Boundaries are part of self care. They are healthy, normal and necessary. [Doreen Virtue]
We've all experienced having someone crash our personal space. Our response depends on both our personal history and on the nature of the crashing in. We may feel anything from slightly disgruntled all the way through to traumatised and abused.
Someone who has been loved and nurtured throughout their childhood will know in the cells of their body what is right and what is wrong. They will have a strong container and boundaries will come naturally to them. They will be confident with their personal space, will feel that they have a right to it and will have a history of it being respected.
So if you unconsciously crash their space, you will get a gentle swat to back off as if you've been an annoying fly. It is not necessarily a big deal - your timing may just be off.
However, for someone who has been emotionally, physically or sexually abused as a child, the picture is very, very different. Their natural boundaries were violated and they do not know what a safe container feels like. They are apologetic about their personal space and feel inadequate, incomplete, unworthy, tainted. Most importantly they often feel selfish if they try and set boundaries - maybe through some deep seated belief that they are bad and must be available for all and sundry to take advantage of - to make up for the fact that they are alive.
Defining boundaries is not selfish in any way, shape or form. It is a basic human need and part of your health and well-being.
My sense is the shame of early violation makes it very, very difficult to claim your power, to claim your personal space, and take authority about what you will and will not accept as part of your life's experiences. Defining boundaries is not simple. It doesn't work if you just state them. You have to own them in the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual realms: only then will others necessarily get the message.
A good way to start is to take a blank piece of paper. Draw a stick person to represent you and draw a big bubble around you. Within the bubble, name and write down all the things/experiences you welcome in your life. In a different colour pen (a colour that does not resonate with you), name and write down all the things/experiences you do not welcome at all in your life. Pin this somewhere you can see daily - especially in areas where interactions with others happen (maybe near the front door or near the landline if you still use one).
So now you're on your way to owning your boundaries from a mental place - what about from a physical place? Here's a really good exercise to try with a close friend or partner (someone you feel safe with). Stand either in the middle of a room or in the garden and ask your helper to stand opposite you - with approximately 12 feet between you. Bring your awareness into your body as much as you are able and ask your helper to slowly walk towards you. Notice when your body reacts to their presence - is it far away or close? Where do you start to feel impinged upon? Then get your helper to walk clockwise around you - again starting about 12 feet away. Which direction makes the hairs on the back of your neck go up? When they are on your right hand side or your left? When they are behind you? Play around and notice what you notice. This is great training on physical boundaries. Then swap over - and as you move towards your helper, notice when you feel their boundaries are uncomfortable or being encroached. See if it matches with their sense. Dialogue. See what you learn about each other's space.
So what about emotional boundaries? A key thing here it to learn how to be clear about the difference between your emotions and the emotions of others around you. We can be emotional sponges - and not know where we end and someone else begins. We can be emotionally drained after spending time with some people. We can suppress emotions we feel are 'bad' and only allow out the ones we label as 'good'. True emotion is energy in motion - e-motion. Allowing yourself to feel the wide range of emotions, without filtering or judging yourself is a great first step. It's helpful to identify them and learn to express them: own them (I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel disappointed). And when you feel overwhelmed by emotions, yours or others, find the movement to move them through - go striding through the forest, dance, shake, run, jog, go to the gym. Don't let them get stuck. And if you don't know where you end and another person begins - go and spend some time alone. Find you edges again, your own centre of equilibrium. Trees are great companions for this.
And finally, a few things about spiritual boundaries. These are your core values and what make up your central belief system. You may be in a beginning place with this or as an adept - however, I'd always recommend coming back to check what they are, whether they've changed, what holds you together and makes you tick. The clearer you are in this area, the more obvious it will be when an external event/person/decision is in line with your spiritual boundaries or not.
If we don't set boundaries, we can feel used and mistreated. Resentment grows. Passive aggressiveness seeps out. We repeat the cycles we ourselves were violated by. Boundaries are about respect: respect of self, respect of others, respect of life itself.
If you’re one of the unfortunate ones to have lost a loved one, you will know how grief impacts on your emotions. But you may not be so aware of how grief can weaken your body. Unresolved grief can cause chronic issues; it literally ‘gets inside the body’. This, combined with the fact that we live in a society that is still unwilling to talk frankly about bereavement and loss, means that we are often walking on a long and lonely road, with chronic physical symptoms that time does not heal or subdue.
Impact on the Heart
The Old English word for grief, heartsarnes, means soreness of the heart. It is not surprising then that chest symptoms are a recurring theme following bereavement or loss. Many experience heart pain or heart palpitations. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, Broken Heart Syndrome, mimics an actual heart attack. The British Heart Foundation also recognises that grief can weaken the heart muscle and one of the heart's chambers changes its shape. Grief has also been found to increase blood pressure and blood clots.
Impact on the gut
Grief can exacerbate appetite loss—probably because it impacts on the pleasure taken in eating food. Some people are so impacted by grief that they no longer feel hungry. Others comfort eat to fill the gaping void that has opened up in their life. And in addition, regardless of whether you’re eating more or less, the actual process of digestion can be compromised.
Other physical symptoms may include overwhelming tiredness and exhaustion, restlessness, general aches and pains, anxiety attacks, difficulty breathing, insomnia and fears. The loss of someone close can also leave people more vulnerable to infection.
Memories of trauma and loss are stored in the connective tissue of the body, which is why it is not a surprise to craniosacral therapists that grief involves a huge physical effort for people - it is not simply done or felt only in the mind. It has a physical impact. For instance, I will feel grief in a client in one or more of the following ways:
• The sensation of a heavy weight sitting on their whole heart and lung area
• Feeling of trapped energy in the throat (where unshed tears are sitting)
• The respiratory diaphragm will feel dense and ‘stuck’
• The client’s ‘rest and digest’ system can feel non-existent
• The flow of the ‘breath of life’ will be severely compromised
I know for myself, I was shocked at the impact on my body that losing my mum had. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, my heart felt like it had been hit by a truck and my umbilical area felt like it had had something torn from it... It was a huge process of recovery on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.
We need to acknowledge grief more in our society. We need to take it from its taboo status. We need to provide the support on the physical and on the emotional levels to help each other through. We need to raise awareness of the lesser known physical impacts. We need to talk about the body therapies that help the body to release and recover physically. But most importantly, we need to acknowledge the impact of grief – to witness and be with it, not to try and fix it or make it go away. Some losses never go away – but the physical impact of them can be cleared so that we can get on with following the flow of the great river of life to the best of our ability.
What intrigues me is the physiological impact of overwhelm and the link to the waters as I feel this could hold the keys that will help us to overcome overwhelm. From a craniosacral viewpoint, we work with the tides within – and overwhelm can suppress the healthy movement within this craniosacral system.
The symptoms of overwhelm
If you wake up in the morning dreading the things you need to do and feeling anxious, chances are you’re in overwhelm mode before you even start your day. Overwhelm may show up in our lives through intense irritability or melancholy, significant anxiety and panic, stress over things that may be of little significance, or an inability to distinguish thoughts from reality. Some people will withdraw and isolate themselves. The key symptom is that all tasks are thwarted by intense emotion (the world of the waters).
Other symptoms may include changes to appetite, sleeping habits or a compromised immune system: catching colds more easily, developing asthma/eczema and digestive issues.
Overwhelm can start a spiral of feeling out of control, confused, and unable to make decisions. Add to this the increasing dependence on food, cigarettes, alcohol and/or drugs and it becomes a very slippery slope....
What Causes Overwhelm?
It is not at all uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed at some point in their lives. In fact there is even a list of the life events that are most likely to cause it! According to the widely validated Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten stressful life events for adults that can contribute to illness:
What to DO About Overwhelm?
Here are three things that may begin to help you to cope with overwhelm:
Be gentle with yourself. Admit and accept that you are overwhelmed. We all experience this at some time in our lives. The less we beat ourselves up about being overwhelmed, and the more accepting of ourselves we are, has a huge impact on how we can pull ourselves out of the situation.
2: Be realistic
It is a fast paced life we live in and multi-tasking and being available 24/7 are becoming the way of the world. So get real – everything can’t possibly get done but what are the biggest priorities? Try and make some time for stillness, switch the smart phone off, spend some time in nature: this is how we get perspective on the important things.
3: Scan addictions
Are there any substances or habits that might be contributing to a state of overwhelm? Take some time to review the crutch you unconsciously go for – it could be sugar, tobacco, drugs, alcohol...
More ideas to help with overwhelm
Regular exercise really does lift your mood. It also serves as a distraction from worries, and gives you some space to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts.
We are hugely relational beings: the simple act of talking face-to-face with another human works wonders! From a physiological point of view, it can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you're feeling agitated or insecure, helping to calm and soothe your nervous system.
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. Craniosacral therapy can also assist with this.
I want to finish this blog by saying that it is not okay to live our lives without pausing for breath, living for holidays and weekends. The world seems to accept that overwhelm is a necessary evil of modern day living. It is not. We do have a choice. Invest in yourself and make that choice today.