Wayne C. Allen's "Works in Progress"
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Shallow Living

Last week, I tossed out a mention of a 16-year-old client I've just started working with. This is one of those cases where I'd love to have a photo to show you, as seeing her as I see her would help you all to relate to what I'm about to say. For more on the Bodywork aspects described below, have a look at the Bodywork section on our website.

Working down from the top, what I see is a pretty girl with wide eyes, whose "look" shifts from wide-eyed astonishment to guarded fear. Her jaw is locked, her mouth barely opens. Her shoulders and neck are rigid, and if I say anything positive about her, her shoulders rise to her ears, a position we call "turtling." Her shoulders are also tilted, left side higher. Her chest is sunken in. When she moves, there is no natural sway to any part of her body, especially her pelvis. And, as I mentioned last week, she has a stomach ulcer.

What I've just described is the Bodywork side of our counselling style. What I see tells me a lot about the young woman. The eyes give away her essential confusion about how the world works, and about how she works. Her confusion shifts to a self-protective stance when pressed to talk about herself. Initially, she said, "I'm not good at talking, so you ask me questions." I've done a bit of that, as 16-year-olds are sometimes hard to keep in therapy. This resistance to talking (and inadvertently revealing something she would rather be hidden) is demonstrated in her stiff jaw and throat.

Her turtling often comes after I make positive comments. Part of it is an automatic "I don't want to hear this," (shoulders over ears, so to speak) reaction - she thinks positive comments are either wrong or manipulative or both. Turtling is also a self-defence mechanism - a way to hide from whatever fearful thing is coming. The caved-in chest is indicative of "heart-hurt" - she's been hurt by someone or several "someones" that she loved. So far, she has no intention of telling me about any of this.

The ulcer  is Third chakra stuff,
and that relates to self-esteem issues.

Finally, her lack of movement indicates that the life energy contained in her pelvis and belly is being kept under tight control, lest she feel something.

The key to all of this is that our emotions are a part of a sine wave. (See below. For purposes of this discussion, we're concerning ourselves with the amplitude.) Although I know a few people who really push the "up" side of things (leading to burnout) while resisting the "down side," the norm is balance (as seen below.) So, for example, if I'm unwilling to explore and express my anger, I'm automatically limiting the amount of joy I'll experience. This means that if we limit our expression of the "down side," we'll also limit the possibility of feeling the "up side."


My client let me know that the house rule is, "Don't express sadness or anger in front of the parents, as they find it uncomfortable. Stuff your feelings. Things will get better some day." So, she's physically demonstrating the body of a person who is stuffing everything by tightening muscles and holding herself in. Naturally, her breathing is quite shallow. She's getting massage therapy for her shoulders. Not to release them (as that would require release of the underlying emotion) but to help her cope with the pain of her tightening.

When I said, first session, that her type of holding could lead to stomach problems and even eventually ulcers, she smiled and said, somewhat proudly, "I already have one!" Ouch.

Somehow, she's learned to contain herself, and all that energy is simply eating her alive. Because that hurts, she's tried the normal Western prescriptions - drugs, alcohol and now, depression.

No, depression isn't an emotion, any more than paranoia is an emotion. It's a state of being. Depression at its core is a repressing of feelings, and going into a state of inertia. It may feel like sadness or despair, but it's actually a tool to repress feeling what's really going on. As a socially acceptable "illness," depression garners sympathy and Prozac.

Now, what Prozac does is gets people right out of the sadness and firmly into neutral. I was watching an old episode of Sex and the City last night. Charlotte was dating a guy, and they'd not had sex during their several weeks of dating. Carrie realized that she'd dated the same guy, and that he was a "sex maniac." So, Charlotte decides she wants sex maniac sex. Didn't happen. The guy had, several months earlier, decided he was too emotional, so he was on Prozac. And one effect of Prozac, for many, is decreased libido. He traded having sex for being in neutral.

My client is on some form of antidepressant that also helps her sleep. She has little or no affect. At age 16, she's in neutral. No passion for anything. And this, our society declares, is somehow OK.

Needless to say, I disagree. My client, young as she is, is content to have someone to talk to who will just listen - who isn't trying to get her to shut up. None the less, she isn't about to share her pain, as her parents have conditioned that out of her. She's not yet ready to stand up to what her parents taught her.

She needs to scream, to pound a heavy bag, to let all of the repressed feelings flow out of her. She needs to begin to feel again, and be willing to accept all of herself. The sad parts, the happy parts, the drippy parts, the grieving parts, the horny parts and the neutral parts. None of it is bad, none better than another. Each is just she, like her brown eyes.

Perhaps we can all do well with a look at our bodies, and what we are holding. Perhaps we can all do with a good scream now and then. Perhaps we can choose to stop settling for OK and average. Or pretending that holding ourselves to a narrow band of feeling is somehow a mark of enlightenment.

Or, we can continue to deaden ourselves to the possibility of life lived in its fullness.

Either way, the clock is ticking.

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