Stress 101: Boundaries, Part 2

In the previous blog, I gave you a challenge: how do you define your boundaries? In this, I’m going to show you.  Below, there’s a brief video of a friend of mine, Margaret, and I doing a simple standing exercise, with me slowly approaching until she senses me–what we call the ‘alert’. At that point, I’ll back off, and we’ll discuss her experience. It is the ‘alert’ that is significant here, because it will be different for those with healthy systems than with traumatized ones.With healthy systems, what usually happens, about three feet out, is a heightened sense, a little awakening—not anxiety, but certainly increased awareness, which morphs into a pleasant sensation, or a contraction that indicates the urge to protect one’s self. In the traumatized system, however, the experience is quite different: either I would be able to walk all the way up to my friend without any change in her body, or at a much further distance than three feet, she would feel a rush of anxiety or another distressing sensation. Some of my clients have even stopped me before I’ve taken one step; just the thought of my moving towards them was enough for a powerfully protective response that was completely out of relation to the current “threat.” Moi, threatening?

Trauma deeply impacts our sense of personal territory. Do we have a right to territory? What does it take to keep myself safe within that territory? If I feel an alert, should I mention it, because I might hurt someone else’s feelings? Because for me, and in my experience, our boundaries physically mark the beginning of what constitutes “us,” they are not merely a concept, and in becoming more embodied, less dissociative, we are more able to feel physically when someone is crossing those boundaries and entering what we sense as our personal space.

When my clients move from a “wall” concept of boundaries, to one of selective osmosis, where we attract as much as we repel, if not more so, given the right indicants, we are much more capable of functioning in the world. It is exhausting having to charge up those defenses! It is not only wonderful to attract, it also allows for the warmth of community, the recognition of a future significant other, or even a good professional match. And this is why I love the “energy” model: the more you charge up your energy field the more capable you are of repelling that which does not appeal to you. Predators prey upon the weak.