Releasing the Need to Control Your Body

February 2022

Do you see your body as something you have to control at all costs?

That’s a sign you might be buying into Body Myth 4: The Body Is Out of Control and Must Be Dominated.

It centers around the idea that if you aren’t clamping down and managing your body intensely every moment, it'll become something despicable.

Or it’ll collapse and emotionally fall apart.

So you might try to control every bite you eat. Or exercise to exhaustion.

This particular myth can also fueled by many things ...

Including unresolved trauma that continues to ring alarm bells in your nervous system.

That's what happened with my client James.

Control at All Costs

James was in his early 30s when he came to see me. A Navy SEAL, he had hardened his body through grueling workouts and training.

He came sauntering into my office with clean-cut good looks, a muscular physique, and big smile masking his anxiety.

When I asked him what his childhood was like, he sarcastically said it was “normal.”

He was the eldest of three boys. When his dad would come home from work and his mother reported the boys’ antics that day, his father would discipline them …

By sticking their heads in the toilet and flushing it.

When I asked how that abuse had affected him, James said, “What abuse? We deserved it — we were really bad.”

But it soon became clear that he was simply echoing what his father had told them.

He was quite certain he had been a bad kid. And his father had “only been trying to keep me in line.”

James spent his life trying to please his critical father, who was so self-centered he never really knew his sons.

This was codependence on steroids.

Now he rarely visited his parents. So dealing with his father was no longer the problem.

What plagued him?

He was unable to let his tenderness emerge in his marriage — or with his own children. And he desperately wanted that.

But whenever he had a difference of opinion with his wife or kids, and his emotions began to surface, he felt threatened.

His body response was to go numb and withdraw. Just like it did when he was a kid.

And if he was pushed? He’d become enraged.

This scared everyone, including James. He didn’t want to reenact his own childhood.

Yet he felt helpless. Like his emotions belonged to someone else.

So he tried to keep himself under control by working out relentlessly day after day.

I began our sessions by asking him to take his awareness inside, to follow his breath and let it deepen as he felt his entire body all the way to his feet on the floor.

However, all he reported was numbness.

“I can’t feel what you’re talking about in my body,” he said. “I have no idea what you’re asking me to do or feel.”

I asked him to be patient and keep returning his awareness within, being kind to himself without judging — like he would with his best buddy.

After several months of this daily practice, the numbness started to change.

His purposeful yet non-judgmental attention to inner sensations, no matter how uncomfortable or downright painful they might be, was paying off.

He was learning to cultivate his curiosity and his openness to discovery, rather than his habitual pattern of clamping down on all feelings and sensations.

James was building his capacity to be with himself, no matter what showed up in his awareness.

Then we moved to the next stage, where James allowed himself to fill up with nurturing sensation, creating an inner container of nourishment for himself that helped him feel stronger and steadier.

His numbness was dissipating layer by layer as he felt fuller and fuller.

With a steady container of sensation to depend on, James felt safe enough to have issues surface.

Initially, all he felt was a general muscular tension throughout his body, as though he were tightening down for protection or preparing to run.

Then early memories began to surface. We worked through them together, holding and cradling the tender abused little boy that he had been.

Slowly, James came to understand that he had not been a bad child at all.

Finally, he recognized himself for the sensitive, caring brother that he was. His sadness emerged, and his tears flowed freely.

Within that strong, fit, man was a little boy who was still defending himself against the blows of his father, from whom he only wanted love.

The painstaking process of teaching James to feel his own body without rushing in to control it required my patience and willingness to move at a careful, purposeful pace that worked for him.

As the months passed, he developed trust in the process.

And as he continued the daily practice of calming himself and dropping inside to explore his feelings, he eventually began to have a different experience.

He was recognizing that it was paying off.

His wife remembered why she had fallen in love with him.

He was able to see her and his children for the wonderful human beings they were.

Even though there was occasional backsliding into the old behaviors, this happened less and less.

And James’s huge heart and loving tenderness emerged to the delight of those in his world.

James told me about his fellow SEALs with a grin. “If they could see me now, crying and admitting that I have such a big tender heart!”

We laughed together. And I knew Body Myth 4 no longer had him in its grip ...

And he was on his way home to himself.

About the Author

Suzanne Scurlock, author of books Reclaiming Your Body and Full Body Presence and creator of the Healing From the Core® curriculum, specializes in conscious awareness and its relationship to the healing process. She’s written hundreds of articles, including numerous columns and features for Massage Magazine and Massage Today.

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