Self, Body and Boundaries
Marjorie Rand, Ph.D. with Gerry Fewster, Ph.D.
Editor's Note: Marjorie Rand is one of the founders and developers of Integrative Body Psychotherapy or IBP, along with Jack Rosenberg. Marjorie and Jack's book, Body, Self, and Soul: Sustaining Integration came out in 1985 and continues to be a primer for the field, especially in the areas of developmental process and working with physical and emotional boundaries. Their work specializes in an experiential understanding of how we can foster intimacy excitement, and satisfaction through our ability to keep good boundaries while we contain and take care of our internal energies.
A lifelong passionate learner Dr. Rand has studied dance therapy Gestalt, therapy object relations theory pre- and perinatal psychology and many other systems in order to formulate her extremely practical and useful work. She works with children, adults, and couples, often applying her work to developing more healthy relationships.
Marjorie also is one of our female powerhouses, doing trainings all over the world while finding the time to write, dance, and sing backup in rock-and-roll band. A dear friend and conference companion, I can always count on some high adventure and great conversation when we get together. Though it's hard to catch her sitting down, she has the capacity to understand in a flash and empathize with a matter-of-fact clarity that leaves me honored to call her my friend and colleague.
Gerry Fester is administrator of the Pacific North West Institute of Integrative Body Psychotherapy on Vancouver Island. He is a faculty member in the Department of Human Services at Malaspina University College in British Columbia, Adjunct Profossor of Educational Psychology at the University of Calgary, AIberta Canada and editor of the Journal of Child and Youth Care. Dr. Fewster has published three books and countless articles on children and mental health issues.
Within the broad humanistic tradition of mind-body approaches, Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP) offers a uniquely developmental perspective. In this context, the term "developmental" refers to the focus on relatedness to Core Self and other as the primary goal of therapy, as well as the central quest in the human journey. Since the search for connectedness is a lifelong pursuit, this perspective is clearly different from the more traditional male trajectory in which bonding and separation are seen as developmental goals or stages to grow out of.
From an IBP perspective, relating to Self and relating to others are actually two aspects of the same developmental process. Hence, IBP therapists value the natural human state of interconnectedness equally with the need for people to have their own personal boundaries, a separate sense of Self, and the experience of being the center of their own initiatives. Referred to as "Relational Autonomy," practitioners work with their clients in moving toward the attainment of this mutual state of being from a foundation of body-awareness. When aliveness in the body is reawakened, the person experiences an intensified sense of self-authenticity that can be expressed through their relationships with others, leading toward higher levels of personal fulfillment and intimacy.
A particularly effective way of practicing IBP is to consider awareness as the most basic tool of change. Using the breath as the primary catalytic agent, this approach works from body to mind, honoring the client's own experience in each moment of the therapy session. The process involves tracking (following) the client's awareness of connection, or lack of connection, to his or her own energetic flow of aliveness in the body. While the work has no stated goal beyond greater awareness, the general intention is to increase the client's ability to stay connected to increased flows of energy and well-being in the body. In this process, the therapist simply trusts that awareness of "what is" creates opportunities for greater choice. Meanwhile, the client is learning to know and trust his or her own experience.
IBP BASIC ASSUMPTIONS
Working With the Whole Person
Since IBP begins with the assumption that body, mind, and spirit are experientially inseparable aspects of being, it follows that the therapeutic process must involve all of these dimensions in a simultaneous and integrated fashion. For example, we know that nutrition and exercise influence emotional well-being as well as a person's physical condition. Hence, emotional and physical experiences are both contained within the body and accessed through the senses. The cognitive processes, usually associated with the mind, are those that attempt to organize the experience of the senses, creating complex personal patterns of conscious activity and meaning. At the center of it all, lies the essence of Self, the human spirit.
Energy Containment and Self-Expansion
IBP focuses upon the energetic, somatic, and emotional experiences that form the raw material from which the mind creates its images, thoughts, and beliefs. In this way, it clearly sets itself apart from the more traditional "talk" therapies that emphasize cognitive or intellectual insight. On the other hand, it also stands apart from approaches that promote energetic discharge and emotional catharsis as their therapeutic goals. Within the IBP framework, all of these things-from the nerve-tingling aliveness of the body to the startling creativity of the mind-can be explored and experienced to the fullest while remaining contained and grounded within an expanding individual sense of Self. Along with this sense of contained expansion comes a broader range of possibilities from which the person has the freedom to make choices. In this way, the therapeutic process becomes a client-centered, step-by-step process of integration through which the body, the emotions, and the intellect become open and connected.
Body and Breath
The IBP therapist works from an understanding that the most direct access to the emotions is through the body and the most direct pathway to the body is through the breath. Encouraged to breathe and to experiment with various breathing techniques, clients are able to access and intensify the experience of the muscular and emotional patterns that, linked to particular thoughts and beliefs, have become their characteristic styles of relating to themselves and the world.
Within the therapeutic relationship, clients are invited to explore those particular patterns, usually formed very early in life, that continue to inhibit the fill experience and expression of Self. Since such patterns are often acquired at the preverbal stage of development, they cannot be accessed through cognitive or intellectual insight. From an IBP perspective, these patterns are created as a means of defending the emerging Self from potentially injurious experiences but remain held in the body even though the original perceived dangers have long since passed. Being locked in the body, they can be accessed only through the body. When, through therapy, such defensive patterns are interrupted and released, it is common for clients to "relive" the original experience. This, then, creates an opportunity for such experiences to be reexamined and reintegrated within a process of Self-directed change or transformation.
The Primary Scenario
IBP therapists regard presenting problems as symptomatic of a circular process that constantly plunges back into the crucible of early childhood experience-referred to as the "Primary Scenario." Particular attention is given to the client's relationships with parents, the relationship between the parents, and the relational "themes" that each family member brings into the family constellation. The influences of the Primary Scenario are embedded in an intergenerational history of primary relationships established long before birth and experienced by the infant well before intellectual and verbal development occurs. Consequently, the experiences and influences of this relational framework become anchored in the body, detached from the conscious reflective processes of mind. Without insight or awareness the person is compelled to repeat anachronistic responses or patterns. While various therapeutic methods might help to relieve some of the symptoms of the presenting problem, the underlying issues can never be resolved in the current situation. For the pattern itself to be addressed, the person must return to the context of the Primary Scenario and bring it into the reality of the present. And this, by definition, is bound to be a somatic or body-centered experience.
Such therapeutic work does not mean that the experience of the Primary Scenario can in some way be eliminated or extinguished. It simply means that, through awareness, obsolete responses can be abandoned and alternatives created. In the therapeutic process, this is the examination of "what is" from which clients may create their own options and make appropriate choices.
The Energetic Self
It is important to differentiate the IBP definition of the Self from the more popular notion of "self-concept" as defined by cognitive and behavioral therapists. In IBP, the Self is not an "idea" or a pattern of known and predictable behaviors. At its core, it is energetic-experienced as a sense of well-being, identity, and continuity that is felt in the body. The degree to which this Self finds its authentic expression through the person's emotional, cognitive, and relational life is profoundly influenced by early childhood experience when the Self is at its most fragile and vulnerable. When the emerging Self is nurtured and supported in its authentic expression, its energetic core radiates outward, not only within the individual but also beyond the skin, forming a dynamic, though boundaried, energy field that defines the individual's place in the world. As an integral part of the cosmos, it is in constant motion, responding to its inner nature and to the ever-shifting external environment.
Energy Blocks and Disease
When the emerging Self becomes injured and defenses are established, the flow of Self-energy becomes blocked-disconnected from bodily, emotional, and cognitive awareness. This breakdown in the integrative processes of body and mind translates into specific patterns of disease that might be experienced physically, mentally, or emotionally. In IBP, these patterns are brought directly into the here and now of the therapy session. The therapeutic relationship creates a potentially powerful context in which the energy that radiates from the Core Self can be influenced. The task is one of realigning and reintegrating the intellectual and emotional energy with the natural flow of energy as it is released and contained within the body. In this way the sense of Self-expansion occurs in a complete and integrated manner - a renewed relationship with Self.
The Healing Relationship
Within the framework of IBP, all injuries to the Self occur within relationships and can be healed only within a relational context. Hence, the "here-and-now" connection between the practitioner and the client becomes the current reality for such work. Energetically speaking, the therapeutic context might be seen as a meeting of two energy fields that define the Self-boundaries of the therapist and the client. In creating a climate of sensitivity, security, and trust, the therapist's own energetic sense of Self must be present, secure, available, and contained. The therapist must be able to remain at the "contact boundary," constantly supporting the client in working through a range of somatic, cognitive, and emotional releases. Any withdrawal, uncertainty, or discomfort communicated to the client in this process could easily repeat the conditions of the original injury and recreate the defensive reaction.
The Issue of Sexuality
Since IBP therapists work directly with the aliveness of the body, the experience and expression of sexuality is an essential part of the therapeutic process. Repressed sexual energy; along with all of its emotional, intellectual. and moral associations is part of our cultural heritage and is well rooted in most of our intergenerational histories, or Primary Scenarios. In working with bodily awareness, therefore, the pelvic area becomes a critical point of focus, even if the client chooses not to work on the more cognitive or verbal aspects of sexual experience. Therapists who are not at ease with their own sexual energy can easily transmit their discomfort around this issue. The reemerging Self of the client could then be tragically reinjured without any gesture being apparent or any word being uttered. The therapeutic task is for the client to open the flow of his or her sexual energy and integrate its fullness into an expanding sense of Self. This means that the therapist must be fully energetically present within his or her own boundary; allowing and supporting the process.
Staying Contained in the Moment
At the most fundamental level, IBP works with the body and in the here and now. From this perspective, enlightenment is a neurophysiological event-energetic, immediate, and directly accessible through the senses. The key to learning and healing is to let the event occur while containing and Integrating the experience. Energetic discharge or emotional catharsis alone is not helpful or curative. Since little of the experience is actually retained, any developmental effect cannot be sustained or integrated. Release with containment, on the other hand, allows the body to retain this energy in the system, to expand, to make choices.
Within the context of the therapeutic relationship. the goal of IBP is to establish and sustain an awareness of, and connection to, the flow of energy known as the "Self "-defined as a sense of well-being, identity, and continuity experienced in the body. IBP therapy contracts and expands the Self by establishing and working with its energetic parameters or boundaries.
When the Self energy flows freely, and with awareness, these parameters are sensitive and flexible, constantly shifting in response to the needs of the authentic Self and the changing conditions of the external world. In this sense, boundaries are both intrapsychic and interpersonal, making it possible to have autonomy as well as relatedness, and, above all, choice. Grounded in both body and consciousness, boundaries allow the Self to become fully present and available to engage with others and the world in a sensitive and responsible manner.
By freely expanding and contracting their own energy field, people with effective boundaries can remain present, yet determine the degree to which the Self will actually participate in any current situation. Around such people, it is possible for others to sense this state of presence and containment within the energy field, though it is most clearly seen in the eyes. When the eyes are open and clear, energy exchange can occur with the environment and with others. But it is also apparent through behavior. People with a clear sense of their own boundaries are able to claim their own physical space, identify and embrace their own feelings, be spontaneous, say their real "yes'es" and "no's," process information effortlessly, and make decisions appropriate to their own needs while remaining sensitive and responsive to the needs of others.
People who fail to develop effective boundaries cannot live in their bodies in the here-and-now. Without boundaries, there is no sense of Self. And, if there is no Self, there can be no relationship. This is paradoxical and can be confusing, since it is often believed that a close or intimate relationship is a merger involving the loss of one Self to the other. In reality, it is only by having boundaries that one can establish a relationship with another, a relationship in which both people can be uniquely themselves and be intimately related to each other without loss of Self. Oneness, merger, and symbiosis do not constitute a relationship that involves two people. Unboundaried associations often are considered to be close or intimate unions when, in fact, there is only one Self present, the other having given itself up through fear of abandonment.
This pattern of merging, as a reaction to abandonment anxiety, usually begins in early life when the availability of the parent-figure is a matter of survival for the infant. Later, in the adult, it manifests in clinging behaviors and a constant need to be close to significant others. Since such people continue to experience feelings of abandonment, however, the injuries continue to occur and the need for Self-protection continues to increase. On the other side of the coin, some infants experience a profound sense of invasion as they attempt to meet their early bonding needs and this anxiety can be carried into adult life. When defenses are substituted for boundaries because of invasion anxiety, a person deals with issues of closeness and intimacy by creating a wall of distance and by cutting off feelings of longing for closeness.
Since most infant/parent relationships are fraught with either abandonment or inundation injuries, these boundary disturbances are found to some degree in everyone. Very often both can exist at the same time. For example, a parent who is not energetically present and in contact with an infant may incorrectly assess the infant's distress signal and feed the child even if the child is not hungry. This creates a classic double bind. The infant's defensive solution to the injury of simultaneous abandonment and inundation, psychological or physical, is to split off consciousness from the body- often referred to as the "mind-body split."
In general, then, early childhood injuries of abandonment and invasion, contained within the Primary Scenario, prevent the development of healthy boundaries. In their place, infants construct defenses, designed to distance them from external threats and from the pain of their own feelings. As the defensive layers rigidify through repetitions of the initial injury, they become chronic, structural, and fixed in nature. Cut off from the authentic experience of his or her own body and from the responses of the external world, the child begins to identify with these defenses as the Self. Referred to as the false Self"3 the person continues to present this defensive pattern to the world while the true energetic Self recedes from awareness, perhaps for the remainder of that person's life. Sensitivity, responsivity, and adaptability are replaced by a set of fixed repetitive attitudes and behaviors. Where boundaries are always flexible and centered in present experience, these defensive patterns are rigid and rooted in the past. Cur off from authentic feelings and resistant to external feedback, the defensive or false Self is often presented as the very opposite: This is who I am, what I think, and what I do, and nothing you say or do is ever going to change that."
Establishing boundaries that are appropriate for each individual, while taking into account defensive processes and injuries to the developing Self, makes it possible for the person to be available for the therapeutic relationship and for healing to take place. Within this relationship, the Self is seen as an experience that is more or less fragmented (split off and unbounded) or cohesive (contained) at any given moment. Each person is more or less connected to this energetic experience, depending upon the situation, particular defensive style (past history of relationships), degree of presence, groundedness in the body, and, first and foremost, body awareness. Awareness, in and of itself, is curative, and provides choices.
In IBP therapy, continued attention to ever-changing boundary issues in both the therapist and the client during the therapeutic process promotes both awareness and choice. The exploration and modeling of healthy boundary styles is an integral part of the therapist/client relationship and, in this, the significance of transference and counter-transference issues cannot be overestimated. Simply stated, this means that the practitioner must be aware of the client's tendency to "use" the therapist as an object figure (a parent, perhaps) in resolving personal and interpersonal issues. On the other hand, the practitioner must be sufficiently aware of his or her own needs to allow this, without becoming entrenched in the fantasy.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF
From an IBP perspective, the Self is both the product and the co-creator of relationships. Its energetic core, or essence, resides in the body and can be experienced directly only through body awareness. From such awareness ("inside" as opposed to "insight") it becomes possible to truly "know" the Self and establish deep connection with others. In its fullest form, this Self is more than physical, more than emotional, and more than cognitive. It is the sum total of all our aspects, and more. It exists at the core of our experience.
When we are conceived, the energy of the Self becomes embodied and, even before we are born, traumas and injuries to the development of Self can occur. Evidence of this is increasingly well-documented through research in the field of pre- and perinatal psychology.4 For many years we have understood how the physiological state of the mother is communicated to the developing fetus through chemical and hormonal changes transmitted through the placenta and umbilical cord. We also know that these physiological factors are profoundly influenced by shifts in the mother's psychological and emotional condition. More recently, researchers have been using the term "cellular consciousness"5 to describe a process through which the fetus actively seeks and stores a wide range of information significant for the development of Self. Studies demonstrating the ability of newborns to recognize messages received in utero have become commonplace.
The evidence now suggests that the unborn child is in a state of constant communication, receiving messages from many different sources at many different levels. The manner in which this information is processed and stored has led researchers to conclude that an organized sense of Self actually begins its development in utero.6 Hence, whatever is happening within and around the mother might be communicated to the unborn child, and herein lies the potential for early injury or trauma.
Physical health problems such as poor nutrition, drugs, or illnesses
present obvious dangers. By the same token, however, abortion attempts,
ambivalence about the pregnancy, death or divorce in the family, or
difficulties in the parental relationship also could be injurious.
The critical point to remember is that this happens so early that it is a nonverbal, preintellectual event and, as such, it can be recovered in no other way than through the body. When Reich stated that "Remembrances must be accompanied by appropriate affect," he was making essentially the same point-that early traumatic experiences are held in the "muscular armoring" of the body and cannot be reached by talking alone.
With its emphasis on "containment," IBP takes a step beyond Reich and most cathartic body therapies. The goal is not to simply release the repressed trauma held in the body but to connect to the energetic core of Self. Boundaries are both the goal and the vehicle for achieving this. Staying with a feeling, sensation, or emotion, simply watching its natural flow without attempting to increase or decrease it, enhances awareness and clarity. In this process, the holding patterns are released, opening the body to expand and contain more aliveness, rather than to discharge feelings and lose energy from the system.
The IBP energetic model of containment is much like tantric yoga in which sexual energy is heightened through breathing and exchanged through genital and eye contact. The goal in tantric yoga is to raise the level of energy to spiritual consciousness, not to discharge it through orgasm (ejaculation). In IBP, the holding patterns in the body are opened, not to release energy but to expand the container (body) so the system can tolerate more energy (life force, Self). Releases of holding patterns in the body and breathing techniques serve to spread the energy and circulate it throughout the system rather than discharging it through emotional catharsis. The more aliveness a person can contain in the body, the more a person can deepen and support the experience of Self.
CONTAINMENT VERSUS CATHARSIS
If the flexibility of boundaries is substituted for the rigidity of defenses, it becomes possible for the injured Self to be both protected and revealed. In IBP this is done without confronting, attacking, removing, or otherwise taking away defenses from the client. Boundaries are introduced in the very first session and over time (often in that first session), they take the place of defenses. Beginning with the physical distance from the therapist, the client is invited to become aware of his or her boundaries as a felt sense in the body and to use this awareness in making choices. Over time, the body and energy field expand, allowing the therapist to touch quickly the true essence of a person in a noninvasive, safe, and supportive way.
When this experience is repeated over time within the context of a therapeutic relationship, deep early injuries are no longer feared. Rather, they are faced and relived with a connection to internal Self-support. Defenses then open by choice, having been replaced by boundaries which protect the Self and care for it appropriately in the present circumstances.
Conversely, the cathartic model of body therapy would see the release of the underlying repressed pain as the goal of therapy. Consequently, defenses are confronted, either verbally or physically, to get at the feelings underneath. Many body therapists believe that it is necessary to directly release the chronically tense holding patterns of the body by deep massage techniques. This may work initially, but because it is being "done to" the client from the outside, the patterns usually return even stronger than before.
This seemingly powerful and effective cathartic model is outdated, since its invasive techniques often repeat the injury that caused the defensive holding pattern in the first place. There is initial relief when feelings are released, but when the holding pattern in the body returns, it is much like scar tissue over a wound. Repeated discharges in this manner actually strengthen muscular armoring and make it tighter. Even worse, the core Self doesn't seem to be reached, remaining buried and estranged from both the client and the therapist. Energy is discharged out of the system in a dramatic catharsis, rather than contained within the system and transformed into Self-experience.
BOUNDARIES WITHIN THE THERAPEUTIC PROCESS
When clients first enter the room, the IBP therapist notices their body attitudes, energetic presence, positions they take in the room, and quality of their contact with the practitioner. Given this information, the therapist will work with the client's awareness of experience in the body, while bringing boundary issues into consciousness. The therapist may, for example, work with physical distance or closeness, eye contact, tension or relaxation in the body, breathing, and connection of these experiences to early relationship issues.
The IBP therapist often will help clients to set appropriate boundaries through experimentation and body awareness, thus teaching them how to do this for themselves. The practitioner also may convey parenting messages by setting his or her own boundaries, thereby providing a container for the therapeutic relationship.
The following is a transcript of boundary work conducted with a new client at the beginning of a session. The therapist and the client are seated on cushions on the floor, facing each other.
In this particular session, the therapist is working with breath and boundaries to promote physical, emotional, and cognitive awareness. The work is taking place in the here and now, with one reference back to the experience of the Primary Scenario. To assist the client in recognizing these patterns, most IBP therapists will explore this history of early relationships within the first few sessions. Some therapists keep a diagrammatic outline of each client's Primary Scenario, in the form of an intergenerational chart, and have this available in each session.
While IBP therapists might use a variety of other techniques to intensify body-awareness, working with boundaries ensures that the process remains non-invasive, with the client always in charge. Breathing, stretching exercises, and self-release techniques are often taught and practiced within the sessions. Some practitioners may use light acupressure, but the guiding principle is that any method that might be perceived as something being "done to" the client is simply unacceptable. Constant attention to, and respect for, boundaries ensures that this principle is upheld.
A GROUP BOUNDARY EXERCISE
The following is a group exercise that allows people to experience and experiment with boundaries as a felt sense in the body:
Sit on the floor across from another person. Notice what the contact between you feels like in your body. Now take a piece of chalk (or yarn, string, or something similar) and draw a circle around yourself to represent your boundary. Notice how large or small you've drawn it. Does it feel like the right size in your body? Make a boundary statement to the other person, something like, "This is my space. Please stay out of it unless I invite you in." What happens in your body as you say this? Notice that you now have a boundary and the other person doesn't. How does that feel? Now have him or her draw a circle and make a boundary statement. What do you feel in your body? Is your experience of the contact between you the same as before the circles were drawn, or different? Are your boundaries distant, touching, or overlapping? Who decides what space each of you gets? For most people, having a boundary not only makes them feel more secure, it actually enhances the contact. The other person is experienced as a separate individual with whom one can connect without needing to fuse. You may feel, "I know where I am and I know where you are." For some people, usually those who have a fairly high level of abandonment fear, making the circles is scary; it brings up the fear of being isolated. Others feel secure when they have drawn two or three circles around themselves and delivered their boundary statements in a threatening tone: these are usually people with a fear of being engulfed by others. In any case, this simple exercise can be very revealing and diagnostic.
At its essence, IBP is a body-focused psychotherapy that works developmentally with the Self and relationships. The therapeutic relationship is the vehicle through which the Self is brought into the here-and-now, as well as the framework in which healing can take place. In IBP, the core of Self is energetic, residing in the body, while the broader concept of Self is holographic, incorporating body, mind, and spirit. Working with the energetic parameters, or boundaries, of Self, practitioners support their clients in moving developmentally toward enhanced experiences of relationship, separateness, containment, groundedness, presence, and awareness.
This form of therapeutic alliance is achieved through a boundaried therapist-client relationship that consistently generates a climate of trust and safety. This makes it possible for both therapist and client to become fully present," having effective energetic contact while remaining grounded in their bodies. These are also the conditions in which the therapist can experience and express the authentic, empathic understanding that supports the work and validates the client's Self. Taken together, these ingredients constitute the therapeutic climate in which it becomes possible for the client to open to his or her own experience, expand and elaborate the sense of Self, establish effective Self-regulatory mechanisms, create options, and make life enhancing choices in relationship with others. This is the state of "Relational Autonomy."
1. Rosenberg, J., M. Rand, and D. Asay. Body, Self and SouL Sustaining Integration, Atlanta: Humanics, 1985.
2. Beiser, A. "Paradoxical Theory of Change" in Joen Fagan and Irma Lee Shepherd, eds. Gestalt Therapy Now. New York Harper Books, 1970.
3. Winnicort, D. W. The Maturation Process and the Facilitating Environment, New York International. Univ. Press, 1965.
4. Chamberlain, D. B. "How Pre- and Perinaral Psychology Can Transform the World." Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal 8:3, 1994.
5. Verny,T. and J. Kelly. The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. Toronto: Collins, 1981.
6. Stem, D. The Interpersonal World of the lnfant. New York Basic Books Inc., 1985.
7. Reich, W. Character Analysis. New York Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1961
Other Articles by Dr. Marjorie Rand:
• Developmental Psychologist • Marriage Therapist • Family Therapist • Somatic Psychotherapist
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