Have you ever gone to a massage therapist with horrible upper back pain? Or maybe with lower back pain?
And in anticipation of the appointment you think to yourself, “Oh gosh, I can’t wait to feel the relief from this pain. My back hurts SO much. My back muscles need this so badly”.
And then you get there. You tell the therapist all about how it hurts to turn your head when driving as you look to see if the road is clear behind you before switching lanes. Or how you felt a wrenching pain when you turned to respond to your kids as they called to you …
You settle in for the massage, under the sheets with the soft instrumental music playing…
And the therapist massages your arms.
“My arms? Why are they focused on my arms? I said my upper back and neck hurt.”
But you trust the process and massage done correctly on any part of the body feels good, right?
But you wonder if this is going to help your neck and back…
This is exactly what happened to me the other week. I went to my trusted massage therapist, told her of my neck and upper back pain (my ice skating lessons are mainly to blame)
And she told me she was going to focus on my arms.
I didn’t get it, but I trusted her and I’m glad I did.
The relief I felt in my upper back and neck was significantly improved over any other time I had gone to different massage therapists with the same problem and they focused on the part I complained about.
No comparison. This was hands down the best relief I had ever gotten for my neck pain. WHY?
CONNECTION. Everything is connected, part of a larger whole, a system.
Including our relationships.
Pain may show up in one location, but it’s origin may be somewhere else.
Now, you may be thinking, “the pain in the neck is my partner!” And our partners are imperfect for sure. But so are we…
Have you ever gotten angry at your spouse for something and realized after, in a calmer moment, that your anger was fueled by something you experienced in your past that had nothing to do with your spouse?
Or, maybe you were reacting to something your spouse has done in the past but wasn’t actually doing in the current moment?
We all have. Me included.
We respond to something in the present based on our past experiences and we often can’t distinguish the difference between “here and now” and the “trauma from back then”.
But we need to have the skills to distinguish the difference and most of us never learn those skills or what gets in the way of using the skills we DO have.
This is one of the things that makes relationships tricky to navigate.
One simple thing you can do, after taking a deep breath, is ask yourself “Am I reacting to something going on right now? Or something old and familiar but not actually occurring right now?”
You see, we don’t remember trauma, we relive it.
Our brains looks for what is familiar, what it already knows. So, if our partner does something that our mind codes as familiar (and negative), the protective part of our brains are wired to automatically react as if it is happening in the here and now.
But we thankfully have the ability to shift from that automatic response, to a more skillful, mature, nuanced way of interacting.
My neck is feeling much better, thanks to my ARM massage! My ice skating skills still have a long way to go though 😉
And I’m working on distinguishing the past from the present and hope you will too. It’s something we all need to do from time to time.