Today I wanted to share with you a spectacular moment that I witnessed while coaching a client.
I talk with my clients about triggers very often. I also often guide them to move into situations and emotions that trigger them so that we could move through those together.
But it is very rare that I guess to witness and support clients through a real life trigger situation.
This happened recently, and it was so powerful that I want to share it with you. Every part of this will leave you with magnificent learnings about triggers, setting boundaries, people pleasing, self-compassion, and so much more!
So first, let me just share the story and then I will summarize those major learnings for you.
This is What Happened…
My clients know that coaching sessions are most powerful when they’re in a quiet space, alone.
Obviously, when you talk about shit that is deeply personal and vulnerable, you want to be alone.
And they usually show up alone…
Only this time, my client Grace* (this is obviously not her real name) shows up on the Zoom screen not alone, but with a family member.
I was immediately taken aback by this! What is this family member doing here?
She then walked out, and moved into her room, and started speaking in a quiet voice.
“Grace, what’s going on?” I asked.
“I felt bad to tell her to leave,” she answered.
“Ok, why don’t you do that now?” I suggested.
She had a tremendous amount of terrifying fear in her eyes.
“I can’t, I can’t do that. Please don’t make me do that,” she somehow blurted out.
– Grace was literally right in the middle of a massive trigger in real time –
Side Note on Boundaries
Grace and I have been working on boundaries for many months now, and this was an incredible opportunity to do so, in real time.
Just remember – if you work on a pattern you have, it doesn’t mean it’s going to change once and forever. It will probably show up again.
Every time it shows up is another opportunity to shift, and most importantly, it’s an opportunity to work through trauma that hasn’t been processed.
Side Note on Triggers
Triggers are powerful because they are old wounds. They are reminders of past events and memories you hold in your body that you haven’t processed.
They remind your body of something very painful that has happened to you, that you have not worked through, and that is why you become so “irrational” and emotional when you are triggered.
Perhaps someone else in your shoes wouldn’t even notice the same event. But it’s a trigger to you because of that reminder about the past.
Let’s get back to Grace now…
The Powerful Process of Boundary Setting
“Ok Grace, close your eyes”.
For the next 30 minutes, I guided Grace, all with her eyes closed, through an incredibly powerful set of exercises.
After 30 minutes, Grace opened her eyes and said, in the calmest voice you could ever imagine, with no inflection in her tone, “ok, I am going to ask her to leave now”.
“Ok, I will be here,” I said.
I almost had tears streaming down my eyes.
We shared how much we both love this incredible work. Palpable, life changing shifts!
So what did we actually do in these 30 minutes?
First, I asked Grace to let this terrifying fear speak. Because Grace and I have been working together for many months now, she had already been very attuned to her body, and it was easy for her to allow the fear to speak.
When she spoke directly from the fear, with statements like, “I don’t want her to think I don’t like her”, I continued to ask why? Why not?
I did this so that we could get to the root, so that the truth comes to light.
What I mean by truth is Grace’s truth. The root of where the leaves of fear grew from.
We slowly made our way to that root, which was childhood trauma – she was not allowed to be her sensitive, caring self as a child. She had to hide parts of her to be accepted by her family.
When we grow up like that, we start to believe that we cannot speak our truth in adulthood, because otherwise, we will be rejected.
We also fear rejecting others and making them feel like we felt growing up.
Makes perfect sense this puzzle, right?
But of course, we deeply judge ourselves for all of that.
At this moment, we transitioned into deep self-compassion. I guided Grace to say compassionate sentences to herself, out loud.
Sentences like, “may I live with ease; may I be healthy; may I be well”.
I guided her to do this as she saw that little hurt girl from childhood, and to send those to her as well.
After a while, I asked her to keep saying these without my guidance – the ones that she most needed to hear.
This was so healing for her, because self judgement is a huge block when it comes to setting boundaries – we judge our fear of it, we judge our reactions and triggers, we judge ourselves for not doing it.
So we replaced this self judgement party with a self-compassion party!
Self-compassion is so cool because it’s not like affirmations that your brain doesn’t believe like “I am easily able to set boundaries”.
This is more about sending yourself well wishes! And that, your brain can totally tune into.
Then, I guided Grace to imagine a massive bubble all around her that kept her safe. I immediately observed her whole body relax as she did this, and her breath come back to normal.
I asked her to imagine that family member inside the bubble, and some anxiety came in, so we removed the family member and focused on the boundaries of the bubble.
After a while, Grace felt extremely happy and free, and she invited the family member into her bubble herself!
Notes on Boundary Setting
Throughout these exercises, I used a lot of somatic tools to help Grace get in touch with her body. These included:
- Resourcing: this means that when you feel a difficult energy in your body, you can also focus your attention on positive sensations, images, and parts of your body. This gives you a cozy, warm and safe place from which to address difficult situations and triggers.
- Pendulation: in somatic experiencing, we use pendulation to move from constriction to relaxation, fear to freedom, pain to joy. Our nervous system wants to do this naturally, and it helps us balance out and come to the middle of the pendulum. It really helps to guide our nervous system into this. For Grace, we used the image of the bubble to help her move into freedom, and the trigger that was happening was the other end.
Another form of pendulation we used was going back and forth between the scared part of Grace, and her higher self that knows all is well: they spoke to each other with love, until a settling was experienced in her body.
- All about the body: throughout this work, I constantly reminded Grace to feel into her body. We weren’t as focused on the “stories” from childhood or even what was happening in that moment. Our attention was focused on the sensations in Grace’s body, and how they were changing and shifting to the point of her nervous system settling. This was obvious as she sighed, returned to normal breathing, and used a very calm tone at the end.
Other Helpful Stuff
I hope you could see from this exercise that the most helpful parts of learning to set boundaries are:
- Giving space for the fear to speak, not pushing it down. The more you allow it, the more it settles. It’s like a little child, screaming for our love and attention. And actually, it is just that, a little child! Because it is all about childhood memories that get triggered.
- Self-compassion is the most powerful healer. When we judge ourselves, we get stuck in resentment for other people and ourselves. Self-compassion has been scientifically proven to pull us out of stuckness. It’s powerful!
- All the change happens from small moments like these. They are incredibly powerful, so use the moments when it’s not an overload for your nervous system to set a boundary. We never make change in massive, overwhelming steps. We always want to build up to it so that it’s done in a non-overwhelming way. If Grace would have been overwhelmed and not ready to speak to her family member at the end of the process, that would have been completely fine!
I’d love to hear your stories of having to set those beautiful boundaries. Is it easy for you? Do you struggle with it?