Natalie. As we wrap up 2022, I have learned so much from my guests. Hard to believe. We are nearing a hundred episodes of this podcast. I appreciate your feedback and your topic ideas. This is one today that I know so many of you struggle with. I've talked about it with many of you.

[00:00:57] I've received messages from you and we [00:01:00] might not get it perfect. But setting boundaries allows us to be more productive, and more importantly, it sets us up for success with work, our families, and in all of our relationships. I like to say that boundaries mean love. My guest today is a repeat guest and you all loved her the first time so much.

[00:01:20] She is back with more. In this episode, Carla Naumberg joins me to talk. What boundaries are, what they're not, how to set them, and most importantly, how to maintain them. Carla is a clinical social worker, parenting expert, and mother. She's the author of five non-fiction books, including an international bestseller.

[00:01:41] You're gonna hear about that today. She gives. Such practical advice that you can implement right away in your relationships and in your parenting. Carla lives in Massachusetts with her husband and her two daughters. So before we get started, be sure to join me on Instagram where I post almost daily. You will find me at.[00:02:00]

[00:02:00] Tisk and I have a free download I think that you'll enjoy. You can print it, you can check off the 20 ways to make your kids feel loved. A link to that is in today's show notes. In this episode, Carla and I talk about what boundaries are, again, what they're not, how to set them, and how to maintain them. So important.

[00:02:21] Here we go.

[00:02:22] Carla, let's get right into this conversation on boundaries. We, we hear a lot about boundaries, but I think it's one of the hardest things for us as women to really enforce

[00:02:32] Carla: for ourselves. Absolutely. And I think that's because we, as women are taught from. The first moment of our lives and through everything, all the cultural society, societal messages that are worth exists in our relationships, right?

[00:02:50] Women are taught that relationships, taking care of other people, having other people like us, being appealing to other people is really at the core of who we [00:03:00] are. And when we set a boundary, , either internally or externally in any way. The worry is that we are gonna damage our relationships and that I think for many women is one of the scariest things we can do.

[00:03:12] Have you

[00:03:12] Natalie: witnessed it damaging relationships or helping relationships?

[00:03:16] Carla: Oh, both. Absolutely. There have been times when I have found myself in what I would argue are pretty toxic dynamics when. I end up in relationships. This, this happens a lot less now. I'm a little bit older now. I'm a little bit wiser now, right?

[00:03:31] But whether it's with a family member or a guy I was dating or a friendship where something about that relationship wasn't bringing out my best self, right? It was bringing out behaviors in me whether it was the things I was talking about or the things I was doing that I didn't feel good about.

[00:03:47] Hmm. And so in some cases, me setting up boundaries ended the relationship altogether, right? I, I no longer am dating those men, and that was actually a good thing in some of them with friendships. The [00:04:00] friendship ended all together and that was painful, but. . I think looking back it was the right choice because there was no way that particular friendship was gonna evolve into something better.

[00:04:11] And then there are certainly family situations where I have set boundaries that I know the other family member didn't like and they weren't unhappy. But what I found is that setting those boundaries was really an act of radical self. An act of self-compassion, and when I did it, what it meant was I have more time and I have more energy for the other people in my life, for my spouse, for my children, for myself, for the friendships and family members with whom I can show up fully.

[00:04:42] And be my best self, or I can show up fully and be my worst self where I can absolutely fall apart and they will be there to support me. Yeah. And get me through those tough moments. So I'm not gonna pretend that setting boundaries is always easy and sometimes it does damage relationships, but I would argue when we do it [00:05:00] skillfully it's gonna make.

[00:05:01] Help us be our best selves. Yeah.

[00:05:05] Natalie: Boy, this is, this is just so valuable and I, and I think in this phase of, of my life, and we, we both have well,

[00:05:13] Carla: teenagers,

[00:05:14] Natalie: right? Mm-hmm. , you have 12 and 14, and I've got two in college and, and one who's 13 that at this stage in my life, I wish I could go back. No regrets, because we learn along the way, but I wish I could go back and learn these.

[00:05:29] And set some boundaries because at least for me in a time in my life, I loved having lots of friends and lots of people and lots of committees and lots of whatever, but I am so much more like you've just said. Valuing relationships that let me show up that I can just pour into and not trying to nurture these relationships that really aren't benefiting me.

[00:05:54] Someone said to me years ago, and I I love this, that if a relationship's not [00:06:00] making you a better person, why are you holding onto it? Be it a, a boyfriend, a husband, a, a friend, but if it's not bettering you, it's making, it's bringing out the best in. , why are you still there for it? and I think that's really valuable.

[00:06:15] And I tell my teenage daughters that in their dating lives, like, is that, is that relationship. Making you better. Right. I think it's a, it's a really

[00:06:24] Carla: valuable thing.

[00:06:25] Natalie: Can we talk a little bit more about what some of these boundaries might be? I love the word boundaries. Love the concept of boundaries, but let's, let's go into

[00:06:33] Carla: some examples.

[00:06:35] Yeah. So many are coming to mind, right? So there's boundaries around our time, what we're gonna spend our time doing, are we spending our time? Joining committees uh, volunteering for people hanging out with certain people, taking phone calls from certain people. Anything we do that we might spend time on, are we spending time staring at our phones?

[00:06:55] Right? Do we need to put a boundary around that so there's any way we might spend our time, whether it's [00:07:00] with other people, whether it's alone, whether it's a personal space or professional space. Those are things we can look at and try to set boundaries around. Um, There can be boundaries in our relationship and that may look like not only the time we spend with a person, but what we share of ourselves with that person.

[00:07:16] Oh, tell me

[00:07:16] Natalie: about that. Yes, yes. Well

[00:07:18] I overshare some people overshare where I feel like if I, if I share more personal than will be closer. And I've had to learn. . Not everybody gets that.

[00:07:29] Carla: Yeah. Look, a as anybody who's read my books knows I'm a sharer, right. I put personal anecdotes in my books and, and there's a lot I don't share in my books.

[00:07:37] Right. There's a lot of family stories. There's a lot of personal stories. Yeah. I don't share. And that's okay. We all get to hold onto our private stories. Yeah. I remember asking my grandfather, sorry, my grandmother before she died, when was the first time she kissed my grandfather, who was the love of her life, and she said, I don't tell that story.

[00:07:52] We all get our secrets. I was like so annoyed, to be honest, . But I also had so much respect for my grandmother that there was like [00:08:00] this little nugget, this moment in time that was so personal to her that she, she didn't wanna share it. And that's okay. But you know, we can also think about who do we trust with our stories, with our, with our most precious moments, with our internal experience.

[00:08:13] And so we can put a boundary around what we share. We can put boundaries around. I think those are really the big ones that show up for me what we share and how we spend our time. But I know there are other ones. Well, you,

[00:08:27] Natalie: before we jumped on uh, recording,

[00:08:29] you mentioned internal and external boundaries.

[00:08:32] Carla: What, what's the difference? Oh, yeah. Thank you for pointing that out. So I think the external boundaries are what other people would see in our behav. . So if there's a camera on the wall or a fly on the wall, what could that record? Right? What would that see? So they might see me saying no to someone who's asking me to volunteer for a committee or something like that.

[00:08:52] Setting a boundary around that. They might see me saying no to a person who's asking me to spend time with them when I don't want [00:09:00] to either, because I don't like that. , they don't bring out the best in me or because they're just not a priority. And that doesn't mean they're a bad person, but it means I have limited time for the people in my life and I can't show up for everyone.

[00:09:12] It might me be me saying no to a request from a supervisor or a boss at work who's asking me to do a project that's not appropriate for my position or my time. It might even be me saying no to my kids, right? When they ask for something that I just can't give them or I don't wanna give them. Hmm.

[00:09:27] Like my daughter asks me to go to the mall all the time. I can't stand them all, and I take her sometimes, but I don't take her all the time. Sometimes I say, do you have a friend you could go with and I could drop you off? Right? That's me setting a boundary around my time. So an external boundary is one that somebody else can see me doing.

[00:09:45] An internal boundary you can't see. It's a decision I've made on the inside about maybe how much time I'm gonna be spend dwelling on a particular dynamic or situation or problem. But it also may be me deciding. That I'm not gonna share [00:10:00] a particular story or experience or personal struggle with someone else, or it may be me deciding that I'm not going to engage with somebody else's chaos in a kind way.

[00:10:10] So maybe I have a family member or a boss or a friend, or just someone in the community I know who shows up and tells me some crazy story and they want me to get involved in it. They want me to show up and contribute and like really like, let's talk all the Mm. You know? Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And maybe instead I just say, Yeah, that sounds really hard.

[00:10:29] that sounds really complicated. I'm sorry that's happening to you. I hope that resolves soon, right? These are kind things, and I'm not lying. I mean them, right? I mean, what I say, I hope you know, whatever is going on, simplifies gets better. Improves. But I'm not here to get into your chaos because that's a boundary I'm setting for myself.

[00:10:48] So these internal boundaries can be especially important in situations where we don't have the ability to completely disconnect. , I have to go to work, I have to interact with the people in my [00:11:00] job. I have family members who maybe really pull for this chaos or drain my energy, but I'm not gonna like cut off the relationship entirely.

[00:11:08] Right? So there are ways to set these internal boundaries that I think can still be really kind to another person while also taking care of our. . Yeah. You know,

[00:11:20] Natalie: I, as you were saying that, I was thinking about my old job, not my, not my new job I teach now in addition to my podcast, but I was thinking about my old job and I, and I know a lot of people will relate to this in the corporate world when someone says, and so I want you to come up, help me come up with ways and things we can give people to say as a boundary without sounding like you just don't wanna do the work.

[00:11:43] Because I'm thinking in my old job of people would, who would say, that's not my. and it's like, well, wait a minute. You're just trying to get outta doing the work. Like,

[00:11:52] can you give us some, ways to set these boundaries without sounding either snotty or lazy? And I [00:12:00] like some of the words that, that you used in terms of people's chaos and not wanting to get involved.

[00:12:04] But how do you set a boundary without seeming, I guess what I'm getting at is without seeming selfish.

[00:12:11] Carla: first of all, I would like to challenge. , this idea You do. Yes. Yes. That it's not okay to be selfish. Like we always think that selfish is a bad thing, and I think that that word will forever carry those connotations for all of us, right?

[00:12:26] Mm-hmm. . But really what it means is, I think there are a bunch of ways to interpret it, but I think one way is to interpret it as I am gonna put my needs first. And that is something that is so deeply uncomfortable for so many women. It really is. Yeah. And so one of the things I do, and I don't mean this in an offensive way to any of your male listeners, but I think this is a real gender dynamic, is I will sometimes ask myself, what would a man do in this situation?

[00:12:54] Hmm. And if I can see a man and not. I'm not a jerk, and I'm not saying all men are jerks, and I [00:13:00] think that men are just raised in a different culture and there are some ways in which men are given the raw deal too. But in this particular dynamic, I think men have been given more leeway to take care of their own needs first.

[00:13:13] And again, not always right, they're. There are exceptions. And so I say to myself, would a man feel comfortable saying no in this situation? And if so, how do I do that here? So in the corporate world, here are some ideas. One is you could just say, I'm not available to do that right now. Or I'm sorry, I'm not available to do that.

[00:13:32] Right. Instead of just saying I don't wanna do it or it's not my job. Right. Because part of it is we just don't wanna come off as jerks, so, right. Obviously part of it is tone of voice. Are we being snippy or not? And you can say, wow, it sounds like that's a really big job. I wish I was available to help you, but I'm not.

[00:13:46] Okay. Another one is that you could say, you know what? I need to go check my schedule and I'll get back to you in a day or two. And sometimes putting that pause in is enough that the person will kind of move on and you won't hear from them again. And sometimes it's not, but that [00:14:00] giving, inserting that time, that break, that pause maybe enough that you can either.

[00:14:07] figure out legit, like, do you have time to do this project? And do you want to mm-hmm. , right? And it can help you strategize for how you're gonna get back to this person. You can also just say like, I, I am hu I'm handling it. First of all, I, I always encourage people, don't lie. Right? If. . It can be tempting to make up a lie and say, oh, you know what?

[00:14:26] My dog died last night and I'm kind of a mess and I can't help you with that. Well, if your dog didn't actually die, don't say it because Yeah. Then they're gonna come back to you in two weeks and say, well, your dog's been dead for two weeks. Are you better now? Talk about Right. Like so. Don't say that. You don't always need to give a reason.

[00:14:41] You don't have to. You can just,

[00:14:43] Natalie: that's an issue for a lot of people is. Overexplaining or coming up with a reason versus I don't have the capacity for that right now. Something like that. Right?

[00:14:53] Carla: Absolutely. And the other thing to remember is the reason a lot of us. Come up with this [00:15:00] overexplaining or feel bad saying no, as we're worried about somebody else's feelings, right?

[00:15:04] We're trying to take care of the other person. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . We cannot be responsible for other people's feelings and that doesn't mean you go around being a jerk and being rude and saying mean things or using a snippy tone of voice or being a snot. That's not what I'm saying. We will do our best. to be our best selves with our own behavior.

[00:15:21] And that's where the, that's where the boundary ends, right? Yeah. We can't take responsibility for how somebody else feels. All we can take responsibility for is our behavior. So this is one of those internal boundaries where we decide I'm gonna take responsibility for how I behave. I'm gonna do my best to be a kind person who's living my values, taking care of myself, helping when I can.

[00:15:44] and saying, no one, I can't, with as much respect and kindness as I can offer while still holding that line,

[00:15:50] Natalie: and I, I have a feeling when people start doing this, it will be really hard. Really hard. People will push back. Family members will be like, well, wait a [00:16:00] minute. You're the one who always A, B, C, and meets my demands.

[00:16:04] Or emotionally, you know, the, the, the passive aggressive family member who says something that, you know, I mean, when you first start doing this, it will be uncomfortable. How do you advise people get through that and over

[00:16:17] Carla: that hurdle? Oh, get yourself good. The. No, I mean okay. So I was only, look, my own therapist was incredibly helpful with me in terms of strategizing and supporting me through setting some really important boundaries in my personal life.

[00:16:32] I realize that access to therapy is not possible for many people in this country right now cuz we have a deeply broken system. We do. So having. A person in your life who can serve as a reality check for you. So this is someone whose judgment you trust, and hopefully we all have this, and I realize we don't all have this, but I want this for everyone.

[00:16:51] Whether it's a friend, whether it's a clergy member in your life, whether it's, you know, somebody. I don't know who, a family member who [00:17:00] knows the dynamic that you trust their judgment, that you can be honest with them, who will support you through this process and who will say to you, I think you're being a little too sensitive right now.

[00:17:10] Or You could have said that in a nicer way. Or, and that person will also say to you, yeah. , that's not your job. That's not your responsibility. It's okay to let that one go. It's okay to not call that person every day. It's okay to say no to that request. We all need someone in our life, I feel like, who can support us through these.

[00:17:26] Yeah. Really changing these dynamics in our lives. Yeah. And maybe you can

[00:17:30] Natalie: be that for someone else. Absolutely. Reach out to someone. I love that. Can we be this for each other? . Yeah. What are some other boundaries that, that you think are important that we make and, and maybe it's something like, uh, I don't do meetings at night , you know, or, or, you know, just like simple things that can make our lives easier.

[00:17:51] Carla: So I think this is so specific to each of us. You know, I will happily take a 6:00 AM meeting because I'm a morning person, then not [00:18:00] I'm up anyways. And it doesn't bother me. But if you wanna get me on the phone after 6:00 PM I'm done. I'm toast. I don't want it. Right. I. For some people, they're really available to communicate.

[00:18:10] This is another boundary we can set over text. And some people, I don't know if you've noticed this with your teenager, Natalie, but my daughter who's 14, wants to FaceTime everything. She doesn't wanna make phone calls, she doesn't wanna text, she wants to FaceTime everything and it makes me bananas. So that's a boundary I have to set with her.

[00:18:29] You can FaceTime your buddies and I will text with you and I will answer a call, but I don't wanna see my face on a screen every time you have a question to ask me. . So how we communicate is a boundary we set when we choose to show up. Mm-hmm. and how we spend our time. And I really think there is an assumption.

[00:18:47] Especially among moms that we are going to volunt. Yes. Right? Mm-hmm. , and I think this is a longstanding assumption from when moms didn't work. Mm-hmm. . And if you are a mom who does not work outside the house, [00:19:00] you may feel this pressure, especially strongly, but whether you work outside the home or you don't, you don't have to volunteer.

[00:19:07] It's a great thing to do if it works for you, and if it doesn't, don't do it. And I will tell you that there were times when I agreed, I said yes to being on committees or planning or whatever because I felt guilty, and then I was fairly miserable the whole time. Yeah. And so now I have figured out ways that I can volunteer that work with my time, which are basically like, give me something that I can do on my computer.

[00:19:29] Staring at the television that, you know, I'm happy to write thank you notes to every donor to an organization, but if you ask me to plan an event, I'd rather go scrub my own toilet. Like, please don't do that. And so this is really, this kind of boundary setting requires us to get curious about our values.

[00:19:49] About our needs and about what we want, and then to respect that. And it is a great way to do this, is to just set a rule for yourself. So Natalie, you and I were talking about the show [00:20:00] and I told you the story that years ago I asked a fellow mother at my kid's school to be on a committee with me. It was a committee that I hated and I've never been on a again.

[00:20:07] And not because the people were awful, just because the, the, the content of what we were working on was a terrible match for my style. And so I asked this mom, To be on this committee with me. And she said, when does it meet? And I said, we meet in the evenings. And she said, I'm sorry, I never schedule meetings for the evenings because that's family time.

[00:20:23] And I was, what? I mean, it was really a mind blowing moment for me. I was like, we can set a rule like that. What? Yeah, we can just do that. Yeah. And you know, religious folks do this all the time. People who go to church will say, I'm not gonna schedule a meeting on Sunday morning. That's when I go to church.

[00:20:38] Many Jews will say, I'm not gonna do anything from Friday night to Saturday night because that's Shabbat and I don't do stuff on Shabbat. So if it feels too hard to say, I'm setting this boundary for me. You know, find the context for it. Find a rule so that in that moment You don't have to say no to the person.

[00:20:58] You're just telling them what the rule is. [00:21:00] And another great example I have is, I don't know if you get this Natalie, but I have a lot of people who email me and message me and say, I'd like to talk to you about how to get my book published. And I would love to help all these people. I would love to have conversations with each and every one of them, but I'm not a book coach and I'm not an agent.

[00:21:16] And I have sort of a weird story with how I got published that isn't very helpful to most people. I felt bad saying no to them, right? But each of these conversations ends up being 30 to 45 minutes long, and that's time I really need. And many of these people I don't know, and my husband said, why don't you write a blog post and put it on your website that shares your story, your journey to getting published and the best advice you have, and the next time somebody reaches out to you and says, Can we have a phone conversation?

[00:21:45] You can send them the blog post and say, this is everything I have to offer. Great. So what that really is, is that setting a boundary on my time while also being as helpful as I can. Yeah. So there can be creative ways to set these boundaries where it's not just you saying no, but you've [00:22:00] got something in place already.

[00:22:02] And what that does not only is save you time and you can help this person, but it also means you're not saying no to them. It's not like, I don't like you and I don't wanna help you. Yeah, that's not what it is. Yeah. It's saying this isn't personal. This is me setting my boundary, and here's everything I have to offer for you.

[00:22:16] So if you can have that in place, you know, I have a friend who's a parent coach. She transitioned from being a social worker to a parent coach, and she had so many people reach out to her to say, how did you do this? Can you guide me professionally? That she set a link on her website and she said, absolutely.

[00:22:29] This is a. Service I offer, you can go sign up for a time here and here's my fee for doing this. I'd love to have this conversation. So she decided she wanted to have those conversations and just charge people for it. Yeah. And I was like, oh, that's brilliant. Yeah. That's a great way to handle it too.

[00:22:44] Natalie: Part of what I'm hearing you say, and I think a, a general lesson people can learn from this is having the confidence in.

[00:22:50] Who you are, your expertise, your family, all of that. The confidence and, and just having that sense of I [00:23:00] can do this, and does it really matter if they don't like it. . It doesn't like, it's, it's, it's confidence. And one thing I noticed as my years in the television industry interviewing Yeah. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people that the best soundbites were those who, who would give a soundbite and stop.

[00:23:19] And I do that in media coaching. When people ask me to help them speak on camera. I'll say, say what you're gonna say and be. But so many people continue to justify what they're saying. Let me, and then they're not quite sure, and then they say a little bit more and they just keep going instead of just say what you're gonna say.

[00:23:37] Maybe it's a boundary, maybe it's something else, and be done.

[00:23:40] Carla: I love that. Don't justify. You don't have to explain. Just own it. And I think for many women, this is a hard thing to do because we weren't taught that our opinions and beliefs have inherent value. We were taught that they have value to the extent that they support a relationship or help someone else or make someone else feel [00:24:00] better.




[00:24:33] Carla: The lessons I learned about this that was so helpful was I listened to Terry Gross, she's a radio interviewer on fresh air uh, sorry, on npr. And her show was called Fresh Air, and she interviews authors and musicians and all sorts of politicians and different people. And she was interviewing a psychologist named Mary Pfeiffer.

[00:24:48] And years ago, Mary Pfeiffer wrote an extremely popular book called Reviving Ophelia about young girls. , the challenges of of teenager hood, if I'm rem remembering correctly. And years later, she wrote a book [00:25:00] about aging and how to age gracefully. And I remember, I, I probably heard this interview so many years ago Natalie, and I still remember that she said one of the things she learned married this author, psychologist later in her life maybe in her seventies or eighties, was that she could just choose to leave a conversation