The following blog post and red quotations were written by a student in Wellcelium’s Ignite! course. Bold quotes below in black were written by Dr. Pavini Moray as part of the Ignite! course curriculum. The questions and practices sections at the end of this post were developed by Wellcelium to support your exploration.

The workbook this week asks me to think about the boundaries I’m comfy with and those that I’m not. What are my boundaries with family, friends, money, time?

Which of my own boundaries have I crossed before and why?

And can I see that without judgement? (Cause I’m always trying to help myself and when I cross my own boundaries it’s always for a real and good reason.) Pavini points to the kind of sureness and openness one can feel when you know you won’t betray yourself by crossing your own boundaries. This makes me think of the better relationships I’ve had with others.

“Learning to override your own ‘no’ or surviving having your ‘no’ overridden means that your boundaries were violated. In these cases, es­sentially it became unsafe to HAVE boundaries, the very things that are de­signed to keep you safe. If personal boundaries are violated repeatedly, or violated extremely, it becomes difficult to have a sense of where they are.”

And then a question hits me hard:

“Who crosses my boundaries? Is there anyone in my life with a history of repeated boundary crossings, large or small?”

Ouuf. When I’m listening to the audio component of this week’s material, I hear Pavini say, “My favorite definition of safety comes from Mere­dith Broome. She says that safety comes from having the capacity to act on your own behalf.” OUUUF.

My mum was an addict.

As a kid I wasn’t allowed to have any boundaries at all.

Not physical—she came wherever I was every few minutes, we moved suddenly many times—nor emotional—she needed a lot of emotional support from me or else would disappear completely. And as a kid, I couldn’t act on my own behalf socially which meant I couldn’t get out of there and create a situation in which I could have my boundaries respected. I was completely unable to act on my own behalf, powerless, and therefore, completely unsafe.

As I think about this I get super sad. First in an okay way but quickly it slides into a kind of sad hole that I know well, having done a lot of therapeutic work in this area. This kind of sad hole is not a good one for me. So, I stop what I’m doing, set it aside, and watch a documentary about octopuses. I am completely fascinated by octopuses and soon I feel my body re-regulate and drift slowly out of my sad hole.

I note that I’m doing self-regulation work, as Pavini has pointed out we do all the time to increase or decrease sensation.

“Boundaries are a spectrum. Often, folks either have impenetrable fortress-like boundaries that are hypervigilant and constantly looking for violation, either real or perceived, or they have mushy, malleable boundar­ies that react to the needs of others. Your boundaries change depending on who or where or when you are, and in relationship to many different circumstances.”

But I am left thinking: after having worked so hard to build up boundaries and have them be respected, it makes sense that I struggle to let my lovers close to me now.

I find that when I become emotionally closer, it becomes harder for me to share sexy experiences with them, like all I have left as a boundary is my skin. In one of our earlier sessions, Pavini had proposed an exercise of imagining a protective boundary that is outside of our bodies. Can you fill it? pe asked.

I immediately envisioned an octopus-like selfhood that poured out of me, fluid and taking up space not just in the entirety of my body but beyond it. A revelation. One that brings mourning along with it, for all the lost time when I’ve stayed so small. How will I re-learn to be sensitively larger?

“One particular somatic survival strategy is ‘appease.’ This means doing what someone else wants to keep them happy and avoid conflict… When you do what someone else wants, and the stakes are low (like where to go for dinner, for example), it’s not a big deal. Where the appease strategy becomes expensive, perhaps more cost than benefit, is in higher-stakes situations. When you agree to have sex that you really don’t want to have, for example.”

Damn. Boundaries week is slapping me hard across the insight face.

As a teenager, most of my sexual experiences were organised by an idea that I refused to be That Girl that I saw in movies. The one who was mushy and squishy and was played by patriarchy in the form of boney teen boys treating her like trash. The one whose self-worth was tied to their opinions of her sexual value.

So instead, I took a tact to decouple value from sexuality.

I wanted to be wanted, but I didn’t want the person who wanted me to have power over me.

So I turned it into a game. Can I do this? Can I get that? Am I capable of this? Unfortunately, the game was about winning, not about how I felt. I ended up in a lot of shitty situations. Most of my sexual encounters were untransparent, somewhat physically uncomfortable at best and outright painful at worst.

Pavini’s soft tones say:

“What I’ve come to believe through years of private practice is that these impacts that you experience but minimize can have a big impact, especially cumulatively over time.”

Maybe my current difficulty in entering my own erotic is a cumulative cost of the self-violent (and co-violent, others were definitely part of some of those violences) experiences I’ve had. And, importantly, in my minimizing them. Cause don’t we all have those experiences if we are femme in patriarchy?

Maybe we do, maybe we don’t, but these are mine.
And they were bad.

“Your own anger is an important tool in boundaries practice. Feeling anger is often a sign that a boundary needs to be re-established.”

But I want to tell you some of the gentler parts of boundaries week:

I got a rage-inciting email from my employer who is a giant institution. I remembered the above quote and asked my anger if it was about boundaries. It was like YEAH I’M FUCKING ABOUT BOUNDARIES CAUSE THIS INSTITUTION HAS CROSSED THEM AGAIN AND AGAIN! (Institutions don’t respect boundaries, is one good realisation from that.)

But this was not an instance where reasserting the boundary would feel good or useful. The rage energy did need to move out of my body.

So, I put on the excellent Boundaries Playlist that Pavini made for us, and ROCKED OUT in my home. And you know what? It really, really fucking helped.
Questions to Ask Yourself:

Erotic freedom is best supported when bodies feel safe to be vulnera­ble. For bodies to feel okay to be vulnerable, they must first feel safe. What does safety mean to you?

Suggested Practice:

Sometimes we wrestle with ourselves over whether we should communicate a boundary or not. It can be useful to really look at that dynamic head on with a risk assessment.

Get a pen and paper and write out the answer to these questions:

  • What will probably happen if I set this boundary?
  • What will probably happen if I do not set this boundary?