Did you know that understanding the natural sensations of your body can help you understand and regulate your emotions in times of conflict or stress? The same goes for helping to regulate your child's emotions, too. Dr. Nanika Coor interviews Karen Daley, LMFT about how the body-mind connection can help parents understand themselves and their children more deeply.
Part of practicing respectful parenting is the ongoing journey of building your capacity to access your reserves of inner calm in the face of your child’s big emotions, their behaviors that irritate you, and your own involuntary emotional reactions.
One of the most common requests I get from new clients is to tell them how to get their parent-rage to go from a 9.5 on the severity scale down to a 2 during moments of family conflict. The first thing I usually suggest is to get in the habit of attuning to your own body.
Does your body feel one way when you’re happy and one way when you’re angry or when you’re in the presence of someone else’s anger? What about sadness—your own, your partner’s, or your child’s? What sensation happens in your body all by itself?
Surprisingly, learning to tune in to your body’s reactions in the moment can help you begin to understand your emotions, which in turn helps you modulate them when it’s necessary to do so.
To help us understand how this mind-body connection can be helpful to parents, I talked to Hakomi therapist Karen Daley, who uses mindfulness and awareness of the body in her work with clients.
Karen’s private practice in Northern California is called Many Rivers Healing. She is a licensed marriage and family clinician and is also in the process of becoming a Certified Hakomi Practitioner while also enrolled in the Hakomi Teacher in Training Program.
Karen co-developed the Resilience Clinic at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital’s Primary Care Clinic, specializing in bringing caregivers and their children into a weekly circle that fostered deeper relationships and communication between them. The focus included neuroscience, mindfulness, crafting, outdoor experiences, and nutritious snacks in addition to learning about how each of these experiences can be resources for the nervous system. Karen is a parent of an almost-25-year-old, and her loves—besides her wonderful daughter—are her plant and book babies which she tends to daily!
Here are some key takeaways from our conversation:
- Hakomi is a type of psychotherapy that privileges the somatic experience.
- It’s about taking a read of what's happening in our bodies to then figure out what kind of resource we need at any given time.
- Parents tend to have a belief that the busyness of everyday life means that it’s a privilege to make time to check in with yourself—but in fact, it’s an important thing to do.
- Checking in with yourself allows you to be able to regulate your responses so that you can soothe your nervous system and help your child develop that same capacity.
- In Hakomi therapy, while the client tells their story, the therapist looks for a moment to offer the person a “missing experience”—an experience they needed in childhood from or with their parents but didn’t get.
- Being ‘met’ in this way helps you begin to understand what you needed and didn’t get and how that may have wounded you and shaped you as a person.
- Being more connected to your own experience helps you tune into those similar needs in your child, start seeing the potential ‘missing experiences’ for them, and attend to their needs even if you need to stretch yourself some.
- Understanding and attending to your own childhood wounding can keep you from passing those wounds on to the next generation.
- Mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment without judgment, is a key part of Hakomi therapy. A therapist might support you in paying attention to your breath and just noticing what might arise in you in the next moment.
- Mindfulness can also look like various kinds of physical movement or exercise—whatever allows you to connect to yourself. This can look different for everyone.
- In a state of mindfulness, you can connect to what you need in a given moment and resource yourself, replenishing your abilities to meet the barbs of everyday family life with more loving kindness. And you can make intentional choices rather than knee-jerk ones.
- Mindfulness is a practice that you are always striving for and never truly arrive at—perfection isn’t the answer. It’s about regularly putting forth the effort to be present and aware. Eventually, it becomes less effortful and more automatic.
- The more present you can be with yourself, especially in difficult moments, the less likely you are to do or say something you regret and can’t take back, and the less likely you are to pass on your old traumas to them.
- Loving presence is defined as being openhearted and well-intentioned to yourself and others, and you're able to direct compassion toward yourself.
- Parents can practice being open to being imperfect, making mistakes, and challenging feedback.
- When you’ve been practicing observing yourself in the present moment—even a small amount of practice can allow you to begin to notice your own reactivity. This can allow you to downshift—even in the middle of yelling at someone—and take a deep breath, slow things down and take a break if you need to.
- Somatic therapies—like many mental health resources—are less accessible to historically marginalized populations, even as this modality honors and centers the client’s experience, and allows them to connect to their intuitive indigenous body wisdom that’s been colonized out of us.
- Somatic therapies have their basis in neuroscience. Researchers have shown that almost 80% of the brain’s chemicals that are responsible for mood states are located in the human gut. Somatic therapies are about treating the whole person, not just their cognitive thinking selves, but their feeling selves as well.