One of the hardest things when you’re down or nervous, is maintaining boundaries. What does that mean? Staying authentic. Saying ‘No’. Saying ‘Can I think about it?’ It’s about knowing what you want and being able to claim it, even in the face of disagreement, or the jangly feelings that come with saying no to others.
Boundaries are partly maintained and asserted by the body. We know when someone is standing too close. We know when they feel far away. We instinctively let some people closer than others. And if they upset us, that distance can naturally change. Even eye contact can feel hard if someone has upset us.
Somatic Experiencing is great for someone with boundary trouble. We all find ourselves dysregulated or bamboozled when we are in contact with others. Many of us are trained from a young age to ignore our feelings. “Aren’t you going to give your mother a kiss?” Or “Don’t you get angry with me!” And so we often can feel inclined to choose connection over authenticity. Opting for ‘yes’ to keep someone close, even if staying close to someone else means rejecting ourselves in some way.
There are many powerful techniques for repairing boundaries, and those are often part of a good SE session. But the way I like to think about authenticity in connection with others, is the difference between ‘nice’ and ‘kind’. Kind can say no, gently. Kind can see someone wants something from you, but that it just is not right for you, and state that calmly and clearly. Kind can stand to see someone disappointed but trust they will still be there. Or to be willing to lose them if that’s not ok. Kind understands that pleasing others is ideal but not imperative if it means our own displeasure.
Whereas ‘nice’ is about pleasing others. About needing approval more than staying authentic. Nice means everyone in the interaction gets lost because you are often only guessing what the other person wants. Nice is often a result of boundary rupture through trauma or a long life of dysregulated interactions with key people. Nice can look like low self esteem but actually it is also a function of the nervous system. Niceness and can lead to fatigue, disillusionment, and resentment. Which means it fails to achieve the very thing it is deployed to achieve.
Nice people feel a bit gooby to be around. You can feel manipulated, and find it hard to sense what they want for themselves. They can seem wafty, anxious, uncertain, and fluctuating. And they often end up letting you down anyway.
Kind people can be nice too, but they don’t feel compelled. Kind people have more choice and scope in how they interact and what they do with their lives. Kind people can sometimes seem annoying, chilly, but you know where you stand with them and that makes the connection feel cleaner and clearer. Kind people are often more liked than the people-pleasing types.
Practice saying no in simple situations to help you be clearer with those close to you. Practice feeling what you have to feel when you watch someone experience disappointment that you’ve said no. But also begin to sense how much more satisfying your relationships start to feel, because the approval is of the genuine you, rather than the you that you might think you need to be.
Giving up nice for kind makes life feel less scary, clearer. And you don’t need to keep people at bay if you can say no. Because healthy boundaries allow you to move closer, feel safer, and seen. If you can’t say no, then there can be the tendency to need to keep people far, far away.
Nice, in that way, can be the loneliest place.
If you’re seeing a therapist, ask them about working with the body to build boundaries. Working with boundaries in the body can help you naturally, effortlessly rebuild resilience in connection with others. And that can bring about a sweeter, closer, connection.
For help with boundaries, Somatic Experiencing is a wonderful resource, and places boundary repair as one of its core offerings.