“The body is more than simply another machine, indistinguishable from the artificial objects of the world; it is also the vessel of the individuals’ sense of self, his or her most personal feelings and aspirations… ” (Gardner, 2011).
A number of my clients struggle with low self-esteem and body image concerns. Indeed, they are not alone in this struggle… Many men and women of all ages battle to find ways to accept, self-soothe, nurture and love their bodies. Couple this with the impact of media (in all its ubiquitous forms) plus those sneaky kilos gained over the festive season, and you have a whole new kind of dilemma. That’s where the body can become a bit tricky or overwhelming.
Of course, you don’t need to be a therapist to know that the world can sometimes be a harsh place. I used the word “battle” above because for me, this word really starts to capture the idea of being in conflict, being triggered and fighting with oneself. When we start to feel overwhelmed by the body, anxious about the body, or depressed within the body, it’s time to take a moment to try and tune into what might be at the root of these distressing thoughts and feelings.
The body, our appearance, sensations, and our feelings can sometimes confront us, so we can easily overlook the fact that people experience the world in and via the body. This existential or humanistic way of seeing embodiment suggests that we are “inextricably bodily beings, we are our bodies, and it is only through our bodies that we can engage with, encounter and ‘rise towards’ our worlds” (Cooper, 2013).
For some, the relationship they have with the body is somewhat mysterious even to themselves. Because of feelings like shame or embodied trauma, it’s sometimes safer to maintain a sense of disconnection from the body, keeping much of the experiential advantage or learning at ‘arm’s length’.
“Some of us live ‘above the shoulder’, engaging in the stresses and strains of daily life with a neglect for the welfare of what lies below our neck” (Siegel, 2010).
As I mentioned above, we can sometimes feel disconnected from the body and a little battle-weary. That being the case, how do we tune into and flick the somatic switch that connects the mind, body and spirit? This question rests at the crux of this discussion and sits at the heart of some of the work done by my clients in the therapy room.
Choosing to cultivate and nurture a more meaningful, compassionate and embodied relationship with oneself is a perennial and essential aspect of change. While the process and therapeutic interventions shift depending on the client’s needs, the client’s heart-felt desire to move back into a relationship with the body remains a constant.
At certain points in our lives, we are all faced with making choices. Many people would have heard the expressions ‘the body is a temple’ or ‘taking refuge’ in the body. As such, my work often involves supporting clients to change their relationship to their body and come back into alignment with the lived experience of these types of expressions. In simple terms, when we act courageously and change our relationship to the problem – and in this context it’s the body – the problem shifts or has the potential to fall away entirely, leaving a new space for the client to experience wellness, vitality, and eventually a sense of flourishing (Hefferon, 2013).
“To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world… to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made” (Whyte, 2015).
We can now begin to see how the change process might unfold. The body takes on new qualities and significance; the body becomes a place of comfort, intelligence, refuge, experience and wonder. Step by step, the client begins to transform, accept and understand the limitations of self and the impermanence of the body. If the body is continually changing, why can’t we change as well? Well, we can, and we do, and working with a trained therapist helps the client tune into this change process with clear intention and a sense of purpose. Please get in touch if you would like to book a session or discuss these issues.
Cooper, M (2003). Existential Therapies. London, SAGE Publications Ltd.
Gardner, H., & MyiLibrary. (2011). Frames of mind the theory of multiple intelligences (3rd ed.] ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Hefferon, K. (2013). Positive Psychology and the Body: The Somatopsychic Side to Flourishing. New York. Open University Press.
Siegel, D. (2010). Mindsight : The new science of personal transformation (1st ed.). New York: Bantam Books.
Whyte, D. (2015). Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment & Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Langley. Many Rivers Press.
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