Have you read: “When the body says no” by Dr Mate?
It was the first book I read that propelled me in the direction of becoming a trauma practitioner. See, at the time, I was working with people in pain, and I was doing my best to support their bodies through healing movement and bodywork, but I knew very little of the mind-body unity or how behaviors became symptoms.
So 10 years ago, reading the book on a bus, and shedding extra large tears all over those thick pages, I promised myself I would find a way to listen better to my body, and to understand its symptoms as wise messengers of healing.
Over time as I listened and understood my nervous system better, Dr Mate’s work connecting early childhood history, learned survival strategies and illness and symptoms not only made sense, but became the fuel to keep going, keep learning and keep helping others.
I recently completed a personal exploration workshop with Dr Mate, and wanted to share an important piece with you – that we all have behaviors that lead our bodies to shut down, or get hyper-activated, behaviors that keep us stuck in old patterns and which ultimately lead to symptoms.
You can think of emotional eating and restriction as one such symptom – your body giving you a signal, while you might not necessarily know what the signal is about.
What are those behaviors according to Dr Mate?
1) Compulsive regard for the needs of others
You can view this as care-taking, being helpful and attuned to what others want and need, as well as people pleasing. For the nervous system that means we don’t get to feel safe unless everyone is OK. You can imagine how taxing that is and how often it leads to symptoms.
2) Feeling a strong sense of duty, role, and responsibility
While being responsible is a beautiful quality, being driven by responsibility is not helpful, as the pressure which we put on ourselves can keep us in a constant state of threat. Only the threat is not coming from the outside, but from the inside, and we get no break.
3) Suppressing healthy aggression
For many of us being angry is scary. It could be because anger was hurtful around us when we were developing, or because it was not allowed. In my case, I couldn’t even feel my anger or know that I was angry, I just collapsed and felt sadness and grief. Those emotions were easily accessible to me, while the energy of the anger stayed locked in my digestive system and caused havoc on a daily basis.
4) Feeling responsible for how others feel
Oh that’s a toughie, as some of us at times still experience the adult world through young eyes. This makes it look like everyone around us is mad at us, upset at us, or that we need to do something to make others happy, and if we fail, then it’s on us. Learning that others will feel how they feel and how little control we actually have over their feelings can be incredibly liberating. Carrying responsibilities that are not ours can often result in vigilance and restlessness, and continue to foster a sense of insecurity and lack, even when everything is OK when we look at it through adult eyes.
5) Wanting to never disappoint anybody
You can hear more of that pressure to always come through, to always be available, to make sure everyone is OK. But as you know from experience, people will be disappointed and it’s impossible to keep trying hard, at your own expense, because of that fear.
What these five behaviors have in common is that sense of pressure, role and duty, not really allowing the authentic self to shine through…because, well, there is neither time nor energy for it.
This in its own way creates more emotions that we end up repressing.
When is it my turn? – one might ask…feeling the resentment and exhaustion that go with these five behaviors.
Your turn is now. It has always been now.
If you are somebody, who like me, felt that their body is not a safe place, it could very well be because you’ve given your somatic territory to others. Their needs and wants. Their wellbeing. The way to get that territory back, one inch at a time, is to trust your body when it says no. Whether through emotional eating, or another addictive behavior, your body is speaking to you. You get your territory back when you start to listen.
When I was first looking at these behaviors, which are all described in the book I mentioned earlier, I was shocked to find there was no other way for me to relate.
I didn’t know how to be with others unless they needed me. I didn’t know how not to try to fix every mess. And my body image and food struggles were there along for that journey.
Today, 10 years later, I am at peace with my body and at peace with food. I’ve been challenged a lot this year since these behaviors were installed in me at such a young age, and when difficult situations arise in my family or in my work, my energy tends to want to flow that way. But I can say it’s gotten much easier to observe the drive and not succumb to it, to be in relationship with those urges, and not necessarily act on them.
As my embodied experience helps me know moment to moment that I am safe, I get to have my body back all to myself, and I get to listen and respond to its messages one moment to the next.
How about you? Do you like me, have all these five tendencies, or maybe just one? How does that play into your relationship with food, what do you think?
I would love to hear from you, and you can always comment below or email me at email@example.com