Empaths: Boundaries are always going to be an issue for you

I will never forget my first reading of Drs. Cloud and Townsend’s book Boundaries. I was in my early thirties and had never understood the part I played in my boundary-less life.  The unrealistic expectation that my people-pleasing ways would bring relationship and that if I was just “nice enough”, people would respond positively, had lead to some pretty difficult disappointments. So being given permission, from a faith-based perspective, to advocate for myself was freedom I had never experienced!

I wish I could say that all it took was that one read-through to cure me of my rejection based wounds. But as anyone who has done extensive counseling for “woundedness” that stems from a fear of rejection, it is not that easy. Being a natural Empath, I struggle with over-identifying with other people and therefore lose sight of what my needs are until I am feeling really taken advantage of!….Can you identify with this?

As our greatest struggles often become our passion, I find myself counseling people who are also high on empathy and low on advocating for self. My clients need encouragement to stand strong with spouses, bosses, children, and friends. A problem that can become a hurdle is that the energy that it takes for an empath to stand up for his or herself, even once, can leave them exhausted and then they fall right back into that line of thinking where they assume others will see them, hear them and then respond with the same level of commitment. 

I realized recently that boundary work is always a work in progress for the hardcore Empath. Here are three guidelines to use when navigating relationships:

  1. In relationships meant to be reciprocal, if you do not have expectations on the table, you will feel misunderstood and eventually will get burned. Setting expectations is important no matter how secure you understand the relationship to be. Assuming that you will be valued and respected is what gets empaths in trouble! Learning phrases like, “I have been more than happy to help but going forward, I have some expectations as well” and “I enjoy working toward our shared goals but not at the cost of my own”, will alert the person not as high on the empath scale that they are close to crossing a line with you.
  2. Mirror the level of commitment you are getting in return and there is less chance of feeling used in a relationship. High-level Empaths tend to work harder when they sense the other person pulling away, leading to an even greater investment and more to be disappointed about. 
  3. All information is good information. When you learn that the other party has less of an investment in the relationship than you do, don’t let that feed your rejection-minded tendencies. It is important to embrace being your own greatest advocate!  You can choose to protect yourself rather than get punched in the gut and no one will think less of you!

As a general rule, Empaths tend to want to help and encourage. They share easily and have a Mi Casa Es Su Casa mindset. What they do not often want to admit is that they expect reciprocal actions. This is where that Su Casa mindset stuff is really important because those who are not so Empathy-leaning are surprised when they are asked for a reciprocal response that was not spelled out for them. 

Living emotionally healthy lives is a lot of hard work. Keep swimming!


Trash day was a little teary: New life sometimes means getting rid of the old.

Yesterday, trash collectors hoisted my sofa into the back of their amazing truck and within just minutes, it was shredded into a memory. When did trash trucks become so high tech?

When we moved to Colorado 16 years ago, one of the first things I purchased was a big leather couch for our family room. I bought quality so it would last, and even though it was on sale, it put us back a bit. To say that it has been “used” is an understatement. That couch was sat on, napped on, spilled on, snuggled on, everyday for those 16 years. In a weird way, it was a holder of some deep memories: Movie nights, game nights…and the place where the sick member of the house would lay to re-coop.  I remember sitting there to hear good news from my daughters’ days at school and also to hold crying members of my family when their day had not gone well. I was held on that couch in some very dark moments of my life. (It was also the place I was sitting when I saw the snake in my house and thought I would have to move, but that is a story for another day….)

In the last years, I went from loving the worn look of the leather to hating that my couch had holes. The worn leather was beautiful but the holes made me feel un-put-together and like I was not adulting well.  I even tried to repair it a number of times, using YouTube videos to assist, patching it up with a number of DIY remedies that worked for a while and then split like the old leather. Super glue and leather filler, it turns out, were no match for the aging cushions. So, even though it served us well, it was time for it to go.

Are there things in your life that have served you well but it is time for them to go? Are there some fresh starts that need to happen? As humans, we resist change sometimes, even when a change in our job, our activities, or our relationships could offer us a much fuller life. We are afraid of losing the positive memories from the old comfortable place and resist the work it will take to start again.

I attended a number of graduation parties this past weekend, where recent graduates expressed a lament for their time in high school coming to an end, mixed with an excitement to start something new. If they are like me, they will look back fondly on this time of their life but will also realize in a VERY short time that college is SO much better than high school! I was reminded that it is good that life forces some changes to occur, whether we are ready for them or not!

What changes do you need to make to help yourself feel “unstuck”, or even empowered, in a life of your choosing? Do you need a new couch, a new job, or a new adventure to help you to be more you? Are there activities or situations that should be life giving but they are sucking the life out of you? It might be time to graduate into the next season of life, whether you feel ready or not!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,


New Luggage: Turning the old baggage of life into a story

A couple years ago, I made the decision to “invest” in good luggage. I was done with the discounted luggage I had picked up at Marshalls or TJ Maxx that had to be repaired with duct tape after a few trips. I do my share of globe-trotting, so I felt it was time.

I have a clear memory of going with my parents to The Broadway, a local department store in my hometown, back in the 70’s, to buy the yellow, hard-sided, 5 piece set that my family took to Venezuela, the first time the Gusiff family went together for an almost month-long stay. So I dragged my husband, Mike, to Macy’s, where there is a decent sized luggage department, to help me make an adult-like purchase. I did online research and considered size, shape, and wheel quality in my purchase. I read a number of customer reviews. I applied for a Macy’s credit card and I made the purchase.

My bag has been around the world, on family vacations and business trips. I thought we were going to be life-long companions. The literature had promised me something like 30 years. That was until I hoisted it off the conveyor belt after my latest trip to Mexico and the handle and a wheel were not okay. I could barely role that 50 lb. monster out of the airport. (Actually, Mike could barely roll it…let’s be honest, he is my bellhop when I travel…) My reliable luggage must have gotten hung up somewhere between the plane and me, and the damage was too much.

Isn’t that the way it goes? We are traveling through life, things are cruising along and then we get hit with some unexpected damage: An illness, a job loss, a death or a break-up. After a while, we have accumulated enough of these experiences to say that we have “baggage”.

We all have baggage. We all have struggles, hurts and deep pain that has caused us to stumble at times in our life. I spend my days sitting with others who are in the midst of battles that seem overwhelming and unbeatable at times. One of the most powerful counseling tools is when the client is in a place in therapy, where they are healed enough to use their life situation for the empowerment of another. Sometimes the best way to heal from our own hurt is to help another in their similar battle!

In the car on the way to work this morning, I heard the opening lines to Big Daddy Weave’s song, My Story, and almost burst into tears!

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine

I have a story that has its share of dramatic moments. I bet you do too. How do we cling to the promise that God works together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)? How do we reframe the struggles of life and learn to tell our story in a way that communicates not only the pain but the victory?

What part of your story are you willing to share with someone going through the same thing? Are you willing to sit with another person through the loss of something important in their life because you know what that feels like? You might be surprised at how much you are blessed when you do!

I mentioned a trip to Mexico. It was actually my 12th mission trip in the last 8 years. This time, I served on a team of women, all volunteers with Thrive Ministry. We all have a story. We are cancer survivors, widows, divorcees, women who have buried their children, trauma survivors and so much more. But the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the King of Kings, The Great Healer, our Amazing God has allowed us to use our stories. We get to experience the joy of serving other people who are hurting and when we do, our story doesn’t feel as overwhelming, as painful.

A package just came in the mail today. It is my new luggage. Same brand, just a newer model. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

With love,


Mind, Body, Soul: New Year Resolutions Can Start Now!

I know that it is more than half way through the first month of the year. I also know that the holiday season can really take it out of us, making it hard to start the new year going to the gym and changing our diets to meet the demands of our repeat New Year Resolutions. I want to encourage you, even if it is a late start, to set some goals for 2018. I do this with my clients, not to impose more stress into their life, but to remind them that personal change can only happen if we make alterations to our unhealthy patterns.

For 2018, I am suggesting the theme, MIND, BODY AND SOUL. Even though my area of expertise tends to focus on the emotional, I am finding it more and more a part of my responsibility, as I encourage clients to embrace mental health, to also encourage physical and spiritual health as well. It is all connected. We are holistic beings that need more than one area of our life to be healthy if we want to feel empowered and content.

So, if you are ready to make 2018 one of your personal bests, consider some of the following:


Stress, toxic relationships and lack of positive stimulation can lead to feelings of lethargy, depression, anxiety and even anger. Identifying the triggers to a negative thought process is just the beginning to changing the course of your emotional health. Consider trying a new hobby, reading a book on a topic you are interested in or joining a new club or small group at church, where you can meet people who you relate with. Positive relationships and intellectual challenge are high on the list of things to do to fight the aging process so start now!


We often think about exercising when we want to lose weight, but the benefits of movement go beyond how we look in a bathing suit. The endorphins created when we move our bodies also help with mood, energy and sexual drive. If you tend to fight the blues in these winter months, turn on the music and dance around your kitchen if you have to, but keep moving!

Additionally, think about what you are putting in your body as you head into 2018. Taking nutritional supplements, eating real food and cutting back on sugar are good ways to fight depression! Getting at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight everyday is also a good way to keep the mood positive, which can be difficult for some. For those that live in places that don’t get sun, add some Vitamin D or some Sam E to your regimen so that you stave off dark thoughts.


Our spiritual side needs to be nurtured as well if we want to feel personal progress in the new year. Meditation and prayer have been proven to calm nerves, help with anxiety and help with creativity. Finding a time in each day to center your thoughts, focus on faith and love, and process your life, is beneficial for everyone. If you enjoy corporate worship, think about returning to a congregation you enjoy or trying a new one. Another way to feed the soul is to volunteer for a cause close to your heart. It is not uncommon to leave a time of personal sacrifice feeling like you were more blessed than the people or cause you served.

I hope some of these ideas will get you thinking about changes you can make in 2018! May it be a year of personal growth for you! Think MIND, BODY, SOUL!

As always, let me know if I can help.



Relationships Gone Bad: Are You Waiting Too Long To Break The Cycle?

Sonia Nelson - Couchtime.net

Let’s be honest. By the time the broken marriage gets to my couch, it is not looking good. Most people use counseling as an opportunity to “do life in reverse”; to go backward and fix what has become unbearable. While it is always a good idea to give counseling a shot, timing can be everything, when you are trying to save any relationship. The earlier you seek help in the restoration of a bad relationship, the better.

Can you let the good back in?

When I am first meeting with people in a struggle, it is important to know where they are in the relationship journey. Are they early in the conflict and willing to do anything to save their investment or have they created a vivid scenario in their mind that involves moving out and starting over with someone else? It is also important to get a pulse on their ability to “reset” to an attitude that is open to healing, and an attitude willing to apologize and accept an apology. The two people in the relationship have to be willing to let the good back in.

Something to ask yourself when you are in a conflict with another person is, “If they say they are sorry and put effort into changing behaviors, will I be open to meeting them halfway?” Sometimes the answer to this question is a resounding YES! But oftentimes, the hurt runs too deep or the conflict has gone on too long and the emotional energy is just not there. It is important to guard against getting to this point, with relationships that are meaningful to you.

Both people have to agree to work!

Sonia Nelson - Couch Time.netAnother important step in understanding the course of the relationship struggle you are in is getting a full understanding if your commitment to change and restoration is being matched by the person with whom you are in conflict. My heart breaks for the spouse who has set up an appointment for counseling, in an effort to heal the relationship, only to hear their significant other refuses to accept their efforts for change. It takes two people to have a relational conflict and it takes two people to heal a relational conflict. Even in situations where there has been an overt infraction, such as an affair, there has to be a commitment from both people to make efforts to meet the needs of the other person. Failure to get this buy-in usually means the healing will not occur.

Are you in a relationship that is heading in the wrong direction? Are cycles that are draining your emotional energy beginning, or well underway? The time to address those cycles is now!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,


Celebrate your uniqueness by being part of a team: Step one for unity in relationship

Let me start this piece by saying that our individuality is SUPER DUPER important. Our uniqueness should ABSOLUTELY be celebrated. But, can we all consider, for just a tiny second, that  for unity to occur, there must be an undying commitment to what makes us similar, what makes us alike and what energizes our relationships? You might think that I am talking about the ongoing political scene in the good old U.S. of A., and for sure the concept applies, but the cultural worship of our individuality is not just ruining our country, it is also ruining our marriages, our families, and our workplaces, when it discounts the need for cooperation, compromise and harmony. As I work with clients in relationships and families, the balance between self love and care, and the “system” in crisis, is always a consideration.

Have boundaries but don’t shut others out.

As my clients know, I am a relentless advocate for boundaries that protect the individual. There are more than a few of us that get bloodied by the inability to stand up to people who take advantage, and a large part of my work is focused on empowering the downtrodden. Additionally, I believe we are each God’s creation, made in His image, to live a life that glorifies our creator. That said, we are also to use our uniqueness to bring symmetry, balance and creativity to the systems we are a part of: our marriages, our friendships, our workplaces, our country, our world.

In every positive relationship, there is give and take. There are times when consensus comes naturally and times when compromises are made. There are moments that grace is extended and instances where expectations are non-negotiable. Crisis occurs when the flow, the give and take, stays on one side too long. Crisis occurs when those with extreme positions, dig in and refuse to accommodate the ideas, thought processes or methods that others bring to the table. We have each had a relationship or a job that has simply become unbearable because the concessions that had to be made to make it work, outweighed the benefit of the situation.

Oftentimes, when working with couples or families, our first session focuses on the conflict that brings them to counseling and I hear an extensive list of arguments that have occurred, the hurts that have been experienced and the ultimatums of people ready to give up. There is often a feeling of release when at least, the issues are all out on the table. And while some couples and families have individuals who are causing most of the conflict, in the majority of cases, by the time the conflict lands in my office, there are systems, habits and cycles in place that everyone is participating in, whether they realize it or not.

Crisis in relationships is never resolved if any of the involved individuals refuse to relinquish something or demand that the other individuals give up all that is sacred to them.

Sonia Nelson - Moriah Ventures

When negotiating relationship, it is important to know what your goals are. For example, while a couple may not agree on how to parent, they may have the same goal of academic success for their child. A couple may not agree on how to spend their money but they may agree that economic stability is important for their relationship. When commonalities become the focus, often what each person does to achieve the goal can be tailored to their personality but the goal holds the couple or family together. It is important to remember that crisis in relationships is never resolved if any of the involved individuals refuse to relinquish anything or demand that the other individuals give up all that is sacred to them.

An “aha” moment that I often share with couples who come for counseling is a time that as a young married couple, Mike and I were at odds over something and Mike interrupted me “mid-rant” to remind me that he loved me and he was not the enemy. In a moment, I was brought to a place where I became reasonable because the focus was not on getting my way, but reaching a common goal. (Just to be clear, I am not always the crazy in our relationship, but I try to own up occasionally…)

Are there systems that you are a part of that could benefit from a change in focus from “whose turn is it to be “right”, to how can we get behind something that we agree on?

As always, let me know if I can help.