Issues: Relationships, Anxiety, Depression, Loss and Grief, Self-Esteem, Spirituality
If you are concerned about your anxious or depressed feelings, your relationships with others or your feelings about yourself or if you would like to add value to your everyday existence by being more creative and experiencing a greater sense of well-being and presence, you could benefit from individual psychotherapy. In the context of interaction with a psychotherapist, you could discover what support you need to better listen to yourself and find out what you need – whether you want to be better able to soothe yourself and/or to follow through on what truly interests you. As you become more aware of what you feel and what you “do” with your feelings, you are likely to discover you have a choice in how you respond to yourself and others. During a session, you could discover how you may prevent yourself from being aware of feelings and how you usually respond to feelings such as anger or sadness. The attuned listening of the therapist, along with your increased awareness of what you are sensing in your body, can assist you in gradually “hearing yourself” more clearly and with compassion. Then you can experiment with new ways of responding to yourself as well as to others.
In short, being listened to with attention and attunement can facilitate your listening to yourself in a similar way. As you are able to listen to yourself more compassionately, you are likely hear the “message” of your anxiety or depression, of your muscle tension and your dreams, not to mention, of your addictive behavior. Some folks need discover what keeps them from reaching out to others while others need to become more self-reliant. Some need to own and express their angry feelings and others need to learn how to take a time-out to reflect on what triggers anger and frustration, and to consider other ways to respond besides lashing out.
My experience is that most addictive behavior arises from difficulty managing emotions, which threaten overwhelm by unpleasant feelings. Behaviors that become addictive or habitual are those that quickly make the “bad” feelings momentarily disappear. However, addictive behaviors do not address the underlying feelings, which reemerge once the temporary fix has worn off.
A likely companion of addictive behavior is often a critical voice which may be temporarily silenced during engagement with the addiction but is likely to return with a vengeance in the wake of the addictive behavior. Understanding the dynamics and interrupting the cycle of “unwanted” feeling, addictive behavior, the critical voice, and once again the “unwanted” feeling, is possible as you develop the somatic (body) and relational (therapist) support to deeply listen to your bodyself messages and follow through on what you hear.
The more aware you become of your habitual patterns of responding and perceiving – of your oft-times, unrecognized assumptions and beliefs – the more chance you have of discovering their origin and past function. Then you can decide whether they are optimally useful now. With awareness comes the chance to experiment with less fettered ways of perceiving and responding so you can become “unstuck” or at least, less often stuck! As you experience yourself in new ways in the context of a supportive relationship and a stronger connection to your bodyself, you can have a real choice between habitual ways of responding to formerly troublesome situations and trying out new responses
“Relational somatic” psychotherapy refers to the process of creating a satisfying connection both with the therapist (relational) and your bodyself (somatic) in the course of therapy. One benefit of psychotherapy is developing the capacity to soften your resistance to self-care so you can become optimally self-soothing as well as be able to reach out to others when needed. The pacing of therapy comes from respecting the process of unfolding of the individual’s needs. Building the support to feel through and integrate whatever feelings come up in the process of becoming more of who you are takes time. In between sessions you can help yourself by engaging in bodymindfull practices such as yoga, meditation, working out in a mindful way, and nurturing the body-mind connection by paying attention to how and what you eat, taking breaks, getting enough sleep and engaging in revitalizing interactions.
In my work with couples, the goal is for each member of the couple to come to fuller expression of who s/he is, so that each partner can feel whether there can be room to be who s/he genuinely is in the relationship. Difficulties often arise when we try to be who we are not or when we try to make the other into someone we can accept, in order to deal with our differences. Habitual ways of perceiving and responding, which we created to help us function in our family of origin, often give rise to relationship difficulties in the present. The work in couple’s therapy is to create a space for each partner to be heard so that feelings, rather than judgments, are expressed. Then there is opportunity to discover whether empathy and understanding, which is not the same as agreement, is possible.
The therapist can be integral in slowing down the interpersonal process to assist the development of awareness so that a real choice becomes possible between habitual responses and the discovery of new ones. The therapist can model empathy if at the moment, a partner doesn’t experience it for the other. Thus an opportunity appears for each partner to be heard, which in itself, can diminish the anxiety of not being heard, which often leads to shutting down in frustration or acting out in anger.
In the context of being heard by another, the deeper feeling truth may emerge, and be responded to more empathically by the partner. That is, when each partner can speak the truth more openly, an opportunity to feel with the other may arise. Experiential experiments designed to try out new behaviors can be pivotal in deepening the understanding and acceptance of each other. Trying to change the other or oneself is likely to keep the relationship dynamic stuck! The resulting resentment and resistance can kill aliveness and passion. Respect and understanding of each other’s differences in the need for contact or space rather than taking such differences “personally” (as in the interpretation “you don’t love me!”) can go a long way toward fostering renewed intimacy and desire. Differences do not have to lead to conflict.
Bodymindfulness Practice as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy
Extensive background in somatic awareness practices facilitates my seeing opportunities to invite my clients to experiment with ways to support their increasing awareness with bodymindful experiments that can be done in the context of the therapy hour, as well as outside, such as yoga, meditation, massage, and working out in a mindful way. My book, Tuck Yourself In, is a valuable resource for sampling such possibilities as are the recordings which bring to life the sensory awareness experiments or “meditations” described in my book. Once you experience the oftentimes “sweet” feeling of following through on what you sense, you will have a “body” memory of a good feeling on which you can call, making it more likely you will listen more closely to your bodyself messages and follow through.
Most of us have had the experience of knowing what we “should” do but not being able to do it, even though we would feel better about ourselves if we could follow through. Our old response patterns just get in the way. Penetrating resistance to self-care and greater aliveness is addressed in my book by helping you identify where that resistance comes from and what holds it in place. You may be surprised when you discover the origin of your “stuckness” and delighted at the results as you gradually soften your resistance to self-care.
In couple’s work, bodymindfull practices are invaluable to taking “time-outs” -time out to sit back and reflect on what just happened instead of reacting and escalating the argument. During a time-out, each partner has an opportunity to recognize what triggered the reaction and whether that perception was based on previous painful experiences, perhaps even with past primary relationship figures. Recognizing habitual patterns and then using bodymindful practices to calm down is integral to providing ground to accept the differences which are inevitable between two people. Once the habitual pattern is identified and the partners are no longer struggling to change each other, they may discover that their differences do not have to lead to conflict. In fact they may each experience some appreciation and generosity toward the other and embrace that moment of connection.