Lately I have been noticing where I go numb and freeze-y because I do not speak up for myself. And surprise, surprise, my clients are reporting similar issues! The first order of business, in feeling safe in a body on planet earth, is being able to protect ourselves. Once we have handled weather, hunger and wild animals, it is about boundaries with other people, relational boundaries. If we do not negotiate conscious boundaries, we will have unconscious boundaries.
Unconscious boundaries are often rigid, primitive and very limiting. Typically, they involve things like distancing ourselves by going numb, unavailable or dissociative, and pushing people away by getting controlling or going reactive and scary.
Conscious boundaries can allow us to get closer to people. When we speak up in a relaxed way about what does or does not work for us we can negotiate boundaries that make relationships work better for both people. This is essential for co-regulation.
Our bodies know when we are threatened or uncomfortable with something in our space. When we can take action to protect ourselves or adjust what bothers us, we do not have to go for control or distance.
But our social agenda often trumps our body up reality and we avoid setting conscious boundaries. We may be ashamed of our body up reactions. We may be habituated to avoiding conflict. We may be hyper-vigilant about hurting anyone’s feelings by objecting to something. However, when we override our body up feelings we lose our chance to negotiate collaborative, reality based boundaries.
This is particularly challenging for empathic people who often prefer to say nothing about what makes them uncomfortable. It means they suffer in silence, feel bad, say nothing and end up not wanting to be around other people. Soon, they go for distancing and are limited to solo regulation because it is too challenging to negotiate conscious boundaries.
So what helps? Just talking about the truth of what is going on in your nervous system with another person in real time is revelatory for some people. In addition, the Body Up! Co-Regulation practices, My Safe Bubble, Stand Me Up and Git Out of My Space are potent approaches to building embodied boundary skills. They are sharp tools, explore them with respect, preparation and titration. They can expose deficits quickly and can be exciting and a great relief when used with attunement.