There is no point in hiding anything because whatever you are hiding is sitting right out there in the open in your body and your behaviour. Who I am, who anyone is, is not a secret. Except sometimes from oneself. And then, I just have to open up to the possibility that I am deluding myself.
That was Number 8 from a previous post on things that I learned in training to become a body psychotherapist. I have had a number of queries and comments about this one. It seems to be less clear to readers than some of the other items.
Well, I guess I can understand that. What I had learned is that we are who we are, all the time and under every circumstance. We don’t get to hide behind a mask of who we want to be, or who we wish we were. We don’t get to pretend, not really, that we are someone else. Well, maybe we can pull it off for a little while, or maybe everyone we interact with is just too busy with their own pretensions to notice.
Reich suggested, a long time ago, that we develop defenses against our anxiety and neuroses that actually end up embodied. The defenses are psychological (okay, that was not Reich but Freud and others) but they become embodied. In other words, part of your body.
For example, some people tend to “do for” other people a lot. In fact, whenever they are activated (energy gets moving, perhaps due to fear or anger) they do MORE for other people. They move their anger into a hidden place and clean up after dinner, wash another load of laundry, make a casserole for another neighbor, and ignore their own exhaustion and their irritation, suppressing those sensations in order to “be nice.” These folks are likely to just sink under the weight of their life struggles, feeling hopeless and despairing. This is a defense against the feelings that come up with struggle, with interaction, with living. People with this type of defense may often have constriction in the shoulders, rounded shoulders, collapsed ankles and arches, and a head that tilts forward rather than sitting atop the spine. Sometimes the upper back will become thickened and rounded. These body structures are related to the way that the person functions in the world. This person, rounded, low in energy, will often fall into helplessness when faced with frustration and threat. (See http://reichandlowentherapy.org/Content/Character/Oral/oral_communicator.html for more information)
Another person will have a different defense: instead of curving and collapsing into defeat, he or she may mobilize into action when emotion comes up. This person might work harder, longer, and try to always, always do his or her very best, no matter what. This person might struggle particularly with being too close to people, and might keep his or her heart tucked away. You’ll often see a person with this defense being kind of pulled back in the upper body. Shoulders will be level or pulled back a bit, the head may be pulled back, and there is a sense of not wanting to get too close. This person will often have tightness in the diaphragm, and may struggle to soften the body at all. Anxiety makes him or her tighten up even more, and adhere more closely to the “right” way of doing things. She finds her defense in a rigid way of looking at the world as well as in rigidifying her body.
We all know a lot about other people without consciously thinking about it. We react to cues like the above ones without even really realizing that`s what we are doing. Some people, for example, seem to be repeatedly victimized. I had a friend once who asked me if she had a sign on her forehead, because she was so often the target of bullying and abuse. There was something in her energy or in the way that she held her body or something that communicated her vulnerability to predators. There is no way that those predators were all body psychotherapists! But they could see or intuit something about this person. Similarly, we all experience people as trustworthy (or not), as authentic (or not), as a good connection (or not). Sometimes these differences can be explained by our own history (“She reminds me of my Great Aunt Ida who was a mean old biddy and so I don’t like her.”) but sometimes the input comes from the other person.
So….we have our defenses and they are structured into our bodies. Here is an example: my shoulders are typically all bound up, with poor range of motion and frequent bouts of painful tension into my neck. I have struggled with anger: pushing it down so I don’t feel it, ignoring it in my body, and forcibly restricting myself from using my fists to express it. I also tend to have trouble taking things from other people: taking support, taking help, taking gifts (“Oh, you shouldn’t have…”) and certainly struggle to reach out to grasp something that I want. When I was a child, I was told by my mother that it was impolite to ask for something that you wanted, and that you should always wait until it was offered and never, NEVER take seconds on any food. Well, I took that teaching seriously! And ended up with a body that was structured to NOT reach out to get what I wanted, and to NOT push back or strike out in anger. Fortunately for me, I was able to work on those defense strategies in therapy and particularly in bioenergetic therapy, and developed awareness and alternatives. But my defenses will always be my defenses. That`s what Reich meant by character…our defenses create our character.
Instead, anger driven underground comes out sideways….in a kind of dance that we call passive aggressive. That’s a topic for another day….but a good one!
It is only when I think I am in control (“Aha!! She thinks SHE is in control….”) that I delude myself. When I think that I am aware of myself, that I know what is going on, and that I don’t need to do my bodywork, don’t need to spend time in mindfulness, don’t need to reflect on my life and my process…that’s when I risk self-delusion. But the body does not lie.
If your body is giving you messages, pay attention! You don’t need to run away from your life and live on a secluded mountain top, but you need to attend to what your body is telling you. If you are not sure whether the message is from your body or is a thought you are having, see if you can let the thought go and just be with the body sensations. If you start from the body rather than the mind, you’ll be able to see what IS.
And that’s the gist of number eight.