Ever been in a relationship where you felt like your buttons were always being pushed and you never knew how to respond? Either you couldn’t speak up or you lost control, but the result was always unsatisfying and maybe even aggravated a relationship that was already trying enough.
So how can better deal with a relationship like this? The answers are lodged deep within your body.
By accessing and understanding the specific meaning of your body sensations through the Body-Psyche Guide to Inner Wisdom, you can gain sovereignty over your behavior. You’ll learn how to change your experience by experimenting with small shifts in body sensation. Gradually, instead of being controlled by ancient unconscious choices that no longer serve you, you’ll learn to tap into your power, which includes defining your own useful boundaries. This article focuses on the body wisdom of healthy boundaries. For more about my model of healthy boundaries from a psychological perspective, see Establishing Healthy Boundaries in Relationships.
When I first met Jack, he was trapped in a pattern of unhealthy boundaries. His dad’s habitual outbursts of meanness were a trigger point for him, but he didn’t know how to respond in a balanced, open way. He would either withdraw into himself or get angry, but neither response left him feeling satisfied. What he didn’t realize was that these responses were the results of choices he made long ago, back when they were the most reasonable choices he had. As a little kid dependent on his family, he habitually withdrew to feel safe. As a teenager, he resorted to lashing out in anger to try to gain control. Since then, he had grown as a person, but the habitual responses from his old choices were already lodged in his body and were unconsciously governing his behavior in ways that were no longer useful. He hadn’t yet figured out how to tap into the balanced power needed for Establishing Healthy Boundaries in Relationships.
Weight-Shifting – Key to a New Body-Psyche Balance
In the Body-Psyche guided meditation I used with Jack, he had a chance to observe the different feelings in his body and how they interacted with other body sensations, emotions, and memories. Anger and withdrawal, the two reactions Jack habitually experienced, both have their positive aspects—withdrawal being a form of protection and anger containing the impetus to act. Using that positive understanding, Jack allowed himself to subtly but clearly experience how these two extremes felt in his body. In the process, he began to gain an awareness of a new balance, and through that, a new way of relating. Experimenting with weight-bearing shifts from his feet to his pelvis and all the way up to his neck allowed Jack to start to connect with his own power—first, by realizing that he had sovereignty over his own actions, reactions, and sensations, and second, by gradually aligning his body so he could sense the natural power center we all have in our bellies.
Because of the interconnectedness of the Body-Psyche, a tiny shift in one part will affect the other parts as well as a person’s emotions and thoughts. In this instance, the relevant metaphor for these tiny shifts is to find a new way of standing on the ground or standing up for yourself.
So how does all this work in practice?
Here’s a summary of the different body areas involved in power and sovereignty and how they relate to each other:
- A backward shift to the heels relates to withdrawal or, more positively, protection.
- A forward shift to the balls of the feet relates to anger or the desire to act.
- Shifting to the middle point integrates the two extremes so that they’re no longer in conflict but working together to create a third possibility—a new balanced sense of sovereignty.
Ankles, Knees, Legs
When aligned with the positive intentions of protection and action through minute backward and forward shifts, the ankles, knees, and legs provide a relaxed, flexible connection between groundedness in the feet and strength and balance in the pelvis and hips. From this flexible sense of groundedness comes a greater feeling of freedom in relation to both self-determined action and interaction with others.
Because it’s attached to the thigh joint, a shift in the pelvic area creates a shift in the legs and the weight-bearing balance in the feet. It literally changes your sense of groundedness or how you stand up, which relates to how you stand up for yourself.
Sacrum, Lower Spine/Back
The area of the 5th lower lumbar (directly opposite the belly) and the sacrum (the pelvic bone right beneath it) is affected by power issues—wanting to do something but not feeling able to. Finding a balance here helps to strengthen the connection with the power center in the belly, whereas a lack of connection to it results in a sense of weakness. Issues in this area are the impetus for a lot of back surgery.
The lower abdomen is recognized as the body center of power in many cultures. Finding a new integrated sense of balance between the two extremes of forward action and backward withdrawal from the feet to the pelvic area allows you to hook into that natural power center. A sense of balanced power also allows for an open, compassionate approach to yourself and others.
A feeling of constriction in the chest indicates a suppressed desire to express yourself. When a person has a habit of withdrawing, chances are that the chest and heart area are contracted. Adjusting to a new way of standing realigns the whole skeletal structure, connects with the power center in the pelvis and belly, and gives the chest the support it needs to open.
Shoulders, Collarbone, Neck
Because of their direct connection to the chest area, the shoulders and collarbone play a big part in the degree of chest and heart constriction or openness. Slouched shoulders and a dropped collarbone add to that sense of constriction but will also readjust with the discovery of a new grounded alignment. Changes in these areas also affect neck position.
A feeling of constriction in the throat indicates an inability to speak up resulting from a habit of withdrawal. A shift forward to a more active stance lessens the feeling of throat constriction as the emphasis changes to one of expression. Opening the throat allows one to express more freely and honestly.
Withdrawal—In Jack’s case, he related shifting his weight backwards to a sense of withdrawal. He associated that stance with being a little kid who felt safe when he withdrew from his dad’s threatening behavior. Now, as an adult, Jack realized he didn’t need that pattern anymore, even though he still felt safter in that mode. One of its down sides was that just the thought of withdrawal created a sense of constriction in his chest and, above all, in his throat—the physical evidence that he needed to speak up but was afraid to do so. He also had a habit of slumping his shoulders, another unconscious choice to constrict himself, and during the guided meditation, he became more aware of that.
Aggressive feelings and behavior—Jack associated shifting his weight forward with feeling anger. He related that to his teenage years, when he started lashing out at his father to try to gain more control. Ironically, he felt like he’d lost control at first, but once he judged the anger less, the act of standing up for himself helped him develop a more balanced approach. Still, the pattern of angry reaction had already lodged in this body and later added to the difficulties of a more current romantic relationship. Jack knew he needed a better solution.
Sovereignty through a new body balance—Jack needed to find a new, dynamic middle point that integrated the two sensations of forward action and backward withdrawal into a sense of sovereignty. Sovereignty includes self-honoring, conscious action, and defining your own boundaries. For Jack, that was a new feeling, and finding it through the guided meditation meant experimenting with minute energetic shifts, watching his body responses, and allowing himself to feel sensations he had never felt before. Some of those sensations were painful as he opened up his awareness in areas that had been closed off for a long time. His lower lumbar was one instance of that as he grappled with old power issues in a new way. But Jack understood that it was all part of the process. Gradually, with the help of the Sovereignty Guided Meditation based on the Body-Psyche Guide to Inner Wisdom, Jack could feel his old patterns shifting and transforming as he gained the new ability to stand up for himself and define his own terms. He had begun to find that balanced place of sovereignty that is a key component in Establishing Healthy Boundaries in Relationships.
If you would like to develop your own sense of sovereignty in difficult relationships, use the guided meditation here.