Week 3, Session 2: Internal boundaries: Exploring our connection with ourselves
Hello everyone! Welcome back for Week 3, Session 2.
If this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!
The goals for this session are:
- Understanding the importance of creating our internal boundaries
- To prioritise a relationship with ourselves - as a goal to establish our boundaries with others, and to live out healthy relationships
As always, we’re going to start with a grounding exercise. If you can, please join in.
Our grounding exercise is..
Firm pressure is great for grounding and for making us feel calmer. So today, we are going to hug ourselves and speak an affirming thought out loud.
It could be something like, “I am in control,” or “I am safe in this moment.”
Practice placing the left hand on the right shoulder for a tap and then the right hand on the left shoulder for another tap. Then, squeeze into your hug and speak your affirmation. Tap, tap, squeeze, affirm. Tap, tap, squeeze, affirm. Repeat this as many times as needed!
Fun question: If you could have any name in the world, what would you call yourself?
Now, as we begin with today’s content, we want to acknowledge that trusting ourselves - that connection with our “gut” or instincts - can be easier said than done. We may have been told we were wrong in the past: that our thoughts, urges, and desires were false. Or, we may have been used as a scapegoat for someone else’s mistakes or failings. In society and in many of our social relationships, we often bear a misdirection of blame. As a result, we get disconnected from our wishes and truths. We question. We correct. We wonder. And maybe, in certain cases, we freeze.
When we have been disconnected from our own truths or beliefs, or been shamed for our impulses, it may make us worry. How are we meant to trust ourselves when we don’t know what is right, what is real, and what is good for us?
To this, as ever with Bloom, we want to focus on the first step - without guilt or worry. If we feel disconnected, it’s not because these wires have been cut. We can plug ourselves back into our minds, bodies, and our protective instincts - we can get back in touch with our selves.
That first step will always be in listening to our feelings. Letting ourselves feel what we need without judgment, noticing those patterns, and allowing those moods to inform what is right and what is wrong for our boundaries. Where do we feel safe? When we contemplate our internal world, what thoughts, emotions, and habits do we need to feel well?
As our therapist Paula puts it - as we zoom in on an even greater number of metaphors - think about your internal boundaries as though your “self” were a home. As with yesterday’s discussion of not needing a fence to know when you are on someone else’s turf - we can consider the boundaries that are connected to others as the ones you’d put in place outside your door - and your internal boundaries as the space inside it. Naturally, what happens inside our homes needs attention, too, so we can leave through our home self-assured, to interact with other people. We also want to know what space someone else will encounter when we let others in.
Our internal boundaries both affect the way we see ourselves, and what we project to others in return.
It’s usually easier for us to see when boundaries are lacking with others, but having healthy boundaries will always include the relationship we construct with ourselves.
For example, it's important to learn when our thoughts are going too far, so we can put some strategies in place to manage them. This is a way of setting an internal boundary. It's like if you were telling your mind: "I will not go to this place today, because I am not emotionally prepared to deal with that feeling. It adds nothing to my life or my day.”
And this can actually be as valuable a practice as communicating a boundary to somebody else, who may be making you think or talk about something you do not want. Learning to create internal boundaries is also important because, all too often, the way we treat ourselves translates into the way we expect to be treated by others.
Now, our internal boundaries are the ones we use to manage our own emotions, thoughts, time, behaviours, and impulses. Many times, we don’t pay close enough attention to these boundaries. We end up neglecting our internal needs by overworking, avoiding important feelings, or not getting enough rest.
Treating our internal self like we would treat a friend, with kindness and respect, and proceeding to set our own boundaries is usually the easiest way to manage their creation and implementation.
Another strategy is by using positive self-talk when difficult thoughts or fears arise. We can tell ourselves: “No, thank you!”; “Off you go - you’re not needed here!” Or, more specifically, we can contradict our negative thoughts with their opposite - a direct contrast, using light to black out the shadows. Instead of thinking, “I am worthless or incapable,” we can tell ourselves: “I am worthy; I am capable; I CAN do this”.
Not everything we do needs to be done with gladness - sadness, anger, and grief all have their place - but it’s so important to remember that even the smallest changes in language can shift us to joy. We can use language to build our realities, our world, our self view, and to mobilise.
And having strong internal boundaries can also help us in our external relationships: to not take so much responsibility for the actions or thoughts of other people, or obsess about someone else’s feelings, and to be less suggestable.
These boundaries often ensure that we think of ourselves first - not in selfishness or in lack of care - but to practice that first check-in with our feelings. Let’s go back to that house metaphor for a minute. When we wake up in our own home, we have access to what’s inside before we go out. If it’s chilly or cold we can put on a coat before we freeze. In this way, having internal boundaries means we react in our own space, in our own bodies, minds, and emotions, and we consider how we feel before automatically agreeing with what others are doing or saying.
This foundation - that home - is critical to express an opinion or to take action about things you may want or do not want in your life. Healthy internal boundaries should be empowering! Remember Bloom’s mantra is to both inform and empower - and the second is as needed as the first. When we know and own our own thoughts, habits, and values - it makes setting our other boundary types that much simpler.
Internal boundaries also contribute to being accountable for our feelings and actions. And then - if something is projected onto us by someone else, or we are blamed for something - if we check with ourselves and don’t feel responsible, instead of apologising, we can decide then state that we do not take responsibility for whatever accusation in a conscious, mediated state.
We know, however, that our internal boundaries can be one of the toughest to determine and set. After all, how many times do we expand ourselves or push our own limits into some sort of self-destruction? How often does this happen because we have a low opinion of ourselves? Or because we need our “external world” or “external boundaries and actions” to be witnessed, and seen, or serve others to have worth?
We need to be mindful not to stretch our internal boundaries - to exhaust our own time, thoughts, and feelings - as an attempt to punish ourselves. Or maybe to avoid certain emotions or situations. For example, many people choose to continue to work long hours even when they know they might be at risk of burnout, because they have a tyrant sense of their own identity that can make them feel as though they are not enough unless they are DOING enough. Or, someone might try to fit in those extra hours at the office to not deal with what’s at home.
The ideal thing, in these cases, is to find helpful coping mechanisms that release these tensions and demands - rather than continuing to smoke from the inside. Check out our Trauma Resilience course if you would like to learn more about positive or healthy coping mechanisms.
In building internal boundaries, let’s focus on that good balance - finding that middle-ground between preference or else pleasure, and punishment.
Now let’s look at a real life example for how we might recognise and then set our internal boundaries:
“Alex is an only child and was raised by a single Mum. It became very obvious to Alex early on that they would need to make friends in order to have someone to play with and not be alone. This, in Alex’s mind, meant they needed to be easy going to make new friends. However, over time, this led Alex to tolerate a lot of unwanted behaviour from their peers.
Alex’s friends thought they were always happy with everything or complacent, and therefore took them for granted and walked all over them. This affected Alex’s self-esteem, and worsened their original fear. They felt that challenging the behaviour of their friends would also mean ending up alone.
Alex continued to go to gatherings where they were not comfortable, went over and beyond to help friends and family, and had relationships where they felt they were not equals with their partner.”
For Alex, it became necessary to review the internal beliefs they were holding, that they would be alone if they had their own needs or wishes - then to implement an internal boundary that would improve the way they saw themselves. Although their anxiety and low self-worth did not change overnight, Alex altered the way they managed their time, spent more time with themselves doing self-care activities, chose their social activities carefully, and also practiced external boundaries with friends who were crossing a line.
With these small internal actions, devoted to their thoughts, time, and feelings, Alex began to revise their negative self-view. This allowed for new healthy relationships and habits that ultimately refuted Alex´s original notion they would be alone.
Just these small bits of self-treatment and positive focus, and internal love, really do add up.
Many of us have experienced trauma in our lives. When our traumatic experiences are connected to mistreatment and abuse, it can be really hard to stay kind to ourselves and our self-esteem can really suffer.
Internal boundaries help restore the connection we have with ourselves, they can support our healing process by limiting the self-inflicted internal talk we sometimes have, and allow us to redirect the energy to the emotions and actions we want to adopt to feel better. There’s only so much time in the day!
If you are suffering from trauma and are finding it difficult to do this on your own, a therapist can help you look into the difficulties you are experiencing and support you in the process of setting boundaries in your life.
The homework for this session is…
Consider and flesh out your internal boundaries, to try to boost your confidence and the relationship with yourself, as we outlined in our session’s goals.
For your homework, please complete the following sentences:
I am grateful to myself for….
I need internal boundaries to….
I can improve the way I treat myself by…
Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this.