Mental wellness starts with emotional wellness. If we sidestep our feelings and how we experience them in our body, it becomes challenging--if not impossible--to experience clarity of thought, joy, and connection, with ourselves and others.
Emotional attunement is essential to a full experience of life. Most of us did not grow up with a safe adult who offered us unconditional emotional support. If you are like me and most of humanity, your brain got wired for bottom up processing. What does this mean? Your brain flags strong emotions as a threat and dives into survival mode.
Survival mode is fantastic at keeping us alive, it regulates our body temperature, our heartbeat, breathing and many bodily functions. It also allows us to run away from danger, to fight to protect ourselves, to freeze and play dead or to appease in order to survive. Unfortunately, these survival strategies are not appropriate for dealing with sadness, shame, guilt or anxiety for example. It’s not personal, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just the way our brains were wired in childhood because of the lack of a reliable support person.
Let’s say you receive a text message from your mother/partner/friend and it reawakens a familiar sense of sadness about your relationship with her. You don’t feel seen for who you are, you get the sense you have to give to her instead of receiving from her.
You might start online shopping or checking your social media account (flight), you might send an aggressive message back (fight) or take the anger out on your children or partner, you might try to appease her, “yes, mom, I’ll take care of it for you, no problem” even if you don’t feel like it at all, and lastly you might freeze/dissassociate by numbing out sensations, “leaving” your body, eating ice cream.
None of these responses will be helpful for you to warrant the needed emotional release and the processing that needs to happen.
Here is another scenario, one available to you once you learn this technique called Notice/Name/Touch. I learned this technique from The Center for Emotional Education, pioneers in teaching humans how to become emotionally sovereign.
You get the message from your mother, you are aware it is triggering and feel yourself reacting to it. You first attend to any physical need for warmth, comfort or safety. Do you need to put on a warm sweater, make a cup of tea or drink some water? Are you hungry? Attending first to the needs of the body gives reassurance to your nervous system that this is not an emergency and that you are safe, no predators here.
Now sit with the sensations in your body, noticing where they are. Is your chest tight? Are your shoulders tensing up? Do you feel butterflies in your belly?
Staying present with these, continue being curious and noticing the different parts of the body that are responding to the text message. Now, see if you can name some emotions.
Do you feel sad, mad, anxious, frustrated? Is there any other emotion you are present to?
Allow time for this…You can name these emotions silently to yourself or speak them outloud to the room or if someone you can connect with is available you can share it with them. Keep it simple, “I am feeling sad and frustrated, would you be willing to give me a hug and be with me in this for a few minutes?”
After giving time and space for the notice/name/touch practice, you are looking for clues that you have now shifted into your executive brain. The brain state that feels the best to be in!
Your brain shifed out of survival mode once it knew you were safe. The gates opened to allow entry to the emotional brain and by taking time to name emotions and sensations, allowing tears or sound, receiving a hug and support from a trusted ally or voicing the feeling outloud to the room, you will notice yourself shift into the executive brain.
How can you tell you are in your prefrontal cortex? You feel optimistic, you have ideas, you feel like yourself, you feel empowered. You respond to the text in a way that feels true and non-judgmental.
And that my friends is the brain state you want to be in when you make decisions about what to text back!
Questions, need support?
I’m here to guide you through this process and help you rewire your brain for resilience and joy!