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Don’t Be Afraid To Set Boundaries: Studio 5

Does the fear of offending friends or family members keep you from setting boundaries? It’s a timely topic with the holidays fast approaching. Therapist, Julie Hanks, says it’s ok to set boundaries, even if you offend someone.


Q: Why are we afraid to set boundaries that might offend someone?

You might mistakenly confuse boundaries with aggression or with using a “sword” stance. It might feel “mean” to you to do something that you know will contribute to another person’s pain, or you may feel responsible for other people’s emotions.

It’s helpful to think of these 3 relationship stances when setting boundaries:

Doormat –

This passive stance is characterized by a lack of awareness of your own feelings, highly valuing pleasing others, devaluing own wants and needs, and feeling “run over” by others. You value other’s emotional needs above self.

Sword –

In this reactive stance, you’re emotionally “on guard”, lashing out at slightest hint of emotional threat, on “high alert”. You might let emotions build up and then explode with cutting words, snide remarks, or become cold and aloof and unavailable. You value your own self-protection over other’s needs.

Lantern –

In this enlightened stance, your “emotional” feet are planted firmly on the ground. There is a feeling of calmness as you seek a broader perspective. When you do get upset you don’t ignore it or react to it but seek understanding. You value your own and other’s emotions and desires and take responsibility for your part.

Q: Why are we afraid to tell people what we need or what we want?

We don’t want to jeopardize our relationships. We are afraid of isolation or rejection, or we are afraid to hurt those we love because that causes us pain too.

Q: Do we worry too much about other people’s feelings?

We do worry about other’s feelings to much when it comes to boundaries. I worked with a couple recently whose family always stays with them during the holidays. Just having had a new baby, this couple was not feeling up to having house-guests, yet they were hesitant to take a stand. We talked about the importance of concentric circles of relationships. In the core is self-care, then the next ring is the marriage relationship, then parenting, then extended family—in that order and challenged them to set boundaries, even if feelings are hurt.

Q: Are women more afraid to offend other than men are?

Women in particular are hard wired and socialized to highly value relationships and emotional bonds. I had a client whose friend constantly badmouthed her own ex-husband. While she wanted to supportive she was sick of hearing complaining. I encouraged her to honor herself and her own needs first, hold up a “lantern” to the situation and state what she saw was going on. For example, “I can tell this divorce has taken its toll on you and you’re really angry with Tim. Of course you are. However, I’m getting worn down by the topic and wondering if it would be more helpful for you to talk to a therapist because I’m not sure what to say anymore.”

Q: What if others don’t respect our boundaries?

There’s nothing more frustrating than setting clear boundaries and not being heard valued, or taken seriously. I worked with a woman whose adult son lived at home and refused to get a job. She needed him to take responsibility for his life but she felt like he was ignoring her and wasn’t taking action. We worked to help her set a clear, firm timeline of when he needed to start paying rent or find another place to live. Instead of trying to make him get a job, I helped her shift to setting firm boundaries in areas that she hat she could control (like who lived in her house).

Q: Is it harder to set boundaries with certain people?

Some people don’t like being told “no” and may resort to a “sword” stance if you do. If there’s underlying tension, unresolved issues, or insecurities in the relationship it may be harder to set boundaries.

A common dynamic I see in my practice is tense in-law relationships. There was one situation where a client’s mother-in-law kept trying to parent her kids when she was there, what food he could or couldn’t eat. I suggested that she take her mother-in-law aside and using a lantern stance, acknowledge her mother-in-laws good intentions and ask her not to step into a parenting role without being invited.

Q: Why do we protect other people at our own expense?

We protect others at our own expense because we think it’s the “right”, nice, loving thing to do. You may have been taught not to express yourself or it may be hard for you to know how you feel and what you want.

This is a common dynamic especially during the holidays. Holiday traditions with extended family often trump the individual and family needs. I’ve worked with many families who want to deviate from family traditions but know that others will be “hurt” by their decision.

Should You Keep Your Kids Believing in Santa?: Studio 5

No parent wants to be “Scrooge” about Santa, so why not just keep believing forever? Therapist, Julie Hanks, has advice on how to handle “Santa doubt” and how to keep Santa’s example of love and generosity, alive.


Should you keep your kids believing in Santa?

1) Let your child take the lead

· Watch for Santa doubt starting to creep in sometime between ages 5-7.

· Children usually make a gradual shift in beliefs instead of one big moment around age 7.

· Cognitive development shifts around this age from fantasy to more rational judgments based concrete evidence that doesn’t add up.

· 2 of 3 children said they felt pride in figuring out the truth about Santa, and half still liking the idea of Santa even though he wasn’t real. (Source )

· In preparing for this segment I asked my 9 year old, “Tell me about Santa…” He replied, “You mean do I believe or not? I think he’s real because there is no way you guys could hide all those presents from us! And I don’t think you could leave and buy all that stuff on Christmas eve. But I don’t believe in the tooth fairy. I think that’s just you or Dad leaving money under my pillow.”

· “We told our kids right from the start that there was no Santa. They chose to believe otherwise. We insisted that he was a story, a fairy tale. They insisted that we were teasing them. Finally, when they were around ten or so they started to realize that we had been telling them the truth all along but they decided when and what to believe.” –Stephanie Cannon

Read more

Moms, How do you answer the question, “Is there really a Santa Clause?”

How do you answer the question, “Is Santa Clause real?”

How far have you gone to keep your kids believing in Santa?

How old were you when you find out the truth about Santa? Who told you?

Please post questions, comments, and funny stories below. I may use them in an upcoming Studio 5 TV segment.

Technology Milestones For Kids | When Should Kids Have Cell Phones, Facebook, Game Consoles?: Studio 5

High-Tech Parenting: When Should Kids Have Cell Phones, Facebook, Game Consoles?

Under pressure to let your kids go high-tech? Get expert advice on when to let children have a cell phone, open a Facebook account and more. Studio 5 Contributor and therapist, Julie Hanks, has tips to help you manage kids and technology.

1) At what age should a child have a cell phone?

Age 12 is the earliest I’d recommend a basic cell phone for safety reasons.
Age 16 is the earliest for smart phones.

Tech Tip: Encourage responsibility by having them pay for monthly fee and any additional charges.
Tech Tip: Have child check in phone at night, before bedtime.

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Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal – Have Courage To Report Child Abuse: KSL News

No compromising

The Penn State sexual abuse scandal has brought child abuse to the forefront of headlines across the nation. When I heard about this situation I was sickened for the victims – the children who were abused. While the news is focusing on Paterno and other school officials who were fired because of this scandal, and the student outrage about their beloved coach being fired, this story is about institutional secrecy and protecting your own job and reputation.

“Part of why people protect the institution is because, really, they are protecting themselves because they are a part of the institution,” said director Julie Hanks of Wasatch Family Therapy. “And if the institution is threatened, they are somehow threatened.”

I wanted to be a voice to support having the courage to act on behalf of abused children, and to report any crime, or suspected crimes, against children to police authority. I was invited to share my thoughts on tonight’s KSL news story “LaVell Edwards describes friendship with Joe Paterno.” My comments are near the end of the story.

Read the full story at

Read Utah mandatory child abuse reporting law

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photo credit: Lance Neilson

National TV Appearance on Secretly Pregnant on Nov. 3 on Discovery Health

Tune in Nov. 3rd 8PM MT to Discovery Fit & Health

No. I’m not secretly pregnant. Several months ago I got a call from a casting company asking if I’d be willing to do some pro bono therapy with a woman in Salt Lake for a women’s health documentary show about women who are hiding their pregnancies. I agreed and the next day a producer, crew, and new client “Jen” came to Wasatch Family Therapy to film the first of 2 sessions for the show. Would you let a camera crew sit in on your therapy session? Surprisingly, after a while I forgot they were even there and was really able to connect with and help “Jen”.

Here’s a little clip from behind the scenes.


Here’s more about the show:

Each episode of “Secretly Pregnant” follows the experiences of two women who, for various reasons, have hidden their pregnancies from their family, friends, boyfriends and/or bosses, and follows them through the emotional reveal of their secret and the aftermath that includes the birth of the baby.

Local therapist Julie Hanks, LCSW and Salt Lake City resident “Jen” will be appearing on the November 3 episode of Discovery Fit & Health’s new series “Secretly Pregnant.” As part of the episode Hanks will be providing therapy, with the cameras rolling, for Jen who is hiding her pregnancy due to fears that stem from the traumatic stillbirth of a previous pregnancy.

Here’s more about the show on Discovery Health

Watch the episode trailer

Peek behind the scenes during the shoot

Will 1 Year Wait Period Before Divorce Save Marriages: KSL TV News

Wasatch Family Therapy Couples

KSL’s Brooke Walker asked me to weigh in on the recent proposal from the Institute for American Values suggesting to lawmakers a mandatory divorce waiting period. In my clinical work with couples I’ve found that couples often seriously consider or file for divorce because they have lost hope of reconnecting with their spouse and think that they’ve exhausted all resources. I frequently suggest slowing down the divorce process by reminding couples, “You can get divorced next month, in 3 months, or in a year. What’s the rush?”

Luckily, marriage counselors have more tools than ever before to help couples understand the root of their emotional disconnection and to repair relationships, if they are willing. Dr. Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, the model we use here at Wasatch Family Therapy, has had tremendous success repairing severely distressed relationships.

Learn more about this proposed wait period and here a few of my thoughts on the topic…

Read the entire “Second Chances: A Proposal To Reduce Unnecessary Divorce

Read more on – Waiting period before divorce could prevent split families

How To Ward Off Emotional Vampires

Spot an emotional vampire before it bites! Therapist, Julie Hanks, LCSW has tips to identify and protect yourself from people who want to drain you dry.

I became aware of the term “emotional vampires” after reading a book review of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life by Judith Orloff, MD. She has excellent strategies for identifying and dealing with people who emotionally drain you.

In her book, Dr. Orloff identified these 5 signs that you’ve encountered an emotional vampire:

1) Your eyelids are heavy and you’re ready for a nap

2) Your mood takes a nosedive

3) You want to binge on carbs or comfort foods

4) You feel anxious, depressed, or negative

5) You feel put down, sniped at, or “slimed”

#1 The Narcissist

Has “Me first” attitude
Has limited capacity for empathy
Becomes cold, withholding, or punishing when they don’t get their way

Kurt Bestor: “I have a friend who I have given the secret name “The Consumer” because, while he is my friend, he consumes my time, my creative energy, and sometimes – patience. Everything always seems to slant his way and he’s usually asking for me to do something for him, which takes my time, my money, and my energy. The “give and take” necessary for a true friendship is lacking which is why I never seem to pick up the phone when he calls. The biggest problem – he has no clue that he acts this way.”

How to Protect Yourself

Keep your expectations realistic and don’t expect reciprocity
Don’t depend on their approval for your self-worth
Lead with how they will benefit from something

#2 The Victim

Has a “poor me” attitude
Blames everyone and everything else for misery
When you offer advice they respond “yes, but…”

Amanda: “I have someone in my life who is almost constantly complaining about something…but is too codependent to move on, accept what they can change and change it—they just try to convince you to feel sorry for them.”

How to Protect Yourself

Don’t take on their baggage
Set kind yet firm limits in conversation length and topic
Reinforce your limits with body language and action

#3 The Controller

Tells you how to feel and behave
Invalidates your feelings
Leaves you feeling “less than”

Anonymous: “I was given a church music assignment where I had someone over me that tried to control every detail even to the point of telling me where I should stand, what songs to teach, and what visual aids to use. It seemed like so many silly details, but it literally killed me & my spirit to be that controlled over something that initially inspired creativity.”

How to Protect Yourself

Confidently assert yourself
Focus on important issues
Don’t try to tell them what to do

#4 The Splitter

Views you as either “all good” or “all bad”
Feeds off of anger
Pits people against each other

Anonymous: “I have a family member who suffers from many, many problems. Unfortunately, most people in the family have had to cut her off because she is so caustic. I came to a point in which I felt I had to make a decision between my family member and my sanity – I needed to have enough energy for my own husband and children. Is it ever ok to cut off a family member?”

How to Protect Yourself

Remain emotionally neutral
Set limits and stick to them
Avoid taking sides

References & Resources:

Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life

Dr Judith Orloff website

Combating Emotional Vampires Online Course by Dr. Judith Orloff

How To Overcome Fears & Risk Emotional Vulnerability In Relationships: Studio 5

Allowing another person to “step in your shoes” means letting them know what is really going on in your life. Studio 5 Contributor and Therapist, Julie Hanks, says that’s a risk many of us are simply not willing to take. Find out how to break through false fronts and let people in.

Level 1 – Doing (hands)

Talking about action and external facts and events, like “What did you do today?” “I went to the store.”

Level 2 – Thinking (head)

Conversations focused on thoughts and opinions, such as “I think that you’re a great mother” or “In my opinion, the only solution to the economy is…”

Level 3 – Feeling (heart)

Sharing emotional experiences, like “I feel scared that I might lose my job” or “I felt so loved when you brought me dinner last week.”

Level 4 – Being (core/gut)

Sharing a deep, emotional connection with another person at the same time. This is when you feel “felt” – you know that the other person “gets” you. This type of communication is honest and genuine, deep, meaningful, and rare.

What prevents us from letting others walk in our shoes?


1) Fear of being hurt

“What if I open up my heart and they don’t care, they leave me, they don’t “get it”, or they don’t comfort me?” After being hurt in the past, we learn to protect from being hurt again, but that also keeps us from being close to others.

Solution: Decide to risk anyway

If it’s hard for you to let others “walk in your shoes” you have to make a conscious decision to take a risk to let others into on a deeper level. Honest self-disclosure is associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction. When you share deeper experiences and emotions it invites others to share their heart with you. This invites intimacy. We all want to be known and loved. Intimacy = into me see

2) Worry what others will think

“I don’t want to appear weak. If I share vulnerability with someone, they may think I don’t have it all together.” We live in a culture that values strength and sharing emotional vulnerability may be perceived as weakness. But is it? I truly believe that the developing the ability and willingness to share emotional vulnerability is one of the most important relationship strengths we can develop. It is the key to fulfilling relationships.

Solution: Accept that you don’t have it all together

Everyone is weak AND strong. We need to lean on each other. When I get caught in the trap of wondering what others will think I rehearse this quote in my mind, “It’s none of my business what others think of me.”

3) Don’t want to burden others

“People have their own struggles. Why would they want to hear about mine? Do they really care anyway?” You may be aware of the burdens of your loved ones and want to protect them from additional stress.

Solution: Share, don’t dump

Sharing is opening up your heavy backpack and letting someone else see and feel the contents. Dumping is sharing the contents of your backpack and then trying to get the other person to carry your backpack for you.

4) I don’t know how

“That’s just not what I do. I wouldn’t know where to start to let some one really know me.” From birth we are born to emotionally connect with each other, so you do know how to be emotionally vulnerable on some level. As you developed you may have had experiences that taught you to guard your tender feelings. Some families are better at fostering deeper sharing of emotions than others. If you’ve never been in a relationship where you’ve been able to be yourself, it may be time to open up, just a little bit at a time.

Solution: Start small

Ask yourself, “What level am I sharing from?” and then see if you can move one level down. This is the crux of what I help clients with in therapy — to identify their internal experience and to share it in a meaningful way with loved ones.

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photo credit: theperplexingparadox

World Mental Health Day – Do Your Emotional Family History: Studio 5

I blog for World Mental Health Day

WHAT is emotional family history?

Emotional family history is the emotional and relational patterns inherited and/or learned from your parents and grandparents, which may have been passed down to you. It includes:

1. nature: predisposition to certain emotional & mental health problems or traits (i.e. depression, anxiety, addictions)

2. nurture: learned patterns of how to manage emotions in relationships (i.e. “It’s not ok to be angry” or “When there is conflict it’s best to leave the situation”).

WHY is emotional family history important?

Just like physical health history, country of birth, or personal history of ancestors, we can learn valuable information about ourselves by looking at the emotional patterns we have inherited or learned from our families. The awareness of positive as well as negative traits and patterns that have been passed down to us allows us to understand ourselves better, to be more aware of our emotional vulnerabilities, and to take responsibility for our emotional lives. Like puzzle pieces, the more pieces you have in place, the more clearly you can see the picture of where you came from emotionally. Frequently, clients will fear that doing emotional family history is somehow “not honoring” their parents and grandparents, but in my own experience I have found that the more emotional puzzle pieces I have about my parents and grandparents, the more I am able to empathize with their struggles and honor their lives.

HOW & WHERE do you find emotional family history information?


F – Feedback from “Outsiders”

“Outsiders” are anyone who did not grow up in your family. Spouse’s, in-laws’, friend’s, neighbor’s observations about the idiosyncrasies of your family are worth considering. As you grow up in your family, it’s easy to think that your family’s way of managing emotions is the norm because it’s all that you know. Some examples of observations are “Why does your family seem to yell at each other over every little thing?” or “Your family seems to handle conflict really well. I really like how everyone can have differing opinions and it’s O.K.” or “Why don’t you or your siblings, tell your dad how you feel about the way he talks to your mom?”

A – Ask Hard Questions

Be willing to ask the hard questions and get more curious about family relationship patterns. “Why did Grandma and Grandpa divorce in their 70’s? ” or “When did Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty stop talking to each other?” “How did Grandpa manage to remain so kind and loving even after he returned from the war?” Notice positive and difficult trends among family members. Are there family members who’ve exhibited incredible capacity for forgiveness, or tolerance of differences, or emotional resilience after traumatic experiences? Are there signs of unresolved trauma, addictions, abuse, divorces, infidelity, suicide or other problems that many families don’t openly talk about?

M – Mental Health Histories

Just as health histories are important source of information for you, mental health history of your family can also empower you to be educated, to know what symptoms to watch for, and to get help if those symptoms arise in your own life, and in the lives of your children. Mental health history allows you to be proactive and take preventative measures. Is there a history of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse? Here’s an example of how mental health history is important. A new mom struggles to understand why she feels hopeless and worthless and has feelings of wanting to abandon her baby. Her mother discloses AFTER her daughter is diagnosed with postpartum depression, that she, too, suffered from postpartum depression after 3 out of her 4 deliveries. Had she shared that information with her daughter prior to her daughter’s diagnosis, they could have been more proactive in education and treatment.

I – Identify Emotional Rules

Each family has a unique way of being, managing emotions, and getting our emotional needs met. While some of these rules are explicit (i.e. “Men are always right”, “We don’t talk about feelings”, “We wear our feelings on our sleeve”, “Never admit that you’re wrong”, “It’s ok to cry when you’re physically hurt, but not emotionally hurt”), many are implicit and we follow the rules without conscious awareness. Ask yourself, “What messages did I receive about happiness, sadness, anger, fear?” and “How did my parents manage each of these emotions in themselves?” “How did my family respond when I have expressed each of these emotions?” If you were raised with parents who were sensitive to your emotions and needs, then you will likely have healthier emotional rules to live by.

L – Life Scripts

Similar to a movie script, we learn who our “character” is (the smart one, or the pretty one, or the lazy one) and how to respond in certain relational situations (i.e. when someone says you did a great job on a project at work, you are supposed to point out all of the flaws in your presentation and discount the compliment). We also live by scripts regarding our physical body, money, intelligence, worth, future, gender role, intimate relationships, sexuality, and family life. Just like emotional rules, many of the scripts you live by are implicit and never stated directly. For example, if your parents never discuss sex with you, you may be living by a script that sex is bad or wrong.

Y – Your Own Experiences

Examine and reflect on your own experiences in your family – the positive and the painful. Take the emotional family history information you receive from others and check it against your own experience in your family. Ask yourself, “Does this fit with my experiences?” The beauty of becoming aware of your emotional history is now you are free to sift through the information, keep the positive emotional patterns, and be proactive in changing the patterns that you don’t want to pass on to your family. Knowledge allows you to take responsibility for your current and future emotional life. Example: if your family has anger management issues and you find yourself screaming at your family, take anger management classes.