Living Outside the Box (reponse to an essay)

“There are many possible boxes you can encounter in life. It’s easy to get locked in by shoulds, have – to’s, can’ts and won’ts to the point that you can’t move at all. We can get stuck in work boxes, family boxes, relationship boxes and health boxes. Other people can try to put us in boxes. Boxes are traps constructed of imaginary walls – prohibitions we believe are real, but turn out to be false when examined.”
–Tina Tessina

I got this great (not specific to poly) information about how to Live Outside the Box yesterday (of which the above paragraph is an excerpt), courtesy of a friend in email. It seems like great information for relationships of all sorts. I’ve included it below the “more” cut. I hope you enjoy it.

My general responses to the essay, and “pre-baby steps”

I know when I feel like I’m “in a box” I end up doing many of the things that Tina (a counselor herself) discusses below.  I feel trapped, I retreat to repetitive behaviors, I have a hard time doing for myself, etc.  She talks about how “taking down” even one of the walls of the box can lead to more empowerment.  She’s got five steps that are all great action steps, and she’s even outlined some clues for how to tell you’re IN the box. Those are great ideas and concrete suggestions!

My sense is that for those who ARE dealing with depression, or who have been “boxed in” for a very long time, though, that there need to be some steps before the ones she suggests.  Here’s what I’d add.

i. Before we can recognize that there are boxes to step out of, we need to figure out that we’re IN a box. Tina’s got some great suggestions below.  For me, though, I often need to begin with the tiniest of baby steps. Before I can begin to figure out the exact nature of the walls of my box, I need to really understand that feeling trapped, hopeless, and depressed isn’t “normal” and that everyone has a right to feel OK… even me.  Even when I can’t imagine feeling good, I can usually imagine OK.  Start there.

ii. Give yourself permission to start thinking about feeling better. As Byron Katie says, though, “don’t try to change that thought right now.” Getting down on yourself for not feeling better already is almost invariably counterproductive.  Sometimes, it can take a while before you can tolerate even the thought that it could be better. Give yourself permission to imagine it. Give yourself compassion if you don’t even do that very well at first!

iii. Recognize that empowering yourself can feel very scary. Tina’s got some ideas for how to deal with your “negative thoughts” in her essay below. But even before you take any of those steps, give yourself permission to just feel scared. Notice that if you let yourself feel scared, and don’t rush on to imagine what will happen next… that eventually it will pass.  It may take a while, but it will.  You are unlikely to scare yourself to death. So notice that you felt scared, and that you’re still alive. If you’re alive, you can continue to empower yourself. Feeling scared just reminds you that you’re still alive.

iv.  It’s ok to “backslide.” Progress doesn’t have to be linear and direct.  Sometimes it can be in a spiral, or a zig-zag. So don’t give up, even if your tiny baby steps take you in a direction that seems like backwards.  Just keep giving yourself that compassion, and recognizing that there can be a more positive view to take.  Eventually, things will tend in a positive direction more than a negative one, more of the time. And then you’re really moving.

Lastly, here are some questions to consider, applying Tina’s suggestions to poly situations:

  • What poly situations have you “in a box”?
  • What are the walls of that box?
  • Are there some walls that might be easier to take down than others?
  • Are there any “common poly boxes”?
  • How about “common poly walls“?
  • Do poly situations take a different approach, or are they just the same as “regular boxes”?

Feel free to answer here, or on my Facebook Page.  I’d love to hear YOUR ideas!

~♥ Dawn


Happiness Tip: Living Outside the Box

I was speaking with a client today about his burn – out in his career. This is a man who’s been very successful, earned a lot of money, and worked hard for a big, national corporation. I told him he was burned – out, and on strike, because he had put himself in a box about work. The box consisted of four walls:

Wall #1: I have to make $$$$ amount of money
Wall #2: I have to work for a certain kind of company
Wall #3: I’m scared about letting myself be creative (the unknown)
Wall #4: I hate all of it.

When he put up these walls, he was out of options, and stuck in a terrible place. If he could take down even one of the walls, he could let himself out of the box.

Later in the afternoon, I was speaking with another client about relationships. He wanted to figure out what ‘box’ (his word) a person in his life would fit in – lover, friend, etc. I told him that he couldn’t put another person in a box – the only one he could put in a box was himself– what he was willing to do in the relationship, and what he wasn’t willing to do. And then make sure he set those boundaries for himself and lived up to it.

I frequently see people who are unhappy in their relationships, and feel too stuck to do anything about it. Their boxes usually consist of the following walls:

Wall #1: I’m very unhappy, but I can’t do anything about it
Wall #2: I have to keep this relationship, I won’t find another.
Wall #3: I can’t tell my partner what’s wrong, because he or she would be angry/hurt.
Wall #4: I can’t change what I’m doing without my partner’s consent.

Again, looking at the walls that have you trapped, and letting down even one wall can give you the power you need to make changes, improve your relationship and create a happier life.

There are many possible boxes you can encounter in life. It’s easy to get locked in by shoulds, have – to’s, can’ts and won’ts to the point that you can’t move at all. We can get stuck in work boxes, family boxes, relationship boxes and health boxes. Other people can try to put us in boxes. Boxes are traps constructed of imaginary walls – prohibitions we believe are real, but turn out to be false when examined.

How do you tell if you’re in a box?

*When you’re boxed in, you’ll feel discouraged and hopeless (people often
mistake this for depression,) frustrated, blocked and angry.

*You may shut down and not be able to get yourself to do things you know
would be good for you like take care of your health, be loving toward your
partner or family, or be motivated in your career.

*You may feel cranky and out of sorts, and find yourself pushing friends
and family away.

*The pain of being boxed in can also bring on addiction symptoms –
drinking too much, overeating, overspending, or a drug habit.

What can you do about it?

When one of my clients feels very stressed, stuck and down, I usually suspect they’ve gotten themselves into a box. After they talk for a while, I can frequently hear them delineate the walls that have them trapped. When you find yourself feeling trapped and discouraged, you can get out of it by following these steps:

1. Realize that you’ve mentally boxed yourself in with a series of restrictions that feel real, but are actually fiction masquerading as fact.

2. Become aware of the negative messages you’re telling yourself: If you’ re telling yourself things like: “It’s too scary” “I can’t do that because….” “I’m not worth it” “I can’t handle that” “it won’t work;” you’re building and reinforcing walls.

3. Challenge at least one of the walls. Create affirmations – positive statements you repeat to yourself to counter negative thoughts – by using a negative thought and turning it around. “It’s too scary” becomes “I am not afraid” You can also read my article “Attitude: From Negative to Gratitude” for more ways to do it.

4. Take a step outside the box. Once you see what the mental walls of your box are, and challenge them, you’ll be freed up to try something new, and get out of the box.

5. Celebrate your accomplishment to create motivation for taking more steps to happiness.

Once you understand that your box is not as real as it feels, you can make your way to a happier life. May all your dreams come true.

Adapted from: It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction
If you want more, here are some related articles you can download from my website at

Wishing you joy,
Tina B. Tessina, PhD


©2012, Dawn M. Davidson



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