“How do you feel in your body?” my therapist asked. “Fine,” I answered. “Do you feel the floor under your feet?” he asked. “Yes. (So what?)” I answered. This question irritated me like a hell. I didn’t understand what it was to do with my psychological misery. I had two arms, two legs, feet and hands. I was fine, thank you for asking. “Stump your feet on the floor.” I stumped. “How does it feel?” “Nothing,” I answered.
“What does it make you feel like?” the therapist asked and I looked for my feeling outside of my body, staring at the ceiling, or watching my therapist’s cat yawn. I didn’t find my feeling in my body. My feeling didn’t reside in my body.
Disconnection is an excellent survival mechanism. In a battlefield you won’t survive if you feel. And for some of us, childhood was a wartime, and the body is where the battle was fought. In Trauma and Recovery Judith Herman writes, “Traumatic events violate the autonomy of the person at the level of basic bodily integrity. The body is invaded, injured, defiled. Control over bodily function is often lost; in the folklore of combat and rape, this loss of control is often recounted as the most humiliating aspect of the trauma.” Our trauma doesn’t have to be of rape or combat. It could be grandma pinching your cheeks.
I am not saying that pinching chubby cheeks of an adorable kid is a form of child abuse. It could be a rather innocent expression of affection. However, when it is done repeatedly against the child’s will, it could amount to loss of “control over bodily function”.
My ex-boyfriend had a habit of pinching. He pinched his daughter, he pinched his nephews and he pinched me. It was his way of saying, “Hey Sweetie.” I can’t speak for his daughter or nephews, but when he pinched me I felt a rage surging up deep in my body. “Stop it,” I yelled. “Don’t pinch me, ever.” He pinched me a couple of more times, and every time I reacted violently. Then thankfully he stopped pinching. He listened to me. While pinching itself didn’t hurt much, it triggered an uncontrollable anger out of nowhere.
When I was a little girl, my childless aunt doted on me. She literally tried to eat me with a spoon. Since she was the source of love and affection, and chocolate and candies and dolls and all the goodies, I clung to her. She used to tease me by doing something I didn’t like. The more I shrank from, the more she seemed enjoying. She used to lick my face, saying I was so cute that she wanted to eat me up. It was wet and yucky. I said, “No!!!” but she was much bigger and stronger. She told me that she loved me and that I should let her do whatever she wanted to do. Sometimes, she bribed me with goodies. It’s an innocent expression of affection, isn’t it? Pinching was a variation. I don’t remember who pinched me, but it does not matter. It told me the same story. My feeling does not matter. I don’t have control over my body. They have. And I am an ungrateful brat if I don’t appreciate the affection the adults are giving to me. Tolerating the feeling of discomfort will be rewarded with chocolate, or whatever goodies. Got it? Just replace the word “pinching” or “licking” with “touching improperly.” It tells the same story of trauma. “The traumatic event thus destroys the belief that one can be oneself in relation to others”(Herman 53).
When I was a little girl I told my mum that my tummy ached. I told her that I would feel better if she let me eat a piece of bread. She didn’t give me bread and took me to a family doctor. It turned out that I was not sick but just hungry. I didn’t know the word to explain the intense sensation I felt in my belly. What I felt in stomach, aching for food, was denied as not legitimate by adults. When I was a teenager, I had a painful period. I told that I had severe cramps and couldn’t move. My father said, “No, you don’t. You are lazy.” My mom didn’t protest. (Later I found that my mom never had a painful period in her life, and she couldn’t imagine how bad it could be.) Thus in my early ages I learned not to trust the feeling in my body.
We lose the ability to connect to one’s body little by little. When someone in authority, such as parents and teachers, tells us we have to feel certain way again and again while we don’t feel that way, it becomes unsafe to be ourselves. Others in our life take away our connection to the body. We gain artificial limbs and body parts instead, which function very well. Nobody notices it’s artificial. Sometimes they could be much more useful than real limbs, just like a sword loaded limb, since we don’t feel pain. Eventually we might even forget they are not real. When one suffers a hugely traumatic experience and survives, the disconnection between mind and body could be much harder to reconcile.
About the photo: I took the photo of the glass sculpture at Corning Museum of Glass. Unfortunately I don’t know the artist’s name.