In my work with actors, I find one consistent issue that ripples far beyond the Brads and Angelinas of the industry: “Atmosphere” between actors and the very real threat that poor boundaries pose to an actor’s personal integrity. Working the atmosphere is a necessary part of the illusion that’s being created onstage, on set, in rehearsals and even in class. Acting requires emotional vulnerability and the flexing of boundaries. Real connection is necessary between actors to make a scene work. Some muddying of atmosphere is an inevitable part of that.
However, the very real feelings that arise exist in a fantasy, one of imaginary characters in a fictitious setting. A healthy actor understands that while the feelings that he may feel as a character in a situation may feel real, they are derived from the constraints of the scene and are not connected with real life. This same healthy actor has strong internal boundaries. He knows who he is in each situation, and he knows without question the difference between feelings generated in fantasy and those that exist in real life.
The first step in protecting your internal boundaries (and therefore your heart and actual relationships) is to acknowledge this muddy atmosphere. Don’t pretend you didn’t feel the feelings just because it feels threatening to you or your relationships. Our theoretical healthy actor can tell himself, “That feels really good, and it feels really real, and it even feels good enough and real enough that part of me wants to walk away from everything I’ve ever valued to feel it again.” (Incidentally, that’s how some people respond to their first use of crystal meth). Validating the feelings keeps them in their place. Denying the feelings guarantees they will become overwhelming and hard to resist.
Once the feeling has been validated, our actor can then use his head. Healthy people and healthy actors separate their thoughts from their feelings, and while acknowledging the critical importance of feelings, they will let their heads run the show. He will go on to say to himself, “However, I am also aware that I have a committed relationship to my wife. I cannot entirely control my feelings, but I can control how I behave. Therefore, I commit myself to doing whatever it takes to avoid behavior that could come from those feelings.”
He could do this by setting and following guidelines unique to the situation. Perhaps he needs to talk to his wife about the feelings and let her know (thus reminding himself) of his commitment to protect his relationship with her. Perhaps his wife needs to be on the set, or perhaps he needs to confide in others on the set -– their presence can be like his own conscience watching over him and keeping him grounded in reality.
Conversely, this healthy actor needs a healthy wife who understands about “atmosphere.” She expects her husband to maintain his loyalty to her – and she understands about the very real fantasy feelings that can occur. His occasional confusing feelings do not undermine her belief that her marriage is sound and that her husband loves her – unless, of course, he blows it and allows his boundaries to collapse.