Just how well do you know your boundaries? If you were once like me, you never knew you had a boundary until it had long been crossed. Setting boundaries is how we protect ourselves from harm, yet it is also how we create a safe space for intimacy. Sometimes, they come on as sudden, unpleasant, obvious feelings. Other times, it can be more subtle or difficult to face. I would like to offer you a reliable tool you can use, any time, to check in and set authentic boundaries for yourself. When done in the specific order given, this tool takes advantage of your brain’s neurological hard-wiring; by giving three important decision makers within you a voice in the decision. Let’s give it a try!
Imagine a calm, empty space except for a table and 3 chairs. A controlled meeting place where important decisions can be made, free of stress and judgement. In the three chairs sit our three boundary setters: Your Soma, your Emotional Mind, and your Rational Mind. When I picture these three parts of myself I picture them as the animals, but I invite you to use what ever forms come naturally to you. When you play out or imagine an arousing situation in your mind, feel into what the three boundary setters have to say…
The Soma – Greek for “the soul of the body” – always gets to speak first. It’s a protector, running on street-smarts and instinct, with only your safety and best interest at heart. The Soma speaks not in words but in sensations (heart racing, gut-brain clenching/fluttering, an urge to appease, muscles tightening in defense/anger/shame, etc.) I tend to imagine my Soma as a wise great owl. Pay attention to what your Soma has to say since it pulls from a lifetime of wisdom, and then try your best to check that message against the reality of your situation. As a protector, the Soma may perceive a threat even when none is present, especially if you have experienced past traumas. Healing this part of ourselves has been so neglected in our society, that one of my specialties is in assisting with recognizing and repatterning unhelpful somatic trauma responses towards safety, healing, & pleasure.
Next, it is the Emotional Mind’s turn to speak. This mind speaks to you, often loudly, in feelings – affection, aversion, curiosity, excitement, fear, anger, and so on. I imagine the Emotional mind like an over eager puppy, often trying to run uninhibited, desiring of attention, and reactive to it’s impulses. Emotion mind can be very strong and often feels deserving of more importance, so do your best to weigh them as only one of three decision makers. This is easy to say, but quite difficult to practice, so be kind & patience with yourself always. It takes mental effort to pause, create space for observing yourself, & then to begin to bring in your emotional states for their measured voice in the situation. We all trip up here as humans, so please stay compassionate with yourself as well as others!
Last, the Rational/Verbal Mind finally gets to speak up. It is used to being in charge, and has likely been trying to talk over the other two the entire time! The Rational Mind speaks in thoughts and words, and it eagerly wants to predict and prepare you for what is coming next. This was actually our last state of mind to evolve, and it is therefore the least evolved of these three minds! Some proof, is how it is the first state of mind to shut down when emotions or somatic needs are heightened (being sleep deprived, hungry, scared, angry, sad, ecstatic, etc.) That is because the verbal mind doesn’t function properly when the emotions mind or somatic minds are trying to take over. Many can probably relate to being in the mist of an important argument and suddenly loosing all ability to find the right words, or worse yet, stumbling into using the wrong words. I imagine my Rational Mind like a cat – more aloof yet ever- vigilant, wanting dominion, and feeling highly justified/proud in all that it does. Practicing to internally de-escalate an aroused somatic/emotional state, so you may better listen & verbalize your needs accurately can be a relationship saving skill!
Using the tool of habitually of checking in with your Somatic Mind, Emotional Mind, and Rational Mind, can be a great method for assessing/understanding where your authentic, balanced, boundaries are. It is also a more holistic approach towards making satisfying decisions for yourself, as it provides the confidence that if questioned, you have everything you need to explain how your boundary line is rooted in body, emotion, & thought. I personally have experienced a lot of benefit in my own life after incorporating this thought process, and in sharing here, I hope others can find some benefit in it too!
Written by: Bailey Barmettler
Edited by: Chelsea Rothschild