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Emotional connection through recognition of bodily sensations

Emotional connection through recognition of bodily sensations
Emotions are felt as bodily sensations

You do not have to hold a high coefficient of emotionally intelligence to connect with your body and emotions confidently. To foster the ability to notice what you are feeling, it is helpful to understand how emotions are felt as bodily sensations. Although your intuition is very powerful and no formal study is required to recognise your feelings, some struggle to fully trust it. With the help of some interesting research findings, however, this article may help you perceive emotions as more than abstract concepts, but as concrete bodily experience.

As Hartmann et al (2021)[i] explain in “Valence-Related Bodily Sensation Maps of Emotions”, high arousal emotions, or those triggered by the flight or fight response – such as fear and anger – lead to heaviness in the body. While non-pleasant emotions make us feel heavy, pleasant ones – such as love and happiness – have been connected to sensations of lightness and activation. You will find the areas where lightness and heaviness are felt in the body and the emotions with which they are associated below, in increasing order of heaviness (depression being the “heaviest” emotion, heavier than sadness):

Surprise: lightness in the head, upper chest and arms

Neutral: neither light nor heavy

Love: lightness in the whole body, but more intensely in the face

Happiness: lightness in the whole body, but more intensely in the upper body, especially head and chest areas

Pride: lightness in the head – especially upper face – and upper body

Fear: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, and belly areas

Disgust: heaviness in the face, mouth, throat, upper and lower chest, and belly

Shame: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, as well as belly area

Anger: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, belly and hands

Contempt: heaviness in the head, throat, upper chest and hands

Envy: heaviness in the head, upper and lower chest areas

Anxiety: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, and belly area

Sadness: heaviness in the whole body, but more intensely in the upper body, especially head and chest areas

Depression: heaviness in the whole body, but more intensely in the upper body, especially head and chest areas

Amongst the practices that facilitate connection with the body and boost awareness of self and others are mindfulness meditation (for a body scan meditation, please click here), yoga, breathing and grounding exercises, as well as therapeutic approaches which are rich in somatic interventions, such as Attachment-Focused EMDR (AF-EMDR).

[i] Hartmann, M., Lenggenhager, B., & Stocker, K. (2021, March 3). Happiness feels light, sadness feels heavy: introducing valence-related bodily sensation maps of emotions. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/d8wvn

Positive beliefs and affirmations to help you overcome codependency

Positive beliefs to help you overcome codependency
Positive beliefs boost autonomy and self-esteem

Codependency is a common effect of both relational and developmental trauma. Adult children of dysfunctional families who did not grow up feeling felt, heard and seen, struggle to connect with a healthy sense of boundaries and self-esteem also later in life. Therefore, they are highly prone to resort to codependent behaviours to feel safe and accepted in relationships. Here is a list of positive beliefs and affirmations to help you overcome codependency:

I am good enough for myself

I am good enough for others

I am loved

I am loveable

I am whole, even when alone

My worth is unconditional

My feelings matter

My needs and wants matter

My opinions matter

I matter

I can tolerate others’ discomfort

I can separate from others’ feelings, needs and wants, and focus on my own

I can handle my own discomfort

I can tolerate negative emotions

I can recognise and validate my feelings

I am emotionally aware

I am self-aware

I have a great connection with my body

I am emotionally autonomous

I am emotionally mature

I am safe in my own body

My body is my best guide

I am aware of the impact others’ have on me

I am much more than my relationships with others

I favour relationships which foster personal growth

I favour relationships with those who respect my feelings, needs and wants

I know how to honour myself through assertive behaviours

It is okay to say no to others

Self-agency is a gift

I am wise

My wellbeing comes first

I can say no and honour my boundaries

I am competent

I love my own company

My time is precious

I am a survivor

I am strong

I accept my vulnerabilities and limitations

I accept others’ vulnerabilities and limitations

I respect others’ needs for autonomy

 Mistakes are sources of wisdom

I am worth of respect

I am worth being treated with kindness

I can tolerate rejection

I can tolerate inadequacy and insecurity

I am brave

Your values, or the views you hold of yourself as an individual and in relationships tell you about the role you play in them. When rigid and filled with negative bias, they feed dysfunction and create a psychological barrier between you and your authentic needs. In order to lead a more satisfying and authentic life, proactively challenge negative thinking patterns and feel free to use the positive beliefs and affirmations listed above as guides to a more functional approach to relationships.

20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors

20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors
Self-care practices boost trauma healing

Trauma therapies, such as Attachment-Focused EMDR, are often essential to lead to a full recovery from complex trauma. Despite being highly effective, trauma therapies’ positive results are intensified and felt long after treatment termination when combined with a diverse plan of self-care practices. Here are 20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors to help you promote and maintain mental/emotional, physical and relational wellbeing:

  1. Get enough sleep: practice good sleep hygiene and prioritise sleep to feel re-energised and less reactive.
  2. Eat healthily: choose wholefoods and avoid the ones which are rich in refined carbohydrates (white pasta, bread, etc), caffeine and smoking, and lower alcohol consumption to help reduce anxiety.
  3. Exercise or do physical activity regularly: do yoga, Pilates, start running or brisk walking, join a gym, or have dance lessons to get that endorphin kick and prevent depression.
  4. Socialise: avoid isolation – which could also make you more prone to having depression – by meeting up with friends while also trying to make new ones.
  5. Practice good personal hygiene: shower daily, keep your nails, hair and teeth clean and wash your hands after using the toilet.
  6. Get things done: commit to completing tasks you have been putting off to regain a sense of competence and self-efficacy
  7. Have fun: remind yourself to do fun things and be with people that make you feel good
  8. Spend time in nature: go for hikes, even if short ones, or for long drives in the countryside to declutter your mind and reduce arousal
  9. Do something different: practice an activity that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable or out of your comfort zone to stimulate cognition (memory, attention and perception)
  10. Try out alternative medicine to treat seemingly unsolvable aches and pains: book an acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, Rolfing, craniosacral or chiropractic session
  11. Take a break from social media: read a book, listen to music, or try sitting still and connecting with your surroundings instead of dissociating from it while staring at a screen
  12. Be selective with what you watch and read: avoid watching the news or films and documentaries that trigger you. Go for content that leads to laughter, loving feelings and pleasure over fear and anger.
  13. Allow yourself to take a break: listen to your body and respect its need for relaxation. Do not keep putting off making a doctor’s appointment when needed.
  14. Reduce screen time: limit phone and computer use to certain times of the day. Do not touch your mobile phone 2 hours before bedtime if you suffer from sleep disturbances.
  15. Do grief work: take time to sit down somewhere private to cry and feel angry about what you are going through or were submitted to when growing up.
  16. Meditate and do breathing exercises: ground yourself by sitting down and focusing on your breathing.
  17. Do affirmations: practice positive brainwashing by listening to affirmations that target your insecurities and vulnerabilities daily.
  18. Listen to and believe in your feelings to honour your boundaries: choose to believe in what you feel and say no more often.
  19. Reduce dramatically or cut contact with individuals that have a negative effect on you: favour spending time with people who accept, listen and support you.
  20. Do not allow your trauma history to define you: work on changing your narrative in a way that highlights your resilience, inner strength and post-traumatic growth.

To develop a healthy and enjoyable self-care routine, make it your own. Choose practices with which you identify or feel in the mood to try out. Then, practice at least one of them daily. Show true love for yourself by creating a habit of making time for healing and personal growth – especially when you are not feeling well – to regain a sense of wholeness and connection and lead a pleasant, enjoyable life.

3 signs you have a distorted perception of your abuser

3 signs you have a distorted perception of your abuser
Holding a distorted view of one’s abuser is common amongst abuse victims

Do you feel highly triggered and insecure in relation to your abuser, even after having cut contact with them? In order to comprehend how your judgement is affected by your trauma, here are 3 signs you have a distorted perception of your abuser:

1- You forget your abuser’s vulnerabilities

Abusive individuals use their charisma and influence, as well as fear, shame and guilt to control and manipulate others. Their “strength” is dependent upon their ability to engage their victims and make them feel insecure. Without that control over the other, however, they lose their “confidence” and, above all, their power. As a result, they feel unsettled and lost. Feeling disconcerted by their own inadequacy, their lack of empathy and pent-up anger come to the surface exposing their vulnerability. When you create a habit of reminding yourself of such moments and of your abuser’s weaknesses, you humanise them while protecting and empowering yourself.

2- You lose yourself in your abuser’s subjective reality

If you your abuser’s biased views keep popping up and corrupting your own whenever you are in the process of making important decisions, self-reflecting or contemplating change, you are still living according to their version of reality and not yours. Catch yourself whenever you notice your abuser’s presence in your head and politely, humorously or even aggressively, dismiss such dysfunctional and unproductive thinking, immediately. Then, reconnect to your body and mind with love, appreciation and respect for yourself.

3- You forget how resilient you are

Abuse that comes in any shape or form, be it verbal, physical (domestic violence), sexual or emotional/psychological, is damaging to anyone who is exposed to it, be it through direct or indirect means (also known as vicarious abuse). As the effects of trauma caused by abuse are numerous, the fact that you are functioning and doing the best you can to heal and lead a balanced and fulfilling life shows how resilient you are. When you act passively while feeling less than your abuser, however, shame and guilt take hold and connection with your higher and stronger self is temporarily lost.

Despite having a distorted view of one’s abuser being a common experience amongst abuse victims, it is helpful to reiterate that it is one of the effects of complex trauma. If you find yourself not fully trusting your judgement about your abuser’s character and what you went through, it is time to declutter your mind and gain some distance from your feelings, so to make room, again, for your truth and healthy sense of inner guidance.

3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings

3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings
How easy it is to trust your own feelings?

As an Attachment-Focused EMDR therapist who specialises in relational trauma, honouring my clients’ feelings and their right to believe in their emotional wisdom make for essential tools to help them heal. Not surprisingly, relational trauma victims tend to display a complex and often neglectful relationship with their own body, feelings and emotions, which has a negative impact on their physical and/or mental health. Here are 3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings, so to clarify why that happens and help you break that habit:

1- You were raised in an environment of emotional neglect and/or abuse

When you grow up without feeling properly heard, seen and felt, you struggle to connect and honour your own self. To promote emotional wellbeing and healthy development, conscious caregivers are attentive and respectful of their children’s needs, feelings and wants. By validating their children’s experience, they help them honour their own. As a result, those who are raised by emotionally conscious and mature parents develop a good sense of identity which is guided, comfortably, by their own feelings. Conversely, those whose feelings were dismissed as unimportant or even shamed and rejected for having them learn, through those very processes, to repress or deny their own emotional wisdom.

2- Connecting with negative feelings makes you feel unsafe

Do you remember what happened when you expressed negative emotions and feelings such as anger, sadness, fear and grief as a child? How did the key people around you, namely caregivers, teachers, relatives and friends respond? If they reacted with antagonism, be it by ignoring your feelings completely, solely focusing on solving what they believed was a problem, openly shaming you for having them or making you believe they did not correspond to your true experience (also known as gaslighting or truth abuse), it is only natural that you feel vulnerable when feeling them and insecure about their veracity and purpose, even as an adult.

3- You are in denial or not ready to change

Not fully believing in how you feel – especially when times are tough and change is required to promote solid wellbeing – helps one remain motionless. If you are not ready to face reality or willing to put energy into making positive changes and dealing with their consequences, telling yourself that you cannot trust your own feelings keeps you in your comfort zone. Despite perpetuating discomfort in the long term, this dysfunctional coping strategy creates a temporary sense of safety which feeds your inertia.

In order to feel whole and, most importantly, lead an authentic and fulfilling life, I highly recommend you challenge beliefs that lead to thinking that you cannot trust what you feel proactively, every time they trigger inadequacy. Do that by practicing “feeling is believing” and tell yourself that that inadequacy is part of your conditioning and it is time you let that go. Then, focus on recreating a freer and more trusting relationship with your own true self by allowing your feelings to take the lead, unconditionally.

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary
Emotion concepts help you create a more empowering perception of reality

Emotions not only help you make sense of what is going on in your own body, but also influence your perception of what lies outside yourself, as the environment and others, in a creative and empowering way. Therefore, the more specialised your vocabulary for feelings and emotional states, the greater your understanding of your inner experience, as well as your ability to transform your perception of reality. To approach your emotional world from a more specialised, yet non-complicated perspective, here are 130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary:

Acceptance, admiration, adoration, agitation, amazement amusement, anger, anguish, annoyance, anticipation, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, awe

Betrayed, bitterness

Certainty, concern, confidence, conflicted, confusion, connectedness, contempt, curiosity

Defeat, defensiveness, defiant, denial, depressed, desire, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, disgust, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, doubt, dread

Eagerness, elation, emasculated, embarrassment, empathy, envy, euphoria, excitement

Fear, fearlessness, flustered, frustration

Gratitude, grief, guilt

Happiness, hatred, homesick, hopefulness, horror, humbled, humiliation, hurt, hysteria

Impatience, inadequate, indifference, insecurity, inspired, intimidated, irritation

Jealousy

Loneliness, longing, love, lust

Moody, moved

Neglected, nervousness, nostalgia

Obsessed, overwhelmed

Panic, paranoia, peacefulness, pity, pleased, powerlessness, pride

Rage, regret, relief, reluctance, remorse, resentment, resignation

Sadness, sappy, satisfaction, shadenfreude, scorn, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, scepticism smugness, somberness, stunned, surprise, suspicion, sympathy

Terror, tormented

Unappreciated, uncertainty, unease

Validated, valued, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability

Wanderlust, wariness, wistful, worry, worthlessness

To benefit from emotion concepts as the ones listed above, increase self-awareness and create a habit of monitoring and naming your emotional and feeling states. When sensing non-pleasantness and/or high arousal or stress, make a conscious effort to use as many emotion concepts as needed to explain what you are experiencing, but proactively and not – purely – reactively. When the same is applied simultaneously to pleasant feelings and emotional states, you learn how to tolerate ambiguity and connect with a more balanced self. With time, this practice also has a direct impact on negative bias, reducing its power, and what is more, enriching your perception of your own experience and validating your role as its creator. If the idea that our brains create reality and do not simply react to what lies outside ourselves appeals to you, I recommend reading the brilliant “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett.