Focusing with Difficult Feelings – The Safety Protocol
Excerpt: Self Empathy MOVES for Difficult Feelings:
Beginning the “Is there a way” safety protocol Is it ok?:
“Is it ok to be exploring ____? (_____= this issue, or this anxiety, or this feeling, this felt sense or this kind of self-empathy or opening). Note that people in oppressive contexts sometimes report growth work as being counter-productive because it opens them when they need to be more defended. Other times people in these contexts report great value from Focusing and the opening it brings.
A. Triggers for “is it ok”:
a. Diagnoses/Systemic mental health disorders: Depression, Intense Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive, Trauma—dissociation, Rage, Terror, Lovesickness, Fragile Self, Social Isolation, bipolar, complicated bereavement, suicidality, homicidality, out of consensual reality and more. . . . . . Recognition of these and many other intense frozen wholes.. . . in subtle ways. . . . is a major accomplishment.
b. Crossing of somatic boundaries—headache, sweaty palms, accelerating heart beat, nausea, urge to excrete, heat, pulsing, itchingRecognizing the crossing of somatic boundaries also takes quite a bit of practice. People can get the idea from reading but learning to notice/perceive/recognize it in practice is much more. This is true both for Focuser in partnership and for Practitioner in a professional setting. Achieving good listening in Focusing Partnership often requires 1.5-2 years of active study in Domain Focusing. Guiding also requires another 2-3 years of sustained study for functioning as a practitioner.
Recognizing the crossing of somatic boundaries also takes quite a bit of practice. People can get the idea from reading but learning to notice/perceive/recognize it in practice is much more. This is true both for Focuser in partnership and for Practitioner in a professional setting. Achieving good listening in Focusing Partnership often requires 1.5-2 years of active study in Domain Focusing. Guiding also requires another 2-3 years of sustained study for functioning as a practitioner.
Crossing somatic boundaries toward the physical is usually NOT the direction we want to work in. We want to access physicality more experientially so we can impact it more easily. Experiencing is sort of like software; physicality sort of like hardware. We want to be in the software where things can be impacted If you are getting a sudden headache from exploring experience and issues, then it is important to consider it as a warning and to take it seriously.
c. FS reported in the extremities: Extremities include feet, calves, thighs, head, face, arms, hands. The torso and the center of the torso—stomach, diaphragm, chest are especially able to be incredibly subtle in felt sensing. (whole self/whole body can also be very subtle.) Neck and lower abdomen are not quite as easy for subtlety. Genitals and excretory areas embedded with them, are generally unreported and we haven’t really learned how to work there so well so that’s almost a whole other thing. Felt sense in the extremities may NOT signal difficult feelings. It signals difficult feelings often enough that it is worth checking and using the protocol, especially if you know there are other indications of “difficult feelings”.
One notion of classic “trauma” is that the psyche splits the experience into isolated parts as a way to protect the self. So if trauma is being relevanted through your focusing work, then getting a felt sense of the whole in a classic way, in the torso, does not work. So getting the felt sense away from the torso may be a signal if this is the case. The “is it ok” and the later “is there a way. . . . . without. . . . . with. . . . “ is addressing the kind of blocking or enforced splitting from trauma in many big problems.
In the old days of focusing, we learned to ask a client or student to bring the FS reported in the extremities, into the torso, and especially to the stomach-chest region. If you have ever had an explosion from this old way, you learn to be much more careful. “Is it ok” is a way of being much more careful.
d. Disturbing Contexts: Living in or trapped in intense environments like prisons, mental health hospitals, war zones, homeless shelters, poverty or poverty threats, threats to sufficient food, water, shelter and without basic medicine, clean air can be a big factor in safety. It can include living in a very disturbing family environment, a very depressive couple relationship, a cult like community, or even trapped in a disturbing helping relationship. Sometimes larger groups (a country even) can develop cult like characteristics.
In these extreme contexts, we can ask, “Given this extreme context, is it ok to be exploring ______?” (focusing, growth, an issue, a Felt sense, a way of empathy)