How to Set Boundaries In Your Relationships


We often hear about boundaries — and we might even know we need them in order to have healthy, fulfilling relationships.

But amidst all the talk about boundaries, the three most important things about them are often overlooked. What are boundaries? How do we discover our own boundaries? Once we identify them, how can we set boundaries?

What are Boundaries?

Many people believe that a boundary is similar to a rule. They believe a boundary is something a person puts into place to prevent other people from treating them a certain way or behaving a certain way around them.

That’s Not How Boundaries Work.

If that were the case, we would all be expected to adjust our behaviors constantly, and big problems would happen when we all felt expected to follow someone else’s guidelines for our behavior.

Boundaries Are For You. 

They are about what you will and will not allow in your space. They aren’t about you saying, “you’re not allowed to say that to me.” They are about saying, “I don’t spend time with people who say things like that.”

How to Discover and Identify Your Boundaries

How do you know what boundaries need to be in place in your relationship? It starts with identifying your needs. Humans have some basic needs, like food, clothing, and shelter. We also need to feel seen, understood, and loved. Of course, you want your partner to meet many of those needs, but often we may not know what feeling loved looks like for ourselves or our partners.

To help you discover your needs and boundaries, try this exercise I do with couples in my office. You can do this at home, with or without a partner.

  1. Write down details of your ideal life. These are your wants. Some examples are as follows:
    • My partner and I cook dinner together.
    • I never have to worry about picking up someone else’s dirty socks.
    • We talk openly about finances.
    • He brings me coffee in bed every morning.
    • We don’t yell at each other.
  2. Look at each of those details above and think about why it is important to you. Write down the thing you value about each.
    • My partner and I cook dinner together because it gives us the opportunity to talk about our day while sharing a necessary chore. It feels important because I don’t want to be responsible for looking after a long day because I know I’ll feel resentful about them resting while I do another thing that fools like work. Doing it together feels like we are partners. “I value partnership.”
    • Not having to pick up after someone feels important because I like to have a clean house. “I value order.”
    • Financial conversations?  “I value security.”
    • Coffee? “I value small gestures that help me feel taken care of.” 
    • Yelling? “I value emotional awareness and the ability to regulate emotions.”
  3. Based on those values, you can then write down the corresponding need for each. For example: 
    • I need my partner and me to work together to achieve our mutual goals.
    • I need my space to feel calm.
    • I need to know I am safe.
    • I need to feel taken care of.
    • I need calm, caring, thoughtful communication.
  4. From here, it’s easier to identify boundaries based on your needs. For example, 
    • “I need calm, caring, thoughtful communication; my boundary is that when someone communicates in a way that doesn’t align with my needs, I will model it by calmly stating my needs and asking for them to be met. Then, if the other person can’t or won’t behave in the way I need, I will remove myself from the conversation.“

How to Place Boundaries

As you can see from the exercise, your boundaries are based on your needs. One effective way to place boundaries is illustrated in step 4 above.

Note that our needs aren’t necessarily negotiable. Your boundaries can be moved and adjusted as you see fit, as long as your needs are met. Maybe you make your own coffee on weekdays, and coffee in bed becomes a sometimes treat. Maybe you decide that you need cleanliness, so you go ahead and pick up the socks without resentment.

Identifying needs is particularly helpful around things that could lead to arguments or resentment. For instance, a lot of couples disagree about the right way to load the dishwasher:

I have a need to know the dishes are thoroughly clean and safe to eat off of. In the past, this has resulted in me micro-managing the dishwasher situation. When my husband and I got married, I learned that he loads the dishwasher in a way that made me cringe and struggle to understand how it was possible to do something in such a wrong way. 

So here are my needs: clean, safe dishes, peaceful mind, happy home, kind expression and communication of emotions, and having a husband who knows he is loved and appreciated. With those needs in mind, this is how we navigate: He does the dishes. I appreciate him doing the dishes. If I looked in the dishwasher, I would feel tempted to rearrange or re-wash and would likely feel fear and resentment. So I just don’t look. The dishes are clean and put away and I don’t worry about how that happens, I just appreciate that it does. He appreciates that he gets to contribute to household chores. He also appreciates that I’m happy and appreciative. 

Keep in mind this is a choice I make. I could also choose to point out how “wrong” his dish loading style is. I could demand he do it the “right” way. My boundary here is all about me and protecting my energy. So my boundary is that I don’t open the dishwasher.

Now that we understand boundaries better, how to discover them with our needs, and how to place them, we’re equipped to make our needs known while strengthening our relationships. 

Struggling to Set Boundaries In Your Relationships? Get Help Today

Mental health challenges can affect your relationships and make it hard to identify, set, and maintain healthy boundaries. If you’re struggling to set boundaries due to mental health challenges in your life but can’t afford help, contact the Overt Foundation now. The Overt Foundation subsidizes mental health treatment for those in our community that can’t afford it. We are ready to help you today.

About the author: Aimee Clements-Hadfield, MSW, CSW, CFLEp is a mom in a family with five adult children, one princess dog, and a super supportive husband. She founded and owns Hearten House, a multi-modal hub for healing in Salt Lake City, and works as an experiential therapist in various roles around Utah. She has advanced clinical training in psychodrama, group psychotherapy, and family systems. Her academic background is in Family Science and Social Work and her passion is re-imagining mental health care delivery to improve outcomes and increase the wellbeing of families and communities. Her hobbies include travel, letting her inner five-year-old dress her, and making art. Want to know more? Visit her on the web.

Validation and Limits in Relationships, by Jordan Harmon

Validation and Limits in Relationships

Validation and Limits in Relationships, by Jordan Harmon

How do you validate someone in a relationship while maintaining your limits? Validation is a verbal expression of empathy or accurate listening/ perceiving. It stands in contrast to praise, advice, or sympathy. Validating someone’s feelings opens space for them to feel understood from their perspective.

“Validating the valid” is a phrase used to describe validation when much of the content coming from the other person is something we disagree with or don’t want to validate. Rather than getting into a power struggle or argument with the other person, we can validate the valid by finding the kernel of truth in the other person’s thoughts, emotions, or actions. Learning and practicing how to validate the valid can transform your relationship with your kids, your partner, and anyone that you have meaningful interactions with.

Examples of Validation vs Invalidation:

Validation Invalidation
Paying attention to someone (eye contact, putting the phone down, etc) Not paying attention to someone, not being present with them when they are talking to you
Accurate reflection of what they’re saying Inaccurate listening
“Mind reading” or hearing the emotion under what’s being said in a non-judgmental way  Assuming false intent. Hearing the other’s emotion in a “shouldn’t be feeling that” manner
Understanding the valid cause of the other’s experience. “Your experience makes sense based on what happened before”  Not taking into account the valid cause of the other’s experience 
Validating the experience based on the facts of the present situation. “It makes sense that you’re feeling this way. Anyone would be feeling this way given the situation”  Not taking into account the facts of the present situation when communicating about the other’s experience 
Treating the other person as a valued equal. Being authentic and compassionate.  Treating the other person as less than, not equal, or as more childlike or fragile than they are. 

Listen for the Underlying Emotion

Imagine a scenario in which your partner, child, or friend is talking about something that they’re frustrated about. It could be “I’m bored,” or “Why did you say that?” or any expression that initially elicits a reaction from you to give advice, give an excuse or engage in a back and forth argument that you know is not going to be helpful. In your chosen scenario, imagine that instead of doing what you’ve done before, you try to hear underneath the other person’s words. It doesn’t matter if you agree with them or not. Ask yourself, “What is the emotion or effect they’re experiencing?” Emotions are valid whether or not they fit the facts. Emotions exist—simply hearing them and reflecting that they are present can do a lot to help the other person feel listened to. You can do this without giving up your own limits or boundaries.

We can validate the emotion by saying, “I can hear that you’re feeling bored—I know what that’s like. It’s not fun,” or “I can tell that you’re frustrated,” or ”If I were in your shoes, I might be feeling the same way.”

Validate Their Feelings While Observing Your Limits

While validating the validity of someone else’s experience, make sure that you don’t surrender your own limits. Limits are another term for boundaries. The term “limits” points to the idea that limits are flexible rather than fixed. They change depending on a variety of contextual factors.

Some people struggle to identify their limits. They may not know what their limits are and how to observe them. Here are some ways to know if you are not observing your limits:

  • You feel exhausted by someone 
  • You feel disrespected by someone
  • You feel like you are being taken advantage of
  • You say “yes” to someone, agree with them, or do something for them but feel more resentful toward them afterward

Observing your limits means communicating clearly and honestly to someone instead of telling them what you think they want to hear. It requires you to practice saying “no” to things when your body, mind, and soul is telling you no. Sometimes we can extend our limits when it matches our values and is effective; however, extending our limits too long will lead to burnout and resentment.

A man sits looking at someone who has placed their arms on his shoulders

Balancing validating the valid AND observing limits is powerful. The “AND” in the middle is vital. Sometimes when we validate someone and want to express our limits or our differing perspective, we use “but” instead of “and.” This tends to cancel out the understanding and validation and leads to more power struggles or back and forth.

Practical Example of Validating Feelings within Limits

Imagine a couple that is ready for bed. The husband wants to talk about something related to the relationship. The wife is feeling tired and worn out and not up to having a discussion at the moment, while at the same time she knows it’s important to her husband. Notice the possible responses:

  1. Wife agrees to have the discussion even though she is feeling too tired. The discussion doesn’t go well and both end up feeling more frustrated and resentful than before. (validating the other without observing limits)
  2. Wife says, “No way! Do you realize what time it is?” She sleeps well, but husband is frustrated and resentful. (Observing limits without validating the other) 
  3. Wife tries validation BUT limits. “I know that this is an important thing for us to discuss, but I’m WAY too tired right now. Do you really want to have this discussion now?” (Validating the other BUT then invalidating the other with limits)
  4. Wife tries validation AND limits. “I know that this is an important thing for us to discuss, and I’m wondering if we can set aside a time to talk tomorrow. I really feel that I won’t be effective right now in the conversation, and I want to be able to have it be a productive conversation where we both feel heard and understand each other.” (Validating the other and validating the self through observing limits).

The principle of using the “AND” instead of the “BUT” can also be thought of as a paradigm shift moving from a debate orientation to a dialogue orientation.

PRactice and Be Patient with Yourself

Really, there is no perfect way to do this kind of stuff. We will all mess up and be frustrated, so patience with self and other is of utmost importance.

Validating another’s feelings while observing limits is a powerful way to hold the dialectical pairs of empathy and assertiveness. You can balance connecting with other people while also maintaining your self-respect in relationships. Balancing these ways of being in relationships is not easy, and it’s okay to mess up.

Practice is the key! Practice with your family, in your social media interactions, and especially practice with people you disagree with. Notice the impact it has.

Validation and Limits – Harmon Psychotherapy & Consulting

Jordan Harmon, LCSW

Jordan has been a therapist for over 10 years in Utah and Salt Lake counties. He considers himself a “compassionate behaviorist” and a client-centered therapist. Jordan’s specialties include DBT, EMDR, ACT, behavioral activation, family therapy, and parent coaching. He has worked primarily with young adults suffering from mental health and substance abuse struggles. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Signs You Might be in an Unhealthy Relationship, by Lori Schade

Signs You Might Be in an Unhealthy Relationship

Signs You Might Be In an Unhealthy Relationship, by Lori Schade

As human beings, we are driven to form healthy relationship attachments. From birth, we count on others for our survival, and it is normal to want safe interpersonal relationships where we are valued and encouraged to develop and grow. The world is stressful, and healthy relationships can enhance mental, emotional, and physical health, while unhealthy relationships do the opposite. So how do you actually know if you are in an unhealthy relationship?

Is my Relationship Unhealthy?

It’s normal to have some conflict and struggle in relationships, so when do you know what is ‘normal’ conflict and what is toxic? Relationship quality is expected to wax and wane. However, for various reasons, sometimes individuals find themselves feeling uneasy and uncertain about whether their relationships are normal and healthy. Often, people have a sense that something isn’t right, but doubt themselves and continue to struggle in situations that might compromise health and safety.

A person holds up a sign that reads "love shouldn't hurt"

Physical Signs and Actions in an Unhealthy Relationship:

In romantic relationships, physical attraction and interaction can play a big factor in how healthy your relationship is. Here are some examples:

  • You are experiencing any kind of abuse. Abuse comes in many forms: physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual. Preventing someone from leaving the situation by blocking the way and/or hiding the keys is a form of abuse. If you are confused about what constitutes abuse, this website offers help identifying abuse as well as advice for developing a safety plan and support for leaving an abusive situation: 
  • You feel coerced to engage in sex. If you constantly give in to sex when you don’t want to, this is an unhealthy pattern. It leads to resentment, in addition to feeling used and devalued.
  • You are so distant you feel like you are living with a roommate. This is usually a sign of burnout and hopelessness and doesn’t repair on its own.
  • You both engage in destructive patterns of communication. Marriage researcher John Gottman was famous for identifying communication patterns associated with relationship dissolution and calls them the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.” They are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. If they are showing up, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but it does mean negative patterns need addressing.
  • You feel pressure to help your partner continue unhealthy behavior, such as an addiction. If you are pressured to make it easier for a partner to continue an addictive behavior, or if you make it easier for them to continue in addiction because it’s too hard to hold them accountable, this is codependency and is a warning sign. 
  • A pattern or lying or hiding. Trust is one of the main ingredients for a healthy relationship. Any type of hiding or deception destroys trust. If you find yourself having to lie or hide so you’re not “in trouble,” that’s a red flag. Lying and/or hiding will do nothing to fix existing problems.
  • You are always being watched and/or you are constantly monitoring your partner. This is a form of control and inappropriate exercising of power. If it has grown out of an injury that has compromised trust, then that must be addressed to restore relationship wellness over time.
  • Your partner threatens to commit suicide if you leave. This is an insidious form of manipulation and control. If someone is experiencing suicidality, it’s ok to access resources and get them help, but staying in a relationship so someone doesn’t commit suicide will lead to more toxicity over time.
A person sits against the back of a couch clasping their hands in front of their head

Emotional Signs That You’re in an Unhealthy Relationship

Being in love or thinking you are loved can easily confuse feelings such as self-worth, jealousy and ‘caring’. So where do you draw the line?

  • You are afraid that you are “mean” if you set boundaries or when your boundaries aren’t respected. Boundaries are protective, not just of the individual, but of the relationship. If you think setting boundaries is unkind, you might need more education and practice with them.
  • You don’t believe you deserve to be treated well. I have had clients who left situations they recognized as unhealthy only to find themselves compromising their values again in subsequent situations. I remember being confused when I was seeing a client who had worked so hard to separate herself from a toxic situation, only to report a few months later that she decided to move back in with him, even though the toxic circumstances hadn’t changed. When asked if she believed that was what she deserved, she tearfully explained that her father had been emotionally abusive, constantly criticizing her and telling her she was “worthless.” I empathized with her struggle. She had absorbed a belief that she didn’t deserve better. Ultimately, we are our own advocates and teach people how to treat us, based primarily on what we think we deserve. Everyone, regardless of background, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • You are slowly building resentment. Resentment is a huge sign of an unhealthy relationship but can take years to develop. Because it develops slowly, people sometimes ignore it, but it is one of the main relationship killers I see in my clinical practice and is hard to come back from once it has reached a critical point.
  • One of you is always getting your way at the expense of the other. Healthy relationships do require sacrifice and compromise, but in a way that is equitable overall. If one person is always getting their way (usually because the other person doesn’t think it’s “worth” the conflict to address it), it’s a bad sign for the relationship.
  • You constantly feel criticized. Even though it’s common for criticism to develop out of negative patterns couples create together, criticism kills intimacy. Criticism is one of the most common toxic characteristics I see in therapy. It is never motivating—it only shuts people down.
  • You wouldn’t want your child to be in the type of relationship you have. We all experience disappointment in relationships. That is normal and expected. Healthy relationships require ongoing flexibility and adaptation. You should expect your children to experience disappointment as well and hope they have the skills to grow and develop and tolerate some distress. However, if you recognize that you would never want your child to be in a similar situation, you might have serious issues to address.
  • You stay because you are afraid of being alone. Our society seems to privilege romantic love and connection over other emotional bonds. When someone is staying in a relationship only because they are afraid of being alone, it’s fundamentally unhealthy. There are many ways to find purpose and meaning, and given the fact that toxic relationships diminish one’s health and well-being are good reasons to get out of one and continue to grow and develop alone or in a new healthier one.
  • You start to feel crazy and unsure that you can trust yourself. This is a classic symptom that something isn’t healthy. To learn more about this phenomenon, look up the term “gaslighting.”
  • You don’t feel like you can reach out for needs to be met and/or you are always meeting your partner’s needs at the expense of your own. By definition, a healthy relationship is one in which both partners feel confident that they can reach out for comfort and reassurance, and their partners can reach out for comfort and reassurance with a favorable response. They can also explore individual interests and function autonomously. When this is out of balance, it’s a warning sign.
A woman wearing headphones stands in a field


Sometimes it can feel like everyone is against you, but you should consider what and who is raising the ‘red flag’ for you.

  • You are isolated from your friends and family and other support systems. One of the first signs of abuse is isolating a partner from other support systems. In healthy relationships, partners are encouraged to function autonomously and develop many supportive relationships.
  • You don’t want your friends and family to find out what is happening in your relationship. If you are trying to keep your friends and family from finding out what is going on, this is a major warning sign that your relationship is unhealthy.
  • Your friends and family see warning signs. Most of the time, people who have our best interests in mind don’t want to upset us frivolously. If you are getting messages from people who love you that they are concerned about your relationship, especially if you are hearing it from multiple sources, pay close attention and heed the warning. They are likely seeing something you are struggling to see from the inside.

What Should You Do?

Identifying problematic signs doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to sever a relationship. All relationships involve conflict and take work. However, be aware that some relationships are toxic enough to compromise health over time, and to be honest, they all aren’t worth saving. As a general rule, if your human dignity is compromised, it’s a problem, and there are lots of resources to help. Speak to your partner and try and overcome these challenges, seeking couples counseling could be an option. If you feel like there is no way ‘out’ from the actions and habits, you may need to step away from the relationship.

Lori Schade, Ph.D., LMFT, AAMFT

Lori Cluff Schade, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist and AAMFT-approved therapy supervisor running her own practice in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Loris specializes in couples’ therapy and she is also an adjunct faculty member in the marriage and family therapy department at Brigham Young University. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

3 Skills to Overcome Betrayal Trauma, by Carey Larson

3 Skills to Overcome Betrayal Trauma

3 Skills to Overcome Betrayal Trauma, by Carey Larson

Did you freeze in disbelief in the moment of discovering your partner’s betrayal? If so, specific sounds, smells, images, or emotions may take you right back to that moment. The intensity of the event may seem to accompany you as you drift between past and present. Likewise, anxiety, anger, grief, and heartache keep your heart racing day and night. If life hasn’t felt the same, you may be living with betrayal trauma.

Betrayal trauma is the after-effect of a serious betrayal within a relationship. Symptoms are similar to PTSD and can be as debilitating too. So, how do you return to some sense of normalcy? Is there something you can do to help you restore a sense of peace and calmness within?

In this article, we’ll highlight three specific skills that may help you reclaim your life after betrayal trauma.

Life After Betrayal Trauma

It’s hard to say what life after betrayal trauma will look like. After all, the impact of such a devastating situation can affect everyone differently. However, there are some common symptoms that you may recognize.

For example, symptoms can include:

  • changes in appetite
  • weight gain or loss
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • difficulty concentrating
  • intense emotions
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • feeling numb
  • triggers/flashbacks
  • sleeplessness
  • nightmares

Betrayal trauma can leave you feeling like your world has flipped upside-down. So, how do you begin to heal and find your new normal? The following skills may help you in your day-to-day efforts to feel a sense of normalcy.

3 Skills to Help You Work Towards Reclaiming Your Life After Betrayal Trauma

  • Mindfulness. Allow your thoughts and emotions to come and go freely without judgment. For example, if you feel angry, acknowledge your anger but don’t attach meaning to it. This skill can help you stay in the present moment. Likewise, allowing yourself to feel any emotions that arise can provide insight as you move toward healing.
  • Grounding. Betrayal trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. As a result, you may experience moments that seem to leave you gasping for air. When fear or panic set in, grounding may help you regain control of your thoughts. Using your five senses, identify what you see, smell, touch, feel, and hear. As you do, begin to slow your breathing down. For example, as you take a deep breath in, identify what you feel beneath your feet. Are your feet on soft carpet or cold tile? Similarly, what do you smell or see? Continue this exercise until you regain a sense of calmness and control.
  • Positive Affirmations. Our thoughts can have so much power over how we feel and behave. Betrayal trauma can have a significant impact on how you view yourself and the world around you. Therefore, positive thinking can be a game-changer when it comes to healing after a betrayal. Speaking positive affirmations aloud can significantly impact how you feel. Likewise, they can directly impact your core beliefs.

For example, you can try stating the following positive affirmations throughout your day:

  • I am strong.
  • I am smart.
  • I am loveable.
  • I am safe.
  • I am competent.

Take a deep breath in as you repeat positive affirmations and take control of your thoughts. Remember, your spouse’s actions do not define you. Living with betrayal trauma is difficult. The good news is healing is possible.

Finding Hope and Healing After Betrayal Trauma

The road to healing from betrayal trauma can be challenging and lonely. After all, it can be difficult to come to terms with your new reality. Likewise, navigating through your emotions can be physically and emotionally exhausting. As such, having a solid support team can offer you refuge from distress. Likewise, talking to someone can help you voice your experience and identify your feelings during this difficult time.

Carey Larson, LMFT

Carey Larson, LMFT (

Carey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and has a private practice in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He grew up on a small farm in Northern Utah and has a passion for helping and working with others. Carey has experience and training in helping individuals and families with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and addiction.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship, by Zachary Duty

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship, by Zachary Duty

Who do you put as an emergency contact on paperwork? Perhaps your spouse, a parent, a sibling, if you’re Dwight Schrute, maybe your boss. That contact represents the person you most trust to handle things in the event of an emergency. It represents a relationship that is likely very important to you. So, what can you do to maintain a healthy relationship?

Relationships require maintenance. It’s possible that this comes second nature to you and your relationship is well maintained with additional effort. For most of us, it is necessary to consider the needs of our relationships and make an effort to care for someone outside of ourselves. So where do we begin on the quest to manage our closest relationships?

A couple walks alongside a lake while holding hands

Consider Your Needs

When it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship, consider your needs. We all have needs and we want those needs met. We have ways of getting our needs met and not all of those ways are healthy. Take some time to consider, “What are my needs?” Surprisingly, most of us have not asked this crucial question and therefore not realized that some things we consider needs, are kind of silly. Let us take validation, a common need. What if you wanted/needed constant validation and you’re putting pressure on your relationships to give you that validation. It’s possible you don’t even realize you’re doing it and you find yourself getting mad that your loved ones aren’t giving you a “thank you” because you changed the toilet paper roll. If you ask yourself that important question and realize that some of your needs can be a little far-reaching, you can then adjust your expectations.

Ways to Maintain a Healthy Relationship

  • Adjust your expectations. You expect certain things out of a relationship, but it is important to be aware of some unrealistic expectations and make some adjustments. Maintaining a healthy relationship requires communicating your expectations and compromising accordingly.
  • Meet your needs, by meeting their needs first. Once you know your needs and you’ve possibly adjusted any unrealistic expectations, find out the needs of others. If you work to meet their needs they will want to meet your needs.
  • Find balance. All things have their opposite and relationships are no different. Sometimes we give and sometimes we take. Sometimes we need to validate other times we simply need to sit and listen.

Human relationships are incredibly complex. If we make the effort to care for and nurture our relationships, we will find life to be more fulfilling shared with others.

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

The Power of Sharing Your Story, by Zachary Duty

The Power of Sharing Your Story

The Power of Sharing Your Story, by Zachary Duty

Everybody struggles. We all face adversity in some form. These are the challenges that shape us and allow us to grow. Without life’s challenges, we would never do anything. In the words of Dory in Finding Nemo when Marlon comments that he doesn’t want to let “anything happen” to his son. “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.” One way we can better face the challenges of life is to take advantage of the benefits of sharing our story.

How Sharing Impacts Mental Health

It is valuable for anyone living with mental health conditions to know that they are not alone. Sharing a story about your mental health journey can be the catalyst to recovery. Sharing your story also helps promote understanding and empathy to those without mental illness. These challenges are necessary for our personal growth and development. Sure, some face more serious challenges than others but we all have struggles.

Unfortunately, with the advent of social media, it looks a bit like… no one has struggles. It looks a lot like everyone’s life is spectacular and ours is the only struggle, completely alone and unable to share because struggles don’t belong on the social media highlight reel.  There are of course ways to share your journey with others, and not just that awesome trip you took to Mexico to goes on your social media highlight reel. The Overt Foundation gives everyone the opportunity to share their story on their website.

Two people holding hands

What are the benefits of sharing?

Sharing can be a powerful and important part of the healing process (Rennick-Egglestone et al., 2019). Research has shown that the benefits of sharing one’s story can include:

  • increased connectedness
  • a greater sense of community
  • increased personal validation and hope
  • a sense of empowerment
  • reduced shame

The world we live in has more people than ever before, yet many of us feel isolated. It is now possible to live life with minimal interaction. The communities we once thrived in are disappearing and we no longer know our neighbors. As part of Overt’s program, participants are encouraged to share their stories publicly. If they choose they can share anonymously. This is a key part of the healing process, not only for the participant but for the greater community. Likely, someone will read your story and feel a connection because they are experiencing something similar. All of the sudden, they aren’t the only one, they aren’t alone anymore.

Person writing in a journal

The Benefits of Sharing Your Story Through Journaling

Another valuable benefit of sharing your story can come through the act of journaling. Multiple studies have shown journaling to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety (2020). Sometimes getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper can be incredibly healing. One study showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms after three days of expressive writing twenty minutes a day (Krpan,, 2013). Journaling gives us the opportunity to release the emotions we have been holding in and keep a more positive mindset.

We will all struggle. This is part of life, but we don’t have to do it alone.

83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. (2020, October 12). Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Krpan, K. M., Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Deldin, P. J., Askren, M. K., & Jonides(2013). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 150, 1148-1151. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.065

Rennick-Egglestone, S., Ramsay, A., Mcgranahan, R., Llewellyn-Beardsley, J., Hui, A., Pollock, K., . . . Slade, M. (2019). The impact of mental health recovery narratives on recipients experiencing mental health problems: Qualitative analysis and change model. Plos One, 14(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0226201

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

How Debt Affects Mental Health

How Debt Affects Mental Health, by Zachary Duty

“I really want some pogs for Christmas!” This is what I told my parents in 1995. And little did I know this would lead my family to learn an important lesson about debt and mental health. Not only did I get my beloved pogs with a new slammer, but I also got some new rollerblades and a hockey stick. I was thrilled, Mighty Ducks 2 was still fresh on my mind so some new skates were a great way to fulfill my dream of leading the flying V. Sounds like a great Christmas right?

Well it wasn’t as great as it sounds. My folks had to work double-time to come up with the money to put presents under the tree for 6 kids. They even picked up a second job at the mall working a stocking booth trying to make the ends meet. It wasn’t enough and my parents ended up putting the majority of their Christmas purchases on a credit card.

How Debt Can Harm Your Mental Health

As we enter the season of spending you may ask yourself if going a little into the red is worth it. In the name of instant gratification, it may actually be worth it. In the long haul debt will wreak havoc on your mental health.

Initially, debt is great. We get the dopamine hit of purchasing the object of our desires. On Christmas morning, everybody’s happy…no problem right?

A concerned man using a computer

Eventually, the end of your credit card statement period comes due and you take a look at the bill. “But hey, the minimum payment is only 35 bucks, I can handle that.” Wrong, most credit cards have an interest rate in the 20% zone, so making the minimum payment will NEVER pay it off…well not never, but it will take a very long time. So now you’re starting to feel the stress of an additional bill every single month. And this is where debt begins to affect your mental health.

Debt Triggers the Stress Response

The initial dopamine hit is long gone and you’re starting to feel a little anxious about making this payment every month. Now you’re getting a Cortisol hit, which is not as fun as dopamine. Cortisol is the stress chemical and it increases the availability of sugar, which is helpful if you’re being attacked by a predator but not so helpful if trying to keep your head above water financially. Cortisol also puts other systems on hold so you can respond to the “fight or flight” situation at hand, only there is no “fight or flight,” just your immune system slowing down because your body thinks it needs to run from a predator.

So how do you behave in this state? The two leading causes of divorce are sex and money, so simply put, you are not very well behaved when facing financial stress. Your stress and anxiety spill over into your most valued relationships and because you can’t pay your bills and you aren’t sleeping well, you may start treating your loved ones poorly. This comes with resentment of those who brought on the issue, blaming your kids or your wife for wanting Christmas gifts even though it was your decision to spend the money. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect example, but you’re beginning to get the picture of the effect debt has on mental health, it can be devastating.

The Long-term Effects of Debt On Mental Health

And I’m not done yet. Those damaged relationships, stress, and anxiety, if not treated can lead to debilitating depression and the feeling that you have completely lost control of your life. Or not having what you feel everyone else has could lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment. People who feel shame tend to hide and avoid relationships so no one can point out their mistakes. The mental health concerns list goes on, and I’m not even going to get into how mental health struggles lead to physical health problems.

A woman sitting on a cushion in the fetal position with hands covering face

Suffice it to say, there is a domino effect of negativity on your mental health set off by overspending. I witnessed some of these struggles as a child when my parents had to dig their way out of debt. It took years but they did it. The funny thing is, I would have been happy with just the pogs. A gift of a couple of bucks. Most of the people on your gift list feel the same way; a small heartfelt gift is as good as a pile of money or some new rollerblades. If they don’t, maybe they don’t deserve a place on your gift list.

All of the negative effects I’ve noted can be avoided if you live within your means. When the bank account gets to zero, that’s it, no more spending. Avoid experiencing firsthand how debt affects mental health. Make a budget, keep track and keep yourself healthy during this holiday season.

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

What is Trauma? How to Move Forward, by Matthew Montano

What is Trauma? How to Move Forward

What is Trauma? How to Move Forward, by Matthew Montano

Trauma much like everything else, including things that say “one size fits all” is not a one size fits all. Traumatic experiences come in many different shapes and sizes and for many different reasons.  When most people think of trauma, they think of a war zone or a trauma unit in a hospital. While those examples are true and valid, trauma can also include getting straight a’s, getting fired from a job, a bad breakup, hearing the phrase “I’m disappointed in you” or something as simple as an unpleasant look from a loved one.

To simplify: trauma is how you define it.

Healing from Trauma

Once we identify our trauma, we must begin working on our own healing. With it being so personal, one thing that we shouldn’t do is compare our trauma to others. Rather, we should empathize with others when their traumatic experiences are shared with us. This can be something as simple as just sitting with them and listening while they share their story. Believe it or not, this can be a very positive and bonding experience both for you and the one sharing their trauma.

Two people embracing while looking at an ocean sunset

Adopting a Positive Outlook

When we think of a traumatic experience, the last thing we think about is how it can be viewed positively. While this idea may seem farfetched, it can be more realistic than we think! With a positive outlook on our individual traumatic experiences, we begin to recognize just how strong we truly are because we are living past our trauma. We no longer define ourselves by our traumatic experiences, rather by how we overcame them! Realizing that we are so much more than a traumatic experience, we become empowered to not only share our experiences with others but to realize that no matter what happens, we truly are never alone.

Matthew Montano, CFLE, LMFT

Matthew Montano • Utah Family Therapy Mental Health Clinic | Trauma | Anxiety | Intensive Outpatient Program

Matthew understands how important it is for clients to be in charge of their own process towards healing, love, and empowerment. His passion for therapy began early on in his life when he worked through his own trauma at a young age. Matthew now works side-by-side with clients throughout the healing process, in their timeframe. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Symptoms and Treatments of PTSD

Symptoms and Treatment of PTSD, by Curtis Duty

Post-traumatic stress disorder is among the most well-known mental health conditions in modern society. Our collective understanding of PTSD and its treatment has developed since the post-WWI era when military veterans returned home suffering from ‘shell shock’ and the enlightened public of today has achieved at least a certain awareness of the toll that the trauma of warfare can have on physiological wellness. The debilitating effects of warfare-induced PTSD are numerous and serious. As such, support and awareness for military veterans are increasing, as they should. What is often lost in the modern conception of PTSD is that the effects or symptoms of the illness are far more widespread than often portrayed in cinema and the media, and many, many sufferers live undiagnosed and perhaps unaware that the non-combat related trauma they have experienced is causing them suffering.

Non-Military Can Suffer from PTSD Too

Combat-related PTSD is so correlated with the illness that a quick google search of ‘NON-combat PTSD’ will return a list of resources for military veterans to prove that their trauma unrelated to warfare should qualify for VA disability status. I do not make this point as any statement about the VA and what should and should not be covered, but to say that non-military folks suffering from PTSD are far from the forefront of public awareness on mental health (even the APA website barely makes page 3 of a google search on the topic).

Understanding Symptoms and Treatments of PTSD

It is important that we understand the causes and symptoms of PTSD for all sufferers. The truth behind mental health usually requires some investment to understand, and PTSD is no exception. A formal PTSD diagnosis usually requires extended and severe symptoms (not everyone who experiences trauma will experience PTSD), though experiencing some degree of the disease is not a pass/fail test, it is a spectrum that can be caused by an event, series of events, relationship, situation, or any other stimulus that results in any degree of trauma. It is also closely related to other anxiety disorders such as acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, and reactive attachment disorder. The effects of PTSD vary from mild annoyance to crippling debilitation. 

A sad woman covering her face with her hands

PTSD Symptoms

  • Intrusion: Have you ever been lying in bed becoming sleepy when all of a sudden, once again, your brain involuntarily recalls to your mind a very specific, very embarrassing moment from junior high school? That is a symptom of PTSD called intrusion. For those of us who have not experienced serious trauma these may be easily dismissed, fleeting thoughts. However, for individuals who have experienced serious or repeated trauma, these thoughts are not simple to disregard and can even result in waking visions of past scenes of intense pain.
  • Avoidance: Have you ever skipped past a song on the radio because of its association with a former partner, or because it was played on repeat at the fry shack where you worked 3 summers ago? This is another symptom of PTSD called avoidance. More serious examples include refusing to go to certain places, see certain people, or participate in certain activities because of their association with traumatic events. When I was young I had a teacher in a middle-aged man, a genius whom I respected very much. Years later I learned that this man had not driven on the interstate for the last 20 years to avoid driving on the road where his spouse had been killed in an auto accident. The possibilities for avoidance following trauma are endless.
  • Changes in Mood and Cognition: Most of us have, at one time or another, snapped undeservedly at a friend or family member after a long day. That’s because stress affects our mood. For those of us with a normal amount of stress and a lack of trauma, a few moments of relaxation or a good meal is enough to restore our usual temperament to equilibrium and we move on. For those still suffering from past trauma, that relief does not come. After an extended period without relief, the mood change seems permanent. This another symptom of PTSD. The inability to remove the stress from past trauma removes the joy from activities the sufferer once enjoyed.
  • Sensitivity to Environment or Surroundings: Have you ever been driving to a place you’ve never been, and as you struggle to concentrate on navigating, you find yourself turning down your radio? This is an example of how stress reduces cognition. Turning down your radio will not allow you to see the road better, but sound can be a form of stress, and by removing the stimulus of your radio, you can think better and your cognition improves. Now imagine that same scenario, except your radio is at full volume as you search for a location in your car, and you are not capable of turning the music down. This is similar to the loss of cognition a PTSD victim can experience as they are engulfed by the aftershocks of their traumatic experiences.  
  • Changes in Arousal and Reactivity: One of the most severe symptoms of PTSD, angry outbursts, and extreme irritability with seeming little provocation can occur. These episodes are the result of a PTSD sufferer running out of options. To continue our car radio example: If you were driving to an unfamiliar place and couldn’t turn your radio down to help focus, one option, an extreme option, might be to destroy the radio. Without any other option, this decision could seem rational. However, a passenger in the same car who was not feeling the stress would view the action of destroying the radio as completely rash and totally irrational. This is the same reaction many people in our society, without the context of a PTSD diagnosis, view mental health episodes associated with PTSD.

PTSD Treatments

“Time heals” is an adage that can be true for PTSD treatment. It is not uncommon for the lasting effects of trauma to fade with time and without the help of other treatments. A support structure can also be helpful. When the sufferer has a network of family and friends willing to provide latitude for recovery the odds of said recovery are increased.

A sad woman looking down while another woman looks at her with arms folded

In some cases though, further treatment is necessary for PTSD recovery. As a result, several types of therapy, researched and proven, have been developed:

  • Cognitive processing therapy: This form of therapy helps sufferers work through mood and cognition changes by addressing negative emotions and beliefs stemming from the trauma. For example, the victim of a crime suffering PTSD may develop the belief: “a person hurt me, so all people might hurt me.” As a treatment of PTSD, Cognitive processing therapy helps to walk that belief back, and thus undo the psychological damage caused by the trauma.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: This commonsense form of therapy helps victims directly address the trauma causing their symptoms. To reference my friend who would not drive on the freeway after he lost his wife to an auto accident: Under prolonged exposure therapy he may have utilized a driving simulator for longer and longer durations until the act of driving on the freeway in a controlled and safe environment removed the stress from the activity.
  • Stress Inoculation: This form of therapy focuses on coping mechanisms. Earlier, I mentioned skipping a song that reminds me of an unpleasant time of my life.  Stress inoculation teaches ways to avoid many more types of stress triggers.
  • Medication: For those suffering from the most serious symptoms of PTSD, medication may be necessary to allow the sufferer to heal and return to a normal condition. Some antidepressants such as SSRIs and SNRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are commonly used as a treatment for the core symptoms of PTSD. They are used either alone or in combination with psychotherapy or other treatments. These decisions should always be made by professional and licensed mental health professionals.

Overcoming the Effects of PTSD

If any of the symptoms mentioned in this article resonate with you, consider taking steps to fortify your mental health. If you see these symptoms in others, I recommend advocating for anyone who may be suffering in the shadow of the trauma they have endured. Whether Henry David Thoreau’s statement “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” is true or not, I have found that treating everyone you meet as if they are in need of help is the best practice.

Curtis Duty

Curtis grew up in Texas and graduated from Southern Utah University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He has spent the majority of his career working in field operations and currently works as a talent acquisition manager. His passion for mental health comes from personally witnessing the struggles of individuals experiencing mental health challenges and their suffering from the social stigma with which such illnesses are often met. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

What is Betrayal Trauma? Finding Healing, by Carey Larson

What is Betrayal Trauma? Finding Healing

What is Betrayal Trauma? Finding Healing, by Carey Larson

When you think of the word trauma what comes to mind? Many of us might think of something extraordinarily stressful or life-threatening. Maybe we think of something like a tragic accident, rape, or natural disaster. Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or overwhelming experience that is commonly followed by emotional and physical shock. Long-term reactions to trauma or betrayal trauma can include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms.

Defining Betrayal Trauma

So, what is Betrayal trauma? Is it a real thing? Those who have experienced it, know that it is a very real thing. Betrayal trauma is a mental injury, a psychic wound. It is most relatable to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), something that is very common among post-war veterans. Dr. Jill Manning a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP) explains that “Betrayal trauma occurs when someone we depend on for survival or are significantly attached to, violates our trust in a critical way.”

Betrayal trauma is most often associated with relational infidelity, whether it is an emotional affair or sexual affair, or chronic infidelity as seen in sex addiction. Betrayal trauma can also be created by events of financial infidelity or other addictions. Secrecy and deception are regularly involved in the experience.

A young woman sitting next to window while holding her head in her hands

Identifying Symptoms

When someone experiences betrayal trauma they experience symptoms that can mirror those similar to PTSD. You may have symptoms of anxiety, hypervigilance, flashbacks of past events, nightmares, avoidance, social isolation, depression, difficulty concentrating, difficulty regulating intense emotions, feelings of shame, and obsessive thoughts and behaviors. Betrayal trauma can make you feel like you are losing your mind. Everything you thought you knew feels like it is all in question and puts you in a state of emotional free fall.

Finding Healing

If you believe you are dealing with symptoms of betrayal trauma, you are not alone. There is help available. There are many resources available and probably some near you. Finding the right support and help from an empathetic community can be very helpful in getting you the right tools to start your path of healing. Have the courage to seek help. Find a quality therapist that has training in treating relationship trauma or apply to the Overt program. Healing is possible.

Carey Larson, LMFT

Carey Larson, LMFT (

Carey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and has a private practice in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He grew up on a small farm in Northern Utah and has a passion for helping and working with others. Carey has experience and training in helping individuals and families with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and addiction. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.