43. Boundaries and Our Bodies with Denita Bremer
Mary: Let’s talk boundaries. I’m here with Denita Bremer and we are discussing boundaries all around trauma and feeling your feelings and shame and all kinds of fun things. Hey, Denita, thanks for being here.
Denita: Hi, Mary. Thanks for having me. Yep.
Mary: Tell us a little bit about you.
Denita: Yes, I’m in Colorado. Not too far away from where Mary is. Mm-hmm. I’m a, a life coach and I coach around trauma mostly and nervous system regulation. I have husband, three teenagers. Yeah, that’s me.
Mary: Awesome, awesome. So let’s talk a little bit about boundaries and how that correlates with your work.
Denita: Yes. Yeah. I have been so excited to think about this ’cause it really has made me think a bit.
Mary: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, share, tell me what you’ve been thinking.
Denita: So a lot of the work that I do is looking at where people are in their nervous system, like where they might be stuck. And I’ve been thinking about where that might lead to a lack of boundaries or maybe even too many boundaries, right? Like too much protection, too much independence, that kind of thing that we in our culture tend to prize. But also, it kind of leads to some loneliness and some disconnection and things like that. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about from a nervous system, somatic point of view, which just is really referring to the body and how the body responds, not just our mind, you know, how we respond in these situations where we want to have boundaries. Right? The typical situation I think of is hard conversations. And I’ve just been thinking a lot about how if we are raised or have a history of an environment that’s really chaotic or you never know what’s gonna happen, then we’re going to learn to always keep some of our attention on the other people in our environment. And kind of keeping them happy, right? The people pleasing side of things. And so I’m thinking about like attachment theory. I’m thinking about where their nervous system is and whether it lends itself to being able to create those boundaries or, Ooh, there’s no way. I don’t wanna say that. Right? And I, I actually think there’s a pretty strong correlation.
Mary: For sure. For sure. So let’s talk about that. How does people pleasing show up in the nervous system?
Denita: So, the way that I learned it, we think of fight, flight, freeze or fawn. That’s, that’s sort of out there in the conversation. But how I learned it is when we have a danger or, or even just a perceived danger, it doesn’t have to be real, we first want to run away, get away from the danger, and if, you know, in a split second our brain, our nervous system determines, oh, I’m not going to be able to run. Then we go to fighting it. And if then we determine, oh, this is too powerful. I can’t fight this. Neither of those options is available, we go to freeze. We kind of shut down. We conserve energy really to keep us from getting more hurt if this danger is coming at us. But one of the ways that freeze shows up is in that people pleasing fawn spots.
Mary: Mm-hmm. Yes. I see the people pleasers tend to go to that fawning response.
Denita: Yes. Yeah. And one thing I wanna say is that there’s a reason. Our nervous system doesn’t do anything unless it thinks it can quote unquote win. Right? So, Oftentimes we think of, you know, not having strong boundaries or people pleasing or fawning or whatever, as like a bad thing. But one thing I wanna say is it’s adaptive, it works, it’s why we do it. Right? And it, I hope, my intention with saying that is to sort of help people drop that layer of judgment that often shows up after they’ve gone through that people pleasing, fawning stage, right? They look back and they’re like, oh my gosh, why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I leave? Why didn’t I, blah, blah, blah. Right? And it’s because in that moment, your nervous system came online, made some very split, I mean, fraction of a second decisions for you. Right? They’re not conscious, they’re very subconscious decisions and determined that that was the best route.
Mary: Yes. Yes. And this is reminded me of times when, you know, I used to work for child protection and when I would do intense child protection investigations, what ended up happening over time is I was just in the role right? From like the moment I got out of my car and met the police and got to the kid and asked the questions and made the safety plan, like I was just hat on, like doing what I needed to do and getting everything kind of to a safe place and making sure everybody’s needs were met and the child’s needs are met and the parents are okay with the plans and the police are doing what they need to do. And then I would get in the car and then I would feel what was going on. Right? And that’s kind of that trauma response of, and that’s a secondary trauma. Right? But secondary trauma response too, like I’m gonna do what I need to do because this is stressful and I couldn’t fight and I couldn’t run away, and I couldn’t just freeze. And so I had to really figure out who wanted what, and I have, you know, these agency requirements that are gonna require this level of safety. How can I get that done while family and the law enforcement and the doctors and the extended family, everybody else was okay with the plan that I was making for them.
Denita: Yes, yes. So, and you said it so many times that word safety. Right? This part of our nervous system, ’cause there’s lots of different branches of the nervous system is all about safety. Right? So, it’s easy for us to talk about it and to converse and even to think about, well, what were you thinking? And you know, that kind of thing. But really to drop the self-judgment that tends to come up is we have to recognize that our body, our nervous system is always working for us. And kind of be on the same side. So if you’re tempted to be like, why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t I leave? Why didn’t I, whatever, why didn’t I call 9 1 1? For whatever reason, your nervous system determined that wasn’t the route, that wasn’t the most direct route to safety. Right? So that’s kind of the first thing I wanted to mention is that people pleasing, at least in that acute sense, there’s always a reason for it. Now, I, I do think that it can become a habit, can be something we just automatically go to and we can work on that. But at its most basic level, there’s really no reason to judge it. In fact, I would praise it. I would honor it and be like, oh my gosh, thank you so much for keeping me safe and doing what you thought we had to do to get out of that situation.
Mary: Yes. Yes, and then we kind of have to look at, is this working for me over time? Is this working for me long term, or is my central nervous system over functioning to try to help me when I may not need that much help? Right?
Denita: Exactly. That’s when we, if we go to that as like the solution every time, because it worked once, so why wouldn’t it work now? Sometimes it starts to have some, you know, not so great side effects. Like I don’t feel like myself or, you know, whatever it is we’re telling ourselves when we’re not acting from our true self, it doesn’t feel great. Right? And so that’s where we have to sort of step back. This is where we can reflect and say, did I like that? Did I like how I showed up? Do I wanna do it differently next time? I still don’t think judging ourselves is the best thing. I think it’s totally, you know, natural and normal to do, but I just encourage people to kind of notice when that comes up and if you can give yourself permission to just let go of the judgment, to just say, you know what? My body did what it did. I’m doing the best I can. I’m gonna learn from this, right? Because we can certainly course correct sort of, you know, those habitual responses of people pleasing. But I don’t know, maybe some people would say, oh, I like people pleasing. I don’t know. I’ve never heard of anyone that says that. I think most people think, oh, I sort of betrayed myself when I wanted to take care of somebody else before taking care of myself or instead of taking care of myself ’cause we can certainly take care of other people and ourselves, right?
Mary: Yes. I tell people you don’t have to choose. You can meet your own needs and choose when and how you wanna meet the needs of the people around you.
Denita: Yes, definitely.
Mary: Awesome. Awesome. Okay, so people pleasing we, I think have decided is in the fawning response and that it’s a habit that we learn over time, and what does that have to do with shame? Tell me a little bit about the feeling of shame and where this comes in.
Denita: I mean, I think on the surface, people pleasing is doing something for someone else, putting ourselves last. So shame says, I am bad. Guilt says I’ve done something bad. Shame says I am bad. Like the fabric of my being is wrong somehow. And I think people pleasing comes out of that same assumption. Right? I am wrong, you know, the other person is right, they should be the ones that get the attention, the care, I’m gonna ignore myself, I’m gonna take care of them. And it’s sort of this backdoor way of feeling like I have value. Is okay, if I take care of everyone else, make sure everyone else is happy, then I’ve done something good. Yeah, but it’s coming from this assumption that we are broken or wrong in some way and not worthy or, you know, not valuable of the attention that we need and want. Right? So I, I think they’re sort of like in the same neighborhood, this shame feeling. And then the action of people pleasing is sort of born out of that oftentimes.
Mary: Yes. Yes. And that’s why I think when I’m coaching with folks, one of the foundational principles of boundaries is that you are valuable, that you’re born valuable, and you don’t have to hustle for your worth and your value never changes. It just is, that all people are born valuable and that we’re equally valuable. We have the same value as everybody else.
Denita: I will say though, that it’s easy to say that and to think it and to try to believe it sometimes easier than actually feeling that in your body. And one thing I I want people to really hear is that the reason why we people please is because it feels better than the alternative. Sometimes creating and speaking a boundary feels really awful. It feels like this friction inside of ourselves. Right? And so people pleasing sometimes comes up because it’s the easier solution.
Mary: Yes. Short term. Yes.
Denita: Yes, for sure.
Mary: In the short term, yes. I usually tell my clients. Give it three to five times, like three to five times, you’re gonna have the same type of conversation with the same person in your life before it starts to feel comfortable to you. And boundaries is a learned skill, which is good news because we can all learn it. But really when we come to those difficult conversations, just practice, practice, practice, and kind of getting through what that’s like for you. But if you wanna kind of speak a moment to how it feels. I’d love to hear your thoughts about that. Like how does it feel people pleasing, how does it feel setting boundaries?
Denita: Yeah. I mean, I think just speaking from my own personal experience and doing this work in my marriage, it didn’t feel good to people please necessarily, but it was like a lower intensity feeling than not taking care of my husband’s emotions, right? That felt scary. Like, oh my gosh, he’s gonna get upset at me. I’m, you know, that’s where the shame comes in. Like, I’m going to be wrong.
Mary: Like, I should do this. This is what good wives do.
Denita: Yes. A lot of that, so there’s the people pleasing that I should do this. This is what good wives do matched with the resentment, the frustration, which they also don’t feel good, but they’re sort of lower intensity emotions versus when I started allowing him to feel what he was feeling and to not do the dance that we’ve always been doing. Right? Where I step in and I take care of the thing or whatever it was. In the beginning it felt really intense to me. It felt like really scary, really like, ugh. You know, just almost like that resistance was really intense inside of my body, and like you said, after three to five times it started to be like, okay. I can do this. The long-term result is that he’s gonna take care of his emotions. I’m gonna take care of my emotions. I’m not gonna feel resentful and frustrated. We’re gonna be able to come together and figure this out, like adults, quote unquote should be able to do. Right? And I, I will say that I think overall it worked because both of us were willing to stick with it longer term. Right? And to be honest, I didn’t even really include him in the work that I did, but knowing him, like he’s not gonna just be like, oh, I don’t like how you’re being, I’m, I want a divorce or something like that, right? I was able to stick with it and stick with myself through those really intense first few situations. Mm-hmm. And know like, okay, it’s supposed to feel this way at first. Over time, you get used to it. You start. Managing it a different way than taking action to, you know, take care of the other person, not to take care of me.
Mary: Yes. Right. So I would love listeners to hear from you, what are a couple tips or tools that you would suggest for listeners who want to learn how to feel those uncomfortable feelings.
Denita: Yes. You know, where I would start is imagining it first. Imagining taking the different action instead of people pleasing, instead of whatever. Maybe imagining the hard conversation and feeling what that feels like just with imagining it. What does it feel like in your body almost to kind of get used to, okay, this might be what it feels like, because sometimes we don’t know how it’s going to feel exactly until we’re there, but using the imagination as vividly as we can, and I recognize some people have a harder time with that than others, so just do your best with it. But giving yourself maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Just thinking about if I were to have this conversation or if my husband comes home and I get that feeling like he’s upset maybe. Right? Normally I would fill in the blank. I would go ask him what how his day was, whatever, and what if I didn’t do that? What if I just stayed wherever I was, watched everything play out, how would it feel in my body? Because that’s really the biggest tip or tool that I have, is to allow yourself to really fully feel those uncomfortable emotions. Hmm. Right. And sometimes that’s really difficult to just kind of stick with it.
So I like to just say, first identify, what am I feeling? It could be an emotion, it could just be a sensation. It could just be, oh, I’m feeling tightness. Right? Okay, I’m feeling tightness. Where do I feel it? Kind of do a body scan. Notice all the places you’re feeling tightness. And then can I let this be? Can I just let myself feel this? It’s okay if the answer is no. That might be the very first time. You might only touch into it very briefly and then say, no, no, I don’t, I don’t wanna be here. I don’t wanna let this be. That’s okay. If you can open the door to just kind of letting it be there and then just take a minute with it. If you weren’t trying to get rid of it. If you weren’t trying to resist it, and it was just there. You just let it be there for a full minute. Notice what happens. Notice any shifts or changes, right? And maybe even follow it. Oh, you might have an urge that comes up. You might have a thought that comes up. Just follow it. Continue to notice, and then kind of take those steps over and over again. I find that this is much easier done with a practitioner, with a coach or a therapist or somebody who can be there to support you, that co-regulation piece can make it a lot easier, but you don’t have to, I have done this plenty of times on my own. It’s just a little bit harder to stay with it, I find. But those are the sort of the essential steps. And at first it’s just kind of surface level and eventually we can kind of go deeper and deeper, allowing whatever is there in our bodies.
Mary: Yes. Awesome. I love that. And I will sometimes tell my clients, you can set some boundaries around feeling your feelings, right? Like give yourself permission to lean in and feel them and how long do you want to hang out with that feeling? Do you wanna be sad for 10 minutes? Do you wanna be angry for an hour? Do you wanna be… any of those what we might consider negative emotions that we can set some boundaries around them because they’re not gonna take over. Right? You do have some control over those things.
Denita: I’m glad you mentioned that. ’cause that’s something that a lot of my clients as well struggle with. They think if I allow this emotion that it’s going to be like a tidal wave and it’s gonna drown me and I won’t be able to handle it. And similar to you, I always say as soon as this feels like too much, we can always stop. So you’re allowed to stop. You’re allowed to pause and take a break and come back to it later. But really what I find is as soon as we open ourselves up to actually feeling those emotions, what my clients think is gonna happen is the dam is gonna fill up and overflow and flood. Well, what actually happens is the damn. I don’t, there must be little ways to open and close a dam. Right? The doors get open in a controlled way and the level of the dam actually comes down in a more controlled way. So, and that is sort of a misconception that people have, that the emotions are going to be too much and take over. If you can get through that, if you can tell yourself, okay, if that happens, we will take a break. You can kind of move toward it very slowly and carefully. What mostly I find, and I don’t wanna say a hundred percent because I’m sure there’s someone out there’s, had a different experience, is that it actually feels better, more manageable, all of that.
Mary: Hmm. I love that. I love that.
Denita: Trust a little bit that it’s gonna feel better, not worse.
Mary: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much Danita, for being here. Tell us how folks can reach you if they’re interested in learning more from you.
Denita: Yeah, I actually have my own podcast. It’s called Regulated and Restored, and you can also go to my website, denitabremer.com and that’s where all the information about all of the ways to work with me are there. And yeah, I would just encourage people to come check out my podcast if, if they liked what they heard here.
Mary: Awesome. Thank you so much and we appreciate being here.
Denita: You’re so welcome.