November 2014: Setting Boundaries

This time of year it is especially easy to violate our own boundaries by overcommitting ourselves physically as well as emotionally. It is easy to say yes to too many things at the expense of our own health and well-being. We have many activities pulling us in many directions and if we are not careful we can lose our sense of self.

The rush and pressure of modern life are a form perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to many projects, to want to help in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which make work fruitful.

Thomas Merton

Setting Boundaries: Those of us that exercise and take care of our bodies are more sensitive to the energy around us. We are more aware when someone walks into a room with scattered energy and we are more aware when we have scattered energy ourselves. In fact, we are often more aware of our somatic experiences altogether. I found it interesting that in the previous quote by Thomas Merton, he mentions violating our own boundaries as a form of violence. That may seem a bit farfetched if you are used to violating your boundaries on a regular basis; it may seem like an exaggeration. In a fun practice of self-care, this month, I invite you to pay attention to how you show up somatically as well as energetically in life.

Setting physical boundaries helps us to speak up and take care of ourselves and express our needs. Setting boundaries at the level of our body, allows us to more easily extend our appreciation for our emotional boundaries. It is important to take care of our families, of course, but if we don’t take care of ourselves, unhappiness, and dis-ease set in and limit our lives in many ways that are unpleasant.

This month I am sharing a fun group exercise from the works of Integrative Body Psychotherapy. It starts off with being aware of yourself somatically. (Your subjective experience of your body). You will want a partner for this exercise. You can also practice this in the privacy of your mind when you are in public, just noticing your boundaries and when you feel like someone has crossed your boundaries.

  1. Sit in a chair facing a partner.
  2. Get an idea of what your personal boundary is. How far does it extend outside of you? Make a movement to express what your physical boundary is.
  3. Use some objects to place around you to represent your physical boundary. You can use rocks or socks or Legos, anything that you can place around you to make a circle.
  4. Now just sit and notice if the size of your circle feels right.
  5. Now make a boundary proclamation to your partner. Say it out loud. “This is my boundary. Please do not cross it, unless I give you permission.”
  6. Notice how you feel when you express your boundary. Do you feel safe? Do you feel like you are shutting them out? Do you feel excited to express your boundary? Take notice of what you feel and where you feel it.
  7. Make sure your partner gets a turn and when you have both had a turn, discuss how it felt and what your experience was like when you set a boundary.

That’s all there is too it. The first step to knowing how to verbally set boundaries with people is understanding how they feel in our bodies so that we can recognize the feeling and give it a name. I hope you enjoy this exercise. Please send me a message and let me know what your experience was like. It is a profound learning that I think will benefit anyone interested in being more assertive with setting boundaries.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have a great month.

Nancy

Reference: Rand, M., & Fewster, G. (1997). Self, boundaries, and containment: integrative body psychotherapy. In C. Caldwell, Getting in touch. (pp. 71-88). Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.

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