Even though it may feel so lonely at times, only the “I feel” space is where any possibility of connection and safety lies, where life is.
“I feel you feeling me.” This sentence by Thomas Hübl keeps echoing in my head since I heard it couple of days ago.
It is the best description of contact I ever encountered. As humans, our nervous system is designed to always search for safety clues and when we can let another person feel us, and feel the other person, our system will feel safe. This is the huge gift of contact and connection, as we are entangled in the human to human web we cannot ever really disconnect from and be the same.
But what happens when one person in this successful contact suddenly falls down the polyvagal ladder? From the place of connection rooted in the ventral part of the vagus nerve, to activated energy in the sympathetic branch, we often fall all the way down to the dorsal part when we are not able to release excess energy through the fight-or-flight response.
Here in Croatia, we had couple of big earthquakes in the last year. The big one happened just before the New Year in a poor rural area just a one hour drive from the capital city. And what we had seen is a demonstration of the fight-or-flight response. There was a stampede of solidarity, hundreds of cars carrying supplies, sometimes not even needed or wanted, blocking the road for firefighters. From the other side, there was also a rush to other parts of the country; whoever had a house or a relative away from the capital went away.
There was little talk how both ways served to release our own activated energy from the earthquake fright, and many people reacted instinctively to save themselves and not fall into freeze.
When there is no possibility, or we don’t dare, to finish the process through one of these two paths, we can only go down to freeze the response. The activated energy is still there, but stored away for later, in our muscles, bones, tissues. There seems to be lots of freezing going on lately. A global pandemic is hard to flee from since we are still not able to leave the planet and take our bodies with us. It is also something hard to fight. Some people are trying to fight, through actions like protest against measures, ranting on different conspiracy theories on social networks, fighting it literally as medical staff. But this situation is still here, and for many people, freeze is the likeliest option when fear is activated, whether this fear is fear of illness or fear of being controlled.
This freeze effect is not personal but is hugely effecting our “to feel and to be felt” capacity. When one person in this equation “I feel you and you feel me” is falling down to freeze, whatever the reason be, we also lose the ability to feel that person and that person loses the capacity to feel us.
Something is too much for one nervous system, and this doesn’t have to be mine, but the effect is, as I strangely intensively felt it this year, I am still left with no connection. And this can be intense. I feel, but there is nothing to feel in this contact that used to give my system a clue of safety. For me personally, this is activating my abandonment wound, which is a vulnerable place.
I started thinking about this while writing my final thesis for the body-oriented psychotherapy school I was attending and I felt stuck with the question, “Where were you before you started the school and where are you now?” from the personal development perspective.
Thomas Hübl’s sentence somehow unlocked the answer. I know where I am now and why years of spending time activating all these old frozen energies were worth it. Today I am the one staying in this sentence “I feel,” and not the one freezing away.
However difficult it may be to face the fact that so many people don’t seem to be able to stay with their and others’ feelings, even if it means risking losing the connection, I didn’t even feel tempted to freeze.
I cried and I shaked and I let the anger flow. I am imperfect and not as zen and peaceful as I used to be, and while I understand the pain behind freezing, I am here to stay in the “I feel” part.
Because, even though it may feel so lonely at times, only here is where any possibility of connection and safety lies, where life is.