I got an email yesterday from a one of my therapy patients here in NYC. She’s leaving her job of several years to go into business for herself. It was a tough decision, but a good one for her, and she’s taken the time to leave well.
She was a wreck, though–full of nerves, feeling guilty for leaving, worried about whether the new venture would be a success. It was making her physically sick.
I returned her email, saying, “Sometimes the body lies.”
She asked for clarification, which I gave her:
“This is a great move for you. You’ve been a great employee, worked hard and with conviction and you are leaving honorably, moving towards a great vocation that is of great service to others, a good move for you and good for your family. Your body should be feeding you happy juice. It should be giving you a high five.”
It occurred to me that this was at odds with conventional psychotherapy wisdom, to say the least. A quick Google search seems to reveal a good deal of conversation (among therapists and non-therapists) asserting that the body, in fact, never lies.
Listen to your body…
I often encourage my therapy patients to listen to their bodies. I think we assume our bodies and the “rest of our lives” are much too separate. (Is there really any part of our lives that our bodies aren’t involved in?)
It is a great error to stop there. Sometimes our bodies give us very useful information: If we’re hungry, we should probably eat; If our shoulder is sore, we might consider skipping tennis (or seeing the doctor). Other times, our bodies simply lie. Sometimes we’re nervous, but it’s safe to proceed anyway. Sometimes we’re hungry but we’ve eaten enough. Sometimes we’re angry and our bodies are telling us to act on that anger (snap, hit, scream, slam down the phone, cut that bastard off).
If I can’t fully trust my body, who/ what can I trust?
Good question–and one I get asked in therapy all the time. Often people assume I’m a rationalist–that the therapeutic advice is to replace trusting your body with developing reason. That may be part of the answer, but I recommend an even broader approach. Hear your body out, sure, and also think things through–gauge whether or not how you feel makes sense.
But don’t stop there. There’s tremendous value in checking things out with other people–friends, or perhaps fellow group therapy members can be a great place to go for a second (or third or fourth) opinion when your stomach’s doing jumping jacks.
And if it seems like your body’s messing with you?
It’s a bit like driving a car with a broken fuel gauge. If every time you glance at the dashboard you panic and head for the nearest gas station, you’re not going to get very far. Sure, you still need a plan to make sure you don’t run out of gas, but you’ve just got to learn to remind yourself, when you see the needle on empty, “Oh, that thing. Yeah, it’s busted.”
I agree, my body lied to me tonight, told me, with pain everywhere, to get out of ” this social environment”. And I ignored it, and I am glad I did.