by May Bleeker, 13 March 2009
<--previous: Body Image
I began to become aware of my metaphorical body in April 2006.
For some months I had been experiencing an inexplicable choking sensation in my throat which was incredibly uncomfortable and seemingly unrelated to anything specific in my life.
It started gradually, appearing now and then, and eventually I was experiencing it all day, every day. Over time the strangling sensation became worse and I had difficulty swallowing at times.
Worried I had some weird illness I gathered a lot of information from various sources and searched the internet for people reporting similar symptoms. I found some theories that linked to my symptoms, but most of them were about anxiety, which didn't seem to fit my situation. I was in a stable job and a nice home and it just didn't make sense.
During these searches I came across some information, by a man called Wilhelm Reich. This information dealt with what Wilhelm Reich called 'body armouring' and described symptoms relating to various part of the body. Under the 'throat' section it described my symptoms exactly.
I tried their suggestions (deep breathing and some other things) and found some relief. But this was only temporary. Soon the choking sensation was back full time again. It was very annoying, as well as anxiety-provoking. The annoying part was that I couldn't figure out what was happening to me. The anxiety-provoking part was that my body was in a lot of discomfort and it made everyday life very difficult.
I knew that symbolically, the throat is the centre for communication, but I didn't understand how this related to me. It seemed to me that I communicated freely whenever I wanted to say something.
When I paid special attention to my throat - which was hard not to do, given the level of discomfort I was living with, I started noticing a feeling of heavy discomfort in my stomach. I had no idea what this was about and I was very concerned.
I didn't know it then, but these physical symptoms were the first signs of things that needed my attention. Things I was consciously unaware of at that time.
As all this was happening I was going through a process of discovery in my life as a whole. I was becoming aware that there were areas of my life that needed addressing, that had never been acknowledged up till then. To say that most of this was to do with my body image is like pointing to the tip of an iceberg.
I had been quite badly scarred by an accident as a small child, but my family and I had lived through it and carried on with life without paying specific attention to the emotional impact this event had on all of us.
Not knowing any better, we got on with the business of our lives, and although I cannot speak for them, I felt pains and experienced barriers in my relationships I could not fully understand or overcome.
Somehow, in my mind and my understanding, the particular difficulties I experienced while growing up were never directly associated with the accident (which happened before I could talk) or events that followed.
I had various surgeries to improve my physical mobility and enable me to live a normal physical life, but these surgeries were for functional benefits. Unfortunately they made the appearance of the scars even worse, affecting my body image still further.
Unable to escape the realities of this, I focused on other things in my life and because I got on relatively successfully, somehow I just got through it and carried on without seeing how things linked up. And without understanding the issues I had with my physical appearance.
I grew up feeling capable and competent, but I also had a blind spot. It was as if I was living my life with a piece of me missing. I had no idea my body image was incomplete. And I had no idea that the pieces that were missing were affecting my relationships with other people and even how I felt about myself.
Of course, I could acknowledge what I saw in the mirror, but I was not able to see the impact on me, my beliefs and my life. I could, however, feel the impact in the difficulties I experienced. I just tried to deal with those difficulties as if they existed on their own, without seeing how they led back to the part of me that was in shadow at that time.
I had always been rather fond of my body, even though it had scars. I am lucky enough to have enjoyed a healthy physical life in spite of what had happened. But I was not really able to deal with the scars other than covering them up. I didn't see further than my external body image and what I understood was incomplete.
And although I wasn't happy with these parts of my body, I didn't really even think I had a body image problem.
You might wonder how this is possible, but the human mind is a powerful thing. And it knows how to best protect you when its needed.
In a way, my 'not knowing' allowed me to participate in physical activities and continue with a relatively normal life, which helped contribute to my overall sense of self esteem.
I gained a large amount of confidence and physical self esteem through participating in sports and learning in the process that I am physically capable and even very skilled. These activities were a great source of enjoyment to me.
I believe now, that had I not been able to take up these opportunities (perhaps due to fear, anxiety or self-consciousness about my scars), my self esteem would have suffered much more radically and the scope of my life would have been far more limited than it has been. So 'not knowing' was helpful to me at the time. But like all forms of protection, they don't stay appropriate for ever. We grow out of them and need to find new ways of dealing with things.
It was only once I started to become aware of the information held within my body and started to have conversations with my body that I began to fill in the gaps in my understanding.
The choking sensation in my throat was my body's way of bringing my attention to things that had been buried beneath my conscious awareness for many years.
Metaphorically speaking, it was my body tapping me on my 'metaphorical shoulder' and saying: 'Something needs to be communicated here, but it's not getting through. There's a blockage.'
The blockage, at least in part, was that I was totally unaware of what I wasn't seeing and what I wasn't saying. The common term for this is 'living in denial'.
You might think (as I did, for a while) that living in denial means that you know something, but don't feel it is true for you. What I've discovered is that when in denial you go about your life not consciously knowing that 'something' at all.
You feel the effects, you experience the problems and heartache that arise from this shadow part of you, but you don't understand what it means and the problems remain unsolvable.
In practice this might mean accepting feelings of anxiety or shame and embarrassment as part of your everyday experience simply because they occur so often that you don't realise it need not be that way. It might not even occur to you to try to deal with these feelings other than simply surviving them. Until a light is shone on the hidden areas, you just get on with things as they are.
During this time, while struggling with my physical symptoms and not knowing how to proceed, I got the idea to focus on different parts of my body and see what I could sense.
I used a technique I'd learned from a dream therapist and as a sort of joke, not really taking myself seriously, I asked my body if any part wanted to speak to me.
To my surprise and a bit of amusement (at first) my body was eager to reply. Here is what my metaphorical body image said (go to Part 3):
<--Previous: Body Image Part 1 - Discovering the Metaphorical Body
The page is Part 2
Next:--> Body Image
Part 3 - Conversations with my toes and stomach
Part 4 - Conversation with my knees
Part 5 - Insights from my stomach
Part 6 - Conversations with my skin, heart and blood
Part 7 - How conversations with my body improved my life