“The literal language of the body translates into the metaphorical language of life.”
Our Metaphorical Body Language
This simple, yet somewhat strange statement encapsulates a core belief that has guided much of my career. As a therapist working with women, trauma, and eating disorders, I have learned that it is so important that we understand the wisdom in our body. In our culture, we are taught to look at our bodies with disdain, and as such, we lose our relationship with our trustworthy “home.”
The body naturally seeks balance. In medicine, the term they use for this is ‘homeostasis.’ It is designed to adjust and accommodate so that whatever comes its way, it can find its way back into the balanced state that is necessary for healing and optimal functioning.
I have always seen the symptoms that manifest in the body as a way to attempt to restore homeostasis and understand what is happening in our lives. The literal sensations and physical expressions that you experience in the body, as well as the language used to describe these patterns, directly parallel our emotional experiences. For example, if you’re working at your desk and notice painful tension in your shoulders, your emotional experience is likely that you are stressed and uptight. In short, the body alerts us to when our emotions need tending to.
As my colleague, Anita Johnston has stated, a large part of the healing process is helping people “crack the code” of the language they use to describe their problems. Through a process of using imagery, analogies, and storytelling, we can begin to understand the emotional messages hidden in the “symptoms” we often just want to eradicate. Our bodies don’t like a lot of these physical manifestations, and they’re quite literally telling us to do something about it!
For example, someone might describe their experience of an eating disorder as follows:
“I can’t stomach the idea of keeping my food down; I only feel safe if I feel that feeling of being empty. I can’t stand to feel weight on my body”.
In that statement alone, there are so many things to explore. By looking exclusively at the language used to describe the physical experiences of the body, we start to see that the body is talking to us. What if we got curious, instead of treating the illness as an enemy. For the sake of understanding how the body communicates with us, let’s explore in depth what is hidden in the above statement by breaking down some keywords and phrases:
“I can’t stomach” –
Although used as a verb, the reference of the stomach highlights discomfort in the “core” of this individual. This invites questions such as:
- What is happening in this person’s core?
- Do they experience IBS or other medical stomach issues?
- What is their relationship with being able to receive (help, love, etc. )?
- What is this person’s attachment style, or, how closely attached do they want/need to be in relationship?
- What issues around identity (core sense of self) does this person struggle with?
“I can’t stand” –
- How grounded is this individual?
- How does this person experience autonomy or individuation – literally the ability to “stand on their own two feet”?
“the feeling of weight”-
- What weighs this person down in their emotional life?
- What weight is the individual carrying with regards to emotional or energetic obligations?
- What areas in this person’s life might they take on the majority of the responsibility a.k.a. the “weight”?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg and are most certainly not an exhaustive list. When playing with metaphor and language, the only limitation on curiosity is your own creativity.
An Invitation From Our Bodies
The more we ask about our body and the signals it sends us, the more attuned to our body we become.
We reconnect. We turn to see ourselves, instead of turning away. This is embodiment.
Our bodies are literally inviting us to communicate in healthy and healing ways; they are such a rich source of wisdom. By practicing actively paying attention to your body’s signals, you are embracing the feminine principle of listening. It is truly a trustworthy guide, one that we all need in our life. By learning to listen, instead of judge, and turn inward, instead of externalizing and disconnecting, we are able to hear the guidance the body is giving. Are you listening?