A Bit Of A Free Write About Why I’m Investing In Feeling My Sensations
Typically, we are taught that thoughts are our only way to take care of our feelings or more specifically our emotions. Healing is posited as doing the work to be able to clearly identify your emotions and then to clearly communicate your thoughts that would take best care of those emotions (what you might need, your boundaries, etc).
The story that most of us are taught is that emotions come first and then thoughts. And that thinking is a way of solving the thing that the emotions are representing. We also gather information in patterns so if the goal is essentially solving the emotion, then we gather information in our thoughts about what has worked and not worked at achieving this goal and store that away for use in the future.
Thinking gets real elaborate too. Sometimes we can activate our emotions by our thoughts as thoughts that originally originated to solve emotions now remind us of the feeling whether it’s happening in real time or not. This happens as we spend more time as conscious creatures and develop links between things.
We can develop whole chains of Emotions-Thoughts-Emotions that as time passes can become more and more practiced and automatic. These chains can feel very Real inside of us even if they don’t represent the truth of what is happening.
Example: Partners asks: Did you eat the last of the ice cream?
I feel: Embarrassed and guilty.
I think: They are mad at me for eating all the ice cream. They think I’m a pig.
I feel: Shame and judgment.
I think: They think my body is disgusting. They think that I am a glutton.
I feel: Worried and scared.
I think: They want to leave me. They want a partner who isn’t so gross.
While I’m on my endless quickly accelerating chain of thoughts and emotions generating more and more judgment and shame (the Shame Emotion drain), my partner simply wants to know if he should pick up more ice cream while he’s at the store. But in my Shame Emotion drain, there’s no space for that or him.
The coupling of Thoughts and Emotions chains get really complicated in a world of embedded trauma (meaning trauma that never had a chance to heal or unwind) and oppression. In particular, because when you introduce embedded trauma into the Thought-Emotion Chain, often times thoughts don’t act as ways to address our emotions but often become the instigator to the emotions and the the spiral that takes us down the Shame Emotion drain as seen in the above example. Embedded trauma also means that Emotions are not neutral indicators that we need to problem-solve but rather often danger signs that we need to avoid at all costs.
The reason we pull apart Emotions and Thinking is to create a bit more space to recognize that what is terribly Real inside of us is not always True outside of us. Healing requires that space. Healing requires de-automatizing the idea that for Every Emotions, there should be an Automatic and Immediate Thought.
So generally Sensations are not part of how most of us are raised. I know very few People who were taught them growing up (although I hope that is changing!). And if you do have a relationship to your sensations, it’s generally one of noticing when you have pain or something hurts. Many of us struggle to even know how they are different than Emotions or Thinking. Many of us are professionals at Thinking our Feelings, be them Emotions or Sensations, without even realizing we are doing it.
Sensations, one might say are the building block components of Emotions and Thinking. They happen in the present moment. And when we build our capacity to sit inside of them and be curious about them, they are the key to sourcing more Choice and fundamentally more Freedom in our lives.
To make it a bit more concrete,I grew up in a family that never asked about nor respected the places where I said “No.” We did not learn about boundaries or the idea that everyone gets to have boundaries. It wasn’t even a possibility for me to state any kind of boundaries and expect that they would be respected. In my childhood, letting others know about your boundaries (your tender spots or desires) had much worse consequences than hiding them and staying quiet. Part of my brilliant survival strategy growing up in my family of origin was to numb out the entire front of my body so that even if I had to sacrifice my boundaries, I would feel that less and could hide closer to my back and minimize the damage done. Most of us don’t pick up our survival strategies consciously but rather have our instinctual drive to survive takes over. Figuring out what our survival strategies and how we do them is thus part of the healing.
This became deeply practiced to the point it is an automatic default whenever I’m with other people. Being numb and being with other humans became coupled for me to the point where I didn’t know how to feel myself and also be in connection with others. You can imagine that this had huge implications both in my ability to take care of myself and also my ability to take care of others.
When I started learning about sensations and using that knowledge to inform my boundary setting skills, I also start to learn, on a visceral level, that there were people who actually wanted to know and wanted to respect my boundaries. Gradually, I learned to pay attention to the sensations in my body that corresponded to my “no’s.” I started to practice saying that “No’s” when I noticed those sensations. And I started to notice what happened when I practiced those “No’s” with other people in my life. One might say that all those practices, the sensations of ‘no’, the aloud expression of ‘no’ and the people who respected and wanted to know about my ‘no’s’ landed on my skin.
And what was profound was that as I started to understand where my “No’s” existed and to practice them with people who wanted to know about my boundaries and wanted to respect them, the whole front of my body started to thaw. I started to be able to both feel myself AND be in connection with others.
Obviously I don’t live in a world where everyone always respects my boundaries. But through starting to de-thaw and to notice my sensations and through all the repetitions with people who did respect them, my body learned to not automatically assume that everyone would cross them nor that everyone would respect them. I started to cultivate and to practicing having a Neutral Body (ie. a body that neither pre-supposed Bad Things or Good Things but was able to gather the information about what was happening in the moment). And with a de-thawed front-side, I could pay attention to how people were actually reacting to me in the present moment. Paying attention to my Sensations meant that I actually had more information to take better of myself with. And building my capacity to be with my Sensations also meant that neither my Sensations nor my Emotions were things that needed to be immediately solved or eliminated. I could Feel without having to immediately Act. This frees up tons of energy that then I can use to making choices about how I Respond and to make sure my Responses are in line with my values.
Even though many of us have Survived and no longer live in the context of Danger, our bodies are still stuck in Survival and responding to everything and everyone like it is Danger. Or our bodies are very easily Activated into Survival mode regardless of whether Danger is happening presently or not. They can respond to our very Feelings and our Sensations like they are Danger, doing everything they can to try and quickly solve or eliminate or change or avoid them. Building our capacity to feel our Sensations means that we can decouple Feelings with Acting. We can create more space. We can create more choice. We can create more alignment. Our values become more concrete and practiced. We take more responsibility for ourselves because we have more tools to sit with ourselves without feeling like we are going to die. We have more space to apologize when we get it wrong and to build new skills to get it less wrong the next time. We have more space to honor our Survival and to move towards the skills of Living. Freedom becomes a little closer.