Here’s an example of what top down living can look like, based on someone’s history:
David grew up with a physically abusive alcoholic father who was inconsistent, and he never knew which “Dad” was going to show up after work: the loving father who notices and listens, or the raging, scary, threatening man who hits for seemingly no reason.
So David learned:
- To be constantly on guard and ready to flee when Dad comes home, which shows up in his body as tension in the neck, shoulders, low back and legs.
- To constantly try to figure out if his actions are going to cause Dad to explode and become violent even though David has no idea what sets him off. This creates a constant busyness in David’s mind, trying to analyze EVERYTHING he’s saying or doing.
- To hunker down and take the hits without crying because if he “makes a scene” it just gets worse. This shows up in his body as clenching in the back and legs and arms, to absorb the hits and to hold in any emotional reactions.
Flash forward 20 years. David is now in his 30s, struggling with back pain. Here’s what his relationship and conversation with his body sounds like:
David thinks: “I need to get up and get to work. I’d really rather stay in bed. But my boss is riding me, and if I’m late I’ll hear about it.”
David’s body “thinks”: “I am exhausted, and my boss really scares me. I’d really rather hunker down here and rest.”
David forces himself to get out of bed, shower and get to work, but his back is killing him.
The muscles in David’s back remain tense and clenched, to try to protect him.
David thinks: “My stupid back! As if my day wasn’t already hard enough, now I have to deal with this!”
David’s back “thinks”: “I’m doing the best I can! I’m just trying to protect you!”
David goes to the doctor to see what is “wrong” with his back. He has testing, which doesn’t show anything definitive, and is given muscle relaxant medication.
The medication helps take the edge off, but his body continues clenching to try to protect him.
David gets more and more frustrated with his back, and his body keeps trying to protect him.
There’s the tug of war!
So you see, there’s a parallel process going on here, with no actual connection or communication between David and his body. Since he is unaware of what is actually going on with his body there is no way for his body to change!