Owning Our Shadows = Revealing True Joy

For people who really want to change their lives: this could be a place to start.

One of the most dramatic things for me this past (Southern Hemisphere) winter was accepting many of my shadows. I dealt with things which have haunted me for years and survived. But there is an art to this process and I would recommend you find someone to help you out if, you want to try this, and it all becomes too much. (Somatic Experience Therapist)

The biology is very simple, in a way. Our brains, indeed our whole body-brain system, experiences emotional disconnection pretty much the same way it experiences physical pain. The root of sorrow comes from wanting to be with someone we can’t be with…cry-it-out babies, forced/unpleasant separation with small children, teenage crushes which aren’t returned, jealousy, the divorce we didn’t want, death of a loved one, and so on – any circumstances that stop us being truly emotionally connected to, or physically with, the object of our love – will create a sense of sorrow in our brains and bodies. This is the root of loneliness and we can feel it even when we are surrounded by other people who love us or in a crowd.

These are not pleasant sensations and often as not,  in the modern west, we are taught to block them or distract ourselves from them – kids are told ‘it’s not that bad, adults are told to ‘harden-up’ or ‘get-over-it’ etc. Or, as bad, we are taught to go over and over and over the situation ad nauseum – but don’t move through to where resolution lies. For most of us, the block-it approach is what we end up taking – other people get bored at listening to us, responsiblity calls, life goes on, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The problem with this is that our feelings work on a pendulum. If we block the more unpleasant sensations in our bodies and brains, we also block the matching fabulous sensations. If we have an intense experience, or several emotionally disconnecting experiences, and we block them all the time, we end up being truly part of the Living Dead with a tiny emotional range and unable to experience the joy life has to offer. This can affect how we connect with new people, how well we treat our old friends, even our sex-life can be impaired if the emotional pain is too much – we simply don’t feel the intense highs in life. Instead of the sensations in our bodies and brains moving fluidly from approach to withdrawal in a natural way we end up stuck and unable to move anywhere. We’re numb and life passes us by. In relationships, we just need a body in the room and we don’t know what to do with the real needs of the other person.

The problem is, we can do too much too soon. In reconnecting our sensations with our bodies we can re-traumatise ourselves and end up in a worse state than we were before we began. It’s like adding baking soda to vinegar. If we try and dump the whole jar of soda in with the glass of vinegar – there’s going to be a mess. If we add a little at a time, allow the reaction to happen and then add a little more, we can still end up with the whole jar in the mix – but with no explosion and a fairly neutral solution.

The process I used was simple. I didn’t concentrate on emotions or thoughts, but on the sensations in my body. I now know I am revealing something sad in my psyche when the underside of my upper-arms ache. This comes from me trying to cover my face – I can NOW  remember doing this when I had my miscarriage, I can NOW remember doing this when I realised someone close to me was kissing the ex-who-I-was-still-in-love-with, I can NOW remember doing this when my grandfather died. All of these memories kind of popped into my head as I allowed the sensations in my body to be, they were always there I had blocked consciously facing them as a survival strategy. Over the winter, I truly came to understand the whole meditation advice of – allowing thoughts and images to bubble up to be faced and processed into proper memories. My memories still make me sad but I’m consciously aware of them and they don’t overwhelm me. I also now recognise that I need to stop when my arms ache – my body is trying to tell me something. This is how I meditate (when I can) now, too. Not with focussing on zen or emotions or flow, but by connecting with my bodily sensations.

The great thing is now I am feeling deeper physical joy. I am seeking fun more than chores, responsibilities, drive to overachieve – the chores etc were keeping me from the fun and keeping me from feeling what I needed to feel. I am now planning fun times in my day and week, and can accept and embrace more spontaneous changes to my schedule (naturally difficult for my Owlish temperament).

There is a saying, ancient Chinese I think, about waking women and the power they contain – I’m kinda feeling like that at the moment and it’s g.l.o.r.i.o.u.s.

(As parents we can help our children move through some pain and emotional disappointment with Boring Cuddles. One more of these posts and then back to parenting stuff.)

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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16 Responses to Owning Our Shadows = Revealing True Joy

  1. Alison says:

    That’s pretty profound – and amazingly, a simple truth yes? That our emotional pain/ feelings is felt physically. The things people describe – “sick feeling in the pit of my stomach”, “heartache” – they’re just physical manifestations of what we’re feeling and not imagined. Great stuff, Karyn!

    • Thanks, Alison. It is indeed true we have loads of sayings around the process that have come down through the ages – a pity so many of us have disconnected ourselves from our bodies and don’t realise the bodies are speaking before the mind adds in the labels. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  2. Marcy says:

    Lovely. I sometimes use a worksheet from DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) called a prompting event worksheet. You name your feelings at the moment, name the event that prompted them, list the ways you are tempted to interpret the feelings and the event (usually ways you judge yourself), list bodily sensations, facial expressions, urges to action, and actual actions, list the ways you can challenge your faulty interpretations with truth, and the after effect — how you feel after going through the worksheet.

    Shoulders rising, trying to make myself physically smaller, trying to stop wanting things or stop encroaching on the world — those are typical signals for me.

    • Thanks for the worksheet idea, Marcy. It sounds like a great way to work through all this stuff. What is really intriguing me at the moment is that I am in a situation where I cannot act on the sensations in my body and I have this incredible sense of ambiguity in my life as a result, as a friend said the other day – this is the stuff that life is made of. Shoulders are certainly a key place I store stress too… we people are endlessly fascinating aren’t we?!

      • Marcy says:

        I’d like to hear more about what you said about not being able to act on body sensations, and the resulting ambiguity.

        • Not a lot I can say, Marcy – due to the circumstances. Just that I am in a situation where I am compelled to do X but for the sake of the family have to do Y. This gives me a situation where I have to consider the greater needs of the others before acting for myself. I think this would be quiet a common state for many mothers, especially those of us with pre-schoolers.

  3. Oh Karyn, what a powerful and resonant post. Sharing!

  4. Urmila Samson says:

    Around 2004 I started pranayam (yoga breathing) regularly, and I got something like you’ve written about intuitively. It’s been many years of gradually becoming more and more aware of the bodily sensations. I wake up in the night to visit the loo and find my shoulders up, right higher than the left. I relaaaax them slowly loweringgg…Earlier I would deny that I was angry, years later I related it to pimples on my face, months later I could identify the angry thought in retrospect (after much introspection or inner silence), now I feel the pimple before it fully emerges so it’s close to the event and I can readily identify the angry thought and dissolve it. Recently I was on a long car journey on mountain roads and was feeling very very nauseous. After so many years of practice, I could become very silent (inside) and realized I had moved from anger to fear in something I am facing. I immediately sent universal love to the source of my fear and my nausea settled.

    This is slightly different from what you are talking about shadows of the past, but related, I feel. Thank you for this!

    I am an e friend and fan of Laura and her writing respectively.

    • What a great approach, Urmila. I can see this would be really useful for me too…lowering left shoulder as I type! Thanks for your comment – it’s great to hear from readers.

  5. WOW Karyn, your words speaks to me in a such a deep way I found myself got all teary eyed reading this. I recognize them…trying to ‘toughen-it-up’ and blocking the emotions. I am still growing, still processing but thank you so much for this post.

  6. emz says:

    Funnily enough, its shoulders for me too… And my head. But learnt recently about how to deal with this stuff and like u, can recognise the onset before it manifests too strongly, and deal with and release it.

    • Yes, recognising the onset is huge for combatting all this isn’t it? My ability to recognise it all before it gets too big has certainly improved lately and it has made such a difference in my life. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. I am reminded of a technique I was introduced to a while back called “Focusing”, (www.focusing.org) which trains people to concentrate on their physical sensations as various thoughts and feelings are processed. By doing so, the memories associated with the initial trauma are released and reconciled.

    • That’s exactly what I am talking about, Patricia. So many of us are taught to block or exaggerate our bodily sensations from such a young age that we don’t realise they are the keys to unlocking all of our baggage. They are uncomfortable to really feel – but feel them we must if we are ever to release and heal them. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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