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Can Imagery Help Promote Healthy Boundaries?

13 Mar

Question:
A man in his late 50’s recovering from posttraumatic stress wrote last week to ask:

Does Belleruth Naparstek provide any information in her books or GI about boundary issues?  Her book, Invisible Heroes, has changed my life.  I was 57 years old when I read it. Besides finding relief in understanding how my variety of problems were part of this whole, I also appreciate the help for healing I found through this understanding and her CDs.

Since then I learned that I also have problems with boundary issues and that this is also common for people with PTSD.  Does Ms. Naparstek have any resources about understanding and dealing with this problem?

Jack

Answer:  

Jack,
It’s true that people with PTS - especially people who’ve suffered early childhood sexual abuse, violence and incest - can grow up confused about boundaries, being as how their predator(s) consistently violated theirs as a matter of course.  

As a result, they can grow up feeling that people have a right to invade their personal space (anything from touching inappropriately to nosey questions that are no one’s business); and that it’s normal to slip into the boundaries of others (assuming what they feel, taking care of them in ways they didn’t ask for or want, confusing your wishes with theirs, etc etc).

There are two kinds of guided imagery that are good for reinforcing personal boundaries.  One is the kind that purposely drives awareness inward, down into your body, your feelings, your sensations… so you get better acquainted with what’s you. Exercise in staying grounded in your own body, your own turf is critically important.  Continued practice really does make a difference.  (This kind of imagery appears in a lot of our titles - Healing Trauma has it, as does Panic Attack, Weight Loss, the Walking Meditation on the Relieve Stress audio, the imagery for OCD, and several others).  It’s also the essence of Mindfulness Meditation, so that would be another route to the same result.

The other kind is imagery that helps you imagine being surrounded by protection and support - in other words, imagery that fortifies your boundaries and increases your sense of being protected behind defined, inviolable personal space.  The imagery for Heartbreak has this, as does the Imagery for Protection and Support track on the Relieve Stress imagery, and the Relaxation & Wellness imagery has both kinds.

And I very much appreciate Peter Levine’s Sexual Healing CD, because it addresses this issue with great wisdom and sensitivity with four exercises.  This imagery is specifically made for early sexual (and often familial) abuse.  

Other suggestions for reading: Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery; Babette Rothschild’s The Body Remembers; and Ellen Bass and Laura DavisCourage to Heal book and workbook.

I hope this helps.
All best,
Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award