Massage can an effective tool for victims of violence and abuse to regain confidence in their bodies and to learn self-compassion on their road to healing.
There are many ways massage can facilitate the process. In the next three blog posts I will look at these three ways:
In this the second post on massage for survivors of violence and abuse, I discuss self-knowledge and self-love as a step to reclaim their bodies and their lives.
In a previous blog post I referred to the heartbreaking number of women who are assaulted and even killed at the hand of loved ones and how they lose their self-respect and own identity.
I also spoke about the importance of having self-compassion to regain confidence in ones own body and in oneself.
And I promised to look at the role that massage can play in the healing process for victims of violence and abuse to reclaim their bodies and their lives.
THE ROLE OF MASSAGE
But let me be clear, massage alone is not a cure-all. It is but one of the tools available in a broader approach to support survivors of abuse and violence, an adjunct to psychological services and counselling as well as medical treatment.
Also, not all survivors of trauma and abuse will readily opt for a massage.
It often takes time and a lot of negotiation among the client, the massage therapist and /or psychologist and counsellor before they pluck up the courage to allow someone to touch them, even in a clinical setting.
Not loving oneself, or even loathing yourself can make the idea of receiving a massage intolerable. For some a low self-esteem could make the treatment seem like an indulgence they do not deserve.
But once they are ready, the physiological and psychological effects of massage can enhance self-awareness, self-confidence, self-compassion and a healthy sense of self.
So, how can massage help you regain confidence in your own body and how does it encourage self-compassion?
In this post I will look at the ways massage can help you fall in love with yourself again.
The mind's first step to self-awareness must be through the body. - George Sheehan
WE EMBODY WHAT WE FEEL AND KNOW
Massage acts like a marriage counsellor bringing together two estranged people (my body and I), giving us the opportunity to get reacquainted and eventually falling in love again.
Most people have very limited knowledge of the structure and workings of their bodies and minds. In my opinion, if we knew more about this amazing organism called homo sapiens, we might look after ourselves better and cherish ourselves.
But it is even worse for people who have experienced violence and abuse. Their strained relationship with their bodies and with themselves is often a deliberate rejection and an inability to feel sensory stimuli.
Our primary way of learning about the world is through the body. According to French philosopher Merleau-Ponty (1962) and the result of our experiences in this world we live in, we develop a body of knowledge or 'habit body' as he calls it.
But it is not much that we remember or memorise the past, Bourdieu (1984) suggests that the body "enacts the past, bringing it back to life" and rather than knowledge we have, it becomes what we are.
A traumatic experience such as violence and abuse therefore makes our body-mind the memory of the trauma and as a result the experience of living in this alienated body reflects the experience of living in an alienated world.
How can massage change the body habit of estrangement?
TO KNOW ME IS TO LOVE ME
Experiencing the sensory effects of massage is one way you can get to know your own body and learn to like yourself.
Also it helps you work out what gives you enjoyment and what not.
The massage therapist prepares a safe space where you can experience positive touch that is not only non-sexual and non-threatening but enjoyable.
This may be the first step in creating a different, more loving, relationship with oneself as an embodied being.
Bodywork helps survivors experience their bodies as a source of groundedness and eventually as a source of strength and even pleasure. - Melissa Soalt
IT'S A PLEASURE
Taking pleasure in your body, help you reconnect with your body, says Ben E. Benjamin from the Muscular Therapy Institute in Massachusetts, USA.
It offers survivors “a new and non-abusive way of being in touch with their bodies, to discover how their bodies feel and what their general level of health is. It may well be their first experience of pain relief or nurturing they have had on the physical level. It may be the path home.”
And this new connection lead to an improved body image and feeling less shame and disgust, two strong emotions often felt by survivors of sexual and/or physical abuse.
Compassionate and non-judgemental support from the massage therapist can also help people accept and appreciate their bodies as is as well as help them deal with the emotions around the topic.
According Karen Menehan in Massage Magazine, massage "can ease the tension that can accrue from swimming in a sea of unrealistic images and negative messaging related to appearance and physicality."
Bodywork can help survivors develop a friendly and compassionate relationship with their bodies. Sexual or physical abuse often leaves survivors feeling disgusted, shameful or even violent toward their body, as though their body betrayed or turned against them. - Ben Benjamin and Cherie Sohnen-Moe
Massage is a gentle way to learn to love and appreciate yourself again and learning to love yourself is the first important step towards healing.
Body-mind or mind-body? If you are struggling with physical and mental pain and feel that the dominant health paradigm’s dualistic approach to mind and body seems inadequate to explain anything, I want to talk to you. Join me under the tree in my garden for a cup of rooibos tea and let’s talk massage and SomaSense!