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Mapping Emotions in the body. The mind-body connection.


 
The varying emotions we feel in heightened situations, are felt in different locations in the body.  The connection between mind and body is so strong, that even thinking about a past experience that evoked strong feelings, can cause these sensations and emotions to mimic them as if that situation were occurring at that very moment you think about it. The brain does not always distinguish between what is real and what is perceived.
These re-lived experiences are especially noticeable in trauma survivors. They can have flashbacks that make them truly feel like they are re-living the experience, or be ‘triggered’ by a sound a word or a touch. In a split second, the emotions and physical feelings experienced at the time, are suddenly reproduced with the same intensity and fear. The survival part of the brain works so hard to keep us safe that it triggers these responses immediately to keep us safe without understanding whether the threat is real or not. It is no comfort to the person who suffers these intense episodes.
Whilst some therapies focus purely on the mind and the emotions, others focus on the physical sensations. Neither is correct – but working on them both has the greatest success of full healing.


By mapping where and what you feel in terms of physical sensations in the body when uncomfortable memories are re-lived (or even happy memories!), we have something to work on when rectifying trauma.
When you think of a memory, think of one that brings up a specific emotion. For example a sudden death by accident may bring up shock, horror, anger and sadness. Remembering the birth of a child may bring up pride and happiness. So many emotions as you learn to map,, can be overwhelming, so start with the memories and emotions that are not so intense
or complex.
The following exercise helps you to map your physical emotions. It requires recalling from memory something that evokes a reaction, so start with something small.  You are looking for a memory that will bring the emotions of sadness, fear, happiness, surprise, shock, love, anger, contentment, joy, surprise or defeat. We are looking for one emotion. When you feel calm and ready, then proceed with the steps below.


Think about the memory, and replay it in your mind from start to finish. You may find it helps to close your eyes. Think about what you felt, saw, heard and smelt at the time. Stay with those feelings for a moment, and replay the memory if you need to.
Now notice what you feel. Do you still feel the same emotions that you did at the time? Does it still bring up those feelings of anger, sadness or joy? How strong are those feelings compared to what they were when it was happening?
Now switch your focus to you body. Staying connected to those emotions, place your awareness to your body. Do you notice any sensations in your body. Has your stomach tightened? Is your heart beating faster? Do you feel hot or cold, feel heavy or light? Scan the whole of your body noticing what you feel and where you feel it. Tension, tightness, the feeling that energy is passing through, tingles or pain. Scan your whole body.
Map out the sensations that you feel. For example an arrow to the stomach may be labelled tightening, or an arrow to the shoulders may be labelled tightness, or heaviness. 
Using the body mapping of emotions can be a really helpful tool to take to your therapist. It doesn’t matter if you have two or three pages of various emotions from different situations, they are all helpful and can reduce the amount of time needed to explore in sessions, meaning you get more for your money!  It can also help greatly if you become aware of tension during certain memories, and use that awareness to help you to completely relax that part of the body when the memory comes to mind. It is very difficult to feel anxiety or fear in a relaxed body. Knowing where and when to relax specific parts of the body can be extremely helpful in and out of therapy.
Keeping your own body map can help you work on those physical sensations which in turn can help the emotional intensity that has been evoked with a particular memory. It helps to put you back in control.
There are many ways a therapist can help you to overcome both the physical and  emotional elements that are brought up by unpleasant memories. If you find your memories induce painful or uncomfortable thoughts and sensations, then please get in touch. We may not be able to change facts and memories, but we can most certainly change the way you feel about those memories and the effect they have on you.

Have you tried body mapping? How did it help you?
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