Living Outside the Box - By Tina B. Tessina, PhD

I was speaking with a client today about his burn-out in his career. This is a man who’s been very successful, earned a lot of money, and worked hard for a big, national corporation. I told him he was burned-out, and on strike, because he had put himself in a box about work. The box consisted of four walls:
Wall #1: I have to make $$$$ amount of money

Wall #2: I have to work for a certain kind of company

Wall #3: I’m scared about letting myself be creative (the unknown)
Wall #4: I hate all of it.

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

Later in the afternoon, I was speaking with another client about relationships. He wanted to figure out what ‘box’ (his word) a person in his life would fit in – lover, friend, etc. I told him that he couldn’t put another person in a box – the only one he could put in a box was himself– what he was willing to do in the relationship, and what he wasn’t willing to do. And then make sure he set those boundaries for himself and lived up to it.
I frequently see people who are unhappy in their relationships, and feel too stuck to do anything about it.  Their boxes usually consist of the following walls:

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

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

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

How do you tell if you’re in a box? 
*When you’re boxed in, you’ll feel discouraged and hopeless (people often mistake this for depression) frustrated, blocked and angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from: It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction                        

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty and  Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences.  She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling.  Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.
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