If you know me irl, you might know that I do not enjoy having a body.
I have no problem with your body. Your body is great, it’s lovely, it’s wonderful, it’s acceptable in all its imperfection… but me? I’m just a floating head…That’s where I felt safe (past tense, because I am challenging this belief!). I know conceptually I have a body…but that knowledge (LOL) is not embodied. I don’t mind attention, like you can look at me when I shared an idea, or knowledge, or advice… but to look at me because I *exist* otherwise? Intolerable.
In the summer, I had a very humiliating experience: I was attending a show, minding my own business, when the host stopped mid-way through his speech to draw all the attention of the very large room to me. The host wasn’t trying to hurt* me…in fact, he was giving me a lovely compliment, but I was incredibly embarrassed… to be suddenly and unexpectedly placed into the spotlight. I turned red. I broke out into sweats. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. I felt a deep deep shame. I know I was asked if I was okay, by the bar manager who had come to take my food order… by my friend at the table. I could only gasp. I heard a buzzing in my ears. I was working hard to hold back tears.
I was so frightened, I had lost my voice… but the answer was obvious: no, I was not okay. I wished to leave immediately… but how could I? The show had now started, the lights were bright, I was clearly visible, to leave would draw even more attention and perhaps hurt the host’s feelings…what was the big deal anyway? I was just overreacting! So, my body stayed, but me? I left.
Self-criticism appears to have a very different effect on our body. The amygdala is the oldest part of the brain, and is designed to quickly detect threats in the environment. When we experience a threatening situation, the fight-or-flight response is triggered: The amygdala sends signals that increases blood pressure, adrenaline, and the hormone cortisol, mobilizing the strength and energy needed to confront or avoid a threat. Although this system was designed by evolution to deal with physical attacks, it is activated just as readily by emotional attacks. By ourselves or others.Dr. Kristen Neff, The Physiology of Self-Compassion
Disassociation (a freeze response), shaming myself and then denial! Also, fun survival fact about me: I laugh involuntarily when I am scared (and sometimes angry). In addition, I have been trained to use humour to defuse emotionally uncomfortable situations! There’s pros and cons to this strategy… but it’s really hard to express what your needs are if you are not connected to yourself, and laughing at yourself… and it turns out my body is part of myself.
Sooooooooo, I am very intentionally trying to find a sense of safety in my body. That’s my focus right now — it’s been *incredibly* hard, but I am getting better at it. In my body, lives all these experiences (like the one above) that I now have to confront (instead of avoid). I now have to be here, mindfully, with my body… and trust that it knows what it’s doing. Our bodies has a self-healing system, and according to Dr. Kristen Neff, we can hack into it with soothing touch! In doing so, we engage in an effective self-compassion strategy.
So enjoy the podplay I made all about self-compassion! You’ll be guided into a self-hold — and thus you will active that care system! It is designed for Trout Lake, (on unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Nations) but I believe you can do it wherever, since you are basically just moving your arms. I am curious to know what you think, so please report back!
Here’s me acknowledging my body. I feel disgusted!
[photos by Chelsey Stuyt photography]
(*to be frank, I’m not actually sure what the host’s intention was. The host never apologized or acknowledged how frightened I became. Later, he told me he enjoyed seeing me be publicly humiliated like that. He did it again to me at another show, but I was somewhat expecting it, surrounded by a very large group of folks I knew including some of my best friends, in a smaller venue and so I felt a lot less threatened. Folks came up to me after and stated I “handled” it a lot better than before… again, because there was a clear recognition that I was not okay the first time. I hold myself accountable here. I never expressed my need [a boundary: do not call me out on the mic at shows]. I also never told the host about my internal experience; and if I did, I likely diminished it/laughed it off… so I didn’t call for a repair: I was really scared, can you please acknowledge that and help me find safety again?, and of course, I am responsible for staying with someone who told me how he got pleasure from publicly humiliating me without my consent [another example: holding a poll with his friends to determine if I cry too much] .)