Love for body after trauma
November 26, 2014 10:45 PM   Subscribe

How did you learn to feel comfortable in your body after trauma? (Possible trigger warning)

I am currently seeing a psychologist to discuss sexual trauma that occurred when I was an adolescent and how this has played into intense self-esteem and fear of intimacy issues. I don't feel comfortable in my body, I find it unpleasant to touch and I am particularly sensitive to others touching me. (I can be hugged/touched by people I trust and get enjoyment out of this).

Talking really helps, and I'm definitely seeing the value in this but I am looking to see if there are any practical and perhaps more physical things I may be able to start doing to help me begin to love and feel comfortable in my body.

I have been doing very tiny things, such as lying in my bed and placing my hands on my stomach and just sitting with it to see how I go - It is uncomfortable and slightly weird but I'm getting better. I've also been making an effort to wear really bright and (by my definition) pretty clothes to make me appreciate how I look in some form (can't appreciate my body, but I can appreciate what I'm wearing).

I know there is such thing as trauma sensitive yoga and I intend to investigate this further but I would love to hear from individuals who went through a similar experience and who put things in place to learn how to combat this.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't combated this throughly. But I do have lots of experience going from hating every part off my body to going through times when it is actually okay. Trauma healing is an inexact process but these are the things I've learned so far:

1) mindfulness of my body. This means eating when I'm hungry, napping when I'm tired, stretching when sore.

2) lots of luxurious baths brought to me by Lush.

3) getting massages. This is wonderful for PTSD tense muscles. If you can handle the touch. There are different types, so a chair massage wherr you keep your clothes on May be a good starting point.

4) body positive affirmations. Yes it is repetitive and feels stupid but seriously helps.

5) allowing myself to talk openly about my body to my therapist.

6) pedicures and manicures.

7) exploring intimacy with a safe and loving partner.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:21 PM on November 26, 2014

I used to work in eating disorders and a big thing there was getting people to moisturise their bodies believe it or not. Just touching their own skin/pampering it. Grade massage.. as suggested above. Start with hand massage maybe.. and if you do that for a year - fine. This is your terms now. Such important work you are doing.
posted by tanktop at 1:38 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Eve Ensler books could be good (Vagina Monologues). She did a book exploring womens body 'views' across the globe and how in poor countries so many women rely on and value their body totally to do their work for them.
posted by tanktop at 1:41 AM on November 27, 2014

You might find it helpful to read some books specifically about the connection between trauma and the body. A lot of these are good, and I'd particularly recommend the ones by Pat Ogden and Peter Levine.

Might it be useful to consider setting yourself a physical challenge? I'm thinking something like running a half-marathon for charity, or some other sponsored activity? Having to take care of your body in order to fuel and condition it to take part, and then actually completing the event, might give you a sense of pride in how strong and capable your body is, and how many positive things it can achieve.
posted by billiebee at 1:42 AM on November 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you are on the right track with baby steps like putting your hands on your stomach and sticking with it. It can totally be as simple as eating slowly and really tasting, going for a walk at lunch, slowing down in the shower, etc.

For me it doesn't always matter what I am doing, it is feeling myself being there doing it, if that makes sense? Walking at the zoo, at the museum, at an art festival...taking the stairs two at a time but really feeling my muscles doing it...and so on. Over time, then I have been more appreciative of the body that gets me there.

I love the idea of trauma-sensitive yoga. I do one yoga class a week at my local gym 'cause I finally found the right teacher for me. It took me quite a few runs at yoga before I could handle it but it really has been a kind of master class for me.

Swimming was the first regular exercise I could handle. My theory is that being surrounded by water helped reduce my fight-or-flight response to physical exertion (whenever I would get out of breath, I would get panicky, go figure).
posted by warriorqueen at 4:46 AM on November 27, 2014

I'm sorry - I've experienced this myself. Two books I have found helpful:

The survivors guide to sex. It's kink, poly and queer friendly and a lot of it's value comes from realising that you aren't alone and people have recovered from this.

Another book is The Sexual Healing journey. Less kink friendly but certainly inclusive of LGBT couples and has some good exercises that you can try including some which aren't sexual and just help you to value you positive touch.

Don't be put off by the titles of these. They are as much about being comfortable in your own body as they are about having sex with yourself or a partner.

Over the long term the one thing that got me from not wanting anyone to touch me to having a healthy sex life with my husband was my therapist. It took time but it can be done.

I'm sure you already know this but you absolutely have the right to tell people not to touch you and have that respected - lots of people have issues around touch for a variety of reasons.
posted by Laura_J at 7:55 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

- tons of therapy.

- I let myself say no and try to be patient with my body. I still have days when I can't handle someone else touching me. In the past, I'd get angry at myself for feeling that way and stubbornly force myself to suck it up and cuddle - which would lead to panic attacks, and a bad day could become a bad week/month. If your body is asking for space, be kind to it. Give it what it needs, and don't push too hard.

- I have a necklace that I wear as a physical reminder that this is 2014 and I control my body. When I get freaked out, I can touch it and remember.

- Talk to someone you trust, like one of those friends you like hugging, about what's happening. Can you work out a way to do comfortable touch with them?

- I don't know what your own reactions and experiences were like, but I did a lot of work on "staying in my body" and being aware of it. I tended to cope by kind of dissociating, and I worked on doing less of that when stressed. So I might think about someone touching me, while being aware of the anxiety in my chest as I thought about it. And I built up to actual touch as needed. This was something that was guided through therapy, so talk to your MH professional about structuring it safely.

- A simpler way of accessing that last concept might be just experiencing small physical sensations that feel safe and being aware of your body's reaction. Soft scarves, hot tea, that sort of thing. Body awareness can be really hard to relearn, and taking what seems like smaller steps can be so helpful.

- That said, you don't have to think of them as small. They might be small in comparison to what you'd imagined your recovery trajectory would look like, but these are huge! You can rest a hand on your stomach! You can wear pretty clothes! That's fantastic!

- I have a friend who found a lot of healing in martial arts. She said it made her feel powerful and much more confident. Your mileage may vary; when I tried it I couldn't handle all the touching.

Be well, and go as fast or slow as you need. This internet stranger is rooting for you! This internet stranger is also happy to talk if you ever feel like that would be helpful.
posted by a hat out of hell at 8:17 AM on November 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Get soft bedsheets (Target's Threshhold brand has surprisingly soft cotton sheets for about $15), and then sleep naked, or at least in less clothing than usual. Sleep cuddled up to an electric heating pad ($20-30 at big-box department stores) or hot water bottle ($3 at dollar stores) if your home is cold.

Moisturize your skin with a light lotion that smells mild and doesn't feel sticky or greasy after. This brand is great, if you can find it (should be about $10/tube)- mild, water-based, unscented, and it pretty much vanishes as you apply it.

Spend some time with a snuggly cat or dog or even baby, petting and stroking it and holding it.

Watch a pleasant, soothing movie (Amelie is certainly the best movie in the world) while cuddling (as much as feels comfortable) with a person you trust. Even just sitting at opposite ends of the couch and having your feet tucked under their leg might be a good start. Keep breathing and focus on how it feels, don't be shy to shift around til it feels nice.

Find websites of people with similar body types and hair types and coloring as you, dressed fashionably. Find them by Googling word combos like "best plus size fashion blogs" or "best black fashion blogs" or "best modest fashion blogs", etc. Look at these blogs daily. Seeing people who resemble you, looking stylish and put-together, will help you normalize your own appearance. This is surprisingly good for self-esteem and body love, in my experience.

Personally I dislike getting manicures (they feel too pokey for me and make me tense) but I do like the hand massage you get during. Maybe a local manicurist on a slow day will just give you a hand massage for less money than the cost of a full mani, might be a nice way to pass 15 mins or so.

Add some kind of goal-based exercise to your life. Make your body feel strong and useful, and shift your focus more towards increasing what your body can DO, less on how your body looks or feels. Spend some time thinking of your body as a useful TOOL, not as an ornament.

Increasing body presence and body love is a brave and really rewarding path to go down- best of luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:13 AM on November 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can be hugged/touched by people I trust and get enjoyment out of this).

I don't understand the question, as the above statement makes me think this is normal. If you are worried about not getting enjoyment when people you don't trust hug/touch you, consider it normal.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:53 PM on November 27, 2014

I have not tried it, but equine therapy is sometimes recommended for this.
posted by Violet Hour at 6:07 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't have direct experience with this but right now I am helping a friend who does. I'm the friend who she can vocalize this stuff to without fear of my judging her, I'm her constant companion for any and all clothes shopping trips (so I can pull her away when she gets agitated but can't see that about herself, or push her to get over a hump and see something like shopping for shoes as surmountable), and I'm also the person who knows to ask before most touching I might engage in who she knows she can say no to with no questions.

I'm helping her develop a wardrobe that will help her wrangle her body image issues to align with what makes her comfortable and confident, which is against the grain of traditional femininity (it's extremely nonsexual, which is fine, but it's quite difficult, because of her trauma, for her to tell how things are going to read to others, and she's also fighting with all the motherly and sisterly "advice" she grew up with.)

It seems to be working steadily in a positive direction, with the occasional fallback, which is to be expected. She also has recently been seeing a chiropractor which I think is helping her with her touch aversion because now her body is in much less physical pain.

So my suggestion to you is to reach out to someone you trust. You might be surprised at who would be understanding.

One thing we do is that when she comes over, I will sometimes say "we're hugging now" and go in for a quick squeeze, and she can say "no we're not" and I welcome her in and make her tea, or we hug and then I welcome her in and make her tea. It helps her practice making her own choices about who touches her, the simple repetition. I don't ask permission, instead I gently presume and she gets to pick.

Another thing we do is talk about grooming and presentation habits. Though she has traditionally "girly" relatives, I'm much less traditional but pretty femme and we systematically refute the repetitive doubts and bad feelings and worries about sexual presentation through our conversation, while also discussing moisturizers or how to style our hair or nice smelling soaps.

She has a few other people in her support system but for this part of herself I'm her main go-to. Conveniently she has a large skillset that I do not, so we trade my emotional support for her doing stuff she'd help with anyway, like organizing my kitchen so it makes sense, or helping paint, or keeping me company when I shop, too. I think that we model behavior for each other that we each want to strive for, and we're both very self aware about it.

If you have a group of friends who you trust with different parts of your trauma, you might be able to work on separate aspects with different people who are good with whatever aspect it is. You could ask one person to talk about soap and lotions, another person to tell you if your clothes express to others what you'd like to be expressing (so you can be more confident that strangers will react to you how you want them to react), another person to talk about and practice refusing touch in a safe way, and so-on.

Something else my friend really gets into is her comfy bed. She's worked hard to create the absolute perfect sleep environment for herself, so the right mattress, right sheets, the right sound, light levels, pillows, smells... You might think about making a space in your home that is specifically created for your comfort, and practice things like touching your stomach, or putting on lotion, or just relaxing inside of that space.
posted by Mizu at 1:42 AM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Perhaps not a first step, but I found AcroYoga to be very helpful in learning how to be comfortable with casual, friendly, nonsexual physical contact in a safe environment.
posted by Nothing at 6:31 AM on November 28, 2014

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