Moving through the world disconnected from your body
Unless you’re one of the lucky people living poetically in their bodies, such as dancers or yoga instructors, you likely move through your day unaware of all the sensations constantly happening in your body. These sensations are vital information that we are usually conditioned by adolescence to stop reading or override with distractions.
Western culture traditionally likes to segment our mind from our body; however, most therapists and people personally familiar with the therapeutic process acknowledge the connection of mind and body when working toward overall life satisfaction. With the growing arena of somatic and sensorimotor therapies, therapists and their clients quickly learn the core role the body plays in mental health and the healing process, especially individuals with trauma or difficult childhood experiences.
In another blog post about why you might feel depressed [you can read it here], I wrote about people minimizing their own feelings and experiences. Usually, when we do this, we numb out of our bodies or push the sensations away to a point of feeling chronic anxiety. When an emotion arises, a sensation in a particular body part or area will arise with it. To test this, think about a time when you were holding back anger or holding back tears. How did you feel in your body? Did you have to pace the room or feel your face, throat or lungs constrict? Did your body temperature, especially in your chest and shoulders, rise?
Emotions are physical. This includes complex emotional states such as shame or not feeling good enough. It makes complete sense why an individual might deny or repress an emotion in the same way that we avoid fire or ice cold water – it physically hurts! It may appear to be an extremely effective way to get through life, by abandoning our bodies or pushing them to the limit, and using intellect as our primary guide. Unfortunately, though, staying away from home for too long can have us feeling depressed and confused as to why we don’t enjoy simple pleasures in life.
When you block out the pain in your life and body, your five senses become more muted.
It is like taking a long spectrum of possible senses and shrinking it to a focused segment of experience. It becomes harder to let in the full richness of smells, sounds, tastes, touch and the pleasure that arises through sight. Often, some individuals will resort to the more extreme parts of the sense spectrum such as extreme sports that give adrenaline rushes, substances or other intense experiences. This does not mean that people who do those activities are not inhibiting their bodies, but people who are chronically numb in their bodies might seek out more intense experiences to feel alive.
What is often a difficult side effect of “numbing out” is that we lose our own personal compass when navigating decisions and relationships. A person making a decision through intellect alone, or interacting with others without a sense of their body, functions without full awareness of their needs and desires in the moment. Typically, the person can’t sense their boundaries in “live-time” and will draw their boundaries based on assumptions and beliefs about a given situation. These assumptions and beliefs are generally set by past experiences.
If that last paragraph sounds vague or confusing that’s because it’s complex and needs to be unpacked. It is typically the meat of a therapy session, especially in relational therapy. I will dedicate the next blog post to another reason you might feel depressed — habitual relationship patterns that leave you feeling exhausted, smothered and/or alone.
About the Author
Emily Stuart is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist (aMFT)at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In Emily’s words, “It is my goal as a therapist to help you grow the space between stimulus and response to feel calmer and enlivened in your relationships and work. Navigating this space can be tricky, challenging and also expansive and playful.”