For years, ever since I began practicing yoga, I believed that my body could hold onto emotions, which would then manifest in physical ways, but I never had much luck seeing this in my own body beyond the obvious connection between, say, stress and my tight shoulder muscles.
For the past few years, though, I have been on a journey of hormonal and digestive healing, which was initiated by the onset of hellish menstrual cycles. The first time I experienced The Epic Cramps, I ended up in the emergency room, because I thought my appendix, or possibly every organ in my body, was bursting. It was that painful.
As the saying goes, pain can be a very potent teacher, and these cramps led me to discover a uterine fibroid and an ovarian cyst, along with a cascade of hormone and digestive issues. In future posts, I’ll talk more about some of the dietary and lifestyle changes I made that have had a significant positive impact on my health, but for the moment, I want to concentrate on one aspect of this pain that taught me a particularly memorable lesson.
Heads up: We’ll be talking about sex and biology, so if either makes you squeamish you might want to read something else. 🙂 So, one of the frustrating issues that came along with my cysts was pain during sex. I’ll spare you the details, but the key, here, is that it was specifically the act of allowing anything to enter my body that caused the sharpest pain, and along with it, a wave of vulnerable emotion. And no, in case you’re (understandably) wondering, I do not have a history of sexual abuse.
Over the course of a few months, I kept talking with my partner, journaling, and meditating on this issue, and I began to see all sorts of connections between painful sex and my rigidity around my food choices (another example of controlling what does and does not enter my body). And this, then, led to realizations of an important area in my life where I have serious trouble limiting what does and does not enter: relationships.
I’ve always struggled with creating and maintaining healthy boundaries, which can easily be traced back to my family history, which both did not model what healthy boundaries looked like nor supported–or in many cases allowed–me to create boundaries of my own. I’ve come a loooooong way in developing these skills as an adult, but there are still people in my life who so closely resemble key family members that they fit into my dysfunction lock like a key, and I slip back into old patterns.
In these situations, I feel like my subconscious is working off of an entirely different game plan than my conscious mind. Subconsciously, I’m seeking out self-absorbed, overt or covert narcissists who will suck up my energy like a vampire, giving very little or nothing back. My role is to be the energy source, allowing them to drain me dry, and my only retaliation is to passively resent them. Sounds fun, eh?
Knowing my self-destructive tendencies around this type of person, I tried for years to distance myself from these relationships, only to replace them with people who were nearly identical, or to assert myself within the relationships, only to fall back into resentful silence. Clearly, something wasn’t working.
And then, in this process of healing my body, I had an insight after meditating one day: My body was trying to protect me in the only way it knows how–in the physical domain–by creating boundaries. The only problem is that my body doesn’t need any more boundaries on that level right now; it needs boundaries on an emotional and spiritual level. It was if my body was saying to me, “If you’re not going to do this, I will.” If I was unable to draw these boundaries in my relationship and take care of myself, my body was going to get to work and start creating boundaries, whether they were in useful locations or not.
With this realization came a wave of tenderness and compassion for myself, which also carried with it great strength and resolve. I could feel my spirit and mind saying, “Don’t worry, body. We’re in this together, and I’m not going to let you shoulder this burden alone. I’m going to take care of you, just like you take care of me.”
Over the next few weeks, I pulled away from toxic relationships and felt liberation flooding into the space they had previously occupied. When I was in unavoidable situations with these people (e.g. running into them at the store), I was able to politely yet firmly make an exit without feeling beholden to the energy vampires.
While I still have much to practice, I feel myself getting stronger with each interaction in which I stick up for myself and take care of my own needs. If guilt crops up out of habit, I can gently recognize it, honor it, and release it. I feel optimistic that, with continued practice, creating these boundaries will become second nature, just as the self-destructive habits have been for so long, and I thank my body for being a wise teacher who made sure that, come hell or high water, I learned this lesson!
Now it’s your turn: What is your body trying to tell you right now? Are you ready to listen?
Update 1/5/2015: I recently finished reading Cyndi Dale’s Energetic Boundaries, and one passage in particular helped validate my intuition on this issue. She says:
Our energetic boundaries are our first line of defense in regard to our health. If working correctly, they’ll deflect or transmute energies that can make us sick. They’ll also release and cleanse us of physical and psychic toxins…But…once our energetic field starts to splutter and work at a less-than-optimum level, out bodily system becomes overtaxed and has to assume the field’s job. This depletes our body, leading to [numerous health issues].