When you and I were born, we obeyed our bodies. When we were sad, we cried. When we were content, we cooed. Tuning in to our bodies’ signals was and still is our birthright.

However, soon after we were born, most of us began disregarding our bodies’ messages.

For people of European descent, this disconnect from their bodies began over a thousand years ago with the torture and murder of millions of people throughout Europe—particularly people who did not adhere to the belief system of those in power, had healing abilities, or honored the land in ways that did not profit the ruling class.[1]

Their descendants—later known as white people—took these traditions of oppression and persecuted Indigenous ways of knowing around the globe. This history of oppression continues to this day in many places.

Modern-day, dominant culture (rooted in white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, and capitalism) continues to privilege linear, precise, well-packaged thinking and holds anything less than its definition of rational as suspect. We’re taught to ignore our bodies and believe only what we perceive with our ears, eyes, and fingertips. Most of us begin internalizing these messages soon after we’re born.

When you were little, for example, you may have been told that you should stop crying when you felt sad, that you were fine when you felt sick, or that you were just making things up when you felt creeped out by a grownup. Your parents, teachers, church leaders, advertisements, or other authority figures may have told you that they knew better and praised you for regurgitating their commands.

As a result of internalizing these oppressive narratives, you might now gaslight yourself into believing that your emotions are invalid or no big deal. A part of you might say that you’re messed up for feeling shame, have a big ego for worrying what others think, or make no sense for feeling resentful toward someone you care about.

Even if you were raised by the most loving parents, you may turn away from your body in an effort to cope with the world’s heartache. When there’s such a global need for resistance, persistence, and change, it makes sense (though it may not always be helpful) to turn away from the pain of injustice and head straight into action. Moveover, in a world that sanctions little time for grief, it can feel like an indulgence to dwell in heartbreak. And so, we turn away from our bodies and escape to our heads.

We each have our unique style of numbing pain. Mine have included overworking, overthinking, and overdoing. Yours may be staying busy, taking pills or other drugs, drinking wine, eating cookies, playing endless games of solitaire, staying plugged into Facebook, overworking, overthinking, over-giving, overdoing, overplanning, having sex with strangers, paying more attention to others’s needs than to your own, using spiritual practices to bypass your pain, or something else.

As a result of all this, when many of my clients come to me, they’re out of practice with listening to their bodies. As a result, they only have access to part of the information available to them, feel confused about which path to take, and don’t trust themselves to make good decisions. They’re depleted because they don’t know what to prioritize and try to do it all. They regret lost opportunities for joy. They may have achieved what they thought they wanted but still they don’t feel satisfied. Or they’ve burned out and changed paths, imagining that different work will feel better, but then burned out all over again.

Some people turn away from their bodies for so long that they forget they ever had the ability to feel in the first place. But no matter how long you may have ignored your body, tuning into and heeding your body’s messages is your birthright. You can learn to reconnect.

[1]Chapter Five:

Although I am not an expert on ancient European traditions, I imagine that Indigenous European traditions (which Christians named “Pagan” beginning in the 4th century AD) valued the wisdom of the body. I imagine that the suppression of body-based knowledge began with the spread of Christianity and the Roman Empire’s obsession with wiping out Paganism. It is important to remember that even white folks of European descent were once indigenous to our ancient places and, therefore, likely had healthier relationships with our bodies.

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