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How we can build a better relationship with ourselves

“The relationship with yourself is the most important one of all”.

Just reading that statement will probably bring up conflict within. Your intellect might agree but other parts of you will flinch, and come up things like, ‘that sounds selfish’, ‘I should put others first’, ‘I don’t even like myself’, an endless list of reasons to disagree.

This can be particularly difficult if we have a strong empathic nature because we are so tuned into other people’s feelings and we worry about what they think. It can be very difficult to focus on ourselves. This will show up in technicolour when empaths then get into relationships, as they focus so much on the happiness of someone else, they get lost and their own needs or sense of self seems to dissolve. Empaths are givers and will often get genuine joy from doing things that make someone else happy. It’s a lovely trait so long as they don’t lose themselves in the process. If they do, they’ll often begin to feel invisible or taken for granted, which leads to resentment.

The only person who can keep our own needs, feelings, and sense of self, is us, so we need to know how to do this. It isn’t something that’s selfish, needy, egotistical, or self indulgent. In fact, it’s the opposite. It means that we can take full responsibility for ourselves, making it easier to spend time with us. We’ll ensure we’re always treated well and we’ll make sure the people we surround ourselves with are good for us.

Many people say they aren’t happy with themselves, for a whole variety of reasons. Weight, the way they feel, their energy levels, motivation, the way they look, the list goes on. The only person who truly can do anything about this is us. We are responsible for what we put into our body, how much we allow ourselves to sit around, or to do too much. We are responsible for taking ourselves off to bed, or to get up in the morning. Yes, there are many factors that can influence this, but ultimately we have the vast majority of control.

The more dissatisfied we become with ourselves, the more disconnected we become. This is a negative cycle. The more disconnected we are from our body, the less we care what we do with it or how we treat it, which only makes our head more critical. Bodies can’t change by themselves, they need our input. Our body is the most important resource we have, it comes everywhere with us and we rely on it to do what we want to do and get us to where we need to be.

How can we start building back a relationship with ourselves?

We have to rebuild back the connection to our bodies. When we get a closer connection and can tune into how we feel from the bottom up, it’s then easier for our empathic part to come back and treat ourselves with compassion and respect.

If we were to tune in and just sit with all of the sensations that are being communicated from our body to us and just be curious, we have that sense of connection. If we can learn to value each of these sensations, then we can begin the process of putting ourselves first again. To start to get the connection back again we can do things like using our senses. Using our noses to inhale lovely smells and notice how it feels inside. We can use our skin to feel soft fabric, or touch something warm or something solid. We can use our ears to listen to the birds, to running water, or to the music we enjoy, just feeling the connection with our senses and the way it feels on the inside. We can have a go at exploring different things, being curious and trying different sensory experiences to see if we like it or not.

If, for example, you go inwards and notice the way you are breathing, make sure you don’t judge it. Just accept that however you’re breathing right now, is the way you need to breath right now. Put aside any thoughts of correcting it. It can really help you to keep the focus on yourself when you are with someone else. If you can train yourself to keep tuning into your own breath, or feeling your feet on the floor, then instead of always focusing on another person, you’ll be focusing on you. You’re then less likely to lose your sense of self or your own importance.

We have to be able to keep focusing on ourselves. Not only will it keep us in the present moment and on an equal-footing, but we will have a much better sense of what’s right for us, because we’ll be able to read what our body is telling us. Things as simple as listening to our breath and not being judgmental about it, can be a massive step towards not getting lost or swallowed up. It can help us use our gut instinct to its full advantage, and be able to properly trust it.

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Why we should listen more to our bodies and less to our minds

When Catriona works with people, whether that’s face-to-face or through Skype or Zoom, the way she works stays the same. With some people, she is teaching those who are completely new to any aspect of body work how to tune in and be aware of what’s happening inside them. With other people, she’s tracking along with them, all the sensations they are currently feeling and then noticing if anything changes when they do something that either helps them or doesn’t help them.

No matter where people are on their journey the same things come up, just in different ways. The thing that Catriona does with everyone is teach them to listen and to not interpret with just their heads and thoughts. The reason for this is, for example, when we notice a tightness in our chest, most people will name it ‘anxiety’, ‘panic’, ‘fear’ etc, that then automatically sets off a narrative about what’s wrong, or what might happen, which in turn increases the anxiety or panic. It then goes round in an increasing cycle. When we label a feeling in our stomach ‘dread’, ‘disgust’, or ‘overwhelm’, then we believe it and will act accordingly, we’ll look for things going on in our lives that could be the reason, and might end up attributing blame to the wrong thing. If we can’t find anything however, we berate ourselves with a lot of negative thoughts, none of which is helpful or settling.

These sensations coming up in our body may well be a response to stress, or something that we are dreading, but it doesn’t help us to manage these responses if we totally believe what our head is telling us. If we can start to separate the two things and say things instead like, ‘there is a tightness in my chest, is it a gripping tightness, or a pulsing tightness? Is it like a weight on my chest, or constriction inside?’ We can then try to notice what effect it has on the way we breath, as we can get more information. Is it harder on the in-breath or on the out-breath? Does it make it hard to move the shoulders or the upper arms?

How Catriona does this with clients

Asking these kind of questions allows Catriona to then ask the person what they notice about their response to this body sensation, do they feel reluctant or fearful of the sensation? Are they scared they might make it worse? Are they dismissive of it? Sometimes the answer comes from the things she’s told, or sometimes from the things she observes. If our heads are nervous about the body being the focus, the person might suddenly remember something they wanted to tell Catriona and try to divert away from the body. Sometimes they just notice how much they don’t want to do the body work.

All of these responses tell us a lot about the relationship we have to any sensation we feel and the way we will automatically deal with it. This is also very revealing about the relationship we have with ourselves. Our heads will often put up quite a battle, saying things like, ‘I’m feeling worse’, ‘this is silly’, ‘I have lots to talk about, this isn’t real work’, ‘talking is the only way to figure things out’. Its Catriona’s job to gently allow the body to have a voice, to be able to tell its story, which will be very different to the story told by the head. She lets people know that their head will get some understanding and that things will make sense, but that can only happen when we let the body communicate. If the head could have figured this out, it probably would have done so by now.

How we can manage sensations with the body

Once we have this information we can begin to work with the sensation coming up and keep the head, and any interpretation of what is actually happening, out of the present-moment experience. We can try different resources to see what ones might help the sensation settle. For example, any tightness will soon let you know if applying pressure helps or doesn’t, because you will feel the result. The heads response to feeling tightness is to usually stretch it out, or to just rub it. If the head has labelled the tightness as ‘panic’, then when stretching or rubbing doesn’t help, we really do start to panic, thinking ‘nothing works’, ‘what am I going to do?’. Or even, ‘I’m going to die’, and the chest will be so tight that no breath can get in or out, resulting in all our blood rushing to our internal organs and our brain going offline. If however, we try to just feel the tightness, noticing the physical properties of it and how it’s affecting us, we can actually see what might help. Tightness can sometimes be relieved by applying pressure, or feeling strength by tensing our muscles. Sometimes it just needs you to hold it with your hand or arm, or to use heat on it. Sometimes working with a different part of the body helps, for example, the stomach or legs can be a good resource and may relieve any tightness. We only know what works by allowing the body to tell us and keep the head out of the naming process.

In Catriona’s first year and a half of training, for the whole trauma module they were taught to put all the thoughts to one side and only listen to the body. In the second training, developmental work, they were shocked at the first demonstration which included the question ‘what thoughts go with that sensation?’. The wise and wonderful trainers knew that if they allowed everyone to think at the beginning of the training, then they would solely rely on that. The only way that they could retrain everyone to listen and to understand the language of the body, was to listen only to the body, with nothing else getting in the way. This is the work Catriona continues to do with all of her clients, and this is the message that she wants to pass on to anyone who would like to hear it.