Heal Self-Worth Through Embodiment & Somatic Psychotherapy

Heal Self-Worth Through Embodiment & Somatic Psychotherapy

Hi, I’m Shelley Treacher from the Stress and Anxiety Podcast.

. Today’s podcast follows on from last week’s podcast about embodiment. Last week I started to explain how you can become in touch with your body’s experience, and how this can help you manage how you feel (instead of comfort eating or following through on any harmful behaviours).

Today I’ll continue exploring how to heal self-worth through embodiment & somatic psychotherapy by leading you through an embodiment practice.


Are cravings physical?

But first, a question has come in, ‘Are cravings for food physical?’ I’ve also been asked to talk about serotonin and the reward system in the brain. As a body-centred psychotherapist, this is so interesting and relevant to this week’s subject.

The simple answer is that I don’t think our experience can be separated into purely physical or purely emotional. There is research to suggest that the body, the mind, and the emotions all act as one.

You could say that when we’re hungry or need a certain nutrient we get physical hunger pangs.

*It can also be proved that sugar addiction, for example, creates physical cravings. I don’t know about you, but I experience a desire to be satisfied in my mouth and around the edges of my tongue when I want sugar or to binge-eat. I’m going to guess that that is where the sugar receptors are.

But even with those experiences comes a charge of energy or emotion. With real hunger, I feel desperation. What about you? My whole body starts to go into alarm and food focus, and it must be satisfied. And with a sugar desire, I start to feel a kind of a mania. How much of this is physical or emotional is difficult to determine, if not impossible.

The work of Sarah H. Leibowitz, Ph.D. of Rockefeller University shows there are similarities between neurochemical mechanisms in the brain areas that control the consumption of fat and carbohydrate and various emotional behaviours like novelty seeking, impulsivity and anxiety. Her work shows that this relationship in the brain promotes the consumption of fats and carbohydrates.

I’m putting a couple of links to this research in the podcast so that you can look into the details for yourself. Because to be honest, I’m not a research scientist.

Other people have researched the relationship between the vagus nerve and overeating and studied the relationship between hormones, serotonin, dopamine, and the gut,(links below).

But here’s an important part of Lee Bowitz’s work that is relevant to you. She says,

An important concept revealed by these findings is that specific neurobiological systems and diet intake are functionally linked within a positive feedback loop with specific diet-stimulating brain neurochemicals that in turn stimulate further consumption of this same diet….This diet, neurochemical diet feedback process, while appropriate for producing overeating and gorging, under conditions when food is scarce, helps to explain the eating and body weight disorders that develop when sugar or fat-rich foods are abundant.

The same thing happens in our brains with other chemicals like nicotine and alcohol too.

Her work also shows a relationship between the inhibition of serotonin and dopamine, which usually promote satiety, (which stops us from eating). and a relationship with fat and carbs, fats, alcohol, etc.


Pay attention to your body when you have a craving

All this is all the more reason to be in touch with your body’s experience when trying to overcome comfort eating. So in keeping with this, it might be interesting to note the mechanics of your next craving.

  • What sensations do you have in your body?
  • in your tongue?
  • in your mouth?
  • in your throat?
  • in your muscles?
  • in your body posture?
  • your breathing?
  • and even in the soft parts of your torso?

For me, I know that I become tense quite quickly. There’ll be a strong urge in my mouth and throat, maybe even in my arms and hands, as I start to reach out for this substance. I might become tense and speed up to find this substance and stuff it in my mouth as quickly as possible. I’m trying to do this before I notice it; before I can back out. As if someone is watching me but has turned their back for a second But this person is me. Or you.

The way the awareness of this works for me is in the minuteness of the detail. So, every second that I crave junk food or sugar, or something that I sense in my mouth and my throat and in my whole body; (you know, this happens in a split second!) I’m on the way to the cupboard, but I’m aware of exactly what’s going on in my body.

And there’s been very many times when I’ve thought.

“Oh, actually, I’m just responding to addiction or to something that I’m feeling.”

And so I have been able to stop myself in that process by slowing it down. That’s the point of all of this.


Becoming more at home in your body

But now let’s talk about becoming more at home in your body.

As promised, I’m going to lead you through an embodiment experience. But please be aware that this podcast does go a little bit deeper than my previous podcasts. Today, we start to understand how to cope with emotion by allowing and exploring it. So please also be aware that some of today’s podcast might touch you more deeply.

It will be a relief for some of you, to start opening this to curiosity and understanding. But for some, it might be upsetting, as it might start to touch the deeper hurts and developmental pain. I will talk more about childhood wounds and developmental trauma another time. But today I urge you to use the self-regulation tools I’ve been teaching you and to listen to this when you’re ready to go a bit deeper into understanding the emotion behind comfort eating.

Now I’m going to lead you through an example.


Embodiment – A guided exercise

Get yourself as comfortable as possible.

Close your eyes if you’re willing, or ensure you’re not staring at a computer screen.

And start to sense your breathing.

Notice the fact that you are breathing.

And then call to mind whatever comes when I say, “Think of somebody or someplace that you feel safe.”

Sense into what that feels like.

Notice any details.

You might see the colours of the walls.

You might see what that person is wearing.

But notice their face.

And notice more how you feel.

How do you feel in the presence of someone who makes you feel safe?

Or that place where you feel safe?

What kind of experience do you have in your body?

This doesn’t have to be massively profound at this point, you might find it profound, you might go deep really quickly, but just sense that sense of safety, that smile inside, that ease and that comfort,

And maybe come up with a word, a phrase or an image to anchor you into this place.

And notice, if you can, what sensations in your body are telling you that you feel safe.

Is it just a sense of calm in your whole body?

Or is there a particular place (in your body) that relaxes in thinking about feeling safe?

Allow yourself to take a deep breath.

We’re going to shift into something else.

I mentioned in one of the last weeks, exploring the sentence, ‘How you look is perfectly acceptable’. We’re going to explore that sentence now.

So again, close your eyes if you’re willing.

Or keep your eyes soft, and start to drop into your breathing and posture.

Do whatever you need to do to observe what happens in your body, in your experience; to observe whatever comes up on any level.

It could be an image, it could be a memory, it could be a sensation, it could be an emotion. It could be anything. It could be something quite strange that comes out of the blue, or something familiar.

So notice what happens inside you when I say, “How you look is perfectly acceptable

Just notice whether you had any strong reactions and keep noticing what’s still happening.

Notice any reactions, any positive or negative reactions. Follow, observe, allow.

Watch what happens when I say again, “How you look is perfectly acceptable”.

Just keep watching the reverberations of what happens now, and next, and next…

If you’re feeling activated; you’re feeling some emotion, or feeling a charge in your body, this is the system being activated. Something has been triggered. And it’s worth exploring because it has a message for you. It’s your system feeling a bit of a threat, or maybe even a huge threat.

So now let’s go back to resourcing.

Remember that place or that person that you felt? Or the word that you came up with for an anchor? Allow yourself to remember that again now.

Think of someone or some situation that makes you feel safe. And again, notice how your body calms down (if you can remember this experience).

Notice your body response.

And how do you know that you feel safe?

What would that part of you or that safe person say to you right now?

What do you need?

What do you want them to say?

And if you can, fully allow that experience and allow yourself to have what you need.

Feel the safety in your body and your safe experience.

Allow yourself to open your eyes and fix on something that makes you feel safe.

It could be an object in the room that is familiar to you, has emotional significance, or looks pretty.

And tune in to the tone of my voice as we carry on. Knowing that I would never criticise you for the way that you look. I would be interested in who you are.

And other people feel the same. I’m sure you have a friend you can think of who would be loving towards you. Because of nothing to do with the way you look.


How embodiment and body psychotherapy work to heal self-worth

Today we explored steps to healing self-worth through embodiment & somatic psychotherapy.

Step 1 – First, we worked with embodiment to experience something resourceful.

Step 2 – Then, we explored the sentence, ‘How you look is perfectly acceptable.

I imagine most of you responded with, ‘That’s not true” in some form. You may have been more aggressive with it. That’s the part inside you that gets activated. It’s already there. Every time you look in the mirror, maybe every time you have to go out, there’s in the back of your mind (or in the forefront of your mind!) the thought that you’re not acceptable for how you look, that there’s something wrong with you, that you look ugly, that you look fat, that you look horrible, disgusting. I hear all these words daily.

So, that’s triggered when someone says you look perfectly acceptable. You don’t believe that. Your unconscious belief is that you’re not acceptable for how you look. So we’re trying to explore that, to see where it came from, observing what wounds it touches, and working through them to heal them.

Step 3 – You have acknowledged and accepted some of what’s happening inside you in your response.

Step 4 – Then you’ve brought compassion to it by remembering the resource, by coming to something else, another experience in your body that feels good.

This is the way to heal. Bring it out bit by bit in the unconscious and put it together with compassion and resources. I can’t tell you enough times how effective and powerful compassion is in healing.


How you might feel after somatic exploration

  1. If you’re feeling energised or activated after doing this, I suggest you maximise on Step Four. Go and do something with that energy. Read, research, listen, write, or go out and do something to contribute to whatever cause you believe in; accepting who and how you are.
  2. You might not feel stimulated at all after these exercises. You might feel the absolute opposite. You might want to switch off, become numb, or even sleepy. Often the first thing my clients experience when they become embodied, or when they start to become embodied, is exactly how tired they are. So don’t be surprised if you need to rest.
  3. Another quite common response is feeling frozen. There is often a feeling of not knowing how to do this and panic. This taps into a fear of getting things wrong. This is a much deeper script that you might have running.

I’ve done a podcast before on looking after other people’s needs. This is about being the person who is always looking after someone else rather than looking after yourself. That’s relative to this response, so if you’re feeling frozen, you might want to listen to that podcast next.

But if you need to rest, If you feel anxiety, take that as valuable information and use some of the other techniques I’ve talked about in previous podcasts to be kind to yourself.


Final words on what somatic psychotherapy and embodiment are

As I said last week, what I’m talking about here is starting to see yourself and your defences as something to explore and be curious about, rather than to suppress or fix. The point of becoming more embodied is to notice how and when we cheat ourselves of being engaged and kind to ourselves.

Areas of our body and brain work together to decide how to respond to any situation. Most of this happens unconsciously, especially with comfort eating.

I value embodiment so highly because knowing your system from the inside will give you some conscious control over that. As I said last week, it’s not a simple quick-fix process to overcome the habit of comfort eating. But the great thing is that when you work towards it, you get to practice feeling better about yourself and who you are every step of the way. This is the secret. This is the key. This is the thing that will help you choose a remarkable life.

So that’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening. Embodiment, as you can probably tell, is a subject very close to my heart. If you want more help with it, please get in touch with me now.

Next week, I’m going to be recapping the things that I’ve said so far in this whole podcast. I’ll be talking about what all this stuff means and how you can stop comfort eating.

Thank you so much. Join me next Wednesday and please do get your comments and questions to me. I love your questions. I’ve had some good feedback that others find the questions useful too. Everything you tell me is completely confidential so please contribute if you want to; if there’s anything you need to know the answer to I would love to attempt to answer it. And this can be to do with anything that might cause emotional eating, not just about comfort eating. So you can ask me about emotions and psychology as well.

Thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you next Wednesday.


* The latest research suggests that addiction is not to the substance of sugar. Addiction involves a desire for dopamine release, which sugar is involved in the process of.

Sarah H. Leibowitz, Ph.D.

Start learning about the science of addiction here

Emotion map of the body research results

Body psychotherapy in Bristol Heal Self-Worth Through Embodiment & Somatic Psychotherapy