Deserving Desires: A Nervous System Story
“Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?”
This question, along with a viral chest infection that lasted for five weeks (and I rarely get sick for more than 3 days), has drastically altered the course of my personal and professional life.
Did you know that it’s entirely possible to heal something and still carry around the nervous system pattern that created (or was created by) the old wound?
When this happens, the pain will keep hanging around (or come and go, but never leave completely), because the pattern keeps playing on repeat as directed by the brain.
This is true for physical trauma as well as mental and emotional pain.
What is a nervous system pattern?
A nervous system pattern can be a belief or behavior we have about or in relationship to ourselves, other people, the human body as a concept, our body specifically, money, relationships, the world etc.
Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?
A nervous system pattern can also show up physically, with or without the presence of pain. If we’re experiencing pain then our body is asking us to change that pattern!
Many patterns are supportive, healthy and necessary for our vitality.
Then there are the ones that limit our vitality, and those are the ones I want to talk about.
A nervous system pattern can be how, where and why we process trauma – aka, stress of any kind – and whether we know how to move it out, or allow it to get stored in our body. (Shoulder knots, anyone?!)
If you’ve ever felt like you’re trying your hardest to heal something, you’re “doing everything right” and you’re still in pain, still feeling stuck, still repeating the same old story – then chances are there’s a nervous system pattern that’s running in the background.
This is why it’s possible to, say, get a (necessary) hip replacement and do all the PT, acupuncture and massage and STILL be in as much pain as before – because the brain and nervous system are still running a pattern of perceiving hip pain even if there’s no reason for it anymore.
I’ve personally seen this in my private practice, and – I’ve seen the pain go away when the nervous system patterns were interrupted and changed.
This is also why it’s possible to do a TON of therapy, self development, relationship work etc and heal the emotional or psychological trauma but still keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and relationships.
Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?
Maybe you sprained your ankle when you were 10. Then, as a teenager and adult, you start rolling that same ankle a lot. The more this happens, the more it happens.
Just think about the “phantom limb” phenomenon for a moment: the amputated limb isn’t there, but the brain (nervous system) still perceives that it is. People with amputated limbs can even feel pain in the limb that’s no longer there! This is a nervous system pattern.
Or maybe, like me, you experienced some kind of psychological and emotional trauma or pain in the past that rears its head in your current relationships (I’m pretty sure we all experience this to varying degrees). The trauma is over, maybe it’s even healed fully, but the nervous system thinks it’s still happening – and you behave accordingly.
Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?
Simply put, a nervous system pattern could be said to be the physical or psychological manifestation of perpetually re-living a past experience in the present.
The good news: we can re-wire the nervous system!
We can interrupt the old patterns and create new ones. There’s an entire branch of science dedicated to studying this phenomenon: neuroscience and neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to change itself.
This has been my greatest fascination in life, personally and professionally.
I’ve had a lot of practice in my own life looking at, addressing and reversing nervous system patterns of all kinds – related to childhood trauma, relationships, my body and my mind.
For example, I previously held the belief that I would never run or hike again due to debilitating knee pain every time I tried to do either.
What started as a physical issue when I was 17 became a near-crippling mental one in my 20’s. By the time I turned 24 I believed I’d never get to trek the Himalayas like I always dreamed about, or enjoy the freedom I feel while trail running ever again. This belief lasted approximately 6 years; until I quite literally changed my mind, and my biology followed.
Now I can trail run, climb mountains, even run downhill, and I rarely if ever have knee pain.
This isn’t the full story though.
The nervous system is all powerful.
Sitting across from a long time client of mine who I’d asked to lunch because I wanted his advice as a successful business man and entrepreneur, I watched in horror as I talked to him about my business dreams with passionless indifference and addled uncertainty.
That’s not the kind of energy I wanted to bring to a meeting that was supposed to generate interest and connections (maybe even investment?!) for what I’m most inspired by and passionate about – helping as many people get out of pain as I can, all over the world.
I walked out of the restaurant and as soon as I got into my car I felt it take me: an overwhelming feeling of being unwell. I went home and promptly got very sick with a stubborn and soon to be violent chest infection (most likely bronchitis).
While it might appear coincidental to some, I knew this was not simply the worst timing ever; my body was grounding me, putting me on house arrest for violating some internal code I wasn’t even aware I had submitted to.
After a full week of raging coughs and lethargy I knew there was a message here that I had to get before this virus would relinquish its hold over me. My nervous system was trying to tell me something by dragging me away from anything and everything distracting me from the truth, and it would keep me hostage until I got “it” – whatever “it” was.
At the same time, my relationship was thrust into upheaval.
Distraught in body and heart, I got myself in therapy. I coughed my way through many sessions over several weeks, because I knew these two things – my business dreams and my relationship desires – were intimately connected in my psyche. I just wasn’t sure how, or why. Other than…
I want kids.
I’m 36 heading towards 37 this year, and I haven’t financially planned for kids. My life purpose or work has always been my “baby,” the thing I put my energy and finances into in order to grow it and help more people. Planning for babies simply hadn’t occurred to me (major blind spot!), and falling in love with Stefan was a total surprise for both of us last year (he’s 10 years younger than me).
In January 2017 I started panicking and some old fears bubbled to the surface: maybe I won’t get to have kids. Maybe that old “intuition” of mine that I would have to choose between doing something big and meaningful in the world with my work, and having babies, was true after all.
Maybe I already chose.
In Chinese medicine the lungs represent grief.
My nervous system wasn’t having any of it: it wouldn’t let me move my business plans forward in a way that (I believed) would let me have kids, and it wouldn’t let my relationship become a place of sanctuary and faith that I could do and have it all; at the same time, it wouldn’t let me give up on either.
Since January I’d been riddled with terror the likes of which I’ve never experienced before in my life.
Typically I’m someone who enjoys facing fears, pushing boundaries and breaking through challenges to triumph even if it means going through something really freaking painful or hard.
This was different. I felt trapped in a grieving process, but I didn’t even know what I was grieving or why; I was stuck.
Safety vs risk.
While it might seem unfair at times, it makes sense that we’re wired like this, with a powerful control room upstairs acting on its own, usually without asking for permission from us first (how dare the brain?!)
Without such an intelligent and reactive nervous system – whose primary job it is to keep us safe – the human species probably would have died out a long time ago.
Bringing consciousness to these apparently disparate but actually quite sympathetic parts of ourselves – body, brain, nervous system, heart, subconscious and conscious self – has been my longest running driver in life.
Body and brain are always working as a team to assess our environment (internally and externally, plus how the two are interacting) in order create safety. Problems arise when we get stuck in the patterns used to keep us safe after the perceived danger is over.
Important to note is that the body and brain only have to perceive danger in order to ping us with a pain signal and/or create a nervous system pattern designed to protect us from harm; many times we’re not actually in danger at all (and sometimes – we really are).
Safety doesn’t mesh with vitality all that well!
And, feeling safe may be a pre-requisite for vitality. How about that for a brain teaser?
We have to train body and brain to recognize, and consciously choose to engage in, choices of SAFETY and RISK in ways that support our very unique personalities, lives and goals.
Clearly, my nervous system was on hyper-drive to keep me “safe” – but from what?
Do I believe I DESERVE the kind of relationship I truly desire?
When my therapist asked me the question, my immediate instinct was to passionately exclaim “YES! No question.” (I’ve done a lot of work, you see, and I’d already passed the whole “I’m worthy of love” part of the self-development or healing path).
My body, however, seemed to be telling me (with contraction, anxiety and fear) “What you want is out of the question.”
Turns out, it wasn’t the exact right question; but my conflicting answers disturbed me so much that I left bound and determined to find out why.
The truth reached out to grab me while I was reading a book later that night, then slammed into me like a freight train the next morning.
You know those Eureka! light bulb moments that always seem to come during or after something really freaking hard and usually painful, when you feel like you were just squeezed through the hourglass and miraculously made it in one piece to the other side?
Suddenly all you see is the light, the freedom, the holy-crap-I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-see-this-until-now life moments flashing before your eyes, along with all the ways this is going to change your future.
This was that.
This is that.
At first I was in shock; then I started celebrating.
Awareness flooded through me of a deeply ingrained nervous system pattern that had been hiding in plain sight for over 22 years, keeping me stuck; “safe” but held back because I wasn’t taking appropriate and healthy risks in one major area of life: relationships.
Since ‘relationship’ permeates everything we do as human beings, this pattern has affected every area of my life: friendships, my partnership, my private practice career, family relationships, business relationships (like contractors and partners), this blog and my relationship with you, my readers and YouTube followers.
To be clear: I have great friendships, an amazing partner in Stefan, wonderful family, awesome clients and the best audience ever (yes you: I’m so grateful you’re here with me!)
However, this particular pattern was so pernicious that I’ve been consciously making decisions that directly sabotaged my long term fulfillment in key areas of relationship and business, all the while certain I was acting in freedom and moving towards fulfillment. Oooof. Ouch. And – yay! I get to change it now.
This changes everything.
All of my experience both personally and professionally, catalyzed by this recent experience, has me more inspired than ever to look at nervous system patterns, neuroscience and neuroplasticity if we’re going to talk about healing trauma of any kind; be it physical, psychological, emotional, ancestral or relational.
When something physical becomes a belief or behavior, or conversely when a belief or behavior becomes a physical habit or pattern, a viscous cycle is created that can’t change until the nervous system is re-wired.
The evidence for whatever it is we believe or experience piles up physically and mentally, as our minds validate the physical experiences we go through in life, while the physical always (ALWAYS) manifests what is in our minds, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.
Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?
If the answer was YES…why did my body tell me NO?
These two seemingly separate things – physical body and psyche – are connected via the nervous system. The nervous system, we could say, is the brain being active in our body, directing the physical to match what is in our brains (it goes the other way too, in a biofeedback loop). The subconscious reigns supreme here, always physically manifesting what we’re not even aware of consciously.
The really cool thing is, when we pay attention to our physicality – because it’s always mirroring what we can’t see and don’t know about ourselves – we can wrest those patterns from our subconscious and bring them into the light.
Fascia plays a fascinating role here: it wraps every single nerve ending, making it intimately connected to, affected by, and ALSO able to AFFECT, the nervous system; and it is the substance in our body that gives us our shape, texture and ability to function optimally (or not).
Body language, the way we carry ourselves, how we conduct our muscles and minds in sports and activities plus all of our habits and choices pertaining to career/life purpose, relationships and personal identity are influenced by our nervous system patterns and those patterns in turn have given our fascia its shape, texture and ability to function (or not).
I call the sum of all these parts:
THE WAY WE MOVE THROUGH LIFE.
If any ONE area of our lives has us feeling ill at ease, we can count on this affecting the other areas too. Everything is connected.
For the past 6 months I’ve felt like I’m moving through life with wrecking balls attached to my ankles! Good intentions, willpower, vision and work ethic had nothing on this nervous system pattern intent on keeping me safely ensconced in the old way of moving through life.
Noticing my body contract at the thought of a fulfilling, happy relationship in which Stefan and I are meeting each other’s needs and financially able to have babies together was a strange experience. This was clearly a nervous system pattern I was playing out in both my business and relationship – but what was the pattern?
What was I not seeing?
Before I tell you any more…
I want to take a stand.
I haven’t been fully in integrity with who I am here at Mobility Mastery.
If you know me only through this blog (or we’ve connected personally only recently), then you probably don’t know my story of facing and healing some really intense psychological, sexual and emotional trauma from my teenage years.
I spent some time blogging about this a few years ago (which really helped me heal), and I no longer need to “process” this story publicly.
I do, however, want to be in integrity with myself and my mission to help as many people as I can all around the world get out of pain, learn to trust their bodies and actualize their fullest expressions of joy and vitality.
I’ve held a lot of my story and professional opinions back out of fear. I still have fear associated with all of this, because it’s going to change the entire branding and direction of my professional life both online and off; and because it’s so personal. And – I’m ok with being afraid. Besides, this fear is the kind that feels akin to excitement.
I’m ready to own my story, take a stand and bring all the pieces together for the first time.
I’m no longer interested in perpetuating the narrative that we can look at only the physical to heal the physical. I’ve been somewhat guilty of promoting this on Mobility Mastery, and for that I apologize.
My work with people one on one almost always involves these other components, and it’s been quite the conundrum for me to figure out how to bring all these pieces together on the internet, when you and I may never even interact personally (though I hope we do!)
Only on rare occasions, I believe, do we have physical pain that has a purely physical cause or “fix” (and yes, it does happen). Thousands of clients and many years of personal and professional experience however have taught me that this is the exception, not the rule.
I’ve used my story to help hundreds of my in person clients connect the dots between their physical pain and their beliefs about life, their body, their vitality and ability to heal, in addition to (sometimes, not always) talking about their story, and any trauma they’ve gone through and not processed fully that could be affecting them physically.
I want to do the same thing online.
Every time I’ve told the story about my knee pain I’ve felt somewhat out of integrity, because I only told you part of the story; mostly the physical part, and just recently some of the mental aspects.
What I’ve never told you is…
The knee pain I experienced for 8 years was directly connected to the trauma I went through as a teenager. I know they were related. I didn’t heal my knees until I began healing the trauma, and the last remnants of both left me in one powerful moment: it was the summer of 2014 and I was hiking alone, up high and deep in the back country of the Grand Tetons of Wyoming when it hit me: I had no more fear associated with the old knee pain, and no more fear associated with the state of my psyche. I felt free. I felt happy. I felt at peace.
I fell to the ground crying in gratitude.
For a long stretch of time in my late teens and all through my 20’s I felt utterly alone, full of darkness and trapped inside a body and mind that I believed would never know what it feels like to be at peace, let alone happy.
Ten years ago I would have settled for the mere absence of emotional, psychological and physical pain; which, as anyone who has healed intense trauma and found joy again knows, is NOT the same thing as the presence of happiness.
My tenacity set me on a path of healing at all costs and delivered me (through a lot of hard work) into a life of peace, joy, fulfillment, adventure and love.
Now I have an unshakable faith that near limitless vitality is possible for all of us, no matter what we’ve been through or where we’re at currently.
This isn’t some fairy tale I believe in because it’s a good sound byte.
I’ve lived it.
This is my story.
If I could go through my version of the long and terrifying “dark night of the soul” (that lasted almost 15 years for me) and come out feeling this alive and full of joy – anyone can.
“The quality of our lives greatly depends on the quality of the questions we ask ourselves.”
I heard that one from Tony Robbins, and it stuck. I’ve found it to be quite true. Questions can enslave or empower us, enlighten or trap us.
Maybe “Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?” was the right question after all, because I took it home, sat with it, cried with it and then let go, and the only thing that matters came through: clarity.
I do believe I deserve the kind of relationship I’ve always wanted. And…
I was running another deeply buried subconscious belief through my nervous system (or “software”) that was quite cleverly keeping me from fulfilling on it; not just in my relationship with Stefan, but in all of my relationships, and it’s been hanging around for the past 22 YEARS. (Someone could have asked me instead “Do you believe you deserve the kind of business success you truly desire?” and the answer would have been the same: a full throttle conscious YES, and a body response of “that ain’t gonna happen honey”).
The good news is, I’ve already healed the trauma associated with this pattern; my nervous system simply hadn’t relinquished control of it yet. Which means all I have to do now is change it.
Yes and no.
To change a nervous system patter, it:
A) has to be thoroughly interrupted, and
B) must then be alchemized
My experience has taught me that nervous system patterns can’t simply be erased; they must be alchemized, or changed into something else, in order to leave us for good.
This will be the subject of my next blog post.
I’ll be using my knee pain story in more detail, and I’ll let you in on this life altering epiphany I had by sitting with the question:
“Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?”
The answer that came was one I never saw coming; and, it made so much sense. This blog post (and its follow-up) are part of my efforts to re-wire this nervous system pattern. In fact, I will be asking for your direct help in changing this pattern for good, and then – I want to pay it forward.
Thank you for being here.
I would love to hear from you on any or all of the above:
How are you moving through life right now?
Do you feel stuck in any one area?
Do you think you have a nervous system pattern (or many) holding you back from experiencing the kind of life and vitality you’ve always wanted for yourself?
Did this post spark any insights or give you hope?
How can I support you?