Dec 05 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Alex Tabrizi

Hello to all those who are following the progress of my Inner Critic Inquiry Course online and hello to all the newbies who are joining us today!

This blog will outline some of the theory underpinning the session as well as describing a couple of exercises for you to try at home. Hope you enjoy it!

Week 7 of The Inner Critic Inquiry: Boundaries.

In response to the discussions that took place with both groups in their previous session, week 7 began with a little video from vulnerability and shame researcher Brene Brown, sharing her thoughts about boundaries. In the video, Brene defines boundaries as “what’s okay and what’s not okay,” and goes on to explain:

“We don’t set boundaries, we let people do things that are not okay and get away with behaviours that are not okay and then we’re just resentful and hateful.”

In the previous week, various members of both groups had reported strange similarities between the voice of their inner critic and actual encounters with real critics in the real world, representing and reinforcing their inner critic’s message.

I had shared with the groups a recent encounter with a surprise real life critic who caught me off guard by plying me with super negative feedback after a show I’d directed. This was a person who I can usually count on for support. In fact, I pay them to support me in a professional capacity. They are my clinical supervisor.

In that moment, sitting in the supervision office, I felt a sting in my heart, tears sprang to my eyes as I felt myself wanting to attack or retreat. In that moment I recognised that my supervisor’s criticism had triggered my inner critic and the pair of them were having a field day, ripping my work to pieces. 

Remembering Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artists Way; “Receive the criticism all the way through and get it over with,” I kept my mouth shut and finished the conversation as politely as I was able. Then I came home and balled my eyes out, whilst scrawling about the injustice of it all in my note book.

Back to Brene Brown. In the video, she explains; “I assumed for the first 35 years of my life that people were sucking on purpose just to piss me off.” I could relate to that! My inner critic likes to make out that everything is about me; if it had its way, it would make my life absolutely minuscule, with its obsessive tendency to hoard external evidence to support its argument that I do not deserve the space I take up in the world. But like Brene Brown, I’ve done my work and I am able to regain perspective when the walls start closing in.

In the video, Brene shares a life-changing question that her therapist put to her; “What if people are doing the best they can?” The video just touches on the epic journey that was triggered by this question, but her book Rising Strong accounts the whole saga in meticulous detail (it’s worth a read!). In the video, Brene quotes her husband’s answer to the question: “I’ll never know whether people are doing the best they can or not, but when I assume people are, it makes my life better.”

Back to me and my emotional reaction to my supervisor’s words. Flicking back through The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, I found these comforting words:

“As artists we cannot control all the criticism we will receive. We cannot make our professional critics more healthy or more loving or more constructive than they are, But we can learn to comfort our artist child over unfair criticism; we can learn to find friends with whom we can safely vent our pain. We can learn not to deny and stuff our feelings when we have been artistically savaged.”

After pouring out my heart on the page, giving space for my inner child to vent her pain, I thought about my non-violent communication training, remembering Marshall Rosenbergh’s wise words; “judgements, criticisms, diagnoses, and interpretations of others are all alienated expressions of our needs.” I got curious about what might have been happening for my supervisor, for them to slate my work in such a way. I imagined this criticism might have it’s roots in a creative block, maybe. Who or what might I have been representing to my supervisor in that moment? What need wasn’t getting met? The curiosity allowed my heart to soften. I wrote my supervisor a letter which I did not send.

A fortnight later, I was back in my supervisor’s office and this time I was prepared. I spoke from my heart, letting them know that they’d hurt me deeply and told them that it really wasn’t okay to pull my work to pieces in this way. I asked them what was happening for them to fuel such a poisonous rant. My supervisor gave me space to say everything I needed to say and responded honestly and respectfully. It led to a great conversation about boundaries and our ever-changing relationship as supervisor and supervisee. I am forever growing as an artist and a therapist and a human and so are they. It’s vital to our continuing growth that our boundaries are re-evaluated on a regular basis. 

In her video and in Rising Strong, Brene asks the question, “B.I.G; what Boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my Integrity and make the most Generous assumptions about you?” She explains, without boundaries, there can be no generosity, no empathy, no compassion and no vulnerability, as Brene says; “Boundaries are fricking important!” 

Meditation - Creating a Bubble

This meditation allows you to experience safety at anytime, anywhere.

  • Sit down, feel the ground beneath you, feel your breath in your belly, breathe out a little more than you usually would. This will slow down your breathing and help you to come into contact with the steadying, solid ground.
  • You’re going to make a protective bubble for yourself.
  • Imagine your out-breath comes down the front of your body, down your torso, down the front of your legs, right to your feet.
  • Imagine your in-breath comes under your feet and up the back of your body, up your legs, up your back, over your head and back to your nose and mouth.
  • Try this for 7 cycles of breath, feeling a sense of protection as you create a bubble of breath for yourself to sit in.
  • What colour is safe for you? Imagine the bubble is this colour.
  • What’s it made out of? Imagine you’re sitting in a bubble of this fabric and colour, enjoy the sense of safety. Feel your body relax as your breath continues to flow deep and long.
  • Have a little check in with yourself - how is your mood right now?
  • You can choose to let your bubble melt away, or keep it there for a while if you prefer.

The 3 Minute Touching Game

This is a game about making offers and requests and setting boundaries. It’s not one of mine, I came across it on the interweb. See the links at the end of the blog. I made it clear at the start of the exercises that we’d be exploring non-sexual touch in this context. 

3 minute touching game part one - making a request

  • A asks B for whatever it is you need right now, be specific, it could be a shoulder massage, having your hair stroked, a hug, or whatever would feel like a treat for you.
  • B feel into that. Are you willing to give that wholeheartedly? Do you need any more information to understand the request? If you are willing to offer what’s being asked of you then go ahead. If you’re not willing to offer what’s being asked of you, negotiate something that feels okay for both of you.
  • set a timer for three minutes and do the thing, throughout the 3 minutes, both A and B stay connected to how you feel physically, emotionally and the thoughts that pass through.
  • When the 3 minutes have elapsed, have a share, how was that for both of you?
  • now switch over

3 minute touching game part two - making an offer

  • B offers to touch A in a particular way. What might feel like a treat to offer? Be specific, it could be a shoulder massage, stroking their hair, a hug, or whatever you feel like giving.
  • A feel into that. Is this something that you want? Are you willing to receive that wholeheartedly? Do you need any more information to understand the request? If you are willing to accept what’s being offered then go ahead. If you’re not willing to accept what’s being offered, negotiate something that feels okay for both of you.
  • set a timer for three minutes and do the thing, throughout the 3 minutes, both A and B stay connected to how you feel physically, emotionally and the thoughts that pass through.
  • When the 3 minutes have elapsed, have a share, how was that for both of you?
  • now switch over

You can play this game many times over. It’s designed to help you explore boundary setting, consent and giving and receiving. Its a lot of fun to play with a partner.

Support for learning to establish boundaries

The group came together and discussed the 3 minute touching game and how it relates to boundaries. Some interesting themes came up, particularly around being a woman. It’s a celebrated quality of our gender to be constantly accommodating others. Literally, as well as metaphorically! We have had the message passed down through generations to serve the men and children before we serve ourselves and as modern as we think we are, generations of conditioning will have us ditching our own needs in favour of looking after other people.

It brought to mind the non-violent communication stages from emotional slavery to emotional liberation. Marshall Rosenberg describes these stages as:

Stage 1- emotional slavery; We believe ourselves to be responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everybody happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest as burdens.

Stage 2- the obnoxious stage; We become aware of the high costs of assuming responsibility for others’ feelings and trying to accommodate them at our own expense. When we notice how much of our lives we’ve missed and how little we have responded to the call of our own soul, we may get angry.

Stage 3- emotional liberation; We respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt or shame. Our actions are therefore fulfilling to us, as well as to those who receive our efforts.

This was a familiar journey to many in the group members. A few reported themselves to be currently at stage 2. I explained, stage 2 is also known as the Lion’s Roar. When we first begin setting boundaries, it’s not always skilful, elegant or subtle. We’ll find ourselves screaming “FUCK OFF” when actually, what we meant to say was; “no thank you, I don’t want a cup of tea.” It can take a while to develop ease around boundary setting, after a life-time of saying yes to everything! Brene Brown offers some great tactics in an online article on how to set boundaries:

Make a mantra. I need something to hold on to—literally—during those awkward moments when an ask hangs in the air. So I bought a silver ring that I spin while silently repeating, "Choose discomfort over resentment." My mantra reminds me that I'm making a choice that's critical for my well-being—even if it's not easy. 

Keep a resentment journal. Whenever I'm marching around muttering cuss words under my breath, I grab what I lovingly refer to as my Damn It! Diary and write down what's going on. I've noticed that I'm most resentful when I'm tired and overwhelmed—i.e., not setting boundaries. 

Rehearse. I'll often say, to no one in particular, "I can't take that on" or "My plate is full." Like many worthwhile endeavors, boundary setting is a practice. 

In my research in preparation for this session, I appear to have written yet another course / chapter in my book. It feels significant in its natural emergence from the group process and it feels like very relevant and important stuff for all my other work. If you want to explore the themes in this session more:

Watch Brene Brown’s video here

Read Brene Brown’s article on how to set boundaries here

Watch a video about the three minute touching game here

For more support in setting boundaries, search out: 

  • Rising Strong by Brene Brown
  • Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
  • Non Violent Communication courses take place world wide and are easily googleable

Holly Stoppit is a facilitator, director and dramatherapist, find out more about her here.

To read more about what happens in The Inner Critic Inquiry, see embracing the shadow within and self care! self care! self care!

If you're interested in attending the Inner Critic Inquiry course in the future, sign up to the mailing list at the bottom of this page.

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