Skip to content

rambling over boundaries

February 6, 2013

Boundaries. I only began to realise what a strong theme this is in my life in the last few days, and only yesterday experienced its role in how my identity was formed (and continually reforms).

On my experiential Gestalt therapy training, I began to test the boundaries of time– sacred in creating a safe and contained space for therapy sessions- I did this both on my personal one-to-one therapy, as well as the course ‘group process’, where we undergo group therapy to test out the theory. My therapist, on my first session, allowed me to go ten minutes over, which is unheard of in this context! She was aware of the time, but did this as she was intrigued by my lack of awareness of going over the allotted time and my resistance to ‘round off to complete’ the session. I didn’t want to stop nattering- and at the stage, we hadn’t even begun to have deep meaningful dialogue- it was just me nattering on about this and that. In the group process, the tutor didn’t stand for it. She’d began to gently count down, when we had ten minutes left (10, 5, 3 minutes etc..) , which I sincerely was unaware of, so when I began to speak a few seconds before the end of the session, she stood up and said in her warm, soft voice: ‘Tara, it’s time’. In a matter of seconds, the space was cleared, and I found myself marching towards the Liverpool station. Having resisted the initial urge to cry, I walked down Bishopsgate feeling quite numb. My own marching rhythm and street soundscape around me slowly manifested itself into music, and as I began to sing aloud to it, I felt steadier and a little more alive.

The latter is my habitual tendency to project and retroflect so I wouldn’t go into it here…

The point, I somehow resisted to even see the time limitation- the set boundary- and to inadvertently and continually test it.

This again manifested itself in going over the word limit, on my first written assignment, which compelled the same tutor to comment: ‘This is an excellent piece of work, which deserves a distinction, if not for your going way over the word limit’. I knew I had gone over the word limit, so I was aware, but I felt compelled to keep it at that.

There are so many other ways in which I now realise I do this in my life. For example, I regularly push myself to sleep ridiculously late, even when I know I will need to be up early the next morning; or taken part in performances, ignoring the pain in my lower back, which I was later found was a slipped disk (this somewhat slowed my recovery process). My reluctance to see to see the doctor in the first place is a knot to untie… these are just a few examples from a wide list of things that may or may not be because of my attitude to boundaries, but this is how I am seeing it now, and it’s making a lot of sense to me.

I don’t believe I fully took in the plethora of rules that have been shoved down my throat from a very young age. I did not see I had, I have, a choice in making my own decision, up until relatively recently. I’d swallowed (introjected) so many conventions- beginning with familial moral code starter served on a bed of cultural norms- that I was not even aware of how these have assimilated themselves into my identity. Some, like religion, I inadvertently had a chance to put my beliefs to the test. I essentially vomited what I had eaten from my family and life circumstances, to sieve the semi-digested lump with current understanding, and to slowly allow little bits back in. Like a rabbit with a very sensitive stomach.

I’m being silly- humour is generally my habitual means of deflecting what is painful for me to understand- and we need to ‘introject’ (swallow whole) to a certain degree, e.g., ‘do not cross a road when a car is approaching’ or ‘you must pay for things, not shoplift them’ etc. Apart from such rules, all else, I believe, should be open to intra-personal, potentially experiential, dialogue.

Testing the boundaries, even when I don’t realise I’m doing it, has been the rhythm to a tune I am only now beginning to hear, and am working to listen to. Being aware of our own unawareness of self is hard; I see how I’ve left myself in the dark for a long time, and it takes a lot not to self-judge myself into numbness again.

I remind myself that there is no real right or wrong. Whatever I did, in Gestalt therapy terms, is part of my own ‘creative adjustment’. I may not have had the opportunity to really test my boundaries when I needed to, at a younger age, and yet my body has refused to fully accept what was enforced. ‘The body never lies’, as my therapy tutor says, she points to her head, ‘but this is an expert at deception’.

Young adults or adolescents tend to ‘rebel’ as they test the boundaries they find themselves in, be it at home or school, until they reach a place they are content to be at; their unique equilibrium, which allows them to ground in their own sense of truth. When this process is disrupted, for example, when challenging the boundary is met with severe resistance (and this need not be aggressive at all!) then the person either withdraws (physically, emotionally, mentally etc.) or swallows whole what they cannot digest, in order to survive in their environment. Think of teenagers and the many ways in which they test themselves and those around them. It is a necessary part of the journey to realising who we are.

—I just thought of the orphan kids in Basra running wild in the workshop. Perhaps they had so many rules rammed down their scrawny throats, that for the first time they had a space where it was OK to question these rules then they rebelled! In a different/ same way, maybe I’m doing the same?

The way in which we all adapt our self to our environment is immensely versatile and creative, hence its term ‘creative adjustment’. Again, there no right or wrong here, as at one time, it was born out of a genuine need for survival. The questions to ask are: how do I interact with my environment now? Are my habitual methods still helpful? Are they harmful? Does it stop me from reaching my inner potential? Am I content? And so on.

Gestalt therapy does not attempt to fit an individual into a standardised norm, as it assumes an innate ability for any individual to strike a healthy balance for themselves. Many however, adjusted to an environment or a situation in the past, which informs their character in a way that is not particularly useful to where they are in their present surroundings. So developing an awareness of how we interact with ourselves, and our environment, helps us better assess how useful and healthy what we do is for us…

I’m over thinking again, and this time off on a tangent.

‘Lose your mind to come to your senses’, as the godfather of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, Provocatively said. I’m miserably failing at this.

Bracket your judgement, Tara, bracket! That’s a lil joke for the phenomenologists there.

Boundaries. Maybe I was not able to test the boundaries I found myself in, when I needed to, for whatever reason, which itself doesn’t matter right now- Gestalt is not interested in weaving interpretations, that’s the psychoanalysis’s job-  what matters is the present and how I am in it. This is what I am learning now. And it can be a painfully unsettling and vulnerable place to be in.

On the other hand, I’m immensely grateful to be aware of something essential in my self. To see myself clearer in turn allows me to see my world, and inches closer to finding my own unique truth of being.  If not for this process, I’d have ignorantly, at times blissfully, carried on. Most people function and survive with the minimal degree of awareness, and there is little to criticise about that. It is bloody hard to deal with STUFF. And it doesn’t stop.


And yet, I do not simply want to survive. I want to thrive, and to see the vibrant world around me with fearless eyes.


Imagine going to the opticians for a regular check-up. Nothing is wrong per say, but the optician finds that stronger lenses might be in order. When eventually trying on the newly prescribed lenses, you feel a bit nauseous and headachy. You might even question why a new prescription was needed, as you’d learned to live contentedly as you were- ‘I just sit closer to the cinema screen’ or ‘I enlarge the font on my Kindle’- After a period of time, you settle into the new prescription, and slowly begin to realise how much clearer and brighter everything is around you.

It feels a little like that, except I’m still in the nauseous, headache-y stage right now.

I just came back from an intensive five-day Residential, with all seventy trainee therapists from my college- it is a minimum five year programme, so this was a mix of students from the different years- and I got home last night reeling, literally nauseous and headachy. I forced some dinner down, and actually, physically, threw it up. I was so full of all the STUFF that came up during the residential- my own as well as other people- that I could not take anything else in. Didn’t help that I’d not had more than a few hours of sleep per night, buzzing in my mind and body (hence sleepless pic above!).

It’s somewhat ironic that my cat Pushkin, for the first time in her seven year old life, chose to puke in various corners of the flat as a kind of welcoming pre-emptive gesture.

And yet it is so easy to slip back into normality, and yet I don’t want to just slip back into my old pair of glasses, and need to see this new adjustment through. A friend is passing by for tea in an hour; I’ve work to catch-up to and plan to see a play this evening. A little break surely is a good thing.

And just realised how I was told that blogs needed to be short and sweet, which only seems to free-up my rambling abilities…

From → Therapeutic

  1. Confi permalink

    Ton texte est très beau, Tara. Comme toi.
    Moi qui ai fait plus de 10 ans de psychanalyse, je suis aussi aujourd’hui dans un processus de ré-appropriation du présent. Vivre dans le présent, en pleine conscience, débrancher le mental qui tourne en rond en s’accrochant au passé et à la peur de l’avenir, et ressentir, ressentir, ressentir. Les émotions, les sentiments, qui font mal quand ils sont trop forts, mais qui seuls nous font sentir que nous sommes vivants.
    J’aime quand tu dis : “And yet, I do not simply want to survive. I want to thrive, and to see the vibrant world around me with fearless eyes.” Oh oui!
    Et cette phrase résonne en moi et me touche : “When this process is disrupted, for example, when challenging the boundary is met with severe resistance (and this need not be aggressive at all!) then the person either withdraws (physically, emotionally, mentally etc.) or swallows whole what they cannot digest, in order to survive in their environment.” Tout avaler, digérer coûte que coûte, alors que je ressens un tel besoin de légerté. De liberté.
    Je veux danser car ma tête est pleine et ‘The body never lies’.

    • Thank you, confi, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I am glad you enjoyed the post, and that so much has resonated with you.
      The founder of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst, and his emphasis on the ‘awareness in the here-and-now’, and criticism of pure cerebral analysis and interpretation, can be seen as a reaction against psychoanalysis. Gestalt’s weaving of Taoism and other Eastern philosophies allows for a spiritual sense of ‘togetherness with the world’, which I personally connect with.
      So yes, dance, dance, dance, and let your body reflect back to your mind on how it’s feeling – by the way: Perls didn’t agree with this mind-body division, but I am still in a place where I need it for sense!)-
      and then survived to thrive and vibrate in a vibrant world!

      Confi’s email, kindly translated by Prof. Google Translate:
      Your text is very beautiful, Tara. Like you.
      I have made more than 10 years of psychoanalysis, I am also currently in the process of re-appropriation of this. Live in the present, mindfulness, disconnect the mind running in circles clinging to the past and fear of the future, feel, feel, feel. Emotions, feelings that hurt when they are too strong, but only make us feel that we are alive.
      I love it when you say: “And yet, I do not want to simply survive. I want to thrive, and to see the vibrant world around me with fearless eyes. “Oh yes!
      And this phrase resonates in me and touches me: “When this process is disrupted, for example, When the boundary is challenging places with severe resistance (and this need not be aggressive at all!) Then the person withdraws Either (Physically, emotionally, mentally etc.). swallows whole or what They cannot digest, in order to survive in Their environment. “Just swallow, digest all costs, then I feel such a need for lightness. Freedom.
      I want to dance because my head is full and ‘The body never lies.’

Leave a Reply to starakin Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: