But it Didn’t Work for Me!
I tried body-awareness and I’m as anxious as ever. What’s wrong!
We are exploring the benefits and the “how-to’s” of getting more in touch with our bodies and sensations. Previous installments available here.
O Child of this longest journey,
are you not fretful because you’re tired?
Are you not tired because you’ve run far?
Do you not fear what will catch you if you stop?
Take my hand.
Let us rest together.
Did no one offer you solace long ago,
when beasts beneath your bed
vexed your slumber?
You deserved that then, and now again.
Oh, yes, I know it’s true.
Real demons have visited,
You have known suffering.
Then together, we can turn,
to see this demon’s colors,
and what is needed to set you free.
- Paul Chubbuck
Have you tried the suggested body awareness exercises from my blog, yet not felt relief, or even more anxious? What’s going on here? There are two likely answers.
You likely learned some coping strategies in your family of origin…ways of surviving a dysfunctional or abusive family situation. If that was your childhood, then your particular creative ways of being anxious helped preserve your sanity, maybe even your life. I had a client who described knowing from the sound of her returning Dad’s tires on the gravel driveway whether he was drunk or not. Based on that, she knew whether she needed to run and hide in her room or not.
For such a person, maybe for you 30-40 years later, if you attempt to use some body-centered relaxation exercise or meditation to calm down, a big layer of resistance may arise saying, “Why are you trying to take the guards off-duty? That makes me feel VERY unsafe and more anxious than ever.”
This “part” of you that has been trying so hard to keep you safe all these years is not going to just lay down and relax until you can genuinely find new and better ways of feeling safe which don’t require so much tension, wariness, or “armor” to maintain.
Unworthiness and shame
Children have the instinct to try to please their primary caregivers. This serves the survival of the human species. The small child who does not please their parents may not survive childhood. This must have been particularly true in ancient times.
Mature, well-adapted parents deliver a great deal of positive feedback to a child about many, many aspects of its behavior and expressions. They reserve punishment for the rare behavior which endangers the child or others. In this environment, a child can develop a core feeling of safety and worthiness while learning that certain behaviors are not allowed.
But if, as children, we were taught by our primary caregivers that our feelings, behavior, desires, impulses, imagination, or creativity were “wrong”, “bad”, “sinful”, “evil”, or “stubborn”, these judgements go right to our tender young hearts. As small children, it was not possible for us to realize that this came from the the emotional immaturity of our caregivers and wasn’t our fault. All we could conclude is that the adults were right and we were wrong or bad. This often led to various beliefs or behaviors to minimize “the offense”, such as stopping ourselves from wanting, expressing, or objecting since we feared those were bad and likely to result in more shaming or punishment.
These two qualities, self-protective guardedness and unworthiness, carried forward into adulthood, share one common result. They make healing and positive change challenging.
Self-protection inside us says, “Don’t trust, don’t let your guard down. If you do, things may get very dangerous like they were that time when I was a child!”
Unworthiness says, “Nothing ever works for me because there’s something wrong with me. Don’t get your hopes up. I’ve already tried all those therapies and techniques and they didn’t work.”
What is the answer?
When we are in the pain of feeling or recognizing these old childhood wounds, it is natural to impatiently want quick relief. We want a magic pill to make the pain go away now. But our old friends self-protection and unworthiness will rarely trust enough to allow rapid change. The real and permanent healing usually happens step-by-baby-step as we find our way towards treating ourselves with the kindness and compassion we did not get enough of as children.
Everyone’s baby-steps are unique. Perhaps yours may include learning to do some creative activity, even one you were told you no good at. Perhaps you’ll want to pursue a new career, a new kind of relationship, or go to 12-Step meetings to associate with others doing similar healing work. Oftentimes, formal therapy can help, especially if it helps you focus not so much on the complicated “story” of your trauma, but on getting back in touch with your authentic sensations and feelings, your inner guidance to what you genuinely want.
Paradoxically, healing from childhood wounds and “releasing the past” is one place where slower is faster. If you recognize the issues of self-protection and unworthiness as your own, the body awareness exercises I’m suggesting in this blog can still be useful and powerful for you. Just take them a little bit at a time, being extra patient with yourself, and, very importantly, acknowledge yourself for small progress. In this endeavor, there is no right or wrong way or result…there is only your own ever-growing awareness of yourself and appreciation of your own life experience.
Think of it this way. If you had a toddler learning to walk, and they took two steps towards you before toppling, would you scold them, or praise them? Hopefully, the later. That’s what will give them the courage and impetus to try again, and that’s exactly what you deserve when you try something new to address your anxiety or other painful patterns. Acknowledge yourself just for having the courage to try it. Tell an understanding friend about even the smallest little new awareness which resulted. With this kind of self-respect, these exercises will start yielding increasingly positive outcomes!
More suggestions to come soon!
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