The places that scare you are real and valid. However as someone with a trauma history, who has suffered PTSD and anxiety, I have had to take self-responsibility for my own experiences and how my history may color my internal response to situations. Especially in the world of touch therapy that I have worked in daily for over twenty years.
Pema Chodron in her book entitled The Places that Scare You, invites the reader to the concept of the “bodhichitta” where “Chitta” means mind and also heart or attitude and “Bodhi” means awake, enlightened or completely open. She shares it can be a soft spot or open wound. I believe most of us can relate to a feeling of an open wound. Pema writes “an analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes anger, resentment and blame.”
The description of a broken heart giving birth to a palette of emotions really struck home to my own experience. I have been gifted with meditation, yoga therapy, bodywork, somatic therapy and amazing teachers to support myself on my healing path. However, at the beginning of each day it is up to me to take self-responsibility and practice, which I do every day. Sensing in the moment how I am feeling without labeling or blaming others for my experience—to practice neutrality and honor the soft spot in others. This is not an easy practice. Life is guaranteed to throw us challenges and is ever changing from moment to moment.
I am writing about this today because I am saddened at the extend blame as risen up in our culture and social media platforms. I am saddened by the extend that people are not willing to work together to resolve conflict and do the inner work to heal. It is especially scary in my field when other practitioners are blaming other practitioners. I live in a small community and the amount of blame and hate I am observing being projected onto others, with the practitioner doing the blame taking zero self-responsibility for their own history is disheartening.
In the touch therapy world as in many forms of therapy or relationships there can be a power differential. These types of relationships happen often in our society. Teacher to student, parent to child, doctor to patient, policeman to arrestee and therapist to client to name a few. It takes at least two, collaborating and communicating to have healthy boundaries and healthy forms of relating.
Just as there are “microaggressions” there are “micro-reactions”. For myself, this is where the self-responsibility piece comes in. I have to ask myself, “am I having a micro-reaction to this situation?” In psychology, this is transference. Where we transfer our feelings and thoughts onto someone else. I have even been scared to write this article and share it, because I am sure someone will transfer their feelings onto me for writing this. I am scared they may think I do not take their trauma seriously and I do. I also take it seriously that not everyone with a trauma history takes self-responsibility for their own actions. I do feel there is a truth in what I am sharing as I have observed my own micro-reactions and have had to dive deep to heal.
In the touch therapy field, as a client you have a right to “informed consent,” which means you have the right to say “no,” end a treatment, redirect it etc. There is a tricky bit, some clients with a trauma history have a “freeze” response and they may not know how to come back into the present to move toward informed consent. One way to stay present, in a treatment, is to focus on your breathing, in out and through the nose, in order to stay present in your body awareness. If something doesn’t feel “okay” speak up. Also, open your eyes and look around the room you are in and come into the present. More importantly, before you enter a session for treatment, tell your therapist you have a trauma history (you are not obligated to say what it is), explain that you may stop them during treatment or redirect them. Have some words to say stop. Such has, I don’t like being touched there, I don’t feel safe, or that is too painful for me, I like lighter pressure. You also have the right to wear what you are comfortable wearing, leaving all cloths on, wearing underwear and bra, etc. These provide ethical boundaries for you as the client. A therapist, if they need to treat under the clothing can ask for verbal permission to touch in those areas. For example, an acupuncturist can’t needle the side of your hips if it is covered.
As a client, when I receive, I dislike being face down on a table and I dislike face cradles. I have learned to state to my therapist I prefer to be face up and limit any face down positions. I also dislike Swedish effleurage strokes in some parts of my body as it triggers my nervous system, so I share that with them as well. It took me a long time to figure out how to state boundaries in session as I wasn’t trained how to do that. The first time I received a Swedish massage in my twenties, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to leave my underwear on or take it off. I never thought to ask my therapist and they never guided me through the process that it was completely up to me to make a choice, and stay in my own power.
I have learned that most therapists are in our field because they truly want to help people—both male and female. They never intend to hurt someone. I operate from this premise first. Often, it is a miscommunication that occurs when sessions do not go well for the client. It may be that a client did not speak up and because the therapist cannot always read the client’s mind or sense the client’s experience the outcome may seem negative. Also, not all practitioners and clients are an energetic match.
What can you do? If you are a client and are having a reaction to an experience, you may need to speak with a therapist who specializes in trauma. Support in this realm is imperative. If you feel safe to speak directly to the person who may have triggered your reaction—do, it may surprise you that there truly is another caring human being who is really trying to support you in your process. Keep in mind bodhichitta, as we all have a soft spot and an open heart. Practice forgiveness. Practice listening. Practice mindfulness. Practice staying in the present. Practice setting healthy boundaries. When we blame someone else we blame ourselves too, and split the very nature of what it means to be human in compassion. To heal is to practice bodhichitta.