The Upper Limit Problem and Expanding Capacity
When I first began dating again, I wrote about the Upper Limit Problem. Gay Hendricks covers this topic in his book, The Big Leap, which I highly recommend. A few years ago I took a workshop with Gay’s wife, Katie Hendricks. Katie also touched on the Upper Limit Problem. I have a card from that workshop sitting on my desk that describes how to expand capacity. It goes something like this:
- You’re going along experiencing ease, flow, and genius. Then you begin to drift toward stress, conflict, and stagnation. You notice this and make some shift to move you back into ease, flow, and genius.
- As you move back into ease, flow, and genius, you hit a peak where you experience an Upper Limit Problem. You cannot take in or experience any more ease, flow, and genius. You’ve reached your current maximum capacity. You begin to drift back toward stress, conflict, and stagnation.
- But you keep going down this time instead of making a shift. This time you move into drama where you take on familiar old roles of Hero, Villain, or Victim (or you move between these). You continue in this drama until you experience a shift that moves you out and you begin moving once again toward ease, flow, and genius. You continue moving back and forth from ease, flow, and genius into stress, conflict, and stagnation until you hit your upper limit and get caught in drama again.
But there is another option. That is to not get caught in the drama. Instead, we can begin to integrate what we learn about ourselves as we encounter our upper limit. When we do that instead of nosediving into drama, we actually expand our capacity for ease, flow, and genius.
Here is how this looks for me right now.
I’m in a wonderful relationship right now with a man who is loving, kind, attentive, and caring. He demonstrates his interest in me without being clingy or demanding. He has great boundaries and honors mine. He communicates clearly, vulnerably, and with commitment, and listens while I do the same. He resists trying to fix things, but simply holds space for me. He doesn’t push me for anything nor does he abandon me, but rather, he stands with me as we show up one day at a time with each other. It’s a very new experience, this kind of relationship and this kind of man.
Part of me is so happy. I’ve done so much work on myself over the past few years. All that trauma work, all that recovery work. I maintain that by continuing my inner child dialogue, journaling, making sure I have dedicated “me” time in the midst of a very busy life. I exercise excellent self care. I listen to what I want and need, and I speak up for myself. I feel respected and loved as I do that, from within myself, and from my partner. It’s a lovely feeling.
Part of me is scared. Every time we spend a weekend together, free of conflict, red flags, drama, or other baggage, but instead filled with fun, laughter, family, and easy closeness and love, I come away from those weekends with part of me wanting to leave the relationship. That is an example of an Upper Limit Problem. I have reached my current maximum capacity for experiencing love, safety, pleasure, fun, and attention. And the part of me that knows how to do drama is ready to go! Let’s make some drama by leaving. We can play Villain and Victim at the same time by breaking his heart and mine. It’s a very familiar path, because I’ve done this in the past, and had it done to me.
I don’t know how to stay in this zone of maximum love, safety, pleasure, fun, and attention very well yet. The communication and connection is so clear and so clean that my poor brain is looking to change it into something more familiar. Something broken, diseased, dysfunctional, painful, and disappointing. I know how that works! But, what I am learning as I refuse to give in to the drama, but instead simply acknowledge and communicate my experience to myself and then to my partner, is that my capacity for ease, flow, and genius is expanding. I am learning to give and receive more love as I continue to stay right here on the edge of my upper limit.
This is how we grow.
Not just by asking ourselves “how much pain can I take?” although yes, there will be growth in sticking out the painful times and we need to figure out our boundaries around that question. But too often we run away far too soon from the wonderful and good things that are offered to us, believing that we don’t deserve them simply because we never had them before. Growth also happens when we remain in that uncomfortable place of receiving all the good and allowing our inner capacity to expand.