Darren shows up on Zoom seven minutes late for his first appointment. Even through the screen, I can see his rigidity and tension. His face is mask-like, and his eyes are fixed and haunted. He gets right to the point of why he’s made the appointment to see me.
“I can’t sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. I’m moving up the ladder in my job at a tech company, I’m making good money, but I’m miserable. My wife gives me the cold shoulder; it’s been months since we’ve had sex, and I have no time for my kids.”
You Can’t Solve a Problem From the Level of the Problem
In my language, Darren is fragmented. His entire body is constricting as he tries to hold himself “together.” He will lose the battle if he continues to manage his stress and his life in this way. I gently reflect him, “I can see and feel your tension. This has to be a very painful time for you.” I see him relax ever so slightly as he senses that I “get” him. He says, “Yeah, I’m having a lot of neck and back pain. I feel like an old man, and I’m only 42!”
I explain to him that emotional and physical pain often go together. “If you’re constantly in a stressful state, your body stays tense, and you get into a shallow breathing pattern. Over time, you feel physical pain. So we have to work on changing the way you handle stress.” He sighs and shares, “That’s something I’ve never been able to do. I feel like nothing I do is good enough.”
“Perfection is misery,” I sympathize. “I’m going to give you some quick and easy ways to start feeling better. The first step is for you to become aware of what it feels like in your body when you’re fragmented and when you’re not.” I explain what that means. Two different emotional states show up in your body as contraction and expansion. Chronic stress leads to chronic contraction. “That’s how you look like you’re feeling right now,” I say.
I call this tense, rigid, tight state, “fragmentation.” When you’re fragmented, you can run the gamut of feeling slightly “off” – unmotivated, sad, anxious, or annoyed, all the way to depression, grief, panic attacks, or murderous rage. When it’s mild, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s debilitating when it’s extreme and can feel insanity. In all cases, you lose your perspective of reality.
“I’ve been moving into the debilitating and insane category,” Darren says ruefully. “Yes, I can see that your breathing is shallow, and you’re very tense,” I commiserate. “The trouble is that you can’t solve anything when you’re in this state of contraction and fragmentation.”
Moving From Contraction Into Expansion and Core Self
I encourage Darren to compare how he feels now to how he feels after a great cardio workout. He glumly replies, “I’ve been too busy to do anything for myself lately.” “Just take a minute to recall that sense of heightened energy and focus you get from a good workout,” I suggest. He nods, and I continue, “That is you in a state of more expansiveness and flow. It’s always great if you can exercise to get there, but I’m going to teach you a presence and breathing technique so that you can feel the difference right here, right now.”
I coach him to take three full, quick breaths through his mouth so that his chest lifts. He’s so tense that he uses his shoulders to simulate lifting his chest. I ask him to keep his shoulders down while lifting his chest with the breaths. “Whoa, that makes me dizzy,” he exclaims. I explain that it’s normal to feel dizzy and slightly uncomfortable initially, but that soon he’ll be able to take several of these breaths, and it will simply energize him. He has to learn to stay present when he’s feeling the energy from the breath coming in.
I guide Darren through a simple way to stay present while practicing this breathing technique. “Look around the room and name three or four colors and objects. Say them out loud, with energy under the words.” He says, “orange chair, black lamp, turquoise vase, green sweater.” “Great,” I say, “now take three more of those high chest breaths. Keep your mouth open while looking around the room and silently naming the colors and objects.” When finished, he looks at me expectantly. “Now, breathe normally through your nose, and notice what you’re feeling inside.” He is visibly calmer and answers that he didn’t get dizzy that time and that he’s feeling more relaxed and centered now.
“You’re shifting into your core self,” I point out. I take a moment to explain what this means. “Your core self is an inner experience of expansion and openness. Some of the emotions available to you in this state are trust, calm, confidence, stability, and love. It’s your healthy, natural expansive state of being. When in your core, you can breathe fully and deeply. You feel openhearted, and you have a sense of humor. Life feels like it flows. You can access your compassion, kindness, gratitude, and confidence, as well as the answers to life’s challenges.” Darren perks up. “I get it,” he says, “I’m already feeling like what I’m experiencing isn’t such a crisis.” “Wonderful,” I reply, “now that you’re more relaxed and in your core, we can discuss what is going on for you.”
Effectively Navigate Life by Accessing Your Core Self
Darren has access to his core self, and you do too. Making this connection is a developmental challenge. Darren’s parents hadn’t learned how to calm, soothe, and access their core selves when they were young, so they couldn’t teach Darren when he grew up. As we continue our sessions together, Darren realizes that he feels very young and vulnerable when he is fragmented. He’s amazed to witness how different the same situation looks when he returns to his core self.
Just like Darren, you can develop this emotional muscle. It takes awareness, practice, and, in the beginning, stages, an experienced guide. You wouldn’t climb Mount Everest alone, and navigating your emotional landscape can feel like an even more significant challenge. Here are some of the steps to move from fragmentation to core self:
- Know your core self state – recall a time when you felt connected and vibrant
- Recognize the symptoms of fragmentation in your body and mind
- Don’t act out your fragmentation- contain it and take the next step
- Calm and soothe yourself and change your state by:
- Utilizing the presence and breath exercises, I taught Darren
- Journaling about the event that triggered your fragmentation
- Understanding your unique emotional themes and patterns
- Taking responsibility for your fragmentation triggers
Finally, like Darren, it’s helpful to find a therapist who can guide you as you explore your emotional landscape.
Tools For Connecting With Your Core Self
In my work, I often refer to the term “core self.” Discovering your way back to core self and moving out of fragmentation is one of the most important life skills you will ever develop. It leads to a loving and supportive relationship with yourself and your loved ones.
Your core self is the essence of authenticity, emotional stability, resilience, and love. Life is simpler to navigate when you are living in your Core. If you are looking to become the “author of your own life,” I encourage you to read my book, The Secret to Loving Yourself, available on Amazon in both the US and Canada. The Secret to Loving Yourself provides a roadmap for learning and practicing the awareness and attunement you may not have received from your parents when you were young.
My online training, The Core Self Transformation, likewise guides you in a more in-depth approach. With three video modules, I walk through healing and attunement exercises, as I have with Darren. It is designed to help you make long-lasting changes that will allow you to live a more vibrant, loving, and authentic life.