PERSONAL BOUNDARIES QUIZ
To start this quiz first close your eyes and picture who are the 3 closest people to you. Then develop a word that describes how you feel about the relationship.
Then, read each statement below and check the one’s that fit for these 3 close relationships that you identified. Be sure to answer with your initial gut response.
Finally tally the number of checks you made under each category to determine where you currently are with personal boundaries.
WEAK BOUNDARIES OR NO BOUNDARIES:
____ I put the needs and wants of others before my own.
____ I agree with others to avoid conflict.
____ I find myself unable to say “no” to things.
____ I’m afraid to say “no” out of fear or guilt.
____ I allow others to speak for me
____ I find my self accepting poor treatment from others.
____ I find myself doing more than my share of participating in the relationship.
____ I try to “fix” other people and their problems.
____ I attempt to control other people.
____ I don’t trust myself or others.
____ Total Number Checked
____ I’m able to set personal boundaries that protect my body, my energy, my time, and my other resources, without feeling guilty, fearful, or stressed.
____ I can comfortably express my true feelings regardless if they are seen as negative or positive.
____ I’m comfortable with other people expressing their emotions.
____ I’m able to respect others for who they are and do not attempt to change or “fix” them.
____ I understand that conflict is a natural part of intimate relationships and even though it may not be enjoyable.
____ I’m willing to end a relationship rather than continue to allow the other person to hurt me.
____ I respect other people’s feelings, needs, and preferences, and don't take them on as my own.
____ I’m able to make my own decisions and look out for my interests while taking others perspectives into account.
____ I’m not afraid to disappoint or anger others by stating my opinion.
____ I take responsibility for my own feelings while others can take responsibility for their own feelings.
____ Total Number Checked
____ I feel frustrated when people don’t view things the same way that I do.
____ I have a tough time acknowledging and expressing my feelings and rarely consider the feelings of others.
____ I often use anger and/or intimidation to get my way.
____ I keep people at an emotional distance.
____ I am uncomfortable with physical contact unless I initiate it, and even then it needs to be on my terms.
____ I criticize others when they don’t do things according to my plan.
____ I refuse to “play” if things aren’t done according to my rules, plans, or desires.
____ I become very upset if anyone borrows something of mine, even if they ask first.
____ I always expect something in return for my help or generosity.
____ I infrequently invite people into my “space” (home, office, physical)
____ Total Number Checked
Whichever category you checked the most items in determines the type of boundaries you have.
Do you best to be accepting of where you are at, and recognize that's okay, you are doing the best you can, and you can try harder and make changes. With that, ask yourself, do you want to make some adjustments to your personal boundaries to be make them more balanced and healthy?
If so, follow the blog and you'll find ways to help empower you to find ways to do and think about things differently.
This question was anonymous submitted to me:
How can I try law of attraction when all of my thoughts are self-deprecating?
I am aware everything is based upon frame of perception & your cognition is reliant upon events & moments that have occurred in past time. Nonetheless, I am also aware cognition could be altered with positive talking & ultimately trying to change thoughts from negative to positive but it’s difficult when every ounce of your body is declining the new message.
They say that we attract into our life that which we focus on.
Whatever you give your energy and attention to will come back to you. According to this Law of Attraction if you stay focused on the good and positive things in your life, you will automatically attract better and positive things into your life.
However, your question brings to light the struggle with self-deprecating and/or negative thinking patterns that can keep us stuck in old patterns of behavior.
How do we break through those old patterns to move towards healthier cognition and ultimately manifesting greater positivity and wellness?
Take a minute and think about what you’ve said to yourself today.
Was it critical?
Was it kind and helpful?
How did you feel after you engaged in this inner discussion?
Your thoughts are the source of your emotions and mood.
The conversations you have with yourself can be destructive or beneficial. They influence how you feel about yourself and how you respond to events in your life.
Let’s take a look at the role of realistic, positive, affirming self talk vs. toxic positivity.
Positive self-talk is supportive and affirming.
Consider the following inner statement:
“She is going to speak up in the meeting today because she has something important to contribute.”
This sounds like a positive plan and attitude. In fact it would also help if she did a guided visualization of her contribution.
Sometimes we confuse positive self-talk with over-exaggerated pep talks.
Consider the following inner statement:
“You are going to rock this meeting. You are an all-star and deserve to own it up there!”
The last statement has an element of instant gratification mixed with the letdown of being undefined. This is what we would call toxic positivity and it can actually be just as detrimental to our sense of self as the negative self-talk!
Researchers have found that it’s not just about what you say to yourself, it’s also the language that you use to say it.
One 2014 report describes the role of language in self-talk.
What’s the key?
When practicing self-talk, don’t refer to yourself in the first person, such as “I” or “me.” Instead, refer to yourself in the third person, using “he” or “she,” or refer to yourself by name.
Try it now come up with a piece of balance self-talk that sets a goal for today... (DO IT!)
Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College and motivational speaker, refers to the negative voices in her head as her gremlins. By giving her negative thoughts a name, she’s both stepping away from them and poking fun at them.
The report goes on to say that using the third person in self-talk can help you step back and think more objectively about your response and emotions, whether you’re thinking about a past event or looking into the future. It can also help you reduce stress and anxiety.
We know our moods are affected by our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. In a circular fashion, our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are affected by our mood.
Since unhealed wounds can affect our mood states, it makes sense to pay attention to unhelpful thinking patterns, and to explore our feelings about ourselves and the world around us.
A therapist could help look at the family or origin and see if any of these negative thinking patterns might have taken root as a measure of self-protection.
Deep negative thinking may underline conditions of PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns that we would want to rule out/explore together.
For instance, it is likely that these thoughts may fit certain patterns such as the big 10 cognitive distortions discussed by Aaron Beck father of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. It is helpful to look at the pattern of thoughts, and label the thinking, and ultimately reframe our thinking to more balanced self-appraisals.
Sometimes wanting to be positive needs to be predicated on learning how to examine and explore the issues presenting as roadblocks.
After all, we need to find our authentic voice and make sure that we are acting within our nature to manifest that which fits our values.
Remember change takes time!
Also, we are really wired to see the negative first as it is an old coping skill we needed for survival back in cave people time.
Some psychologist call this our reptilian brain response.
Accepting that we cannot control automatic thoughts we can work to respond in a more healthy way instead of reacting and feeding into the negativity.
I love this question and it raises a lot of areas of further exploration. Keeping a thought log or journal may help also to identify patterns of thinking.
In addition, I would encourage you to engage in daily gratitude exercises where you allow yourself a moment to praise and recognize the beauty around you. It is important to shift our mind; to engage and train it to experience the world in a more mindful and present way.
InstructionUse this guided imagery or visualization to create a safe place. You may create this on your own or ask your therapist or a friend to read it to you. If you tend to dissociate when you do a relaxation exercise, you might want to ask for your therapist's help. Either way, I suggest the following process:
Begin to take a couple of long, deep breaths all the way down into your diaphragm. [Inhale.] Hold it, and as you exhale, let go of the tension. [Exhale] Letting go.... Take another deep breath all the way in. [Inhale.] Allow all the tension to move into your lungs, and then let it go, [Exhale.] just begin to let go.... And if you're still feeling tense, repeat that process a few times as you begin to let go, begin to relax.... Create a silent and healing space around you.... Focus only on your quiet breathing and the sound of my voice. . . allow yourself to begin to let go, to create a healing time, a time of peace and safety.... I'm going to count from seven to one. And with each descending number, you'll find yourself becoming more and more relaxed. Relax your body, relax your mind, focus only on your breathing and the sound of my voice and letting go. Seven.... Relax your feet and ankles. Allow your feet and ankles to become very relaxed. Wiggle your toes to let the tension out.... Allow this relaxation to drift up into your calves and your knees, relaxing those muscles in your legs, even relaxing the bones.... Allow the relaxation to drift up into your thighs, relaxing those muscles in your thighs. And gently relax your hips and your pelvic area. Relax your lower abdomen all the way to your navel.... Relax your lower back. Six.... Let the relaxation gently drift. Let it drift up into your solar plexus area and into your chest and your lungs, just letting go.... Let the relaxation surround your heart and your lungs, and relax. Notice how gentle and quiet your breathing is becoming.... Let the relaxation drift around to your back. Relax each bone in your back, and all the muscles and all the nerves, as the relaxation fills your shoulders now, gently spilling over your shoulders and down to your elbows.... Relax your forearms and your wrists.... Relax the palms of your hands and your fingers. Five.... Relax your neck, all that tension that holds your shoulders up, tight, around your ears. Let your shoulders drop now, and let the tension go.... Allow the relaxation to drift up the back of your scalp and into your head.... Each breath allows you to become more and more relaxed. Let the relaxation drift into your eyes, and your nose, and your cheeks.... Your mouth becomes so relaxed, your tongue relaxes enough to drop away from the roof of your mouth. Your jaw drops just a little.... You're so relaxed. And going deeper, you relax. Four.... Three.... More and more relaxed.... And two.... Scan your body for any remaining pockets of tension. And let go.... And one.... You find yourself in a safe place outdoors. Perhaps it's not a place you've ever seen before except in the beauty of your own mind. You see a place outdoors that is beautifully safe.... Allow the images to come.... For in this place of safety, only you are allowed. In this place of safety, no one can come without your invitation. In this place of safety, you are always at peace.... Allow the images to come.... Notice the color of the sky at your favorite time of day. And in this place, at this most perfect time of day, at the season and the temperature that you like on your skin, allow your senses to become more and more alive. Look around at the surroundings and allow yourself to see; if not with your eyes, then sense with your heart.... Each time you come to your safe place, you may develop it and allow it to become more and more beautiful. Allow yourself to see what is here today.... Notice the color of the trees or flowers or grass, or perhaps sand or water. Let the colors and textures come alive for you in this beautiful and safe place.... Listen to the sounds of safety.... Perhaps you hear birds or splashing or the sound of wind in the trees or the grass.... Allow yourself to create a place of safety and peace that is always yours, always safe.... And breathe in the safety. And breathe out the fear. And breathe in the safety. And breathe out the fear.... As you breathe in, you can even smell the smells of safety.... Perhaps salty air, or the sweet smell of a flower.... Breathe in the smells of your safe place. It's so safe here that you can even taste it as you lick your lips. Let yourself bask in the safety and the peace.... Allow yourself to walk around, to be in this place, to notice more and more, to create more and more in this place.... Perhaps you would like to build a shelter of some kind, a cottage, a cave, a tent, a tree house. And if it's already there, you may add to it.... Plant flowers, adding a splash of color. Add special places or rooms to your safe place.... Create anything that you would like. [Long pause.] Create special places for special kinds of feelings that need to be healed, special places to wash away fear and pain.... Create a waterfall or a pool of healing water. Stand under the waterfall to wash away the fear.... Let the healing waters wash away what you'd like to be finished with. Each time you come to the waterfall or the healing pool of water, you can wash away more and more of the past.... Each time you come, you are cleansed and rejuvenated, the shame is washed away. Wash away the pain. Wash all of it away, as you are ready. [Long pause.] When you are finished, step out of the water and you will find a robe or a towel to dry and warm yourself.
Now allow yourself to continue walking around your safe place.... You find a place for a healing garden, a place that is just for your healing. You can plant anything you would like.... You can plant wishes and dreams for the future. You can plant seeds of your healing. And you can weed out what you want to be finished with. Take some time to work with your garden now. [Long pause.]
And now, find your favorite place in all of safety. Walk around until you find just the right place. [Long pause.] Sit down, and get comfortable.... Breathe in the safety and the peace. Breathe out the fear.... Breathe in the safety and peace. Breathe out the fear.... Breathe in the safety and peace. Breathe out the fear.... And just be in this place as you breathe and heal.... Stay in this place as long as you would like.... And when you are ready, simply count yourself out by counting from one to five. When you reach the number five, your eyes will open. And you will be awake and alert, and feeling safe and at peace. One.... Two.... Three. Take a deep breath.... Four.... And five.
Short Version of the Guided ImageryBegin to breathe in the safety and peace. Breathe out the fear. And breathe in the safety and peace. And breathe out the fear. Each time you breathe in, relax your body. And each time you exhale, let go of tension. Breathe in relaxation. Breathe out tension. With each breath, count from five to one.... If you need more than that, begin at seven or ten, counting to one.... Make each breath a number. Each exhale letting go. As you are counting, as you are breathing, allow the image of safety to fill your mind.... You are there, in safety, in peace. No one can be there with you without your permission. Focus only on breathing, on counting, on imagining your safe place once again. Allow your vision to come alive as you breathe. Remember and focus on all the images in your safe place.... Breathe in the peace and the safety. Breathe out the fear. Allow your senses to come alive again in this place. Remember how it looks. Remember all the detail -- the color of the sky, the grass or trees or sand or water.... Remember your place of safety and how very beautiful it is.... As you continue breathing in safety and breathing out fear, remember the sounds of your safe place.... Remember how beautiful it smells.... Remember the sights -- glance around at your house or structure of safe shelter, and see your waterfall or pool of healing water.... And over there, see your garden.... And remember, remember the beauty and the peace and the safety.... Sit as long as you need to, breathing in safety and peace. Breathing out fear, as long as you need to.... Do whatever else you need to do in your place of safety. Spend as long as you like.... And when you are ready, simply count yourself out by counting from one to five. And as you leave the place of safety, bring with you the knowing that you are safe, you are at peace, and everything is going to be all right.
Expectation is the brush that paints the picture of how a relationship will look. However, expectations, like fine art, are both subjective. That is why it is imperative we come into conversations regarding expectations from a place of compassion, openness, and mutual respect. Following this plan will help you to set proper relationship expectations with your partner.
First, in order to know where we stand, we must consider the foundation of our needs and wants. To do this begin by asking yourself, “How would I like to feel in relation to my partner?” Try to come up with 3-5 words that describe the feelings you would like to embrace in your relationship. It is a great exercise to have your partner do separately; as you compare responses let it lend to the deeper conversation about how those needs can be met.
Second, consider what you are not willing to tolerate in a relationship. This includes items like abuse, neglect, and may include more specific ways of being treated poorly or not valued. Consider writing out a list of items you will not allow into your relationship. This is a powerful exercise that may bring up some past dynamics; it is important to carve out your boundaries and expect them to be respected.
No matter what movies have told us - Other’s do not complete us. I am sorry but those words sound romantic but are toxic AF! We are looking for partners that enhance our life not people that fix or mend the places of hurt within us. Be careful labelling something as an expectation that is really our own baggage. This may be reflected in an expectation such as, “My partner should know what I want and need.” Instead consider, “My partner encourages my growth and is open to hearing and responding to my wants and needs.”
The final exercise is understanding, You have the right to ask for what you need…and so do they. Some mutual healthy categories of expectations are listed below. Rank them in level of importance and make sure to discuss what they look like in your current relationship and what you would like to see moving forward.
Intimacy: Emotional and physical connections
Financial: The value of money and its role
Experience: The people, places, and things that enrich life
Communication: Connection through words and actions
Family: Loved ones in our life, creating family unit
Respect: How we interact in honor of someone’s personhood, time, feelings and contributions
As you communicate your expectations keep in mind that healthy couples honor one another’s dreams, even if they’re different. They create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals. They agree about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and they want to build a life together that creates deeper meaning.
Expect nothing less than that, you both deserve it.
The start of a new relationship brings with it a vast array of emotions.
It can re-awaken us to the feeling of being connected to someone else. It can bring with it excitement and enthusiasm which can lead into a long-term commitment.
However, sometimes we find our self in too deep and we may need to come up for some air. It can be challenging to express our feelings to our partner when we know we want things to move at a slower pace.
As you navigate these waters remember that being honest and not letting too much time pass before you communicate your needs is important.
Put in the work to really ask yourself why it is that you want things to slow down.
Be certain that this is not just your way of ‘breaking up nicely.’
I know we think that pulling away slowly is an easier way to let someone go but it is not and it often brings with it more complex hurt and resentment.
It is not uncommon to project our own anxiety on to our relationship, make sure you consider if the issue might be your own fear of letting go,
One of the top reasons that one might want to slow a relationship down the physical intimacy is inhibiting them for exploring other feelings.
Wanting to step back and get to know someone is an understandable request and you should feel validate in your need for deeper emotional intimacy.
Another reason may be you feel he is too clingy or dependent.
It may be that you are uncertain of what level you are at in the relationship and want to process your feelings.
No matter what the reason, there is absolutely nothing wrong with slowing down a relationship; having a respectful and heartfelt conversation can help couple’s get on the same wave length.
If you have decided to slow the pace of the relationship it will be important to talk about what that looks like and reassure him that you like him and that you still care about your relationship.
Emphasize that you want to continue seeing him, but you need some space for yourself.
This may look like scheduling fewer dates or not having overnight dates. Keeping outings more causal and focused on the activity rather than romantic can help slow the pace of a relationship.
In addition to lessening the frequency of phone/text interaction you may decide to go out alone some nights or take up a new hobby. Decide on which of these strategies you feel will work in your situation to help the relationship more at a more natural and organic pace.
Your wanting to slow down the relationship may not be what he wants for the relationship and that is ‘ok.’
He may express his disappointment and that is also healthy, and should not deter you from setting the boundaries that make you feel comfortable. Who knows he may be feeling a similar way!
No matter what, you have the right to share your concerns.
Never feel like you have to do something that goes against your wishes, values, or boundaries.
Being authentic will only help your relationships mature and grow- a good partner will adjust with you.
It feels like the emotional rug has been pulled out from underneath you. It is painful.
You may be struggling to go through the motions of your daily routine. Everything just feels different. Be patient with yourself as you go through this difficult time.
Telling the story of your breakup can be cathartic, especially if you're sharing it with a group of people who have also gone through a similar experience. But if it continues to be the only topic of conversation for weeks afterward, it could be detrimental to your recovery process. If you continue to lament about the relationship, you can become trapped in your story.
Instead I recommend this 7 day plan of jump starting your healing. It starts with the boundary of no communication with your ex during this 7 day period. We need to reserve some space for our feelings to process and for us to make this neurological shift.
Begin with this assessment:
Write result down___________
Theme: I am entitled to my healing.
Identify 3 feelings I am experiencing today. (Feeling wheel – use it!)
Examine your negative feelings as a starting point for change. Are you in control of your feelings, or are they in control of you?
Repeat: I give myself permission to have these feelings with no judgment.
Something that I am grateful for in my life is…
Theme: I will focus on my long-term recovery.
I will do one act of self-care today.
What might holding on to my desire to want to reach out to her be protecting me from?
Think about how you react to stress and deal with conflict and insecurities. Could you act in a more constructive way?
Helpful Link: https://www.sharecare.com/health/stress-reduction/react-positively-to-stress
Theme: Living with my strengths
What does being strong mean to me?
Pull up your results to the strength inventory.(emailed)
*Each day from this day forward I will do one thing in line with my strength. I will do this for the next four days using my top 4 strengths.
Link to inventory: The key is to be authentic, so that you can derive the most from the experience.
Day 4: Theme: We can grieve loss in many ways
Review stages of grief and identify where you are at today in the stages. Remembering of course the stages are not necessarily linear and we may jump around in our process.
Label stage. Provide rationale why. Then write a compassionate self-statement to yourself.
Link to grief stages: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2018/6/applying-the-5-stages-of-grief-to-the-loss-of-a-relationship
Video on relationship grief- https://youtu.be/oQ2zJ13AfDI
Theme: Errors in our thinking
We know the big 10 cognitive distortions or unhelpful thinking styles
Which 2 do you find yourself using most often during this breakup?
Provide a thought, the label, and the reframe.
Link to unhelpful thinking styles: https://blog.iqmatrix.com/unhelpful-thoughts
Theme: My relationship needs
What are 5 things that you want in a future healthy relationship?
Link to article on non-negotiables: https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-are-your-relationship-non-negotiables/
Theme: My physical health and wellness
What physical health goals would you like to set for yourself?
What can you do today to start the process?
Complete a grounding exercise and/or one guided mediation.
Link to grounding exercises: https://www.livingwell.org.au/well-being/mental-health/grounding-exercises/
New Beginning Meditation: https://youtu.be/_kuyR8J5OBM
When done with the 7 days engage in this closing exercise:
Conjure up an image of your ex.
Then, find a nice, quiet space where you won’t be disturbed and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and find peace and stillness. Focus on your heart and find love. Breathe from your heart.
In front of you, visualize a small stage, the kind that you did school plays on. You see this person in question walking out on the stage and then you see yourself walking out onto the same stage; you’re standing there opposite each other, looking at each other about three, four or five feet apart, then moving closer. In peace.
You’ll be able to see that there are cords connecting you and this other person. The cords may go from forehead to forehead, from throat to throat, heart to heart; the connection is going to be unique for the two of you. Sometimes the cords may even be entangled, like you’re bound together with a lot of rope.
In your mind’s eye, begin to cut them, starting at the top. Use whatever tool you need. It could be a knife. It could be a pair of scissors. Maybe even an ax. Anything. As you cut them, say, “I forgive you for everything” and hear the person say it back, “I forgive you for everything”.
You might find some cords are very hard to cut. Spend time. You might even have to come back later, but don’t worry. Feel the love in your heart and allow that person to just float up into the light.
And again, sometimes the cords are really hard to cut. What do you want to release? The control, the abuse, the pain…
We tend to want to hold on, even though it’s not healthy for us. Why? Fear perhaps? A killer of joy and bliss. We would rather live with crap than with what we believe is nothing. What is holding on preventing us from doing?
Remember, one space can only be filled with one thing, so every time you let something go you are inviting in something new. Make sure it is something better.
By cutting the cords, you are no longer standing in the way of your magnificence, standing in the way of you shining. Be empowered to let go and stand free. See yourself in the light- feel the warmth of healing.
End with this assessment:
Write result down___________
To feel seen is a powerful motivator to be in relationship with someone. Who doesn’t want companionship, validation, a partner in crime? However, the challenge comes into play when we find ourselves too deep in too fast; we lose sight of who we are. We can leave our partner feeling overwhelmed and suffocated with the intensity. Good news! With self-reflection we can come to understand more about our pattern of behavior and move into relationships with more balance and clarity.
Understanding Attachment and the Inner Child
In order to understand this over-investment, it is important to understand more about attachment. We all have an attachment style, which is characterized by different ways of interacting and behaving in relationships. These attachment styles were formed during early childhood in part by how children and parents interact. Now in adulthood, attachment styles are used to describe patterns of attachment in romantic relationships.
We are not locked in; however, changing an attachment pattern can take self-reflection, time, and often work with a professional therapist. To begin, I recommended spending some time journal about your inner child.
Here is a simple process for interviewing the inner child:
Did you feel abandonment in childhood?
Were there inconsistencies in your living environment?
Did you witness or experience trauma first hand?
After asking those questions, find a picture of yourself at the most challenging time of your childhood and ask that version of you, “What did I need that I did not have at this time?” Then spend time making sure that you are able to nurture that part of yourself in your daily life.
Sometimes we can play out patterns from early on in our life; exploring these relational dynamics can set us free from the behaviors that are disrupting our current relationships.
When we have vulnerabilities sometimes we can get swept away with the flashy qualities a partner presents to us. Does he have a great smile? Does he love to travel the world?
When we are flying on emotion and not so much on logic we can be sold on the lure of creating a fantasy life with someone, in part to escape our own.
If you have insecurities, it is not uncommon to try and attach on to someone that makes you feel better about yourself. However, remember that your happiness is YOUR responsibility. When our right now is unfulfilling in some way this may lead us to push too much into the future of “what could be” and get us caught up in a projected reality.
Don’t worry about the “I should be here by now” or other outside forces pushing you to move into territory you are not yet ready to navigate. We don’t want to miss out on getting to know our potential partner or our self; therefore, we must focus on healing anything we need to from our past so we can be the best version of our self in the here-and-now.
They say that relationships are a powerful key to self-reflection; take your opportunity.
For many people who have experienced trauma, practicing mindfulness can bring up painful and overwhelming emotions that they don’t necessarily have the resources to deal with. The focused attention of mindfulness can send a traumatized person into a state of heightened emotional arousal, which can be disorienting and even trigger dissociation. Whether it’s from a single traumatic event, or from physical or emotional needs having been consistently not attuned to or abused, trauma leaves a lasting imprint on our physiology. Essentially, it means we are unable to regulate our nervous systems out of a state of emotional distress.
But mindfulness also has the potential to help build exactly the things that are useful in recovering from trauma: self-compassion, being in the present moment, and being able to self-regulate, and mindfulness definitely does have the potential to help ease PTSD symptoms. We need trauma-sensitive approaches to mindfulness meditation.
Enter: the body. Paying attention to body sensations is a classic element of mindfulness, but it is particularly vital to strengthen this element in the beginning in the case of trauma. Somatic mindfulness can be a way to increase our capacity for regulating the nervous system, forming an excellent bridge to becoming more present and connected, and allowing us to start discharging the shock states that we’ve been unconsciously held in. This article guides you through four sets of five-minute exercises in somatic mindfulness.
Trauma, Mind, and Body
Addressing the physical experience of an emotion is a powerful way to work “bottom-up” to change the cognitive associations of an emotional state. The past few decades of neuroscience research has revealed some of how the brain behaves related to fear and trauma, as well as how this affects our physiological and emotional states, and is in turn influenced by those physiological states. This is a complex feedback system, and it therefore makes sense to try to work both “bottom-up” with bodily experience, as well as “top-down”, noticing our fixed beliefs about ourselves and others, our self-hatred, self-rejections and judgements.
Traumatized people tend to disconnect from the body by numbing bodily experience or becoming overly cognitive. One way to think about this disconnection is that when we’ve been in a situation where we were threatened or where our core needs were not met, the sympathetic branch of our nervous systems gets activated. This is driven by the fight/flight response, and prompts us to try to change the situation. But if that reaction is blocked or not responded to, the sympathetic arousal cannot be soothed or discharged.
Without the nervous system being able to regulate back down again, we remain in states of high arousal, irritability and anxiety, but if this persists, the nervous system gets overloaded. We instinctively adapt by shutting down, shifting into the parasympathetic system’s freeze response. The undischarged emotion, however, stays bound up in the system, in the form of physical tension, alert and defensive states, or collapsed and frozen states. The high nervous system arousal and systemic dysregulation of trauma make it difficult to hold a state of open awareness such as in mindfulness meditation, and it keep us from being present in our bodies.
Steps towards Somatic Awareness
You could try these exercises in groups of two at first, building up to doing all of them in sequence. Try doing them once a week for a period of two months. Whichever exercises you do, give yourself some time afterwards before interacting with other people. Take a couple of minutes to be with your experience. Put some words to it for yourself: are there any different feelings that you notice about yourself now? Then open your eyes and look around the room for a minute, just noticing how it is to be there now, and if anything looks any different. It’s important to have this time after the exercises for you to integrate your altered body-affect state before going back to relating to people.
Begin by standing up, and taking a moment to notice how you feel, how your breathing is, and where your attention and energy are. Notice anything that’s there, and if you can’t notice anything, that’s fine too.
Set 1: Grounding
Heel Drops. Begin by standing, and letting your eyes defocus, so you’re not really looking at anything. Now, raise slowly up onto your toes, and then let yourself drop back down to your heels. Keep doing this at a slow rhythm, imagining that your entire weight drops down all at once through your heels. Let it make a loud thud! Bring your attention to the effect it has on your hips and lower back; maybe it feels as though the jolt loosens them. Try to let them relax. Do this for one minute.
Shaking. After a short pause, set yourself back in your standing position, and use your knees to create a gentle bouncing in your legs. Let your knees slightly bend, and then push backwards again into being straight, creating a soft shaking in your legs. Imagine this shaking can gently rock through your whole body, through your hips, up to your shoulders, and even your neck. Try to relax around your jaw, and your lower back and tail bone, as if the base of your spine is really heavy. Do this for one minute.
Wave Breathing. Stand still again, and let your hands come to rest on the front of your thighs. Start noticing your breath. Now, as you inhale slowly, reach your chin forwards, glide your hips backwards, and lean your upper body forwards, creating an arch through your back. Pause for a moment, and then as you breathe out slowly, let your head relax downwards, bring your tailbone gently under and forwards, and round your back, coming gradually back into an upright position. Do this for around 8 breaths. This is a lovely way to extend and mobilize your spine. As you move, pay attention to the movement in your spine, and to how you feel your weight through your heels.
Bamboo Swaying. After these three movements, come back to standing, and allow yourself to sway gently back and forth like bamboo in the wind for a minute. This rocking movement helps to discharge built-up tension. You might also notice little tremors or shudders in your body, which might feel a bit unusual at first, but allow them to travel through you. It’s a way that the body releases tension.
Checking in. Finally, stand still for a minute, and pay attention to any internal sensations that you might be able to notice in your body now. Is there any difference in how tense or relaxed you are? Does you notice any difference in your legs and feet? Perhaps you can feel them as a bit more alive or with a kind of energy flow, or perhaps you feel connected to the ground differently than before.
Set 2: Quieting and Flow
Grab and Let Go. Begin by standing and letting your eyes defocus. Now, slowly step one leg forward, and plant first your heel and then your whole foot on the ground. Let your weight move forwards onto that front foot, even though your back foot doesn’t actually leave the ground. At the same time as you step forward, reach forwards with the arm on that same side, fingers outstretched. As your foot lands, close your hand into a first, as though you’re grabbing something. As you’re doing this forwards, active motion, you breathe in. Then pause for a moment, and step back again, bringing your foot back next to the other one, and release and open your hand, bringing your arm back to your side. As you do this releasing, backwards motion, breathe out.
Do this movement with just one side for one or two minutes, and then switch to the other side for one or two minutes. Try to keep your attention in the three parts of this movement: your breath, your hand/arm, and your foot/leg.
Checking in. Stand still for a minute. You might notice the swaying from the last set begins all on its own. If it does, follow this for a little bit, and then start checking in with your internal sensations. Pay attention to your body now, and notice if there are any different sensations to before. Focus especially on where there is a sense of flow, aliveness, or tingling. Maybe the flow feels like going down your body, like slowly moving water. Pay attention to that, as if you want these sensations of aliveness to have more space, to be allowed to be there.
Set 3: Breath of Life
Active Breathing. Begin by standing, and starting to focus on your breath. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, use your mouth to make the sound shhhh, as if you’re telling people to be quiet. Make a loud sound! Pay attention to how it feels in the area between your chest and your stomach. Do it until your breath runs out, and then do it again, for around 8 breaths. The sound shhhh is useful for opening the diaphragm, which is often stuck or tight in states of internalized fear, limiting our breathing. Opening it helps us shift from a frozen state into becoming more activated.
Calming Breathing. Now take another deep breath in, and make the sound mmmm as you breathe out. Press your lips together quite gently, and try to find the level of pressure between them that creates the most vibration through your whole head from the sound. Make the sound as long as you can, and then breathe in again. Do this for around 8 breaths, paying attention to the vibration feeling in your head. A humming sound is particularly effective in stimulating the vagus nerve, the main branch of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps an over-aroused nervous system to reset, allowing us to relax.
Checking in. As before, stand for a minute to check in with any body sensations that you might be able to feel now. If there are any tremors, or swaying, or the need to stretch, just let that happen. Can you notice any difference in your breathing now, or any difference in the sense of space inside? Can you give any images or words to the sensation or experience now?
Set 4: Taking Control
Progressive Relaxation. In a standing position, you’re going to tense up various area of your body as you breathe in and count slowly to 8, holding the tension quite strongly. Then let go of the tension as you exhale slowly, counting to 8. To make sure the relaxation part has enough time, inhale again for 8, imagining that this body area is expanding or taking up more space, as if all of the cells are glowing. Then exhale for 8, imagining that the area is relaxing, melting like butter. Do this tensing and relaxing twice for each area. It can be helpful to close your eyes while doing this, but if you’re more comfortable with them open, that’s fine as well.
Our bodies can tend to get stuck in certain patterns of areas that are overly tense (hypertonic muscles) or areas that seem absent (hypotonic). In order to shift these states, we must first become aware of them, and an excellent way to do that is to intentionally create and release tension. This exercise brings some attention to what your nerves are usually doing unconsciously, and lets those patterns start to shift.
Start by tensing your neck and throat. Many of us hold a lot of control in our necks, keeping rigid there as if it keeps us in control of situations. It is a great place to gain back some flexibility, in many senses. After doing this twice, rest a moment. Second, tense your shoulders, arms and hands, a bit like being ready to fight. Notice your muscles, and any sensations of strength in your own body now. Feeling your arms can give us a sense of how much space you can take up.
Third, tense your belly. Many people feel a tense knot in their upper bellies connected to anxiety, while others feel an emptiness or lack there. Connecting to sensing your belly can start restoring a sense of depth of experience, and quietness at just being. Finally, tense your legs and feet. Lots of us feel quite separated from our legs, which can be a source of feeling our strength, standing our ground, or feeling the power to run away if we need to.
Swinging. After all of this tensing and relaxing, do an extra movement to make sure you discharge any excess tension. Stand and turn your upper body side to side, as if you’re looking over first your right shoulder and then your left, gently rotating your whole upper body along the way. Let your arms be floppy, and follow the movement, so that they swing out in front of you and then knock gently at your sides at each end of the twist. You can relax your knees a little, and let your hips join the turning movement a bit. Feel the gentle twist of your spine as you move. Do this for around a minute.
Checking in. As before, stand still and check in with any body sensations that you might be able to feel now. How light or heavy do you feel? How are your arms hanging beside you now? What kind of energy do you feel now?
Disagreements are inevitable in a relationship but they don’t have to be destructive. The key to handling disagreements comes down to the nature of how you communicate your needs.
I break the process of having difficult conversations into three pieces:
Readiness to share/receive. It’s important to consider when you are ready to talk as well as when you are ready to receive communication.
Hint: You are NOT ready to share if one of the first three emotions you are feeling is ANGER. Remember anger is never a primary emotion it is always secondary; so feel it and move through it to get to a place where you are able to deliver messages to your partner without it blocking your true feelings. Often under anger we are hurt, frustrated, and/or sad; try to list out your three emotions.
Hint: You are NOT ready to receive information if your first thoughts are about how you can’t wait to get your point across or if you could care less what your partner is about to say. You can ask to take time but make sure you let your partner know when you are ready to listen, otherwise it will only frustrate them more.
Communicating using the rules of engagement. Here are some pre-established guidelines to keep the conversation ‘in-bounds.’ The top three rules I use in my office with clients are as follows:
Hint: Try to stay with ‘I statements’ as saying ‘YOU’ is full of blame and often sends the wrong message.
Own what you can and discuss how to do better in the future together.
We should be able to learn and grow in our relationship. Remember that we are just people trying our best to get by so- assume positive intent. I ask clients to consider, “What if your partner is doing the best they can?”
Hint: Validation. To valid we try to see the other person’s perspective. We do not have to agree with our spouse to validate their emotions. We just have to show that we understand their perception. For instance, a partner may say, “I can understand that you feel annoyed when I leave my shoes out.” However, this partner is not saying they too feel the same way, which is fine, we do not have to feel the same way.
What can you take responsibility for in this situation? Be genuine in this exchange. I have worked with a lot of people that felt they were very ‘right’ that ended up very ‘divorced.’ Instead of arguing as to why your partner should see your point clarify how you feel and what you need to move forward together.
By following these guidelines, you will learn and grow together and not fear disagreeing.
A lot of misbehavior stems from a strong emotion. Be careful not to be reactive; instead try to connect with the emotions underneath to better understand. It is best we try to help ease a child's struggle by helping them to express themselves in productive, health ways, and do our best to understand them.
Taking a moment to process does not mean condoning "bad behavior" or rewarding it or ignoring it.
When a child is in the throes of a big emotion, their very much consumed in the emotion leaving little room for logic and reason. However, how we respond to a child at this time is usually very logic and reason based. It is as though we are speaking two very separate languages. This disconnect can fuel greater reactivity in the child and increased frustration in the parent.
We must acknowledge the emotion and meet them where they are in order to bring about change.
* Reflective Listening
Reflect back the feeling you are perceiving from the child. "So right now you feel treated unfairly and are hurt and disappointed. Is this accurate?"
This can teach your child a greater emotional vocabulary and help you connect with where your child is at emotionally.
* Put your own emotions on hold. When dealing with these difficult emotional reactions we often get triggered ourselves. Our strong feelings can cloud our thinking and lead us to react impulsively, rather than taking the time to use each interaction as learning experience to help your child.
* Offer cool down strategies. Suggest the child take a minute to breathe, draw, take a walk to calm down so that you can work together on a solution. Getting the child back to a balanced state will be the most productive means to move through these difficult emotions. They may be resistant - make it easy for them by already having a "chill out" spot or their favorite activity handy. You can sit near them or if they ask for space allow it. It doesn't hurt to model the behavior you would like your child to engage in. Don't poke the bear. Give them time. Be a safe person they can come to when they are ready.