What does it mean to be connected with your body? Connection is about having an open and accepting two-way relationship between your mind and your body. Fostering this relationship is very important for sex and our relationships with others. Getting information from our body about what’s happening and what it means help us to have fuller, more meaningful life experiences.
What is Disconnection like?
It’s hard to describe the absence of something, but here are some real-life examples that you might notice:
- You’re often going ‘in your head’ during sex, finding thoughts to be harder to ignore than bodily sensations, leading to a loss of arousal. This may be more true at some times rather than others.
- If a partner asks what you enjoy during sex, you might be unsure of how to describe the sensations or the sort of touch you like. You might struggle to say how good experiences are different from less good ones.
- You might notice you have reduced interest in sex or other pleasurable activities but find it hard to say why. If you’ve lost touch with what you find fun about these activities, you’re unlikely to be very motivated to do them!
- You might not make connections between how you feel and how you’re behaving very easily. For example, you might snap at someone but not have realized you were irritated until then.
- If someone asks you how you’re feeling, when you really think about it (rather than when you might automatically say ‘Fine! And you?’), you might find it’s hard to put your finger on the quality of the feeling, or name it. It might take a lot of effort to describe what’s happening ‘internally’.
If you experience disconnection like this, it’s unlikely to be 100% of the time; there may be particular contexts where disconnection is more profound and times where you find connecting with your body easier. Everyone can experience periods of disconnection, sometimes they can be vital for coping with or surviving particular experiences. The challenge comes when you get ‘stuck’ in them and they start to limit your experience of life.
What Causes Disconnection?
Disconnecting with your body is not a sign of personal failure; it’s a very easy habit to slip into. Here are some situations that could have led to less connection with your body:
- You may have experienced trauma. This is a response to our system being overwhelmed by a very threatening experience. It can result in an increased sensitivity to physical and emotional feelings, so that for a time you can be overwhelmed more easily again. Disconnection from physical and emotional experiences is an automatic response, designed to protect you from feelings that are difficult to contain. This might be more likely if you’ve not had the time or space for a full and healthy recovery from what happened.
- A complicated relationship with your body. Because of ill-health, having a body associated with stigma or difference, or other experiences, you might have become estranged from your body, like you would from a person you had a difficult relationship with. It might feel like a lot of effort to get past the complicated feelings and if you’re coping ok, why upset things?
- As a younger person, you might not have been given space to tune into your body and feelings. Perhaps you were encouraged to move past difficult feelings quickly and get on with things, or experienced negative consequences for showing emotional responses. In an environment like this, you may have learned to dull these and not express them.
- To manage a difficult situation, you might have found it was easier to not stay with feelings in order to cope and get on with things. Over time, this might have become a habit, because it was helpful for a while.
It can be hard to put your finger on when the disconnection started (or if it’s always been there) or what caused it. That’s ok, it’s not always necessary to understand this. If you think it might have been something upsetting or traumatic (or even if you’re not sure), it’s very important to be kind to yourself while trying to get that connection back. Connecting with complex or difficult feelings could be uncomfortable and going at your own pace with this is vital, otherwise you’re just reinforcing the sense that you and your feelings and experiences don’t deserve to be taken seriously.
How can I reconnect with my body?
Before we start - if you find any of these activities very overwhelming, anxiety-inducing or otherwise difficult, it’s important to stop and give yourself time to feel calm and ok again. This could be a sign that you’ve tapped into something especially difficult for you, and that’s ok - this is your body keeping you safe.
Noticing what’s happening in our bodies is a skill we can practice. You might find easier to do it at the same time each day, or during an activity when you won’t be disturbed for a bit. The shower or bath can be a good place. Here’s a few ideas:
- Become aware of the pulse at different points in your body, one by one. You may be able to notice your pulse at your temples, throat, wrists, groin and ankles, and possibly other parts of your body.
- List five things you’re aware of, and say them as you notice them. This could include things you can see, taste, smell, hear and feel. For example ‘I am aware of the light from the window; I am aware of the water on my skin; I am aware of the bathroom fan whirring’.
- Do a body scan - working slowly from your toes to the top of your head, notice what you feel in each area of your body. If it helps to move each part a bit for this, go ahead! Even if you can’t name the feeling or sensation, try and stay with it for a moment before you move on.
You may also want to notice your response to doing this. Do you notice any of the feelings shift after you’ve focused on them? Do you notice any thoughts that come up as you’re doing it? Can you spot any patterns?
Being able to name feelings helps you not only tell other people how you’re feeling, but just to acknowledge your emotions to yourself, which can be validating.
At the end of a body scan or other noticing practice, try and find some words to summarise what you felt. Say them out loud, write them down, or tell them to a partner or friend whose about if you trust them with this.
A really key part of this is not judging what you notice. People can jump very quickly to feeling that they ‘should’ be feeling or not feeling something, especially (but not always) with difficult emotions like sadness, guilt and anger. But it’s often this judgement that led to disconnection in the first place; telling ourselves we can’t or shouldn’t be responding in this way can lead to us dismissing ourselves and our needs.
If you notice your judging a feeling:
- Acknowledge it! Even just to yourself. ‘I noticed I felt tired. I couldn’t understand why and so I felt a bit bad about that, I feel like I should have a good reason to be tired’.
- Try and return to the feeling you’re noticing, rather than the judgment. Stay with it for a moment.
- Move on to the next sensation. If you find yourself holding onto that judgement later on, it might be worth trying to understand why. What’s so wrong about that very natural feeling you had?
Bring it all together
The next step is seeing if you can practice this in day-to-day life. For example:
- Talking to other people about how you’re feeling. This could be about managing a challenging circumstance, like telling your partner that you’ve noticed you feel very anxious about sex.
- Being kind to yourself - if you’re noticing your struggling with some difficult feelings, this could be a sign that you need to look after yourself, and not just ‘get on with things’
- Noticing and enhancing pleasure - if you can start to tune into ideas and sensations that feel good for you, you can find ways to do them more and ask other people to help you with this
- Standing up for yourself - if you get into the habit of noticing and taking your feelings seriously, it becomes easier to assert them to others