Boundaries, Barriers, and a Proactive Response to Pain

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

November 16th, 2009 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

A couple of days ago, a friend confided in me how she feels unable to say no to her kids, about anything, unless and until she has extended way past her ability to function. As a result, she keeps ending up with severe and debilitating back pain that in turn leaves her in agony in bed, of no use to anyone.

noWe live in a society where we actively are discouraged from minding our boundaries, especially in the case of women, and especially when those boundaries are invisible to others. This reality is true in both our personal and public lives.

I was raised by parents who wouldn’t know a boundary if it bit them in the ass, never mind the fact that I grew up in a society with poor boundary management in general. And so it has taken me a whole lot of intensive work on myself to get to the point that I intimately know and regularly assert my boundaries, regardless of what anyone says.

With regards to physical health in general and pain management in particular, I have had enough experiences where I have not asserted boundaries, then dealt with the consequences, that I am for the most part fierce and unrelenting in saying “no” – to anything – before I enter the zone where it has really affected me.

no painWhen I feel on the verge of losing my voice, for example, I stop talking and cancel any and all presentations I have scheduled. Do I still have a voice when I take these measures? Yes.

But you bet your sweet patooties that if I went ahead and gave those presentations, or if I talked to clerks at the supermarket, or if I otherwise used my voice when it was on the verge of going out, it would in fact go out. Then I’d be left literally unable to talk for far longer than if I just didn’t talk pre-emptively.

Similarly, I know my body intimately in terms of what I can and cannot do motion-wise. I know that if someone hands me a bag at a certain angle, and I take it at that angle, I will end up with shoulder or wrist pain for hours, days, or weeks on end. If, however, I do not reach for the bag, but instead ask the individual to shift the angle a bit, or to put it on the floor, I successfully will pick it up with no pain.

Here’s the problem: For starters, I look totally able-bodied, so when I am in fact doing a terrific job at taking care of a very real need, I may come off as obsessive-compulsive, controlling, fearful, bitchy, spoiled, or otherwise completely ridiculous when asserting my boundary.

Second, as mentioned earlier, we live in a society where we’re pressured to push ourselves past our healthy boundaries. In the case of responding proactively to my looming laryngitis, for example, people have expressed irritation at and frustration with me when I have refused to talk, given that I had the physical capacity to speak.

yellingSimilarly, I cannot count how many doctors pushed me – even going so far as to yell at me – to do some motion that would put me in my pain zone, when I knew ahead of time, without engaging in that motion, that doing so would put me in pain. The doctors just had to see it for themselves, to believe it. Which touches on a sadistic tendency I have witnessed in the medical establishment.

Here’s the third problem: People tend to confuse boundaries with barriers. I see boundaries as a positive, healthy assertion of a limit, whereas I see barriers as an unhealthy stumbling block to that which is healthy for us.

And so even the most well-intentioned people may inadvertently push us into an unhealthy pain zone, in the interest of helping us overcome what they perceive as a barrier to our health. For example, we may be pushed to walk when we truly should not be walking. Or we may be pushed to lift our arm when we intuitively know that doing so will initiate a spasm.

Then it gets even more convoluted: People may decide that it’s only because we thought we’d experience pain that we in fact did so. In other words, they may perceive the chronology of events as being as follows:

  1. We had a fear.
  2. We internalized the fear.
  3. We manifested the fear in physical form.

In fact, the chronology may be as such:

  1. Past experience gave us profound inner wisdom about how our bodies can and cannot move without entering a pain zone.
  2. We listened to our inner wisdom.
  3. We avoided putting ourselves in danger.

The Dancing with Pain® method actively explores the maximum zone of pain-free movement, going up to the edges of pain without into the pain zone. The way to do this exploration safely is by doing it very, very slowly and gradually.

As soon as I begin to feel the faintest shade of pain, I back off ever so slightly, until I find that fine line between comfortable movement and uncomfortable movement. I stay on the side of comfortable movement. As I keep filling up that comfortable movement space, I find it growing, expanding; and I move into it.

My body always, always is in charge.

The more that other people and I honor my body’s wisdom about my limitations, the more my movements feel safe; and the more my body’s limitations melt away. This does not mean the limitations are false or psychosomatic. They are very real, physical limitations.

Love, intention, Spirit, and healing energy, however, are more powerful that those limitations. What’s more, my body naturally wants to exist in a state of excellent health. As such, by living at my edge of physical possibility, without pushing over the edge into pain, I am always in a state of active healing. And so the edge of my pain zone moves farther and farther away with each motion.

I’m so jazzed just thinking about it all, that I’m going to go and dance now. See ya!

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