Janet is joined by Nedra Tawwab: therapist, relationship expert and author of the NY Times best-seller Set Boundaries, Find Peace. Nedra and Janet discuss how our personal boundaries with friends, family, co-workers, and children are crucial for building positive, healthy relationships. Nedra emphasizes how boundaries begin with being kinder to ourselves. “We are in relationships from the time we’re born,” Nedra says, “and the biggest relationship, the most consistent relationship we have is the one with ourselves. And that is the relationship that I’m constantly trying to improve.” Ultimately, the boundaries and self-image we nurture for ourselves teach our children what they deserve in their relationships, now and in the future.
Transcript of “Boundaries We Need and Deserve (with Nedra Tawwab)”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today I have a guest, I’ve been a fan of hers for a really long time. Her name is Nedra Glover Tawwab. She’s a best selling author. She’s a therapist. She’s a sought after relationship expert, founder and owner of the group therapy practice, Kaleidoscope Counseling. And her philosophy is that a lack of boundaries and assertiveness underlie most relationship issues. She has this gift of helping people to create healthy relationships with themselves and others. So I’m really looking forward to hearing from Nedra about setting boundaries for ourselves and for our children.
Hi Nedra. Thank you so much for being here. What a pleasure it is to have you.
Nedra Tawwab: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to chat.
Janet Lansbury: Me too. I loved your book and I’m of course one of the millions who appreciates and is inspired by the perspective that you share. And I thought we could start with maybe you talking a little about why boundaries are so important in relationships, adult relationships, with our children, for our children.
Nedra Tawwab: Yeah, I think in relationships there is really no way to exist without having some limitations, expectations, and clearly stated needs. Without that, we end up in these tumultuous situations where we don’t feel heard, we feel unseen, and we’re constantly frustrated. So boundaries are, you know, a way of saving relationships, a way of preserving relationships, a way of being able to show up and have people understand who you are.
Janet Lansbury: Yes. You say that the goal of your book is to curate a deeper understanding of how boundary issues appear in real life, family, work, romance, friendships, even technology and yeah, that these boundaries are what actually makes relationships flourish. Boundaries have been a big issue for me, and I had to figure it out because I had a child who really, really needed them and it wasn’t working. I can do this with children now because I’ve seen with my own eyes over and over again and heard from parents that their child is more peaceful, their child is more able to thrive and flourish and all areas of their life. But I still struggle with adult boundaries and with boundaries with myself. Your book really laid that out for me. And I actually cried a little when I read this part about setting boundaries with ourselves around self-talk…
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm.
Janet Lansbury: And you wrote:
“I speak to myself as gently as I would talk to a small child. I coach myself through awkward moments. I allow myself to make mistakes without judging myself harshly. I don’t call myself names. I don’t make mean comments about myself, either in my mind or out loud in front of others.”
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm.
Janet Lansbury: That was profound for me. It’s so much easier for me to do this for children, but harder for myself.
Nedra Tawwab: I’m still parenting myself in many ways, right? Like, I’ll refer to myself sometimes as “little Nedra.” I still get scared. I still get frightened. I’m afraid. I get uncomfortable and I have to be that voice for myself. Now I’m the adult voice, right? So it’s like, “Girl, you’re gonna be okay. Listen to a song. You’re amazing, you’re great.”
I do the whole talking in the mirror thing. I have an inspirational playlist. Whatever will help me feel better in that moment, even when I make a mistake, I am cheering myself on like, “You didn’t know what you didn’t know. You didn’t know this would be a mistake, Nedra. You thought that this was a wonderful idea, Turns out not so much, but you are doing a good job.” Or, “this was a lesson learned” or, you know, whatever those things are.
And it really is things that I find myself saying to my kids. My kids are small, so I’m still saying a lot of “good job, wow, you did that.” So I’m saying all of that stuff to myself. “Good job. Wow, you did that.” I do not tire of celebrating my wins, small or big. If I go and buy a dress and it fits well, “Oh my gosh, do you see my dress?”
I think about how many times a day my kids say to me, “Look at this drawing! Look at this flip!” We all want that. But for some reason, adults, we try to trick ourselves into thinking we don’t want that validation.
Now what I know is as adults we don’t want to call our friends and ask our partner and ask everyone, “validate me, validate me, validate me.” So a lot of that will be what I choose to say to myself in those moments when I’m seeking that validation.
Janet Lansbury: Were you always able to do this? Or how did you begin that as a practice — this relationship that you have with yourself? It sounds like… You talk in your book about how it’s a muscle.
Nedra Tawwab: Yeah, I think it’s just the constant practice. I can’t even say I’m all the way there yet. I’m not where I want to be. I’m still figuring out how to speak to myself well, how to treat myself kindly, how to allow people to be nice to me and to say things that are nice to me without making a joke. And, you know, I’m still learning a lot of this stuff, but I’m certainly conscious about practicing it because it’s a worthy practice. It’s very worthwhile to feel good about yourself.
Janet Lansbury: Because that’s where everything starts, our abilities to function in any environment, right? That’s to always start there.
Nedra Tawwab: Absolutely. I don’t know another place where it can begin. We are in relationships from the time we’re born. And the biggest relationship, the most consistent relationship we have is the one with ourselves. And that is the relationship that I’m constantly trying to improve. I’m trying to develop my effective communication with myself. I’m trying to develop my boundaries, my honesty, my trust, all of those things. Anything that I would want another person, I am trying to figure that out with within the relationship that I have with myself. Because it’s very hard to tell people how you want them to show up for you when you don’t know how you want them to show up for you. It’s like: They’re not giving me what I need. Well, what do you need? I don’t know. So…
Janet Lansbury: But they should know right? <laughs>
Nedra Tawwab: They should know. So just understanding that we can change, you know, a lot of things that I used to like, I no longer like, so, being gentle with myself around that.
I’ve always considered myself an early bedtime person, but I find that it’s just getting earlier and earlier and at some point I’m going to be going to bed at 6:00 PM. But I even think that embracing those shifts of who we are, because sometimes we could get so down on ourselves about not being our old self. I used to be this, I used to weigh this amount. I used to be able to eat this or, you know, all of these things. And it’s like: You’ve been changing forever. This is just part of your process of evolving, embrace it, don’t fight against it. Now, you know you cannot eat cheese or yogurt or whatever it is. Your body is changing.
Janet Lansbury: Gosh, you’re reminding me of, it was somewhere on social media I saw this, that instead of saying, Oh no, I’m this age now and maybe, like you said, what have I lost? Or what’s different? or what do I think is not going as well for me? But if we shoot to the future, we’re going to be looking back at now and saying, That was so great when I was that age. And now I’m much older.
Nedra Tawwab: We have a hard time appreciating where we are. We’re always trying to get back to something or to get something else. It’s, it’s very hard to just be present in the moment of who you are.
I had a medical exam the other day and the lady saw my weight and she was like, “Ugh, what I wouldn’t give to be that size again.” And I mentioned to her, I said, “It’s funny you say that because we never appreciate when we’re that size. You know, when you were that size, you probably were like, ‘I would love to be, you know, this other size.’”
Right there is this constant self improving instead of just self-acceptance.
Janet Lansbury: Right. Do you ever think about why this is such a challenge for us and is there anything we could do, not to heap more pressure on ourselves but is there anything we can do as parents to help our children not have to work so hard at this? Giving them a more comfortable sense of self-acceptance?
Nedra Tawwab: I think in terms of children, it’s very important that we’re modeling what we want them to see. And the things we don’t want them to see we need to do secretly and private. So, I love to eat candy. I don’t eat candy in front of my kids because I don’t want them to eat a bunch of candy.
There are times where we have these ideas about our bodies or our inabilities. But your child doesn’t need to hear you call yourself stupid. Your child doesn’t need to hear you, you know, “Oh my gosh, my arms are so…” Because they will start to think, well, I think mom is great. If she has a problem with her arms, then maybe it’s something wrong with my arms. Or, I think mom is beautiful and she says, I look like her. So if she thinks she has an issue with her appearance, what’s going on with me?
Because kids are so intuitive, they get this messaging from things that we don’t even think they’re picking up. So it’s so important to model appropriate behavior. And I don’t even want to say “fake it till you make it,” because I want you to buy into it. I want you to really believe that you don’t have to say bad things about yourself or be mean or hard on yourself. I really want you to say wonderful things about yourself and believe it. And I want your kids to hear you saying those things, because it is so very important.
Janet Lansbury: Yeah. And don’t you think it works the other way, too, that we have a hard time accepting our children because maybe it reflects on things we don’t like about ourselves? And so we’re not as accepting of them because we’re not as accepting of ourselves.
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm.
Janet Lansbury: So just more reasons to take care of ourselves. I always find that parenting, it can be an inspiration. Well, this is how it was for me at least… that because I want my children to have healthy boundaries and because I want them to have self care, that inspires me to work harder on it for myself. So it’s not so much like I’m trying to be the perfect parent. I want to be the best version of myself, the best imperfect version of myself so that I can give that to my children.
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm. It’s important to do your work, but the the first step is being aware of the work you have to do. And I find that often we are unconsciously existing. We’re not even aware. We’re just doing, we’re just being, And in that doing and being, sometimes we are passing on to our children, you know, things that we don’t want them to have. Things that we don’t even want to be, but they are picking up on it because we haven’t done our work yet.
Janet Lansbury: Yeah. We can though, when we start doing the work, we can reflect with our child that we weren’t doing what we really wanted to do. So that repair piece, I think we all need to know is very powerful actually for children. It’s probably one of the best kinds of modeling that we can do. You know, making amends or taking responsibility for ourselves.
Nedra Tawwab: Do you feel like your parents did that for you?
Janet Lansbury: Hmm. Well, one of them not at all. And the other one, sometimes yes, sometimes no, I would say. What about you?
Nedra Tawwab: Um, both no. Both no. I think it takes a bit of emotional work for adults to be able to do that. Even me, anyone, I think of times when I was younger and I would be like, “I didn’t do that.” I was still saying that for so long, even as an adult.
Now I try to operate with some level of integrity. Like, okay, tell these people you just, you broke this display, right? You know, there were times where I’d be like, I didn’t do it. I don’t know who did it.
Janet Lansbury: Oh, you’re the one. <laughs> Now we know who to call about those displays.
Nedra Tawwab: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s, that was in adulthood. But you know, it’s still that fear of I don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want to be perceived as a bad person. You know, whatever those things are. So, you know, it takes quite a bit of self-talk to push you through those instances where you are owning something and you don’t want to beat yourself up for it. You made that mistake.
So, apologizing to my kids, gosh, I just apologized for something, Oh, I yelled yesterday and I said, “Ugh, I really apologize for yelling. That wasn’t kind. We shouldn’t yell at people,” which I tell my kids all the time, but yeah, I apologize because I, I don’t agree with yelling. I really don’t. Just because I did it doesn’t mean that I should get away with it. I think we have to be okay with, I do bad stuff sometimes too, and it’s not okay. I don’t get to excuse that stuff because I did it. It’s like, no, it’s still not okay. And darn it, I did it.
Janet Lansbury: Yes. My children are adults now. I have three. And I’ve recently apologized for some things from decades before that I didn’t even really consider. I wasn’t able to because I was too overwhelmed with what was in my face and what was going on. And of course my kids are like, “What are you even talking about?” Children are so forgiving, they just love you, right? I mean, they’re so accepting. They’re so bent that way and they make it easier.
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm.
Janet Lansbury: I just want to talk about one thing you said in your book, which I thought was so spot on: “the number one reason people avoid setting boundaries is fear of someone getting mad at them.”
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm.
Janet Lansbury: Which is true with our children, that we’d lose their love or that, you know, they wouldn’t like us anymore. I was afraid of all those things, but then I would see time and again, children are so forgiving and in their heart they want those boundaries. I’ve seen that so many times. They can’t tell us this, but in their heart, they just want to feel safe. And that we’re not mad at them. We’re not resenting them, we’re not annoyed by them, we’re setting those reasonable boundaries.
Nedra Tawwab: I think it’s okay to normalize being annoyed and loving people. Because your children will annoy you and your children will annoy each other, and I will annoy my children. It’s like the circle of life in a household. So I try to normalize annoyance as a part of being in relationships with people. People won’t be perfect in relationships. And that’s what an apology does, right? When you go to someone and you say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. You know, when you guys were younger, I didn’t know this.” Or, “When you had this experience, I really didn’t know how to respond. And I realize I said the wrong thing.” You can always go back and correct those things because you’re not a perfect person. It’s impossible to be perfect in relationships because you’re, you’re learning, you know. Ten years ago, there are some things that you may not have known that you do know today.
Janet Lansbury: For sure. Yeah. And it’s a thing, too, that the more we love someone, the more they also drive us crazy. Sometimes it’s part of the equation. There are people that we don’t care as much about and when they do something it’s like, eh. But those people that we’re invested in, that we really love, everything is more fueled with emotion.
I guess another point that you made, which I think definitely applies to children: “realistic expectations don’t lead to stress.” So it’s what we expect that can get in our way a lot of the time. What we expect from other people, what we expect from children at different stages of development or from anybody. So can you talk a little about that? What kind of expectations with other adults, let’s say, will cause us stress?
Nedra Tawwab: You know, I think it’s stressful when you are raising children in community with people who disagree with your parenting style.
Janet Lansbury: A big one. Huge. Yeah.
Nedra Tawwab: As a parent, I always remember this: every grandparent had their opportunity to parent . So this is my opportunity to parent and I want to be able to do it my way, too, you know? So a lot of that is going to be me saying, “this is what I would like for my children. And I understand that you disagree with it, but I reserve the right to make the decision as their parent.” You know, “Dad and I have decided, according to the pediatrician, this is the way we would like to do things.”
So just saying some of those things, it’s really helpful. It can be pretty challenging. I would say, if you could do it from the start, as soon as you have a baby, you know, really start with those boundaries… Because grandparents, they have been cultivating their idea of what grand- parenthood will be like. So they’re thinking about: I’m going to take my grandchild and we’re going to do this, and my grandchild is going to spend the night and all of this stuff.
And it’s like, “Oh, I don’t want my kids to spend the night at anyone’s house.”
So you have to talk about all of these things that they may have had a different idea about. Their ideas do not have to be your ideas. And it’s very important that you acknowledge: “Oh, I didn’t know that you thought that would happen, but here’s how we are thinking about doing things.”
Janet Lansbury: Right. And you can do that very strongly but lovingly still.
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm.
Janet Lansbury: If we don’t let it go too far, and then it’s harder, maybe our expectations aren’t as realistic and we’re thinking, Well, they should know this with whatever kind of boundary, then it’s going to be harder when we get caught sort of on our heels and now we’re going to come into it with anger or another kind of emotion. I guess that’s normal too. But I love also that you said, “the biggest trigger for anxiety is the inability to say no,” because then we’re captive to other people, right?
Nedra Tawwab: Mm-hmm.
Janet Lansbury: We’re captive to… whether this is with our child, we’re kind of putting ourselves at the mercy of them to do whatever. So that is an anxious feeling, right? Like trapped.
And you said to be aware of personal signs in the body that we need to set those boundaries. So feeling that coming up in ourselves.
Nedra Tawwab: Yeah. Feeling that anxiety rising, that that discomfort brewing. Those feelings, they manifest. And we would do ourselves a huge favor if we just noticed them and really honored them and asked them the question of what do I need? What would make me feel more comfortable in this situation? What’s missing here? What is it? You know, instead of just allowing it to be this thought that reoccurs. Because often we’ll just keep having a thought, I’m bothered. I can’t believe this, I can’t believe they said that. I can’t believe this happened when we really have some power to do something about it.
Janet Lansbury: Right. And with that feeling is I’m liking them less and less, you know? And it’s really not their fault because we didn’t set the boundary. And that’s I think what what really helped me as a parent — realizing that if I didn’t set boundary with my children, I was going to to want to be with them less and less. That inspired me to do something that felt hard and scary.
Just getting back to children though, with extended family, and even with friends, as you said, start early if you can. And with that baby, the baby’s turning away from the person that wants to hug them and wants to hold them. Can we stand up for that baby and say, “Oh, it looks like this isn’t the right time or,” or something? It’s hard to do because people, their intentions are good. They just want to love and cuddle the baby.
Nedra Tawwab: Yeah. I mean, it can be hard to say that she doesn’t want it. It hurts, but we have to allow people to deal with that discomfort, right? We can’t save them from it and say, Okay, I’m gonna make my kid uncomfortable and hug you even though they don’t want to. It’s like you’re choosing this other person’s comfort over your child’s comfort.
And for me, it’s very important that my child feels comfortable. Of course, I want everyone else to feel comfortable, but in terms of physical boundaries with hugging and touching, I want you to trust what you feel happening in your body. So there will be times where you don’t want to hug a person or you don’t want a person shaking your hands or, you know, standing so close. And the way that we honor that is now. It’s not waiting for you to do that work on your own. It’s allowing you to feel that and be able to execute it at any age.
Janet Lansbury: Right. Because they’re learning from us what they deserve. It’s a very formative time with children, everything is making an impression on them about where they fit with other people. Do they deserve to set boundaries? It’s a time of massive learning, as we know.
Nedra Tawwab: Yes, absolutely. It is a constant learning process to set healthy boundaries.
Janet Lansbury: Another thing I realized reading your book is that I actually help people set boundaries with me. So if I ask for something, I always couch it in: “But it’s okay and I know you’re busy and no worries if you can’t.” And, uh, it’s probably not a great thing, right?
Nedra Tawwab: Hm. I hear people pleasing, but also you don’t trust that people can tell you what they want. Like if someone is offering to do something, perhaps they can do it. If they’re offering to help you with something, you don’t need to think of five ways for them to not be of help.
I have a friend and when they’re ready to get off the phone, they’ll say, “Let me let you go because I know you just arrived at so and so and you’ve probably got…” I’m like, “I didn’t say anything. I’m completely capable of ending a call.”
Janet Lansbury: I think I’m reflecting my own discomfort with setting boundaries. I’m projecting it onto the other person, right? That you’re going to be like me.
Nedra Tawwab: Yeah. I’m going to completely talk to you while the doctor is in the room or something. Like, I don’t know how to say, “Hey, let me call you back. The doctor is here now I gotta go.” I can do that.
Janet Lansbury: I think I need to be around a lot of people like you. Maybe that will help me.
Nedra Tawwab: I think you now have awareness. We’ve talked through this, so hopefully this is something that you’re like, Okay, now I got it.
Janet Lansbury: Yeah, I do. I mean, your book is magnificent. It just clarified so much for me and just things that I sort of knew but maybe didn’t think applied to me so much. So that’s what your book does.
I recommend Set Boundaries, Find Peace, really, really helpful.
Nedra Tawwab: Thank you.
Janet Lansbury: Just so clear and so actionable. I love that about it. And you have a workbook too, right? That goes with it?
Nedra Tawwab: I do, The Set Boundaries Workbook, and it is really to help you deep dive into boundaries, practice boundaries, and implement the boundaries. I think sometimes when we read books, we have all this information and then we’re like, Now what? And I wanna give you those next steps. So now that we’ve talked about all this stuff, how do you implement it?
Janet Lansbury: Sounds great. I think that’s the next one on my list. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing with us. You are a great model of boundaries and I just love that you’ve had so much success with this work because it really is key to peace, as you said, peace in our hearts with ourselves in our relationships. So thank you.
Nedra Tawwab: Well, thank you so much and you have a great day.
Janet Lansbury: Okay, You too, Nedra. Take care and thanks for this work that you do. Really important.
Nedra Tawwab: Thank you.
Nedra’s counseling group: Kaleidoscope Counseling
Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website, janetlansbury.com. There are many of them and they’re all indexed by subject and categories. So you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon, No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can get them in ebook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play, or barnes and noble.com and in audio audible.com. Actually, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.
Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.