Many of the clients I see for Body-Oriented Psychotherapy and Holistic Counselling come with a sense of not being in their body. The symptoms of this can be IE anxiety and compulsive overthinking and in relation to others it can show up as an attunement to others’ feelings rather than their own.
If we grew up in an environment that was unstable or unpredictable, we might have learned to become very attuned to the moods of our parents or caregivers, in order to decide whether the environment was safe or not. An environment can feel unsafe, even when there is the threat of anger in the air. It doesn’t even necessarily need to be aimed at the child themselves, for them to be affected by it.
When an environment feels stable and predictable enough, a child can ‘lose’ itself in whatever it’s doing. They can just be within themselves , without any need to reach out vigilant awareness to their environment. They can relax into their own experience in their body.
Vigilance shapes the body and breath
When this is not the case, the child will grow a vigilance in their body, a constant listening and looking for possible trouble externally. It causes tightness and restriction in the muscles and shapes posture and also affects breathing patterns.
The child’s attention is no longer with their inner experience, but is outside themselves, constantly gauging their environment. This is where the mind becomes very active in interpreting what is going on; looking and listening for cues; others’ facial expressions, footfalls, tone of voice etc. As adults these people can be very intuitive when it comes to what’s going on for other people. Unfortunately, they often have great difficulty noticing what is going on for themselves.
It’s hard to feel the feels
When a child lives in an unstable and unpredictable environment, it can be hard to get emotional love needs met. In the child, this may have caused feelings such as fear, sadness, hopelessness, and anger to arise. And within the environment they are in, they will find these feelings very hard to process. This is another reason they can lose touch with their feelings, besides the vigilance mentioned before. As they are unable to process the feelings, one way they will cope is by going ‘into their head’ to try and fix their environment by mental imagining. They will aslo show beahviours such as needing to please others, trying to meet their parent’s needs or always being a good girl or boy etc.
Loss of authentic self
The sad thing here is that the child loses its own expression, to become what it thinks the parents/family need from them to be happy. The child takes on the big responsibility of caring for the parents; they might make up stories and excuses for them, protect them or take the blame.
The Bubble of Protection or the Cone of Absence
Another response to the inability to digest their experience and change their environment, is that the child will put themselves in a bubble to protect themselves from feelings, instability and unpredictability and others’ unhappiness. Logically, the only place that you can ‘enact’ such a ‘bubble’ is inside yourself, even though you might have an image of doing it outside yourself. But in fact, it causes an inner split between the overly productive and thinking mind, and the feeling and experiencing body. Besides this, agency and expression in the world can also hampered by the bubble. These things can all lead to numbness, depression and a sense of absence.
You are not your shaping
Years pass and we live this shaping, and think it is who we are. It shapes our choices in career and relationships. It shapes our attitude to life and also our body posture.
But underneath, deep within is still the child who wants to learn to play, lose itself in its own experience. It still has the life given urge to live who they truly are and express that and be that. This repressed urge can show up in depression and anxiety. There is a need for reconnection to self, the mind and body one.
This is the subtle process that happens when people come to see me; the gentle reconnection to feelings in the body. It’s a refamiliarisation with and reclaiming of the body as the safe and loving home of the self. It enables the processing and digesting of feelings through benevolent attention within.
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