The Felt Sense of Being Held

I had not imagined that it would be so long before I wrote a post again on my Whole Body Focusing training with Addie van der Kooy, but as John Lennon’s lyrics say, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Whatever I had imagined 2020 would look like for me, … Continue reading The Felt Sense of Being Held

I had not imagined that it would be so long before I wrote a post again on my Whole Body Focusing training with Addie van der Kooy, but as John Lennon’s lyrics say, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Whatever I had imagined 2020 would look like for me, it was not how it has turned out: right at the start of my new year severe dental problems dominated my life and then came Corona Virus life with lock-down.

Finally, the nausea, pain, and the dental infection that dominated my experience of self for a couple of months, had abated enough for me to return to training with Addie.

In my first session of the year, as I was grounding and connecting into my whole body, I was made very aware of two features dominating my inner experience. The first, quite strident in its tone, was the still-there-but-lessened nausea-pain/poisoned feeling and swelling in my right lower jaw due to residual infection/post-extraction problems. The second was a global gut-originating sense of self-doubt, and a deep sense of something vital being missing.

When Body Movements Support My Presence

My right hand spontaneously went to my infected right lower jaw and just gently held this place that had been and still was the epicenter of my lack of wellness. And as I just sat with my hand nursing my jaw, I noticed a “new dimension” was manifesting in me that was part of my embodied grounding experience.

This new dimension was an energy, a sort of subtle buzz or hum that was almost electrical in quality: Jane Seymour’s quote, “the hum of the Universe,” felt spot on. And the hum brought with it great warmth, and as I continued to hold my jaw, I realised that this hum was spiritual and that this was the most alive place in my body.

Then, as my hand continued to cradle my jaw, agonisingly sharp pains came into my fingers as if being drawn out of the infected jaw, into my hand. It was such huge pain, and so much distress came too. A connection came. This pain had to do with my relationship with my mother that always required me to absorb her pain. It usually felt like being poisoned. And here it was this poison from so many years was now here, manifesting in my jaw, ready to start being felt, held, and related to by me.

Suddenly my hand pulled away from my jaw. It could not bear the pain any longer. The pain was so toxic that my breath had almost stopped as a way not to feel it. An image I had had, many years ago in therapy, of my mother through her spoken words subtly imbuing them with poison. And as her words “hit” me, it was as if she was firing poisoned ice bullets into my body and my heart. As I connected with this therapy memory, a considerable shudder and jerk took over my body—trauma memories.

When We Connect to Something New

Addie asked me: how is your relationship with all this? How is it in your body? I felt very torn – there was a part that wanted absolutely nothing to do with any of this, just to run away and escape. A photo on the wall above my desktop computer drew my heart. It was of my two daughters hugging each other both with huge loving smiles on their faces. Looking at this photo, I could feel my heart open and able to take in their love. And I recognised that it is love that my still infected/”poisoned” jaw needs to heal – antibiotics alone will not treat this within me.

Again Addie invited me to check in with my body: and my body spontaneously knew what to do. My right hand returned to cradling my jaw, my left hand resting on my heart, and my eyes looked at the photo of my daughters. And as I sat like this, I could feel the hum, the affirming of loving.

Once again, the pain got too much, and my right hand pulled away from my jaw. So I took my hand and shook it to let go of, to release the pain, to be rid of the poison.

Addie continued to encourage me to move backward and forward in this cradling and then releasing process: to stay with the process and just let it move through in its own way and timing. He encouraged me, saying, “You can do this, you have the resources,” and I realised, as he said this, that it was the poison that caused me to feel self-doubt.

And so we both sat with this process: gradually, there was more space for the breath, and my right hand found it easier to sit cradling my jaw. Memories of my past experiences Shinzen Young’s meditation practices of just being forensically fascinated by pain came: yes, I do have the resources I realised.

Then Addie asked: what does this place need? What does it need? And immediately, both my arms went into a big self-hug. “The hug of love?” Addie suggested. I just sat with this, knowing that this was what my body was so missing. My mother never held me. She could not bear touch. Neither of my parents had any loving physical contact with me or my sister.

As I continued to hug myself, Addie shared how, as a boy, when his father put his arm around him (which wasn’t often), Addie felt real physical confidence within himself. This information created a significant “aha!” moment for me: I repeated back what Addie had just said. “When your father held you, you felt confident in just being you.”

I finally understood what the feeling of something vital in me was missing. I never had this experience of just being ok to be me through being held as a child from my parents. No wonder I had always struggled with self-doubt and self-disbelief. I had never known how just being physically held might have made all the difference to me and my self-belief/trust.

Then an adult memory came: it was of my daughter Sarah, a few years ago at the funeral of one of my parents, just suddenly taking my hand and the power of the moment. At the time, I had felt it. I knew she loved me just as I was, that she loved all of me at that moment. She did not need to say anything at all. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life: in it, she accepted me and my grief. No-one had ever done that for me before. That was all I had needed.

How My Healing Impacts My Understanding of the Global Crisis

As I write this now, a few weeks on, tears come as I reconnect with Sarah holding my hand. The realisation of just why I have found it so hard to be with people dying without their loved ones beside them.

The pain in me of not being held and touched as a child is still deep within me: I would not wish it on anyone. So my heart grieves that these people dying now cannot have that final physical contact with those they love – hard for the person dying and for those they leave behind. I hope they, like me, have memories of being held and touched that can be of comfort to them in their loss.

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Author: Cathy Rowan

I originally trained as an OT and also in Gestalt therapy. In 2010 I discovered Focusing which for me was the natural next step on from Mindfulness. I trained as a Focusing Practioner with Fiona Parr and I am currently training in Wholebody Focusing with Addie van der Kooy. What I love is how Focusing blends so naturally with other previous experiences. In particular I find my work as an OT in acquired brain has informed the way I practice. This includes my interest in making accessible relational neuroscience in supporting peoples understanding of how our bodies neurology is shaped by our experiences of others and their experiencing of us. I live with a chronic pain condition from a car accident in 1999. Focusing has changed my life in how I now live with this health condition. Through this I have learnt so much personally about trauma and grief - how they live on in the body unless one befriends them. For me Focusing enabled me to heal when therapy did not - it was just "too much too fast" for my body. What I needed was the Focuser - Companion relating where the relationship feels to be for me much more one of quality and this brought to my body a sense of finally being free to choose and to control the unfolding process. This meant that the process went at my pace and was received by compassionate attuned mirroring. Thus healing what I got so little of as a child.

4 thoughts on “The Felt Sense of Being Held”

  1. However we respond and relate , it is ‘who we are’ , what is going on within us , consciously or , more usually, unconsciously, that characterises the transfer between two ( or more) Beings*, particularly when it involves our physical ‘bodySelf’. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. * thinking, also, of the incredible ‘sense’ that some animals gain from a person or situation, mostly, it seems, arising from their senses, not necessarily touch..

  2. Reading this post I found myself thinking about the past when I was working.
    I work at 41 years in to Dental clinics. Helping and curing people with teeth pain has been a daily problem.
    So I felt your pain, which was well described in your post, was so clear and familiar to me.
    But what made me think the most was how physical pain can reveal connections with past wounds. The power of body memories could be used as a spiritual cure and a loving cradle ready to receive life and death.
    Thank you for writing and sharing the post. It has inspired me greatly.

  3. For those of us who have not experienced unconditional touch in childhood, you piece Cathy leaves me with the question – is the pain of dentistry etc a way in for us to re-awaken that sense o receiving touch? I imagine that that sense has been numbed and therefore not available until something wakes it up. I have such gratitude on your behalf for the way in which Addie walked you through the experience. It took me a long time to receive touch and then longer to give though. Bravo too to you daughter Sarah for holding your hand and letting you know through that touch tha tyou are loved! IWhat you are describing is my life’s journey!

  4. Hi Kit I have lived with a chronic pain condition for over 20 years, following a car accident. My experience is that this pain, including the recent dental pain episode, are absolutely to do with my body awakening from being numbed for decades and showing me how, through bracing to regulate my emotional pain as a child and teen, I found a way to survive. But it was at a great cost to me physically. What has made the difference for me is Focusing which I discovered around 10 years ago by lucky happenstance. By then I knew that my injuries from my car accident were being exacerbated by my childhood traumas which were held in my body thanks to Peter Levine’s books however I found Somatic Experiencing, his somatic treatment approach, way too intense for my body whereas Focusing is much more finely attuned and gentle. Quite simply it has changed my life. Now doing the Whole body Focusing training I am going much deeper into my body hence memories such as I shared in this post are surfacing within me. Thanks for responding to it and letting me know we are both on a similar journey x

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