Boundary Setting & Somatic Therapy + 1 Step to Cultivate your "Felt Sense"


“I can talk you to you till I’m blue in my face, but I won’t be able to change the way I set limits. I know that I’m not good at setting boundaries, but I don’t know why.”

I’m at a coffee date with an old work colleague, and she shares the above. It’s a story that she’s been repeating for some time, about her dynamic with her boss that keeps replaying itself again and again and again. Her eyes carry a loose glance of confusion, as she looks around the room. I can sense how this is weighing on her mind, and body, as her shoulders bend slightly inward as she gets more animated in describing the struggle.

“I know you can’t do therapy on me, but you’re all into this mind-body science, can you help me with a tip in dealing with this?”


Since I've seen powerful healing in utilizing somatic work, not just my colleagues, but also my friends have grown to know that I’m a big believer in healing on a mind-body level; this is especially true when talk, coaching and affirmations just don’t do the trick. In therapy language, the mind-body healing is referred to as “somatic work” based off of Somatic Psychology.

“You serious you want help with this or do you just want me to sprinkle some magic fairy tale powder and hope this issue resolves?”

Any kind of shift, any kind of work or any kind of problem you’re seeking to resolve that’s been ongoing will take more than a one time shift. It’s an ongoing practice.

“No, Esther, I’m serious. Tell me one thing I can do.”

Of course, I cannot provide a therapy session, as it is outside of ethical limits to treat family, friends or colleagues, but I am more than happy to teach a basic concept for those who are asking for a quick tip or exercise. Of course, when needed, I encourage therapy work and provide referrals.

For now, I go ahead and teach her about the concept called a “Felt Sense”. In order to know what feels “right” or what feels “off”, or clarity for next steps, we all need to first fully be in our bodies.

“Felt Sense” is a term coined by Eugene Gendlin, a philosopher and psychologist who describes felt senses as a physical experience, not a mental one; a bodily awareness. The term has since been borrowed and used across many platforms, especially in somatic therapies such as Somatic Experience and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. It has been especially helpful in trauma work in healing the body.

“Felt Sense”, an embodiment.

Felt Sense is about bringing awareness inside of the body. Slowing down to notice the ever changing energetic, emotional and sensory landscape. The goal of focusing on sensation, movement and feeling is about going inward; moving from external stimuli {and things out of our control}.


Why being in your body is important, and when you lose touch with it.

Being in touch with our bodies lets us know when something feels right, when we need to stop, slow down or move ahead in any area of life.

However, you may have lost touch with your body if you’ve gone through a painful, shocking or traumatic event, or series of events. It becomes hard to fully stay in the body when the body gets the message that it is in extreme danger, and the only way it can survive is to disconnect and preserve itself.

This can happen if you have had anxiety, exposed to extreme stress, fighting in your home, turmoil, abuse, violation, assault or neglect. You may have had to survive by dis-embodying your experience, either by becoming hypervigilant {over-alert} or dissociated {spaced-out , disconnected}.

This can also happen if you’re faced with a situation as the above described, in needing to set boundaries at work, and you feel triggered by authority and freeze up or get into a power struggle instead of taking next appropriate, responsible, assertive, clear steps.

For whatever reason, many of us have have lost touch with our “felt sense”, our inner compass. However, you can begin reconnecting right now.

Becoming embodied-Reconnecting to our Bodies

In order to regain awareness and connection with the body, it takes willingness to practice being present. This is a practice of “re-learning to feel sensations and tune in to the body by “listening in” to the sensations that body experiences on subtle and overt levels.

Felt Sense Exercise- Harnessing Your Inner Compass


A word of caution: If you’ve been through trauma and you are sensitive to certain body sensations, do this exercise lightly. If you find a part of the body that is holding trauma, refocus to another part {such as your breath} or find something to sooth that part such as saying “ I am here for you now”, “This is 2019, that was then”. We want to offer compassion and develop empathetic connection to parts of you that helped you survive.

Start here - Access Felt Sense

Sit comfortably in a quiet place where you can slow down and focus. Slowly notice the things in your environment, the colors, the sounds, smells, air, energy and light around you. Next, notice any sensations in or on your body. Start slowly, focusing your attention from your head, scalp, temples, down your face, shoulders, chest, and down your belly, legs, knees and down to your feet and hands, fingers.

Don’t rush through this, rather, notice subtle sensations that may be happening in, on or around the parts of your body. Use as many descriptive words as possible to describe what you’re noticing.

“My heart feels warm”, “my hands feel clammy”, “my back feels burdened”, “my head feels crammed”, “my legs feel tingly, and my chest feels calm”… To help you out I’ve written some descriptors for you to look at and choose which may resonate as you practice getting more in-touch and aware.

Felt Sense-Descriptors

Feelings & Sensations

  • Emotions- joy, content, relief, worry, sadness, grief, loss, fear, overwhelm, desire, hunger, wanting

  • pain - slight, stabbing, tinge, sharp

  • pressure- evenly across body, uneven in one areas, settling pressure, crushing pressure, tingling pressure

  • air - stimulating current, stifling, cool, warm, cold, strong, gentle, rush, misty, dry

  • tingling- prickly, numbing, vibrating, slight tickle

  • itch- soft itch, irritating itch, large area of itch, impulsive itch, spreading itch

    Environment & Temperature

  • temperature– cool, cold, warm, hot, burning, chilly, frozen, snowy, shady, clammy

  • size– feeling big, medium, small, large, tall, short, invisible, enlarged, taking up lots of space or scattered

  • weight - light, feathery, heavy, brick weighted

  • shape – pointy, flat, round, porcupine spiked, triangulated

  • movement & motion – sensations going in erratic motion, circular, upward, downward, straight, direct, all-over

  • speed – speedy, turtle slow, still, paced quick

  • texture – rough, wood, stone, sandpaper, smooth, silk

  • element identified with – earth, fire, air, water, wood

  • color – gray, blue, orange etc.

    Inner Sensations

  • body leaning- hunching over, standing tall, sinking in, sideways leaning, uncovering, opening, closing, darkening, lifting, hiding

  • sounds – silence, buzzing, ringing

  • taste buds – sweetness, sourness, no taste, bitterness, dryness

  • smell – floral, grassy, rainy, pungent, awakening, minty

  • emptiness - blank, nothingness, space

Slow down and notice if there is any specific sensation, movement or emotion that resonates on any specific body part, or an overall theme surrounding you now. I’d pick 3-5 descriptors and write them down.

The Gingerbread Man Exercise For Body Awareness


Draw a gingerbread man. Color different parts of the body with different colors to represent the sensation experienced in different parts of your body; be it an emotion, tension, confusion, or any other sensation that’s come up as you’re facing a specific situation. This helps access what is coming up from the unconscious, on a body sense level.

This is an activity I often utilize in therapy, and suggested my colleague try this on her own time.

She later shared that she drew grey on her upper back, and orange on the belly area of her “gingerbread man”. Doing this, she realized the pull between being assertive and the anxiety of feeling rejected or judged for standing up. Noticing the struggle, and processing some other dynamics at play {with her own therapist} she was able to obtain clarity on next steps she needed to take to move forward with her situation without repeating the same {non} boundary.

Even if you’re not needing to set a boundary and are not facing an “issue”, practicing getting in touch with your body can help with reducing anxiety and becoming more connected to yourself and others.

Somatic exercises help in resolving anxiety trapped in the body, trauma, and PTSD symptoms that are carried on a body level.

In my office, I utilized somatic interventions to help clients who are feeling stuck or trapped in their physical, emotional or energetic or love lives. The first step to engaging and maximizing any of the activities is by cultivating, over time, a felt sense.

Somatic focused work has the ability to directly contact the brain in a a new way, and develop new neural pathways.

Subsequently, it helps shift behavioral patterns which allow alternative ways to responding to the environment, and un-stucking from unhelpful patterns of the past.

If you’re looking to set a new boundary, develop a better sense of yourself in your body or unstuck from an emotionally difficult situation, it may be time for therapy. Want some tips today to improve your verbal and non-verbal boundaries? Read this!

If you’re ready to dive in and do the deep work, on a body-based level, I encourage you to reach out to a somatically informed and trained therapist to help you. Other methods that are helpful with boundary setting on a mind-body-spirit level are Psychodrama, Expressive Arts, Experiential Therapies, EMDR and Parts work.  

Esther Goldstein LCSW is psychotherapist and trauma specialist with a private practice in Cedarhurst, NY. Esther specializes in treating professionals with anxiety, overwhelmed moms and individuals who want to have more meaningful relationships. Specialty areas include: EMDR therapy, somatic therapy, trauma treatment, complex ptsd and dissociative disorder treatment. As well, Esther provides trauma informed consultation to therapists committed to improving their trauma-informed practice and attachment focused EMDR consultation to therapist attaining hours towards EMDRIA certification. Esther's website is