Home > Emotional regulation, feelings, self-worth, shame > Is a body REALLY necessary?

Is a body REALLY necessary?


I had a difficult session with BN yesterday and left not feeling too great. Through no fault of his, or mine for that matter, I realize when I can manage some objectivity, just the subject matter that came up. I’m writing about it here to try and sort through some of what happened and what it is I am feeling and fearing.

If you have been reading my recent posts, you know I have been dealing with a lot of medical issues as of late. I thought that I had been coping fairly well with all the tests and doctor visits but found out in yesterday’s session, not so much. I had a nerve induction test last week, which I handled just fine during the procedure. Ironically enough, since I am often working very hard to manage off the charts internal activation, medical professionals are always telling me what a wonderful patient I am. Well, yes, because learning to freeze and endure can come in handy in some situations. I am better than I used to be, I am not dissociating, I manage to stay present, I am conscious of my breathing and keeping it slow and deep to stay calm. I spend time focusing on being an adult and safe, knowing that the person is there to help and any discomfort is unfortunately necessary but is not done despite my needs but to meet them. So the procedure went well, I had a rational, calm discussion with the doctor about the results and how we were going to proceed with treatment. (I am typing with my nifty new wrist braces. I am torn between going goth or going for a Aragorn vambrace look but either way my wrists feel better.) But… the experience was still one in which I laid on a table while two different people repeatedly hurt me without me knowing how long it would last or how painful each jolt would be. The pain wasn’t really significant, it was more the anticipation that it was going to hurt. So as I walked out to my car, I realized I was heading for a meltdown.

I handled it well, or at least better than I have in the past. I recognized I was triggered and why, decided it was reasonable all things considered and didn’t fight the feelings. So I sat in my car and cried. After a few minutes had passed, I realized I wasn’t calming down on my own and needed help to ground. I grabbed my cell phone and realized that BN had just started a session and wouldn’t be able to return my call for 50 minutes. Not good, since I needed to go to work. Tried my sister, who didn’t pick up (found out later she was on a customer support call), then remembered a friend who might be available. I called her and explained what was going on (yes, ok, I apologized for bothering her a number of times, what’s your point? :)) She was lovely, and very understanding and talked to me until I was able to ground and calm down. (If you’re reading, thank you again! You were a lifesaver!) All of this went well enough that I hadn’t spoken to BN about it the last time I had seen him (especially since we had ended up focusing on my mom).

But I went for my annual exam at the gynecologist at the end of which I found out I had to return next Monday for a uterine biopsy (extremely routine, I’ve been through this before and am not at all worried about the results). This is NOT the most comfortable of procedures, nor are the circumstances under which it is done such to set someone with my history at ease. The last time I had the procedure performed, around four years ago, had also been followed by a melt down in my car. So knowing what had just happened after the nerve induction and facing the biopsy, I thought I would talk to BN to see if there was anything I could do to avoid having these reactions.

And so I brought it up in my session yesterday. What was I thinking?! As we talked about it, BN was very encouraging, both in how well he thought I had handled it and in his belief that as I built up experiences where nothing bad happened, where I was in control (at one point we did talk about the fact that I was stressing because I didn’t know how much longer the test was going to go on and that it would have been ok, and even appropriate to ask) that I would no longer associate the circumstances with the emotional memories of terror and powerlessness.

This was all making a lot of sense and was helpful but the longer we discussed it the more distressed and uncomfortable I became. The more kindness and compassion that BN showed me, the more upset I got. When I stopped to check in and see how I was feeling, I realized I had been holding in more feelings that I realized about going through all these appointments. In my rational, adult self, I am clear that while these problems do need to be treated, this is not life-threatening and many people deal with similar problems, so I don’t need to be a drama queen and make a big deal out of it, just to get on with things. But the truth is, and what I have been hiding from myself (evidently not all that successfully) is that no matter how often I decide how I SHOULD feel in any given situation, reality has this annoying way of being what it is.

I do have a harder time going through this than a “normal” person would. My trauma background means that there are triggers and difficulties that might not be there for other people. And as I sat with the emerging feelings, the strongest of them all was, you guessed it, shame.

I told BN that all these medical appointments are so horrible because they force me to acknowledge and pay attention to the fact that I have a body. And then when I talk about how it’s all making me feel, I have to talk to him about my body. This feels like a living hell. I hate my body. I don’t mean that in a “gosh, I wish it looked different” kind of way, even though I do. I mean I hate having a body, I hate that its part of me. There is such a deep sense of shame about my body. For the longest time I thought it was about my weight. I am very overweight. OK, fat. The official medical term is morbidly obese. And yes, there is a lot of shame and disgust about my appearance and lack of discipline, and … well, a lot of you know the drill. But as I have started to look at this more closely, I realize it runs deeper than that. I do NOT want to have a body, no matter what it looks like.

Just as for a very long time, I believed that relationships only brought pain, I think I am learning that I believe that bodies only betray you and allow you to be hurt. My body was something I had to leave to escape what was happening. IT was the problem. If I didn’t have one, then the abuse wouldn’t be happening to me. I know this isn’t rational, but I think I have spent my life trying to act as if my body is not really somehow a part of me.

But BN pointed out some very important truths today. In order to live fully, we must be able to feel. But feelings happen in our bodies. So how do you live a full life cut off from your body? At one point I was saying how profoundly uncomfortable discussing all this was. That I was listening to what he was saying and it was all making sense, but I had this simultaneous sense that I was fighting just to stay in the room. That my sense of shame in discussing my body was so profound that I was fighting a constant battle to not flee. BN told me that he knew how difficult it could be, but that it was important. That I needed to stay connected and attached, to be with someone to break the sense of shame. That my instinct when I felt that shame, was to retreat into my head to get away from my feelings but that broke not only my attachment to myself, but by necessity, my attachment to him as well. But that being alone would only reinforce the sense of shame.

Then he spent some time talking about how so many of my recent experiences were forcing me into an awareness of my body when I was in an activated state, and one which resonated with difficult emotional memories. That there were other times where I could experience being in my body when it felt good. I ended up talking about these amazing rainforest showers in the spa on the cruise ship I was just on which included scents as well as water effects and how amazing they had felt. That the spa was a good place for me to focus on being present in my body. BN thought that was really good and encouraged me to seek out activities such as a massage or yoga so that I could build up good experiences in my body. (Yes, my mind boggled at the thought of me doing yoga. :D)

This all sounds lovely and supportive doesn’t it? BN seemed very comfortable. I know because I made a very conscious effort to check because I was totally convinced he was not happy. But it was horrible, I was so consumed with shame, that it was physically difficult to remain in my seat and I could barely look at BN (he had on navy blue socks, that’s all I got). I told him how I was feeling and he was very reassuring but it was hard to get past the fear I was feeling. I made an appointment for next week and told him he would probably be hearing from me. He did. Last night. Yet another email checking to make sure he was still there and we were ok. So very odd to absolutely KNOW something but still feel something so different. I know from experience that I need the reassurance, the experience of it no matter how ridiculous it seems, but of course that feeds into the shame because here I am again being needy. But he is just the same steady person he always is. At times like this, I am actually grateful for the boundaries, because I really don’t think that any level or amount of reassurance would stop these feelings right now and I’m grateful that the limits on our relationship make it harder for me to burn him out.

As I struggled with my feelings last night, I realize that I have circled back around once again to the fact that on a very deep level, I carry beliefs about being repulsive and disgusting. But this time, I am seeing how strongly they are related to my physicality. I had this whole rationale going through my head. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but BN is in excellent shape and leads a fairly active life, so my thinking was running along the lines of “how can someone like him, who does exercise and eat right NOT be revolted by someone like me? Oh yeah, he’s hiding it well because he’s my therapist, but you know it’s there. I mean, how long can he hold out?” About then it dawned on me, it was the same old fear. He would finally recognize my fundamental “badness” and abandon me. OK, so this is coming from me. The revulsion and disgust are mine.

I am trying to remember any particular shaming about my body but running into the problem that thinking about my body in any way makes me feel ashamed so I shy away. I was thinking about what he said about enjoying my body and realized THAT felt really wrong. It’s almost like somewhere along the way, I learned that a body is intrinsically evil, no matter what. So here I am, faced with the indisputable truth that I am my body, it is where I live, it is part of who I am and yet I carry such a deep sense of shame and revulsion about any aspect of my experience of it. I know what the truth is, that I should not be ashamed, that my body is valuable and I have every right to inhabit it, enjoy it and take care of it. Now I just need to learn to believe that…

At one point, when this was hitting me, the shame I was still having to wade through (yes, another chorus of “oh, how long will this take you?” is playing in my head :)) I covered my face with my hands and said “This is going to suck.” And BN quietly said “There are other possibilities.” I said “run them by me, I’d love to hear them.” To which he simply said, “it could NOT suck.” So here’s to it not sucking. I have at least one thing strongly in my favor; I hate shame even more than I hate my body and I suspect that if I fight through the shame, the hate will go with it. OK, make that two things, I have BN to help me through the shame. Poor body, I feel like I have been rather unkind to it. Thanks for listening, it feels better to have said all that.

  1. December 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    What a beautiful post! And I can’t help but feel this is going to be a rather beautiful leg of the journey…. xxxx

    Like

    • December 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      (((Jones))) you lovely woman. Always when I feel my ugliest, you tell me you see beauty. Wonderful to hear from you! Love, AG

      Like

  2. Strummergirl
    December 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    It is so good to hear from you ((((AG)))) Thank you as always for sharing yourself so honestly and openly. You are just beautiful, you know that?

    This made me cry and laugh at the same time:

    I covered my face with my hands and said “This is going to suck.” And BN quietly said “There are other possibilities.” I said “run them by me, I’d love to hear them.” To which he simply said, “it could NOT suck.”

    So glad there is hope in spite of the shame 🙂 love you friend (((((()))))))

    Like

    • December 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm

      (((((SG))))) I see my full encouragement team is out tonight. 😀 It’s lovely to hear from you too! You had the same reaction to what BN said that I did. I will confess, we both laughed when he said it. And I love you too. ~ AG

      Like

  3. December 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Oh, my, there have been times when I so gladly would have done without having a body as well! Right now I am in a “There are some very nice things about having a body” phase, but I still do go back and forth.

    I am so sorry that you have had such a string of triggering medical experiences. I wish that I could say something to help make it better, but all I can do is to offer empathy… I hope that the uterine biopsy is the last invasive test that you need to have done for awhile, so you have a chance to recover.

    Like

    • December 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks Cat, I appreciate the empathy. As painful and uncomfortable as this is, I think it’s a place I’ve needed to go for a long time. I just still heartily wish that intellectual understanding could get us out of experiencing the emotions. 🙂 I am hoping to join you in your phase. ~ AG

      Like

      • December 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm

        LOL! Yeah, wouldn’t it be great if intellectual understanding was all that it took? That would be my type of therapy!!! 😉 Unfortunately, that intellect sometimes just gets in the way, doesn’t it?

        Like

  4. December 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    What a wonderful post…I rather agree with Jones on this one. 🙂

    Like

    • December 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks Kashley, this is so not the response I expected, you are all awesome! Amazing how much it helps to have people hear and understand (I’m typing this while working a volunteer shift on a crisis phone line LOL).

      Like

  5. December 13, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Hi AG,

    Thanks for posting with so much honesty and courage (as always) and giving voice to what is so hard to speak. This particularly resonated for me when you wrote it:

    “I realize it runs deeper than that. I do NOT want to have a body, no matter what it looks like.”

    In my own childhood I internalized the need to disappear in the face of psychotic rages from my mother and a general lack of boundaries with both parents. I absolutely have felt the sensation of being “invisible” and experiencing myself as “nothingness” when I think of my past.

    I have a love/hate relationship with my body because of it. I so desperately want to be loved and “seen” but don’t know how, with the body I have, because I am so filled with self-loathing and shame inside. I know now that my parents didn’t love me for me and that I wished I could “disappear” to stop the violations. I am working through all of this in my own therapy and it’s so sad to realize that it’s there under the surface.

    As I process the feelings, I start to experience them as separate from me; they are not really me, they are what was created because of what was done to me. This does make me feel better, but feeling the feelings is grueling.

    I wish you all the best in your journey and thank you again for being so brave in posting such personal feelings.

    DBS

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      (((DBS)))
      Thank you, everything you said resonated so strongly with me and was very affirming. Everyone is thanking me, but what I am so grateful for is that I can come and expose this rawness, and confusion, and shame with the (unconscious) expectation that I will be judged or worse, that my own harsh judgements will be confirmed and instead I am met with compassion and understanding and acceptance. It’s truly incredible and I’m so grateful. ~ AG

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  6. December 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    thank you so much for writing this. i also struggle with the reality of having a body. my therapist also tells me, often, that my feelings live in my body, and that my brain is not distinct from my body, but i have a hard time accepting her words.

    i think that one of the reasons i practiced both self-harm, and s/m for all those years was because the pain brought me back to my body, although only temporarily. and i always paid the price afterwards with feelings of deep shame.

    you’ve given me lots to think about. appreciate it.

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  7. Ann
    December 14, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Thank you for your honesty and bravery. For most of my life I have wished we didn’t have to deal with our bodies. Shame being on of the biggest problems. It is good to hear someone else verbalized that. It makes me feel less crazy.

    Like

    • December 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      Ann, if you want to look less crazy just stand close to me. 😀 But seriously, thank you, I am glad that it helped to read this and that you feel less alone in your feelings. There really are good reasons we feel this way, we are just not seeing our reactions in the context in which they were created. ~ AG

      Like

  8. December 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Interesting -thank you for sharing this idea! I had never really thought about body shame being tied to the concept of even just having a body… and I totally get it. I also know that I felt/feel shame because this body “betrayed” me by reacting during abuse. It’s definitely a long road to walk, but one that I really want to stay present with. I’ve been reading and following several folks in a Size Acceptance movement, and I think that helps me appreciate all the things my body does for me each and every day.

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    • December 15, 2012 at 4:36 pm

      Yeah, its a new concept for me also, but I feel like its helping make sense of a lot of my feelings. I have also struggled with the shame of having reacted, sometimes with pleasure, during the abuse, and its been a long struggle dealing with those aspects which also tie into this. Glad you found it helpful. ~AG

      Like

  9. Ren
    December 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Apologies for the very quick, superficial response: try the yoga. It has really changed my life. But you need the right instructor, and try to do it one-to-one to begin with. Will write more once I feel a bit better. (I have had an emergency dental extraction and am still woozy!) xxx

    Like

    • December 16, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      Ren, NO need to apologize, I appreciate you responding. Sorry to hear about the emergency extraction! I’ve had WAY too much dental work done and it’s never fun, hope you’re feeling better. Thank you for the recommendation about the yoga, I suppose this means I’m going to look into it despite feeling ridiculous. And I had no idea you could get one-on-one instruction (which I would find more comfortable) so thanks. ~ AG

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  10. Ann
    December 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Just a personal note about doctors, weight, and body image. I determine my weight by the fit of my clothes and blood sugar count. My personal weight was an obsession with my family since I was young. At fifty, I got healthy,but nobody is allowed to weigh me. When I need to see a doctor, I refuse to weigh and make up some weight to tell them. It is not worth the anxiety to weigh. I don’t care if I lose or gain a couple of pounds, but the scale just reinforces the life long lie that I was told— that my weight determined my self worth. I use to avoid the doctor when I was sick, because I didn’t want to weigh. Now I know I have the power to refuse and the doctor is no longer as scary. Just a suggestion. Thank you for your post! Ann

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  11. anonymously
    December 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I can’t publicly give much in the way of detail, but this experience of your body resonated with me so deeply in a few different ways, one of which just came up in a session. Just wanted to say that you’re not alone in it, the shame of having a body, of experiencing it, of acknowledging its presence before others, especially significant others. An Observing part inside recently told me that I literally bail out good feelings related to comfort and affection out of toxic shame reactions. I empty them out of myself, because they are intolerable, as is any part of me wanting to feel good in my body or any measure of willingness to get close to someone else physically. The rules against being willing to seek and enjoy comforting physical experiences are so unmovable that until recently I have literally gone into a freeze state, either numb or dissociated out of my own consciousness, any time I was confronted with such a scenario. I’m sorry you have to experience similar pain, fear and shame, but I’m so glad you have BN to be with you and counter it with his acceptance.

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    • December 26, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      Anonymously,
      It’s good to hear from you! Sorry that you undrstand this so well, but thank you for sharing it, I feel lss ashamed and less alone, knowing other people get this. I followed up at the next session and realizd it was a major shift to realize that I was ashamed of having a body, period, rather than being ashamed of the body I have. I know that I have learned to NOT be ashamed of so muchof myself, that it gives me hope to someday conquer this shame also. But its painful, slow work as you’ve experienced. Thanks for the encouragment. 🙂 ~ xx AG

      Like

  12. December 24, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    I can really relate to the medical issues at this point – I keep wanting to cry at appointments, and at one point did cry a lot. Very embarrassing. I know it’s related to trauma and in my case to having kid parts emerge. Hope the medical stuff goes well for you and you can keep getting the support you need. I find that makes a huge difference. take care

    Like

    • December 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Ellen,
      Thank you as I know that you’re facing more serious medical issues (very glad to hear they can treat it). It is definitely related to the trauma which I can find very frustrating. I resent being affected by something which happened so “long” ago, especially as it can make me appear so fragile for people without any context. BN and I were discussing that the medical profession really should do better considering the number of women who have experienced abuse and/or assault. Someone who understands and can be patient with the reactions makes it so much easier to not have them. I wish you well in your healing. ~ AG

      Like

  13. MAC
    August 2, 2015 at 11:56 am

    AG, I really really sometimes think we could be the same person, except, you know, we’re not. 🙂

    I struggle with this so much that when I saw the title of your blog post I honestly didn’t even want to read it, felt a little sick to my stomach. It’s taken me several days to even want to click on it to read more.

    Like Ann, it helps me to know that other people experience this and I’m not going crazy. And it helps to ward off the shame. I don’t have the same abuse/trauma history as you, but I still really struggle with medical stuff, although it’s really only occurring to now as I read your post why that is. I literally had a melt down a few years ago just because I needed a root canal.

    I also retreat into my head all the time. In fact I feel like I live my life in my head, and my body just unfortunately happens to be there. One time, my T asked me about why I felt okay painting my toenails/getting a pedicure, and I thought “because my toes are far away from me, so they don’t really feel like they are part of me.” What a weird thought, but I am slowly understanding this better and better.

    Like everyone else said, thank you for being so open and honest about this and for providing a forum for the rest of us to belong. You rock.

    Like

  14. MAC
    August 2, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Just to be clear, I’m not intending to minimize my abuse/trauma or compare it to yours. My intent was simply to say that even though my abuse was not physical, I still have the physical loathing.

    Like

    • August 4, 2015 at 11:01 pm

      MAC,
      I really hope we’re not the same person, I’d hate to think I was just talking to myself. 😀 But seriously, sorry this was such a difficult read, although I do really understand. I honestly have been shocked at how deep the loathing and shame around having a body ran. i mean, I always knew there was some discomfort (I mean I went to therapy about my weight 30 years ago and am just now really tackling the subject, Kind of provides a clue in retrospect.) The feelings were so overwhelming that I have had enormous denial and blocks built around it. It’s funny watching BN work through this with me. I can sometimes almost hear a sign of relief as he finally gets to say some things I think he has known for years. This stuff runs deep in our unconscious.

      And maybe it should scare me, but I totally get what you’re saying about your toes. 🙂 When I think of myself, I am about three or four inches behind my eyes in the center of my head. The rest of my body is something that I am kind of forced to drag it along. It’s been interesting work learning to be aware of and inhabit my body. (Interesting = difficult beyond belief and terrifying) But I think it is leading to living more fully and being able to allow my feelings to flow through.

      And I didn’t feel like you were trying to minimize or compare our pains Mac, We speak out of our experiences. i just saw you as exploring that and seeking to understand. BTW, I’ve said it in other comments but the worst damage did not come from the sexual abuse (not that I want to discount the damage) but from the lack of attunement and being abandoned to such overwhelming emotions. (My post on Existential Freefall talks about my worst memory). I think these feelings are intimately tied into shame because shame has such deep physiological effects.

      And thank you for the kind words! It’s easy to rock with the kind of readers I have. Thank you for investing so much time reading my blog. I am honored and am very much enjoying your comments and insights. xx AG

      Like

  15. MAC
    August 5, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    AG, thanks for your response. I read Existential Freefall earlier, but I’ll go read it again.

    I find it interesting that even with all the sex abuse you endured what did the most damage was the lack of attunement. That squares with my experience so far as well. When I began therapy, I had expected that my emotional abuse by my brother would be the “star of the show,” so to speak, that my issues would be traced back to that. I’ve been surprised (so far) to find that we’ve really hardly talked about the abuse in therapy (maybe because I have so very few memories of it?) but have spent a ton of time on the pain of my mother’s emotional distance and of not my parents standing by and not doing anything to protect me, among other things. Man, that sucks.

    Like

    • August 10, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      MAC,
      I really understand, I was surprised the same way. I also found it interesting that emotionally it was more difficult to forgive my mother, the non-abusing parent than it was to forgive my father who abused me. I gave up on him a long time ago, but for a very long time needed to see mom as the “good” parent to give myself some hope. Losing my sense of her being good, recognizing her lack of protection was more of a loss. and yeah, it really does suck, MAC. We deserved better. I am glad though, that we can now heal. xx AG

      Liked by 1 person

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