In recent years more and more helpers of all stripes ask clients, “Where do you feel that in your body?” Of course if we are talking about a physical symptom, the question is essential, but very often it is in response to a client expressing an emotion. So for example, I tell my acupuncturist I am feeling sad, she asks, “Where do you feel that in your body?”
You may find this question helpful, or, like many I know, you may find it annoying.
The question is annoying when:
- Your kinesthetic sense is not highly developed, and you don’t know where the hell the feeling is. Is it really one place and not another?
- Bringing awareness into the body stirs up way too much unpleasant stuff. Maybe you’ve had a lot of trauma that’s still living there and you manage that by maintaining a more distant relationship with your body. The question, in this case, may push a boundary, even unravel a defense.
- It seems irrelevant, you don’t know why they are asking this, and they don’t seem to either, because if you give them a location, they don’t respond in any way.
- You are sharing something important and it feels like an interruption. It may feel as irrelevant as asking, “and what were you wearing?”
No Harm Intended
Asking, “Where do you feel that in your body?” is meant to help make the feeling more concrete, more discernible. It also helps develop awareness and presence in the body, which is good. When an emotion can be tracked in the body (its movements followed by awareness), this can lead to powerful shifts at times. Focusing on the somatic components of positive feelings can help accentuate them.
Asking someone to get detailed about their perception is one way of trying to develop mindfulness. Rather than just be the feeling (I am so furious!), we must employ awareness to look at a feeling, and this creates a bit of separation that is helpful. The more nuanced our awareness becomes, the deeper and less reactive the state, generally. It’s the state of consciousness engendered that is important, not the question.
Alternate responses to deepen feelings:
- What do you notice inside as you name that?
- Notice, if you can, how you experience that physically.
- What happens as you make space for this feeling?
- Is there an impulse that comes with this feeling?
- Just staying with that feeling, what else can you see that is braided into it?
- How does this feeling want to be expressed?
- If this feeling were a color, what color would it be? (shape, size, density….)
Somatic awareness for somatic symptoms
In my psychotherapy practice I use somatic awareness less to highlight an emotion and more to unfold the story behind a symptom in the body. I have found, for example, if I sit with a client and we pay attention to something showing up in the body, like a lump in the throat or the sense of a wall cutting off part of the body, and we just notice it without judgment or any need to change it, the block often dissolves. It definitely reveals more. Staying with a sensation in the body may bring up a repressed memory, for example.
Somatic awareness has a place in counseling work. It’s just a mistake, IMO, to always lead with this or not notice when it doesn’t work for a particular person. It’s returning to what doesn’t work that is annoying.
What can you say to someone who keeps pestering you with this question?
- That’s sort of a hard question for me. I’d rather you didn’t ask it.
- That’s not how my perception is organized. Can you help me access it a different way?
- (Do what politicians do and say what you want to, ignoring the question.)
And when they just won’t stop….“Where do you feel it in your body when you ask that question?”
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