Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking the Cycle: Unconscious Behaviors & the Body

(Image taken from naturallyintense.net)

Do you ever find yourself doing things you don't really want to be doing, especially when it comes to food, exercise or self-care?
Do you 'suddenly' find yourself in front of the tv with a bag of chips at 1am? Or sleeping past that alarm that was supposed to get you up for the workout you keep saying you're going to commit to? Or eating that dessert you didn't really want because someone put it in front of you at an elegant meal out?

Our relationship with our body is full of all kinds of unconscious moments, moments that reveal to us that we're not always in control of our behavior and our choices. Once we slip into those moments, it's hard to get out. When we do realize we've 'done it again,' we're more than likely to wallow in guilt or shame, tell ourselves 'I'll never do this again,' and then repeat the same cycle a few days or weeks later.

What makes it hard to live our intentions out into the world and into our choices with our bodies? What takes over instead and makes us do things we don't mean to be doing--and what can we do it about it? (No pun intended.) I have a few thoughts I'd love to share.

1) Don't give in to shame.
One of the easiest things to do when you realize you've repeated a behavior you really didn't want to, is to slip into an icky feeling of shame. Your thoughts about yourself may be bad: "I can't believe I did this again," or "I'm never going to change." When we look at our body as something we're in relationship with, there's a different kind of accountability and a desire to stay connected. You might feel bad about what's happening, but how can you speak to yourself (and your body) differently about it, with more compassion and honesty: "I'm so sorry. I know I did this again. I'm not sure what to do. I'd like to show you I love you more than I do. How can we do this together?"

2) Learn to feel what's happening in your body and what's really going on.
One way out of the cycle of our behaviors is to begin to catalog what gets us there in the first place and to begin to commit to feeling it. If you slow everything down, you'll realize there are ways that you actually feel in your body as the unconscious behavior is happening that give you information. As you reach for the cupboard for something you don't really want, what are you feeling in your body? What's going on inside? What does it feel like in your body when you eat for emotional reasons rather than out of hunger? Does it feel like more of a choked up feeling? Foggy? Can you check in with your body to ask if you're actually feeling hunger first? As you become aware of the differences and take the time to listen, your body may have a lot to say about what you really need.

3)What are the reasons for the behavior?
When we act out unconsciously, there's usually something else that's being communicated. See it as a kind of inner temper tantrum. What was really trying to be said by the overeating, oversleeping? Do you need a break? Are there feelings you need to express to someone about something? What steps can you take to take care of what you're really feeling and needing? This is why staying connected to the body even through unwanted behaviors becomes so important. It wants to feel listened to and loved, not abandoned, rejected or criticized in that moment.

4) Practice giving yourself what you really need.
...And then you can give yourself what you really need. If you finally begin to listen and your body is telling you you're upset about something because you feel heavy in your heart and a little panicky, then you might want to call a friend and talk or go for a long walk or write it all out. If you need to express a feeling or have a difficult decision to make, see if you can get support for doing that and take the plunge. And if feelings are too big or overwhelming, get some help for sorting them out so you can feel more conscious and present in your life. Your unconscious urges are usually replacements for getting to the real issue at hand--kind of like when you procrastinate by cleaning out your sock drawer instead of getting to that difficult email for work.

Overall, it's so important to have compassion for unconscious behaviors and begin to understand the message behind them. They're not there to make you feel ashamed of yourself; they're there because they are trying to communicate something that needs to be heard. If you can slow down, have compassion and stay connected to your body, you have the chance to figure out what that actually is and begin to address it.

Embrace the behaviors as the beginning of a message you can start to listen to; then let the information in. It's been waiting for you all along; it just had no other way of speaking. Being in a kind and loving relationship with your body, one where you can partner with what you (and it) are feeling rather than ignoring it, leads you to the possibility of real change and healing.

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