Bioenergetic therapists have the added benefit of working with boundary exercises physically. This brings the significant bonus of working with both body language and words.
Since humans communicate at least as much non-verbally as verbally, a bioenergetic therapist can help you match your body language with your words and the tone of your voice. This is very effective for practicing boundary communications and for getting stronger in clearly expressing boundaries.
In working with boundaries physically, I start with a grounding exercise from bioenergetics. I encourage my clients to stand. From a standing position, you have more options for movement and it is a position of greater strength than sitting.
If you wish to experience the exercise, put your feet about hip-width apart, with your knees slightly bent and your weight evenly divided on both feet, centered over your arches. Bend and straighten your legs a few times while pressing your feet down on the floor. Having a solid sense of grounding in yourself is a prerequisite for communicating clearly with others.
We explore boundaries through a few basic exercises. There are many variations and ways of working with these exercises. If you feel anxious or if feelings come up, you can stop at any time and return to the grounding exercise. Generally, we start with setting limits, so you can feel your ability to enforce your limits before you risk reaching out with vulnerability.
Put your arms out in front of you at shoulder level. Face your palms outward with your wrists bent backward. Press outwards, into your palms. You can add words such as “I have a right to my boundary,” or “This is my space,” or simply “No.” Notice how it is for you to do the exercise. What do you feel? Is it new for you, or familiar?
To practice reaching out, do the grounding exercise again. Then reach your arms forward, at shoulder level. Reach with your fingers straight out and your palms facing each other about a foot apart. Keep your elbows soft. You can add words such as: “I want,” or “I need,” or “Please help me.” Again, notice how it is for you to do the exercise. What do you feel? Is it new for you, or familiar?
For some people reaching out is uncomfortable. For others, setting limits may increase their anxiety. This is a natural response.
Do the grounding exercise again to allow these feelings to move through you. Adeptness at both responses allows for maximum flexibility. Go slowly and explore what comes up as you do the exercises.
Bioenergetic exercise classes often include practicing these boundary exercises. Everyone can benefit from regular practice — asserting your right to have clear, strong limits and to reach out for what you desire. Practicing in a group adds the benefit of mutual support.
Meghan and Harry, the Duchess and Duke of Sussex, have recently modeled for the world the necessary and sometimes painful choices in asserting personal boundaries. During their interview with Oprah on March 7, 2021, they described the boundary violations they experienced. Meghan was not treated well based on the color of her skin. She was not permitted to leave the palace grounds on her own.
They revealed that family members expressed concerns about the color of their son’s skin. Their son, Archie, would not be granted royal status within the family or afforded the security that goes with this status. This led to deep depression in Meghan; she thought about committing suicide. When they requested help for her mental state, she was refused the help she needed.
Understandably, this was not acceptable. They needed to make their boundary stronger. For them, this meant leaving the royal family and the country. This was a life-saving choice as we can concur that her depression would have continued and likely worsened if they had stayed in that situation. This has meant a tremendous loss for them, but the loss involved with staying would have been worse.
Whether you need help from a therapist or simply words of encouragement, I can assure you that you have an essential right to have your boundaries and to express both your limits and your desires in your relationships. If someone does not respect your limits, you have a right and an obligation to yourself to assert them more strongly.
What it actually means to have a stronger limit varies from one situation to another. In the case of my friend, she needed to cease communications with her father. For Meghan and Harry, it meant leaving their royal status and emigrating to the U.S.
Similarly, for you, having stronger limits may mean withdrawing from a friendship or family member, at least temporarily. Having a stronger boundary does not mean you are being rude. Consider: it may be that the other person is rude by not respecting your limits.
In many relationships, if you start by asking for what you want, you may be able to negotiate. You won’t get all of what you want but you may get more of what you want. Sometimes, however, negotiating is not an option. If, for example, you are in an unsafe situation, you will need to assess when it is in your best interest to do this and when it is not.
If you express your boundary clearly and are treated with disrespect, make your boundary stronger. This may result in significant losses, which may be sad and painful. It can cause you to feel guilty at first. But I can assure you that as you work through the loss, the guilt, and the discomfort, in time you will have greater self-respect and an opportunity for more satisfying relationships.