“It wasn’t your fault.” “You shouldn’t feel that way.” “You’re not a bad person.” Can you bring to mind a time when someone said one of these things to you in an effort to make you feel better about a situation? Did it help? Mmmm, probably not much. There’s a good chance that cognitively you know you are a good person and it wasn’t your fault, but you still FEEL bad about it. What steps did you take to get rid of that uncomfortable feeling? Did you talk yourself out of it? Probably not…
Today I listened to a terrific interview on the radio with a psychiatrist by the name of Bessel Van Der Kolk. (Go to www.onbeing.org to find it) He works with people who have experienced some kind of significant trauma and are struggling to heal from it. What he has found is that his clients often have cut off relationships with their bodies. They have stopped registering what they are feeling.
A common response to an uncomfortable body sensation or emotion is to do whatever it takes to shut it down. Often in our culture, we reach for drugs or alcohol to help us disconnect from what we’re feeling. Over time, we lose the ability to actually ‘sense’ what is happening in our bodies, which can set us up for some real trouble moving forward. If we’re not allowed to feel what we feel, our mind cannot integrate what goes on and we can get stuck in a story that continues to traumatize us.
Dr. Van Der Kolk believes that feeling ‘safe’ is a bodily perception, not just a cognitive one. He shared that “…if people are in a constant state of heartbreak and gut-wrench, they do everying to shut down those feelings to their body.” Interestingly, the actual physical manifestations of this kind of distress still reveal themselves though – inability to sleep, digestive troubles, pain, etc.
If we want to move toward resolving what is troubling us, it is essential to focus on reconnecting with the body. What practices do you have for doing this? Yoga? Martial Arts? Dancing? If you can’t think of one, now might be the perfect time to make a commitment to that!
Something I hear regularly in my coaching work is the desire for folks to be prepared for what lies ahead (develop a sense of safety). One thing I KNOW is that this kind of readiness does not happen exclusively in our mind. Our body must be ready and willing to be our mind’s partner, and that requires PRACTICE. When we learn to inhabit our bodies, to be more self-aware, we develop a resiliency that positions us to effectively manage whatever we are confronted with. That sounds like a much more enjoyable way to move about in the world to me.