Our bodies’ hidden strengths – Resilience and love

Originally a Jessica Kingsley Publisher blog post, by C. C. Alicia Hu, Ph. D.

Before we can say “no,” our legs kick and set boundaries.

Before we can say “more,” our hands pull and grab for what we need.

Reclaiming our bodies’ hidden strengths empowers all of us.

Nevertheless, in our modern society, we are often disconnected from our bodies. We turned our body-mind into a machine, like a “car” or a “computer,” so we could control or manage our self for performance enhancement. Maybe we “did perform” well, yet, we pay a price.

Bring our bodies’ hidden strengths to enhance our resilience

In the Hidden Strengths Therapeutic Storybooks, three intertwined stories and four major animal characters showed how our bodies possess the hidden strengths to protect our self. In addition, three adult-like characters demonstrated how to provide companionship that won’t overwhelm the major animal characters’ vulnerable nervous system resulted from traumatic stress.

In each book, after the therapeutic story, two sections were designed to provide some structural prompt for adults to engage in dialogue and exploration with the children. This “expressive phase” is the key to facilitate the children to communicate their own feelings and create their own stories. What made our books unique is that we tried to include embodied play activities to help the children process the stories on the basic sensory-motor level.

In the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy, for a long time, we labeled many body’s innate defense strategies as “symptoms” or “problems” – Our capacity to disconnect and dull the pain is a symptom of “dissociation.” Our ability to quiver and shake to discharge the muscle intensity is seen as a sign of weakness or anxiety.

Using the metaphorical animal characters for teens and adults

These stories are not only therapeutic tools for children age 4 to 10. These stories could be used as metaphors to communicate with teens and adults.

Last week, I was presenting part of the story, “Bomji and Spotty’s Frightening Adventure” in a local grassroots, peer-support recovery center. The adult audience in recovery from mental illness and substance abuse intuitively got the idea that, inside, we are Bomji the Rabbit, who tends to freeze, as well as Spotty the Cat, who tends to fight.

One audience shared that “sit on ready” is an important coping skill in her African American culture. The capacity to be vigilant without moving helped her to survive her childhood.

The metaphorical animal characters made it easy for most teens and adults to develop compassion toward their inner child. As a child, we used to act without thinking like Spotty the Cat. We used to be still and invisible to avoid the danger, like Bomji the Rabbit. We used to cry like Sprinkle the Pig and overwhelmed our caregivers. We used to submit like Wimpy the Coyote in order to fly under the radar.

Love: self-compassion toward our hidden strengths

From children to teens to adults, one key element in recovery is to cultivate self-compassion. In the Hidden Strengths Therapeutic Storybooks, we are hoping to help all the readers to embrace our bodies’ hidden strengths as a way to enhance our self-compassion.

Once, I shared the draft of the Bomji the Rabbit and Spotty the Cat with a Vietnam veteran who still suffered the shame of becoming frozen and wanting to run away in one of a major battle. In reality, he actually successfully executed his duty; however, he had a hard time to forgive the “weak” part of him.

Understanding how motionless defense (e.g., freeze and collapse) is just as natural and valuable as the active defense (e.g., fight and flight) had brought him a tremendous sense of relief.

Another time, I shared the same story with a teen girl who engaged in self-cutting as a way to cope with the inner turbulence. She was able to identify how she also became frozen when external environment became too overwhelming and out of control. She was able to find her own metaphor for her own fearful, vulnerable part without engaging in blaming.

Accepting all different parts of ourselves is the result we would like to achieve with these books, through the revelation of the development of self-compassion. Before we can accept our angry fighting part as well as our frozen fearful part, it is helpful if we start seeing these natural capacities as our bodies’ hidden strengths. The act of self-compassion includes recognizing the diverse, creative survival strategies in our bodies. Yes, we are fundamentally resilient, even when we were young and small. Our bodies have always possessed these hidden strengths!

Note: Hidden Strengths Children Therapeutic Storybooks were published by Jessica Kingsley Publisher in Jan 2018. C.C. Alicia Hu is the co-author and the original story creator.

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Note: This website does not intend to provide any specific individually-tailored psychological advice/services to replace any medical and/or psychological treatment. If the readers are in need of medical or psychological attention, please seek appropriate services in your area.

Copyright © 2018 Chia-Chi (Alicia) Hu; 版權所有:胡嘉琪

 

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