The Toothpaste Tube Squeeze

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A friend of mine had an episode with her husband during which, in the midst of an otherwise innocuous interaction, he had let loose a sharply critical comment that took her completely by surprise. She reacted with upset, confusion and hurt, was in and out of tears off and on, but the real difficulty was that she could not seem to “get her feet back under her” and feel connected to herself enough to respond to him. She called me asking for help, though she had no idea how to describe what had happened to her. Meddler that I am, I told her to come on over and I’d see what I could do.

When she arrived it was clear that she was barely in her body, at least not much below her neck. She looked quite literally as if she had had the stuffing knocked out of her. Her diaphragm was contracted tightly, even while pulsing spastically with partially held-in sobs. Her solar plexus was pulled in and up narrowing her in the middle. She looked as if she had pulled all her breath and energy into her upper chest, as if to drawing up and away from her lower body.

I call this the “toothpaste tube squeeze” because it is like when someone gets out toothpaste by compressing the middle of the tube, leaving a dent in the middle. This is easily corrected in a tube of toothpaste, simply squeeze from the bottom, but for the human body and the human who is embodied, it presents a few more challenges to deal with.

This is also like the result of Victorian corsets
When we are stuck with this squeeze in our middle we are literally squeezed out of that place in our body. We also can’t move our energy and awareness through that area to connect into our lower body. This impacts us especially in terms of sensing and being in our grounding and support i.e. our legs. It makes it difficult for us to take a stand, so to speak. As well, the rising emotions (hurt, anger in this case- see my prior blog post on rising emotional energy in anxiety) get stuck in the squeeze and can’t be brought into expression because they are all jammed up in ones frozen diaphragm.

I asked her to lie down comfortably on my bodywork table and gently scanned her body muscular tensions and energy field. I could easily sense her frozen diaphragm, how empty her lower body was, and how she was pulled upwards both energetically and muscularly.

Now, I could have oriented by looking to muscular release, by talking about her feelings, by coaching her to breath, or to work on her grounding. Lot’s of possibilities. But as I scanned her solar plexus I was struck by what I felt there: it was as if there was a hole there in her energy field. So I asked her a question first.

“Did your husbands comment feel like a punch in the stomach? And you can’t get your breath?”

She looked at me and nodded, it being hard for her to talk given the sobs that were continuing to coming up episodically.

“You feel to me just as if you had been actually punched here. Now you have a dent in your field” I said.

I continued, “You can’t get fully into your body and so you don’t feel like yourself, right?”

Between sobs she said, “How did you know?”

I understood this as rhetorical from her because, as a long time friend she already knew I was “weird” and “did that weird kind of stuff.” That was why she called me for help in the first place! I guess sometimes our weird friends are the best kind of friends to have around. That’s true for me anyway.

Body-based “metaphors” such as “When he said that, it was like he punched me right in the stomach…” precisely because they are not really metaphors. Rather, they are ways to reference how emotions and body responses feel, what is called the “felt-sense” of things, as well as the way the descriptions reflect actual energetic and physical processes that are part of this phenomenon. I call this embodied language. Since this language suggests the particulars of the physical-energetic processes involved, I often find that following this direction can readily be of assistance.

Her feeling of being “punched in the stomach” was not literal. Her husband didn’t actually punch her, nor did he send a pulse of energy to her solar plexus. While the latter can happen on occasion, in my experience, most people are in truth not really energetically powerful enough to make for a significant energetic hit of this nature.

But the embodied reactions of surprise, the startle reflex, the location of such emotions in the body, all combine into a physical-energetic reaction that mimics the reaction to the activity of this embodied phrase perfectly:

  • We catch our breath in our chest in shock, 
  • We pull in our diaphragm in the conflict between shock (hold tight and brace) and hurt (pulsing of sobs); 
  • We get stuck between the holding our breath in shock ( the freeze response) and the rising energies of feelings and breath. 
Taken altogether it is exactly like how we would react having been actually punched in the stomach.
So the first thing I did was to pull out the dent in her solar plexus. I knew that it would take a long time just approaching this through breathing or the like, and talking about it would do nothing whatsoever. Have you ever repaired a dent in your car by talking? Not me either. But in two minutes of energetic work I could support her to expand her energy back into her normal energetic space so she literally would have more room to breath.

As soon as the front edge of her energy field was no longer located somewhere in the region of her kidneys and had resumed a more appropriate location a couple of inches out from her skin in the front of her body, she felt much less squeezed and compressed.

Well and good, but we still had a little problem. With the dent pulled out, she now had the capacity to descend downwards out of her head and upper chest where she had been stuck, and reoccupy her lower body. But to actually do so, she would have to feel into her diaphragm and solar plexus, and this meant feeling all those emotions she had pulled away from

The good news is the bad news. What to do? How to make coming back into her body core and that mess of feelings not too overwhelming? Anybody who knows me knows the answer: when in doubt, tell a joke.

I began to gently tease her about having had a dent like the ones she had in her car from her sloppy parking. Was she a woman or a car? I continued to joke offhandedly while at the same time I was gently working on her diaphragm. At some point my jokes must have been outlandish enough that she began to let loose a laugh. In that very moment, as her diaphragm could pulse with the movement of laughter, I could encourage a full release of her diaphragm and help her come down into her lower body. From there we could begin to help her fill-in to her body space and her visceral core without being overwhelmed by a tangle of emotions, because she couldn’t feel all those other emotions when she was feeling her laughter. All I had to do was continue to make ridiculous offhand comments that kept bringing laughs to pulse her diaphragm.

Long ago I made the discovery of the obvious. That as far as our physical being is concerned, laughing is almost identical to crying. If you don’t believe me, try a g fake-laugh “Ha, ha, ha, ha…” and then turn it in into a fake sobbing as you continue, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, huh, ghuh, ghuh, ghuh…” See what I mean? Same movement.

Once she was into her body enough, and in possession of her own feelingful-visceral-core,  and no longer frozen in between uprising emotions a stuck diaphragm and her own pull away from her feelings, she could finally feel enough of herself that these feelings weren’t bigger than she was. She could feel her hurt, her tears of sadness and anger, feel her anger, and so on. Now was also a more useful time to talk more about what she was feeling as well and process the experience.

In other words, she was now able to feel herself enough to sort the episode through. Rather than start with what I would say was the result of surprise, shock and physical disconnection. As we continued, I also worked with her to open an easier connection to her legs via energy flow through the major leg nerves until, when she stood up, she could really feel planted in the earth.

“Thanks for the embodied ER,” she told me as she took the time to settle fully into her legs and feet. “I’ll take it from here.”

“You certainly will!” I said, waving her out of the house.

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