Updated: Aug 16, 2022
The Consequences of Being Disembodied
“I thought it might be relevant for me to share with you that during our last session when I told you that I don’t have nearly the number of friends or connections around me that most people do, I felt really unheard by you.”
When I received this message from a client recently, I’ll be real, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that I may have missed something, given my client the impression that what she shared wasn’t important, or caused her to feel overlooked or misunderstood.
I really took my time with my response. I thanked her for her honesty, I asked her if she’d be willing to try again with me and inquired as to what I overlooked, and I acknowledged and took responsibility for what my aim was in the conversation when she told me what she did.
Her reply startled me even more. I heard, “You still don’t get it. Even now you are dismissing what I said.” There was more, but what’s important here, for our purposes, is that you know how I reacted. As my heart rate rose, as I felt the walls being built around my chest, and as I could feel the heat creep into my face, I moved immediately into a dialogue where I told her how it was, what needed to happen next, and how we would be doing things in the future. I went to management, fixing, and directing. Where I went was straight into control mode. Why? Because I learned at an early age that it was unsafe to not know.
Before I logged off for the day, I sent her a message and said, “I’ve clearly missed something, and I too don’t like it when I feel unheard. We all need someone who we feel ‘gets us.’ I want that for you. Let’s talk more when we can meet face to face please.”
I didn’t hear anything back for a few days. During that time I checked the ratings that many of my clients are asked to complete after their sessions, and my across-the-board “5”s had suddenly shifted. Can you see what my tendencies are at this point? I said to my partner, “I know it’s her! It has to be!” I could feel myself become activated all over again.
The day of our next session, I was holding a lot of tension in my body. I had reflected on how I wanted to be in the session with my client, how I wanted to show up for her, and I noticed just how much I felt attacked and in need of defending myself. I couldn't get a pulse on where we were. I knew that moving into the space with her, with that energy though, was not going to help me connect with her.
In the moments before we were to meet, I jotted down what floated into my thoughts as I breathed deeply and gently invited myself to “soften.” I felt my body breathing, and here is what I wrote: I moved you too quickly into exploration, when in that moment you needed validation. I’m sorry.
I noticed the stories that were churning inside of me, like the bullies on the playground cheering on the jackass that picked the fight with the kid who couldn’t defend himself. Images of those schoolyard rumbles are so vivid for me, wanting to jump in and stop the chaos. When my client had shared what she did, I felt immediately that the thought was one that needed some inquiry. Really? Is that true? Or is that a story that is creating so much suffering for you? Is that thought a bully in your mind, convincing you that you’re broken?
It wasn’t until I could get out of my head and be in my heart space—turn my attention to my interior, that I could be present for her experience.
She may very well have been caught up in and believing a story, but it wasn’t the time for us to examine it just yet. It was time for us to feel the feelings underneath it. And when we finally did get to do that together in our subsequent session, there was a heaviness in her chest, a sense of ache in her heart, a tightness in her throat. I needed her to feel that, I needed to be there for her as she felt it, and she needed to feel it and meet it with compassion. The little girl inside of her needed to know it was okay to feel it.
What is Embodiment?
Embodiment is a shift from intellectualizing and figuring, assessing, analyzing, evaluating, and calculating to sensing. It’s not a place where many of us go. It’s not a place where many of us are encouraged to go in this world. We’re not taught to go there, and even worse, we’re often criticized or reprimanded for going there.
My client said herself, in another session with me, “I grew up with two very emotionally unavailable parents.” She is highly sensitive to when she feels and what it feels like when her feelings are being glossed over.
When we practice embodiment, we get acquainted with and get to know what our bodies are experiencing at any one moment in time. In so doing, we practice being right here in the present moment.
Think now about where you typically are. Are you in the future, scheming about what you’ll eat next, when you’ll vacuum the living room, how you’re going to approach your partner about that thing that you were upset about? Or are you in the past, ruminating about the look your friend gave you the other day, or the cryptic message that you got from the person you’re dating? Are you caught up in the story of worst-case scenarios about the injury you are dealing with?
Notice how all this stuff is in your mind. Now, I’m not saying that all of what goes on your mind if it’s future or past-oriented is rubbish. I’m asking you to consider the effect of what goes through your mind when it’s not intentional. How it yanks you around and controls you, moves you toward and into behaviors that aren’t healthy, or even worse immediately harmful to you or your relationships.
As I reflected on the interactions between me and my client, I came to some integral understandings that hit on this point here. If both of us had been embodied, our moments together would have felt and looked incredibly different. If I’d noticed in the moment my sense inside of rushing, of tension, of impatience, I could have used them as cues to slow down, breathe deeply, and tune in. The sensations were information that something was important. I didn’t necessarily need to know what in that moment. What was crucial was noting that the sensations were pushing me out of groundedness and stability and into a forcefulness. With rootedness, I could have responded with, “tell me more,” or “what are you noticing,” or “if that’s the case, what do you make of it?”
Simultaneously, she may have approached me differently in her message, had she taken some deep breaths, recognized the stories playing out like, “Kori doesn’t care about me” and “here we go again; this is just like what I experienced with my parents,” and moved into her body. She may have written still with a fierceness that conveyed the importance of the topic for her, but also a softness that demonstrated a desire to be in relationship differently with me.
This is, of course, the ideal. And yes, it is often easier said than done, but how much value do you place on your relationships? If you’re like my client, they’re incredibly important to her. She wants to be able to cultivate more of them, and she wants to be able to do so with deliberateness and skill.
Embodiment—the practice of taking the stairs from the head into the body and feeling the sensations inside—sets the stage for more meaningful, authentic, loving relationships. It’s a go-to skill for building relational awareness. When we are skilled at feeling what we are feeling more often, we will be more present for what others are feeling also. And just like I was reminded of, I didn’t need to fix or solve anything; all I needed to do was support and contain what was already there. In so doing, we build capacity for meeting whatever emotion comes to visit us, without getting hijacked by any stories our minds may tell about it.
Take some time to reflect on the following questions:
1. Growing up, I learned that emotions...
2. As a child, what was I allowed to feel?
3. As a child, what did I have to hide or act like wasn’t there?
4. The sensations in my body when I feel angry are…
5. The sensations in my body when I feel anxiety are…
6. The sensations in my body when I feel joy are…
7. The sensations in my body when I feel frustrated are…
8. If I ignore what my body feels, I can avoid…
9. If I put 5% more awareness into embodiment…
In the next blog, I will expand on embodiment as it applies to recovery and healing from disordered eating, body shame, and food fear. If you are in a place in your life where you are tightly controlling everything about food, exercise, and your body, please know that the only way to establishing a life that is more whole, free, and flexible is through embodiment.