Focusing is a gentle, yet potent way to heal past hurts and find steps towards a more fulfilling life. You can practise Focusing not just with a Focusing Practitioner, but also on your own or with a Focusing Partner. As most people know, who tried therapy or meditation – we can encounter rather intense feelings when we look within. With some relatively easy principles however you can keep your Focusing a safe and rewarding practice.
As a Focusing Practitioner, I encountered clients, who would quickly run into something ‘too scary’ inside when turning their attention to their body. This taught me the importance of teaching clients some important safety guidelines before doing any focusing whatsoever.
Safety guidelines for Focusing
– Pay attention to what feels safe to do inwardly and what brings up anxiety. A key principle is to avoid ‘pushing’ into anything that brings up anxiety. Remember that turning with friendly attention to anxieties that show up, is what makes focusing a uniquely valuable inner practice. A great tool for remembering this key principle during Focusing is to ‘check if it feels ok to be with this’, whenever we encounter something inside.
– Also learn how you can pull back to safety, if you run into something overwhelming. We usually already know quite well, how not to feel something we don’t want to. Typically, we distract ourselves with external things and this works well also in Focusing, when we encounter something ‘too scary’. Turning our attention to external things with neutral or positive associations can help, such as looking at a picture, a plant or a radiator. Naming or counting things or retrieving some facts can also bring us back to safety, as these require left brain functions, which seem to be helpful when trying to create a safe distance with our feelings.
Baring in mind these guidelines can keep your Focusing safe, even when you are new to this self-healing practice.
Further ideas for keeping Focusing – and your therapy – safe
It can be invaluable to have a range of ideas about how to keep you safe when your therapy or Focusing practice tend to bring on intense feelings. The following techniques can help you learn how to avoid getting overwhelmed by your inner experiences.
As a Focuser, what helps me with overwhelmingly big feelings, is turning my attention to the physical sensations of the feeling (instead of the ‘story’ of it) and describe the sensations I experience with a lot of detail. The task of naming sensations and describing the experience seems to pull me away from the experience itself a bit. This can work well for more experienced Focusers, even when their feelings come fast and intensely.
I often wait with big feelings that come and visualize to grow my ‘inner container for feelings’ large enough to contain the big emotion. As odd as this may sound, it seem to work well. Something in us seems to know how long we have to wait with a feeling at arms length, until it feels safe to get closer. This is like an inner de-sensitisation process – I stay in touch with the anxiety that gets stirred, until it doesn’t feel quite as scared anymore.
Visualise putting scary feelings in a box and imagining it so far away, that it does not feel scary anymore. This tool can help you keeping contact with something scary, and focus on what can increase your sense of safety with it. You can vary the distance, or the thickness of the box, to feel safer. When using this tool, remember the Gendlin quote: “if you want to smell the soup, you don’t stick your head in it”. This is not just wonderfully to the point and can also ease tensions with a bit of humour, as well.
Finally, as a Focuser, I also learned the importance of accepting whatever is coming in Focusing. So, if my process brings a lot of story and thoughts, I go along with that. I do not force myself to focus on the body, if that is not what comes naturally. The relative safety of staying with thoughts can be necessary for bringing some shift in our understanding. This can pave the way to strengthening our ability to stay with the physical sensations even when things feel intense.
Wishing you all lots of safe inner adventures and staying out of harm’s way in your quest for healing.