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Boundaries for Positive Mental Health – Podcast

By LifeStance Health on May 4, 2022

Boundaries are at the foundation of relationships and communication. LifeStance provider Anthony Catullo breaks down the importance of boundaries for positive mental health in this latest episode as we recognize #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth

Nicholette Leanza (00:06):

Hello everyone. And welcome to Convos from the Couch by LifeStance Health. I’m Nicki Leanza. And on today’s episode, I’ll be talking with Anthony Catullo, a clinical counselor from our Independence, Ohio office on the importance of boundaries for positive mental health. So welcome Anthony. Great to see you.

Anthony Catullo (00:29):

Yeah, thanks for having me. Thanks for having me today, Nicki.

Nicholette Leanza (00:32):

Yeah, no problem. It’s great. I know we work out of the same office here in Independence, Ohio. So it’s great to see you. And I know you’re only right down the hall, but it’s okay. Going to have a great conversation here. So let’s jump in and looking at boundaries. I think boundaries in the mainstream has really been out there, emphasized on, you’ll hear lots of TikTok videos or even on social media about like boundaries and what they are. So I think this is going to be a great conversation, talking about the importance of this. So just jumping into that question, how would you define boundaries and what they are?

Anthony Catullo (01:07):

Yeah. So for me, boundaries are a way of telling people how you’re going to allow them to treat you. Right. And when we struggle with boundaries, it can not have the best effect on our mental health. It can not have the best effect on our energy in general, feeling drained, feeling taken advantage of, et cetera.

Nicholette Leanza (01:33):

Give us some examples of somebody maybe not setting the best boundaries.

Anthony Catullo (01:39):

Yeah. So people that struggle with setting boundaries or kind of just, sometimes these are people that kind of are like an open book where like, they overshare a lot of information. They don’t really know kind of where that line is of like, yeah, this is probably something I should share for now. Or I should wait for later when the relationship has developed a bit. Sometimes it’s when people ask you, I guess my go-to example with this is kind of like in the workplace. Right. And so we kind of all have had that experience of like, Hey, are you free this Saturday to work? Right. People that struggle with boundaries it’s like, I already picked up last Saturday and the Saturday before that. I had plans this Saturday with my friends or with family, but I’m going to blow those off. And I’m going to go ahead and say yes, because I struggle with saying no. When we struggle with boundaries, we tend to be people pleasers.

Nicholette Leanza (02:53):

Yeah. Exactly.

Anthony Catullo (02:54):

Well, right. And so it’s like, oh, well the boss asked me to work. So I guess I have to work. So yeah, I guess that would be an example of one of the many examples that you could have for boundaries.

Nicholette Leanza (03:08):

And I think looking back at people who tend to be people pleasers, who might struggle with setting boundaries with others because they want to be liked. Right. They don’t want someone not to like them. So they’ll put their own needs aside to help somebody else.

Anthony Catullo (03:22):

Yeah. Sacrificers. Right.

Nicholette Leanza (03:27):


Anthony Catullo (03:27):

Self-sacrificing because, it’s really, sometimes it’s even like to your point, it’s like, yeah I want people to like me, I want to be accepted. I want these, whether it’s, I want the relationship, I want the friendship, I want the respect from the boss, whatever it might be. But sometimes it’s also more about just not upsetting other people. Right.

Nicholette Leanza (03:53):


Anthony Catullo (03:54):

Feeling uncomfortable with feeling guilty, that I have to say no, that I have to disappoint someone. And we try to avoid that. Right.

Nicholette Leanza (04:04):


Anthony Catullo (04:04):

So it’s easier to say yes.

Nicholette Leanza (04:05):

Right. Right. And one of the things that I know in a minute will get to examples of what positive boundaries setting looks like, but for some people who maybe haven’t been so good at setting boundaries in their life with other people, or even their time and things like that, when they start doing it, it might feel like it’s so harsh that they’re setting boundaries with others. And so it feels that, especially the people pleasers of like, oh, no, they’re going to get really mad at me, if I tell them no, or that I can’t or something like that. So I have noticed that people will feel like it’s so harsh when they start setting boundaries. So have you found that as well?

Anthony Catullo (04:43):

Yeah, absolutely. I think, not to put like an occurrence on it, but half the time, more than half the time people that struggle with setting boundaries and all that, they tend to be more passive communicators. And so to them if we’re on like a spectrum to them, setting boundaries feels like all the way over here on like, oh, I’m being aggressive. I’m being too forward. I’m being someone that people are not going to like. Right. People going to be upset with me. When in actuality, all we’re trying to do is bring it right to the middle.

Nicholette Leanza (05:21):


Anthony Catullo (05:22):

Just trying to be assertive. Right.

Nicholette Leanza (05:23):


Anthony Catullo (05:24):

Like, Hey, I respect that you’re asking me this or that you want me to do that however, I’m not able to at this time.

Nicholette Leanza (05:31):

Right. Right.

Anthony Catullo (05:31):

But that feels like, I’m yeah. I’m dropping the hammer or something.

Nicholette Leanza (05:39):

Yeah. Right, right. No, I hear you. Let’s jump to what would be an example of good boundary setting? I don’t know if you want to use the similar one with the work situation or if you have another one.

Anthony Catullo (05:49):

Oh yeah, yeah. Let’s stick with the work situation.

Nicholette Leanza (05:52):


Anthony Catullo (05:53):

Yeah. So, going back to the framework of the previous example, third Saturday in a row boss has asked me, Hey we’re really short. We need you to come in. It’d be good for the team. You’re a team player, all that good stuff. And so where we would set that boundary would be kind of like ideally as follows where it would be just saying no. Right. Which sounds really hard just to say no and not explain it. Sometimes we, when we are in like people pleaser mode or having a hard time saying no in general, we feel like we have to over justify our no. And it’s got to be like very, yeah, kind of over the top. Right. So it’s like, oh no, I really would love to come into work and work the overtime for the third Saturday in a row.

Anthony Catullo (06:57):

However, grandma’s coming into town and we’re taking her to go see Ariana Grande and it’s her first concert ever in her life. And just like really over justifying an event. It’s not the greatest example, but just for fun. Yeah. Just over justifying it. And then, and even that is doing a disservice to yourself. Right. So the goal would just to be like, we could even elaborate a little bit more than just a no, and just say, Hey, I appreciate you reaching out. However, I’m unable to this Saturday.

Nicholette Leanza (07:36):

Got you.

Anthony Catullo (07:38):

And the hardest part with doing that is not throwing in a sorry. Right.

Nicholette Leanza (07:43):

That’s a hard one. Right.

Anthony Catullo (07:44):

Right. Because the question that I like to ask my clients is what are you apologizing for? Why are you saying, sorry? Like it is their position, right, it’s your boss’s job to fill that schedule. Right. You saying no is not, hopefully it’s not upsetting to the boss. I’m sure there are times that it is, but yeah. I mean saying no does not have to be over justified.

Nicholette Leanza (08:17):

I agree. So overall, why are setting boundaries important for mental health?

Anthony Catullo (08:25):

Yes. So I like to point to the book, The Giving Tree.

Nicholette Leanza (08:39):

Oh, that’s a great example [inaudible 00:08:40]. Yes. Oh it is, yeah.

Anthony Catullo (08:40):

Yeah. The Giving Tree, fantastic book. Yeah. I think it really, it does a nice job of symbolizing kind of going through the process of like, if you overextend yourself and you’re always saying yes and you’re always giving in, you’re eventually just going to be a tree trunk.

Nicholette Leanza (09:01):


Anthony Catullo (09:02):

That’s it. You’ve given everything. You feel exhausted all the time. You feel like people take advantage of you. You feel like your relationships only exist if you’re able to be beneficial to them. Right. If you’re able to give to them. When really, you, me, whoever, whatever kind of relationship, it’s two people. Right. And so, it’s got to be me doing my stuff and them doing their stuff as well. Right. We got to come together. That’s how true relationships work. That’s how healthy relationships work. And if it’s always one giving, then yeah. They’re going to feel again, exhausted. They’re going to feel like the tree trunk.

Nicholette Leanza (09:45):


Anthony Catullo (09:46):

You have nothing left to give. Right.

Nicholette Leanza (09:49):

I think it’s interesting how that book, that children’s book is portrayed as like such a great book. Like we should all aspire to that and it’s like, no, that’s not healthy. You should not be a stump at the end of the book, still trying to give. So it’s a great example of like, excuse me, the importance of setting boundaries for yourself. So you’re not that stump and just exhausted with nothing else to give. And I think you’re emphasizing the reciprocity of things, the importance of that in relationships. It’s the give and to take for sure.

Anthony Catullo (10:21):

Yeah. Absolutely. And you know as well as I do that there are people out there that are aware of people that struggle to say no. Right.

Nicholette Leanza (10:29):

Right. Right.

Anthony Catullo (10:30):

And there are bosses out there that have their people that they turn to, to ask to cover shifts because they know, oh, they usually say yes and I can get them to do it.

Nicholette Leanza (10:47):


Anthony Catullo (10:48):

And so that’s the thing where it’s like, yeah, you want to be helpful. We all want to be helpful. We all want to feel like, we’re doing quote, unquote the right thing. But really, sometimes we struggle with doing the right thing for ourselves.

Nicholette Leanza (11:03):


Anthony Catullo (11:04):

And sometimes it can feel selfish to say no, and selfish gets, yeah. Selfish gets a bad rap. It really does.

Nicholette Leanza (11:12):


Anthony Catullo (11:12):

Being selfish is not, it’s like anything else, there’s an extreme, right? Where it’s like, yeah, don’t want to be selfish, but then there’s also that good boundary of being selfish. Like, no, I worked last Saturday. I don’t need to work this Saturday or no, I helped you do, to a friend, like, I help you do something last time. I need help this time. Right. Like where are you in this relationship?

Nicholette Leanza (11:43):

Right. So what can people do to improve their boundaries if they do have a hard time setting them with others?

Anthony Catullo (11:50):

Yeah. So, well, like in all things, it should be more about moderation, right, and slow and steady wins the race. And so I like to go with the approach of starting small. Right. And really working on being assertive. Boundaries are kind of, they’re one of the foundational pieces for relationships and communication. Right. And so when we work on our assertive communication, we’re really working on boundaries and we’re really working on letting people know like, Hey, here’s where I stand on things. Like that doesn’t mean that I’m not invested. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care, but for me here are my limits. This is where I’m at. And so just working on being assertive and taking small steps with that. So an example of that would be like, you go through a drive through and you order a meal and it’s supposed to come with a drink and they forget the drink. Right. People that have a hard time speaking up, being assertive. Oh, that’s okay. I have drinks at home.

Nicholette Leanza (13:05):

Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Anthony Catullo (13:07):

And so really all you have to, it’s about working on like, Hey, excuse me, I ordered such and such meal. It’s supposed to come with a drink. Could I have that please? Right.

Nicholette Leanza (13:19):

Like sometimes some people feel like they’re going to be a bother if they kind of go back. And I don’t want to bother them kind of a thing, again, setting aside your needs for somebody else’s needs.

Anthony Catullo (13:28):


Nicholette Leanza (13:29):

Me being aware of that. Right. And,

Anthony Catullo (13:30):


Nicholette Leanza (13:31):

Pulling together that assertiveness to speak up.

Anthony Catullo (13:34):

Right. Am I being self-sacrificing?

Nicholette Leanza (13:37):

Oh, great. I think that’s a key question right there to help someone recognize, all right, does that boundary need to be set here for me? Am I being self-sacrificing? And obviously if they’re saying yes, then that should point some arrows to what they need to do next with setting a boundary, right?

Anthony Catullo (13:52):

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of like having like a mental if then churn. Right. If I’m being self-sacrificing and it’s not beneficial to me, then why am I doing this? Right. Am I operating at a sense of, I don’t want to be a bother, I don’t want to upset someone, I want people to like me, whatever it might be. Right. And so sometimes, and again, kind of touching back on, like that word selfish, right? Like kind of like inquiring for ourselves like, what am I getting out of this interaction? What am I getting out of this relationship? What am I getting out of this profession? Whatever it might be. And that changes over time. So it’s kind of like, over time having those check-ins with yourself and knowing that like, I’m starting to get a little lax with my boundaries or maybe I’m being too strict with my boundaries and just trying to reassess as we go.

Nicholette Leanza (14:50):

Any other takeaways you’d like us to know about boundaries and their importance?

Anthony Catullo (14:55):

Yeah. So I debated back and forth on whether I’d share this, but I share it with my clients all the time and it’s kind of like a nice intro to really like broaching the subject of boundaries. I have a saying, B is for boundaries. They’re fun for everyone. It’s true. They are. When we have good boundaries, we don’t feel depleted. We don’t feel stressed in relationships. We don’t feel stressed in social situations, or at least not as stressed. Right. So boundaries are crucial to navigating relationships. So I encourage people that struggle with boundaries and all that, please if you’re in therapy, please try and work on it. If you’re not in therapy, please try to seek it out. Everyone should be in therapy. That’s my stance.

Nicholette Leanza (15:50):

I agree. For sure. We all have things that I think we can work on within ourselves, for sure.

Anthony Catullo (15:56):


Nicholette Leanza (15:57):

So thank you, Anthony. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us about boundaries and their importance. And thank you again. And I think you’ve inspired a lot of people to look into themselves and realize, Hmm, if they need to be setting better boundaries here. No longer should be self-sacrificing for sure.

Anthony Catullo (16:14):

Yes. Absolutely. Thank you for having me Nicki. I appreciate it.

Nicholette Leanza (16:18):

Take care.