Trauma leaves us numb and foreign to our body, and there is no healing without coming home to it. Felt sense describes the bodily sensations that together make up the information that forms your current experience. So, if you are stuck in a freeze response, you won’t be able to process and communicate your felt sense accurately.
Why is that important?
Gendlin (who coined the term in the ’60s) noticed patients who exhibited a felt sense were the ones getting better in the long-term. Articulating our sensations lets us communicate with the unconscious part of us. Maybe you will get pictures, smells, a feeling- all of these are valid.
Now what is a your felt sense?
You travelled to a beach and arrived. How do you know you’re at a beach?
You can hear the waves crashing against the rocks, tiny droplets splattering your face. Heavy wind is pushing against you, and you can taste its saltiness on your tongue. Your hair is flying around you, thrashing against your neck. The sun is blinding you as it peaks out from behind the clouds.
You’re sat alone at home and a spider jumps out. How do you know you’re scared?
Your muscles tense up and your breath quickens. You jump up instinctively, giving out a shriek. Your field of vision narrows, your chest feels tight, yours hands are clammy. The hairs on your arms are standing up, flashes before your eyes, and a distinct mental voice telling you: You need to get out of here.
What does your felt sense want you to know, and what does it need?
Gendlin has outlined a 6-step approach to working with our felt sense in his work Focusing.
Once we know what we are lacking we can provide it by visualisation – what we need is already inside us.
- Start the dialogue in a safe, quiet space
With open questions we begin to establish a vague connection at first, eg ‘How are you feeling today?’
- Identify your felt sense
It is normal to get lost in your inner voice, self-criticism and ramblings. Let it talk itself out and the mind relax, until you can feel bodily sensations.
- Give it a handle
It’s much easier to work with you felt sense when giving it a word or image to encaptures your essence of bodily sensations for this moment.
Now you have a keyword/image, allow yourself to slow down even more. Let the handle become more detailed, and remember: the handle does not define you, just your felt sense right now!
- Be curious
How does your body react when you’re focusing on your felt sense? Do your bodily responses change once your concentration spreads throughout your body? Allow your felt sense to be fluid and express itself differently once you start relaxing more.
- Be grateful for the experience
To fully receive the intended message, we need to be grateful for whatever we experienced. We do not argue with it or force processing, our felt sense is now our friend. We will take as much time as we need with it, and reassure it of our love for it.
Working with our felt sense is a process. I had to not only admit to myself how ugly some of my sensations were, but also accept them. Usually smiley and happy, my felt sense expressed itself quite resentful, angry and defensive. Often, it is what we are scared to feel that comes up.
What is your felt sense telling you? Are you finding it easy or hard to hear its voice?